Does the public benefit from the social-scientific study of religion? Should it? How do we demonstrate benefit, measure it, communicate it? What are the practical and theoretical issues surrounding the idea of how the study of religion can operate in the, or perhaps as a, public good? For that matter, what do we mean by ‘public’ or ‘benefit’?
This year’s BASR annual conference at the University of Winchester included a panel on the ‘Public benefit in the study of religion’. The panel was organised by BASR Hon. Secretary, Bettina Schmidt, and Chair of BSA-SOCREL, Abby Day, representing the two main professional organisations representing the UK’s scholars of religion. The other speakers taking part were Eileen Barker of INFORM, Tim Jensen and Douglas Davies. Given that the Religious Studies Project has a manifesto of disseminating contemporary RS research to the public, we felt that we wanted to talk to scholars about this question. This edited podcast was the result.
Does the public benefit from the social-scientific study of religion? Should it?How do we demonstrate benefit, measure it, communicate it? What are the practical and theoretical issues surrounding the idea of how the study of religion can operate in the, or perhaps as a, public good? For that matter, what do we mean by ‘public’ or ‘benefit’?
This question relates to our daily practice as researchers when asking for funding or having to present the outcomes of our research. Research Councils ask every applicant to explain the possible impact of a research project and in the coming years we will have to demonstrate as part of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) the wider impact of our research. But are discussions of this type necessary in order to understand and perhaps improve the relevance to the public of our research – and discipline – or are we simply looking for justifications to be able to continue research which has little public benefit?
Challenging this simplistic conception of religion and its consequences lies at the core of the Critical Religion movement. Schaefer's interview is an invitation to explore how we can do that most effectively. How do we translate critical insights that have significant real world implications into ideas that can easily be transmitted to students and the wider public?
Essentially, Kripal calls out the religious studies world for not having a sufficient appreciation of the power of imagination and invites scholars and the interested public into a new comparativism that moves away from strict materialism.
It was real to me. There I was, curled into a corner, comforter wrapped around my shaking limbs and sweating torso, twisted in terror in the sinister hours of the morning.
"If, as [Douglas Pratt] is contending, we don’t want the “metaphysical dimension” and “stories” of religion at the personal as well as societal level, this is not persistence; this is a new phenomenon altering centuries of evolving theological trajectory."
Douglas Pratt presents us with a most noble and worthwhile endeavor in his Religious Studies Project podcast entitled, The Persistence and Problem of Religion.
Is religion good for your health and wellbeing? Does religion promote prosociality? While positive stereotypes prevail in these domains, studies also typically answer these questions in the affirmative and as such, it is easy to think that there must be something special, sui generis, ...
Over ten years ago, Streib saw applicability to Fowler’s stages, but not in their typical empirical application. Heinz realized that Fowler’s descriptions had descriptive utility in how individuals structure and formalize their belief, but he also recognized that the graduated method of “stages” was empirically and culturally problematic. For Streib, these systems of meaning were not passé or scant in any way, only different.
The link between religion/spirituality (RS) and health is a recurring theme in the empirical literature within the psychology and sociology of religion, medical studies, and other disciplines. Although this research is usually limited to correlational studies, RS is often interpreted to be an important causal factor in positive health outcomes. This has led some academics, NGO's, and governments to argue that the putative health benefits of RS might be harnessed for public health and public policy more broadly. For example, the United States Army has recently launched a “spiritual health” program, and in the United Kingdom there is an ongoing debate about whether mindfulness meditation should be taught in schools. Government initiatives aside, what if the nonreligious are equally as healthy? In this podcast, Thomas J. Coleman III interviews Dr. David Speed on how research using nonreligious and nonbelieving samples problematizes some of the underlying assumptions of the relationship between RS and public health.
Communicating with your favorite God or gods, forest spirit, or Jinn - easy. Postulating that the entire universe is held together by theorizing the process of quantum entanglement, informed from a personal commitment to philosophical a priories, which are based on measurements of the physical properties of said universe – harder.
Why attend conferences? What is the point? What else could we do instead that might be a better use of our time? And how did we find having a fully-functional podcast studio set up at this conference? These are just a few of the issues that crop up in this lively roundtable discussion, facilitated by the inestimable Moritz Klenk.
The RSP Psychology of Religion Participatory Panel Special took place during the International Association for the Psychology of Religion 2013 world congress this August in Switzerland, hosted at the at the University of Lausanne. We asked for the RSP listeners to steer the conversation and YOU responded with tough questions...
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The views expressed in podcasts, features and responses are the views of the individual contributors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Religious Studies Project or our sponsors. The Religious Studies Project is produced by the Religious Studies Project Association (SCIO), a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation (charity number SC047750).