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Transnational Gurus and the Making of a Modern Devotional Public

During the reception following the first South Asian performance I attended after moving to Denver, I met several members of the Denver Tamil community. Towards the end of my conversation with a woman from a village outside Chennai, she began to tell me about her devotion to Amma. She began by asking, “Do you follow Amma?” And without waiting for my response, she volunteered, “We are all Amma devotees here. We just went to see her in Las Vegas.” I knew that she came from a conservative Brahmin background; so, it was surprising to see her enthusiasm when she spoke about Amma. Curious to know more, I asked her how she became interested in Amma. She quickly turned to her daughter and asked her to share her first experience of meeting Amma. There was wonder and joy in her daughter’s voice as she told me of her plans to go see Amma again. This exchange was illuminating as I was unaware of Amma’s popularity in the broader South Indian Tamil community. Before listening to this podcast, it had seemed somewhat baffling that Amma would appear in Las Vegas. Dr. Marianne Qvortrup Fibiger explains how Amma’s embrace of her position as a transnational and “translocal” guru makes the broad reach of platforms such as Las Vegas fitting for her message.

The phenomenon of buying and selling spirituality has always been a part of public religious praxis. With transnational spirituality comes a neoliberal underpinning in which identities and cultural icons can become brands in which people can invest. Listening to Dr. Marianne Fibiger speak about Amma and her remarkable relationship with a broad community of devotees, I was struck by Amma’s uncanny ability to “market” her message to various groups. Fibiger describes this process as “hearing with different ears.” She references a devotee who remarks that Amma is “truly a saint,” in order to show how Amma has become “transnational” through a sort of Christianizing of her status as divine. It also appears to show Amma’s skills at making herself appealing to both local and universal communities. In many ways, Amma’s “universalism” dovetails with the efforts of early transnational yogis such Swami Vivekananda, Aurobindo, and BKS Iyengar. They are able to repackage yoga as a universal health and wellness practice that does not require scriptural knowledge. Through a disciplined, embodied, practice, one would gain spiritual enlightenment. For Amma, hugging functions as both an act of love and darshan (seeing/experiencing the divine), helping to fashion a sort of humanistic theology (Lucia, 6).

Fibiger’s interview underscores the sheer numbers of Amma devotees as well as their varied backgrounds. The material presence of Amma is buttressed by a robust virtual one. Her website and social media presence are indicative of a savvy marketing platform. Her physical presence lends authenticity to her online brand. My response considers how transnational gurus such as Amma have learned to navigate a global neoliberal marketplace in order to sell their ideas. Amma, similar to conservative Indian public figure Ramdev, appears to have a keen understanding of her audience and how to disseminate her message and broaden her appeal. While Ramdev uses patanjaliayurved.net to market products building his name as brand, Amma’s website centers on building her brand by hawking her message. On https://amma.org/ the visitor is greeted by a smiling Amma with open arms, her tour dates emblazoned across her image. Linking a devotional picture of Amma with her next tour presents her persona and message as important and valuable commodities in high demand. Just below her image on the home page, the visitor will see four links detailing what Amma is doing now, how to donate, and information on Amrita Yoga (her signature practice). Here, the main facets of Amma’s brand emerge: charity, accessibility, and a doctrine to follow. The bottom of the home page has a brief introduction that describes Amma as a transnational spiritual teacher. Statements such as “she never asked anyone to change their religion” and “her entire life has been dedicated to alleviating the pain of the poor, and those suffering physically and emotionally” are designed to cement a vision of Amma as the accessible divine.

While her Facebook pages are largely centered on events and appearances, Amma uses her Twitter handle (@Amritanandamayi) to promote her message and build her brand as the “Hugging Guru.” The social media communities that form around Amma (e.g. unofficial “Amma” social media accounts) reinforce the transnational character of her message. These disparate groups of devotees form virtual networks through which Amma’s message disseminates. This devotional network further boosts the reach of Amma’s message and platform for charitable donation. Amma also has a series of apps (Amrita Apps). These apps provide links to her social media, news of her appearances as well as chants for sādhana (daily practice) and seva (service) opportunities. In these ways, Amma becomes a “full-service” spiritual guide, larger than just her person and her hugs. She also has several books and a few periodicals along with Amrita TV which continuously connect her devotees to her message (Lucia, 6). Through these virtual extensions of her material presence, Amma has transformed herself into a non-sectarian religious “brand,” competing for devotees in a growing soteriological marketplace.

 

Above, advertisements for one of the several shows on Amrita TV that features Amma. The network offers a variety of wholesome programming, including comedies and dramas, not just devotional programming. This program, Amritavarsham, aims to “promote world peace and imbibe the spirit of service among peoples of the world.” It opens with a brief message from Amma in which she shares “simple anecdotes and examples from day-to-day life to make it engrossing for one and all.” English subtitles are provided “so that people across the world can understand the meaning.”

Marianne Quvortrup Fibiger’s research on Amma highlights an important aspect of public religion: the making of a devotional public. Near the beginning of the interview, she calls Amma “a trans-local, transnational, global guru of today.” She then describes Amma’s appeal to her diverse community of devotees as rooted in her “authenticity,” which allows her to be a “traditional bhakti guru” as well as have “universal appeal.” Fibiger’s also points out the unsettling imagery of a large public darshan (40,000+) with Europeans in the front row in white and everyone else behind them, though she notes that these events were often a place for Hindus to reconnect with their faith. These communal gatherings of devotion provide a good example of the delicate balancing act Amma performs between the universal and local aspects of devotion. Transnational gurus like Amma must repackage religious praxis in the language of human connection in order to appeal to a diverse and broad constituency. In doing so, Amma and her message help build a public devotional community held together by commitment to abstract values such as love and spiritual harmony that are achieved through practices and teachings rooted in specific traditions. I think Fibiger’s comments on translation and understanding of religion are particularly interesting in this context. She suggests that transnational gurus like Amma can function, in a way, as translators of traditions, producing “bridges of understanding.” The questions that follow are: What is the content of this “understanding”?  And for whom is it understood?  Fibiger’s discussion near the end of the interview regarding her project on East and West spirituality underscores the ways in which these questions produce the boundaries within which these emerging spiritual identities are being forged and negotiated.

 

Reference

Lucia, Amanda J. Reflections of Amma: Devotees in a Global Embrace. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014.

Historical Approaches to Studying Religion

As the RSP continues to grow, we’re going to be returning more frequently to topics and themes which have already been touched upon in previous podcasts and features. This week, we are pleased to bring you a double re-post in response to our double podcast with John Wolffe & Ronald Hutton on Historical Approaches to the Study of Religion.

First, in the following podcast – first ‘broadcast’ on 30 April 2012, and later selected as one of our editors’ picks the following summer – Louise Connelly introduces Chris’s interview with Professor Callum Brown. How can we use historical approaches in the study of religion? More specifically, can we use historical approaches to understand why people are losing it? Professor Callum Brown tells us why historical approaches have much to tell us about religious change.

 

Download.

Second, Dr Tim Hutchings – who has also been an interviewee on the RSP, and participated in our ‘Religion in the News Panel Session’ – wrote the following response essay to Professor Brown’s interview. We ‘re-print’ it here in its entirety. We hope you enjoy these different takes on this week’s central theme. If you do, you can subscribe to receive our weekly podcast through iTunes and other portals. You can also use our Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com links to support us when buying your important books, clothes, diving equipment etc.


A Response to Callum Brown: Connecting “When” and “Why” in Digital Religion

By Tim Hutchings, Durham University

In his new podcast for the Religious Studies Project, Callum Brown has given us an excellent introduction to the historical approach to the study of religion. In conversation with Christopher Cotter, Brown outlines rival traditions within the history of religion and demonstrates what each has contributed to our understanding of secularisation. Along the way, Brown summarises his research career and offers some tantalising hints about his current interview-based study of the life stories of people who have left religion. He also emphasises the value of demographics, arguing that sophisticated analyses of census data reveal that people develop ‘an entirely new sense of self’ when they leave religion.  This is a fascinating and challenging claim, but I have chosen to focus in this response on another of the main themes of this podcast: the relationship between history and sociology.

At the end of this interview, Brown distinguishes the history of religion sharply from sociology. According to Brown, there is a “huge gap” in method, approach and interests between the two disciplines. Sociologists, he argues, believe that the world is governed by rules. They undertake research to study the contemporary religious landscape, interpret this snapshot in time by framing it within a particular model of fixed, linear change, and then make predictions about the future. Historians, on the other hand, believe that nothing is inevitable and assume that “when” must be the first step in working out “why”. Instead of collecting snapshots, historians map change year-on-year, using that longitudinal data to establish the effects of key events.

My own field of research is digital religion, an area with a particularly troubled relationship to history. Scholars and commentators interested in digital culture and its significance for religion have struggled to distinguish what is truly new from what has come before, and continue to search for helpful ways to talk about change.

One classic strategy since the 1990s has been to contrast an anecdotal snapshot of contemporary life against visions of the near future and the recent past.  In the most common forms of this argument, the past is characterised by stable local communities, face-to-face relationships and a secure, unchanging personal identity. Contemporary digital technology challenges this stability by supporting fluid, self-determined, global communication networks, so the argument goes, and these changes will intensify in the near future. Different observers have interpreted this same basic approach in positive, neutral and negative ways, seeing technology as the route to new spiritual awareness (Cobb 1998), a powerful tool that can be used to promote an unchanging religious message to the new mission field of digital culture (Estes 2009, Sweet 2012), or a dangerous threat to church, character and society. Sherry Turkle’s recent declaration that social media is facilitating a “flight from conversation” is a good example of this third type (2012). Young people now use their phones a lot, she argues, and they previously spent time face-to-face, and this shift is very bad for everyone. Her argument is simple and intuitively appealing, contrasting a recognisable snapshot of everyday life with a widely-accepted vision of the recent past and calling for immediate action to rescue the future, and her article has provoked much discussion online in recent weeks.

Scholars of media and religion have tried to challenge this approach over the last decade by framing their observations within a more rigorous historical perspective. The forms of religious community observed online are not unique after all, they argue: they actually continue long-running trajectories of social change from groups to networks (Wellman 2012) or from stable to fluid religious identities (Wagner 2012). Heidi Campbell’s recent work (2010) focuses on the power of religious groups to construct and interpret the technology they use, a process that includes engagement with group history. For Campbell, contemporary religious uses of the internet must be interpreted in the context of the theology and values of particular communities, including how those communities have changed their approach to media over time.  Many other scholars have tried to complicate popular understandings of the past and present of media religion, undertaking detailed comparative studies to show that religious authority, community and identity have not changed in the ways some observers allege.

Listening to Callum Brown’s interview, it becomes clear that all of these scholarly approaches represent a distinctively sociological way of using history. These scholars analyse the past to identify long-term trajectories in social or religious change and use that model to interpret the present. “When” questions are rarely considered: the purpose of the exercise is to establish a tension between a stable (or predictably-changing) past and a snapshot of the present, to generate insights into continuity and change.

There is clear scope here for inter-disciplinary collaboration. Sociological interest in the history of religion and media has generated a space for interventions by historians, who can greatly benefit the study of digital culture by offering detailed critiques of our assumed trajectories of change. Recent examples include Jeremy Stolow’s keynote speech on the spirituality of the telegraph, delivered to the Digital Religion conference in Colorado earlier this year (see Stolow 2011), and Stefan Gelfgren’s work (2012) on the history of religious attitudes to media. Sociologists of digital religion are still not as interested in the connection between “when” and “why” as Callum Brown might like, but clear progress is being made to forge connections with historians. This podcast is an excellent provocation to think harder about the questions we overlook and the interdisciplinary conversations that might help us uncover them.

This material is disseminated under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. and can be distributed and utilised freely, provided full citation is given.

Bibliography

  • Campbell, Heidi. When Religion Meets New Media. Abingdon: Routledge, 2010.
  • Cobb, Jennifer. CyberGrace: The Search for God in the Digital World. New York: Crown, 1998.
  • Estes, Douglas. SimChurch: Being the Church in the Virtual World. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009.
  • Gelfgren, Stefan. “Let there be digital networks and God will provide growth?” Comparing the aims and hopes of 19th-century and post-millenial Christianity. In Pauline Hope Cheong, Peter Fischer-Nielsen, Stefan Gelfgren and Charles Ess (eds.), Digital Religion, Social Media and Culture: Perspectives, Practices and Futures. New York: Peter Lang, 2012. p. 227-242.
  • Hogan, Bernie and Barry Wellman. The immanent internet redux. In Pauline Hope Cheong, Peter Fischer-Nielsen, Stefan Gelfgren and Charles Ess (eds.), Digital Religion, Social Media and Culture: Perspectives, Practices and Futures. New York: Peter Lang, 2012. p. 43-62.
  • Stolow, Jeremy. ‘Telegraph’, in freq.uenci.es: a collaborative genealogy of spirituality. September 7 2011. Available online: http://freq.uenci.es/2011/09/07/telegraph/.  Accessed May 2 2012.
  • Sweet, Leonard. Viral: How Social Networking is Poised to Ignite Revival. Colorado Springs: Waterbrook, 2012.
  • Turkle, Sherry. The flight from conversation. New York Times, April 21 2012. Available online: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/22/opinion/sunday/the-flight-from-conversation.html. Accessed May 2 2012.
  • Wagner, Rachel. Godwired: Religion, Ritual and Virtual Reality. Abingdon: Routledge, 2012.

 

Networked religion, blurring boundaries and shifts in the field of authority

Central to questions of authority is the ability to define the tradition; to define how scripture should be interpreted, and to tell orthodoxy from heresy.

A freehand commentary, published by the Religious Studies Project on 12 June 2013 in response to the Religious Studies Project Interview with Heidi Campbell on Religion in a Networked Society (10 June 2013)

The past 15 years or so have witnessed a period of swift development of the World Wide Web and a wide range of other information and communication technologies (ICTs).  It has also become a truism that individuals, communities and cultures are more interconnected than ever before. This can be seen in all areas of life from economics and entertainment to education, and politics. Religion is no exception, and scholars of religious phenomena have increasingly turned their gaze to the ways in which these new technological possibilities affect religious communities.  As the field of interest has developed, researcher’s foci and insights have followed suit.

The Religious Studies Project’s interview with Heidi Campbell focuses mainly on her recently published article which examines the emergence of both online religion and the way scholars have approached this phenomenon. A key aspect examined in the article is the blurring boundaries between religion online and offline. Campbell uses the term ‘networked religion’ to better grasp the phenomenon.

The questions addressed in the interview are hugely interesting, and the topic is also a tricky one. The impact modern ICTs have on religious communities and religious activity must be mapped in an increasingly fluid and rapidly changing environment, in which distinctions between online and offline, public and private, as well as member and non-member is difficult, and often impossible, to maintain.

Blurred boundaries

Even though it is still technically possible to talk about time spent online and offline, this distinction is, according to Campbell, becoming more and more blurred. In everyday experience, this development seems fairly self-evident, as it is facilitated by the evolving communication technologies themselves. 15 years ago most people only had access to Internet from one or two, clearly defined geographical locations. For me, these were the family computer in our living room, and the single enormous PC with Internet access at the local library (under the watchful eye of the librarian). Growing connection speeds, the development of smart phones and tablets, and increasingly widespread access to wireless networks has made the Internet available almost everywhere. Consequently, ‘being online’ may – and in many cases, has – become a constant feature of everyday life.

Heidi Campbell uses the term networked religion to describe the more or less fused online/offline religion emerging in the digital age. With this term, Campbell wishes to point out how religion has been affected by the new ‘socio-technological infrastructure’ and its logic, much like all other areas of society. The term ‘network’ is probably most well-known from Manuel Castells’ extensive work on the emergence of the network society and the various social implications of the development of ICTs. Network has become a common metaphor in social sciences, but also outside academia.

Campbell mentions five core aspects that constitute a networked religion. These are convergent practice, multisite reality, network community, storied identity and shifts in authority. Although the names are different and the topic discussed here more specialized, these themes strike a familiar chord to many general sociological accounts of developments in contemporary religiosity. Dr Teemu Taira, for example, has written on ‘liquid religiosity’ (2006), which he describes as being individualistic and this-worldly in orientation. In Taira’s view this type of religiosity typically emphasizes the authority of the individual. Spiritual seekership and mix-and-match religiosity is accepted and common. Community formations are often loose networks or ‘coatrack communities’ where individuals come and go as they please. All sorts of religious and spiritual self-help materials, fairs, teachers and groups form a fluid milieu, in which people create their individual spiritual roadmaps – or ‘storied identities’, to borrow Campbell’s terminology.

Even though Taira’s work operates on a rather general level and does not focus on the Internet or ICTs, they are clearly present in his views. Where else can you find as liquid religion as on the Internet, where moving from one society and information source to another is only a matter of clicking a mouse?

An interesting question is, how do we research this type of religiosity and religious communities that are ‘liquid’ or in the state of ‘flux’? I for one am only beginning to examine these tricky methodological issues. On a more quantitative level, all sorts of new computer programs for data mining and network analysis are being developed rapidly. Ethnographically, though, how is it possible to fruitfully approach this kind of networked religion which stretches over the divide between online communities and offline environments, in which memberships are not clearly defined, and even the teachings are more or less open source, available for use and modification?  I am eagerly looking forward to innovative approaches.

Religion and technology

New technologies affect religious practices both directly and indirectly. Religions old and new take up these new tools and move in to these new forums, actively adopting innovative ways of organization, communication and attracting members. Needless to say, these new possibilities are not merely a passive medium in the hands of religion. They may well give rise to new questions and challenges, ranging from practical issues, to ethical and theological dilemmas. They may also affect the expectations people have of their community and of life in general. Some forms of religion handle these changes well, others less so.

New technologies allow for new possibilities for organizing communities, and for communication within communities as well as with the surrounding society. They also create new possibilities for thought and imagination, and so may affect values, expectations, and even inspire the creation of new religions.

An example of such connection between technology and religious thought is presented by Jeremy Stolow in his article Salvation by Electricity (2008). His article examines the relationship between the Spiritualist movement of the early 19th century and the newly invented telegraph. Stolow examines the ways in which Spiritualism developed hand in hand with the new technologies, and how both its ideas and the formation of the movement were in many ways facilitated by the technology. To put things briefly, on a material level, the telegraph made it possible to create loose grassroots networks and share ideas globally. Spirit mediums also found publicity and possibilities of voicing their opinions, thereby challenging powers that be and negotiating anew the existing locations of authority.

On a less tangible level, the new technologies brought with themselves very powerful new imageries. In Spiritualism, one of the most powerful images was electricity. Similarly, the Internet and other ICTs may also have an effect on new religious imaginations. There are religious groups that can be reasonably called digitally based. They may have existed before the Internet started spreading, but the Internet has given them the kind of environment where they can create a relatively free community. One interesting example is the Open Source Religion Project, an online community in which people discuss and debate religious ideas. As the name suggests, Open Source Religion shares the logic of collectively creating something that everyone can develop and improve.

Shifts in authority

The questions of networked religion are also central to my own research project. I am currently studying the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, a quasi-religious community that is usually categorized as a spoof religion or a satire with political aims. The aim of my study is to examine precisely the blurring of boundaries – not only the border between online and offline, but also the blurring between the realms of public and private, and of religion, humour and politics.

Campbell notes that, on the one hand, religious communities and individuals online may challenge the authority of traditional authorities. On the other, these traditional authorities themselves have in some cases begun to use these new spaces to reassert their authority. Even the pope has a twitter account.

Central to questions of authority is the ability to define the tradition; to define how scripture should be interpreted, and to tell orthodoxy from heresy.  In the case of many new religious movements, such as some neo-pagan groups, it is not so much about definitions within the tradition but the category of religion in general. This is especially visible in cases where a religious community attempts become a state-recognized religious institution. Having been denied this status, these movements often claim that the definitions used in this legal framework are biased in favour of more established scriptural religions, often Christianity. This in turn creates interesting dilemmas for the state, as it has to define what a religion is and what it is not. Religion was, after all, supposed to be private and consequently not a political issue.

All in all, the interview with Professor Campbell gives a good, concise account on where the development of religion online seems to be headed. This is no small achievement, given the huge complexity of the field of online religion, and I am looking forward to getting my hands on her article. A small problem in general summaries like this is that they often tend to lose edge and become difficult to grasp and apply on a more concrete level.  Nevertheless, I think networked religion seems like a promising tool in examining the messy reality.  In this commentary I have tried to open up some possible fields where Campbell’s formulations could be taken and applied to. The next step is the quest for fruitful research methods…

This material is disseminated under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. and can be distributed and utilised freely, provided full citation is given.

About the Author

Digital CameraHanna Lehtinen is a graduate student and currently an intern in Comparative religion in Turku University, Finland. She is working on her MA thesis on the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Her research interests include parody religions, religious innovation, evolving discourse on religion, and power relations in general. She has also written the essays Divine Inspiration Revisited and What should we do with the study of new religions? for the Religious Studies Project.

 

References

  • Stolow, Jeremy. 2008. Salvation by Electricity pp. 668–686 in Hent de Vries (ed.) 2008: Religion. Beyond a Concept. New York: Fordham.
  • Taira, Teemu. 2006. Notkea uskonto. Published in Eetos-series. Turku: Eetos.

Religion in a Networked Society

CampbellMedia, religion and culture is an emerging area, with much attention being given to four themes, namely authority, community, identity and ritual. Research has focused on a wide range of topics, including different religions in virtual worlds; religion and video games; online cyber-churches and temples; and an exploration into how religious organisations and individuals are accepting or rejecting digital media. Heidi Campbell is one of the leading scholars in the field of media, religion and culture and has written extensively about this topic; providing us with an insight into the relationship between digital culture and religion. For scholars of religious studies, media studies and other related disciplines, the exploration of religion and the internet provides an insight into the relationship between religion and technology and consequently, the possible impact and challenge to traditional religion.

On a recent visit to Edinburgh, the Religious Studies Project (Louise) met with Heidi Campbell (the interview is set in a restaurant and so on occasion you may hear some background noise). The interview focuses on her recent article in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion (March 2012), “Understanding the Relationship between Religion Online and Offline in a Networked Society”, which presents five key traits of the concept of “networked religion”. These are: networked community; storied identities; shifting authority; convergent practice; and a multisite reality. Campbell presents an overview of each of these traits and concludes by questioning how digital communications technologies might affect religious authority in the future.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. And if you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us, or use our Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com link to support us when buying your important books etc.

Heidi Campbell is Associate Professor of Communication at Texas A&M University where she teaches in Telecommunications and Media Studies. Campbell’s teaching and research explores the social shaping of technology, rhetoric of new media, and themes related to the intersection of media religion and culture, with a special interest in the internet and mobile phones. She has written extensively about media, religion and culture, comprising of a number of journal articles and books, including When Religion Meets New Media (Routledge, 2010) and her recent publication Digital Religion. Understanding Religious Practice in New Media Worlds (Routledge, 2012).

Select Publications:

Campbell, H. (2005). Exploring religious community online: We are one in the network. New York, NY: Peter Lang.

Campbell, H. (2010). When religion meets new media. London, UK: Routledge.

Campbell, H & Connelly, L. (2012). Cyber behavior and religious practice on the internet, In Z. Yeng (ed.) Encyclopedia of Cyber Behavior, (pp. 434-445). Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

Campbell, H. (ed.) (2012). Digital Religion: Understanding Religious Practice in New Media Worlds. New York: Routledge.

Campbell, H. (2012). Understanding the Relationship between Religion Online and Offline in a Networked Society, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 80 (1), 64-93.

This interview was based upon the article: http://jaar.oxfordjournals.org/content/80/1/64.abstract

Religious Studies Opportunities Digest – 26 October 2012

We are not responsible for any content contained herein, but have simply copied and pasted from a variety of sources. If you have any content for future digestimage of bookss, please contact us via the various options on our ‘contact’ page.

A pdf summary documentcan now be download. This can be printed and circulated to colleagues or put up on a notice board.

In this issue:

  • Call for Papers
  • Conferences
  • Jobs
  • Grants

And don’t forget, you can always get involved with the Religious Studies Project by writing one of our features essays or resources pages. Contact the editors for more information.


CALLS FOR PAPERS

CFP: Engaging Religious Experience: A Return to Ethnography and Theology

Practical Matters is now seeking submissions on the theme of Engaging Religious Experience: A Return to Ethnography and Theology.  Practical Matters is an online, multimedia, transdisciplinary journal designed to ask and provoke questions about religious practice and practical theology. Practical Matters is funded by a grant from the Lilly Endowment, Inc. and published out of the Emory University Graduate Division of Religion.  The journal contains both peer-reviewed and non-peer-reviewed content.

The sixth issue of Practical Matters will return to themes that emerged in our Spring 2010 issue, which explored why theologians are turning to ethnographic methods and how an interdisciplinary conversation among anthropologists, scholars of religion, and theologians contributes new insights into the doing and creating of both ethnography and theology.  This new issue will focus on the description of religious experience as a theologically relevant and persistently elusive phenomenon. It will reflect on the possibilities and limitations of ethnography for translating communal embodied experience into different communities and contexts.  Finally, this issue will continue to explore intersections and interferences of descriptive and normative modes of scholarship on religious experience.  We welcome submissions from theologians, anthropologists, scholars and practitioners of religion broadly defined.

We are interested in featuring work that engages a broad spectrum of questions and themes, such as…

  • How does attention to human embodiment inform our understandings of religious experience?  Can ethnographic methods provide access to certain kinds of experience that other methods sometimes overlook or obscure, such as bodily experience, interiority, and experiences of suffering? In what ways do these experiences escape the ethnographic interpreter? How does ethnography provide attentiveness to practices and experiences of exclusion?
  • How can scholars and practitioners move between the descriptive work of ethnography and theological or normative claims?  Why are these moves sometimes experienced as problematic?  Do moral, theological, scholarly, or activist commitments obscure the ethnographer’s ability to represent religious experience? Does the ethnographer need to be an “insider” to make theological claims or norm religious practice?
  • How does incorporating ethnography into a theological or ethical project affect the epistemological assumptions of that project? Does ethnography bring more ambiguity? More clarity? Or does using ethnography in theological projects limit the theologian’s ability to make general or normative claims? How does ethnographic study redefine the role of a theologian or ethicist?
  • How can teaching the ethnographic method in the undergraduate or seminary classrooms enrich or disrupt the study of religion and theology?  How do “experiential learning” and “engaged learning” pedagogies shift students’ perspectives on religious experience? How might the use of digital media facilitate or hinder the study of religious experience in the classroom setting?
  • Can the work of ethnography itself constitute a kind of “religious experience”?  Should it?  And for whom?
  • We welcome “notes from the field” (in multiple forms including audio, video, and photos) in which those doing ethnography describe unexpected challenges in their work as well as explorations into the craft of ethnographic writing and the steps between field notes and manuscript.  What is required to practice ethnography as an interpretive art and what is the role of religious or theological imagination in ethnographic practice?

Specifically, we are looking for submissions intended for peer review in Analyzing Matters, as well as for the non-peer reviewed categories of Practicing and Teaching Matters:

  1. Submissions for Analyzing Matters on the theme of Engaging Religious Experience: A Return to Ethnography and Theology will be submitted for peer review;

  2. Submissions for Practicing and Teaching Matters on the theme of Engaging Religious Experience: A Return to Ethnography and Theology will be reviewed by the editors.  We welcome reflections of practitioners, essays, pedagogical reflections, or field notes concerning religious practices, rituals, or other issues of concern for scholars, theologians, teachers and practitioners;

Practical Matters is an academic journal with a diverse audience. We encourage those considering submission to think broadly, creatively, and experimentally about form and content. Submissions in any form (i.e., film, text, audio, images) may be eligible for peer review; however, the peer review process is not mandatory for all submissions.  We especially encourage non-U.S. submissions as well as multimedia and interdisciplinary pieces of original scholarship.

The submission deadline is November 1, 2012. For more specific instructions on possible forms of submissions, more information on our peer review process, or to read current and past issues of Practical Matters, visit our web site: http://www.practicalmattersjournal.org/


CFP: SEVENTH INTERNATIONAL MEETING ON SOCIO-RELIGIOUS STUDIES

Religion, utopias and alternatives to contemporary dilemmas

Havana, July 2-5, 2013

The Department of Socio-religious Studies of the Center for Psychological and Sociological Research (CIPS) of the Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment of Cuba calls scholars on religion, academics and religious believers to participate in the SEVENTH INTERNATIONAL MEETING ON SOCIO-RELIGIOUS STUDIES, sponsored by religious institutions and non-governmental organizations, that will be held on July 2-5, at the Hotel Nacional in El Vedado, Havana.

It is well-known the role of religion as an important producer of interpretation frameworks of social reality, and as generator of social transformation practices, halting or reproducing injustice situations. Amid a turbulent international scene, marked by unresolved socioeconomic and political crises, to approach some of these processes requires complex analyses that transcend mere description to think of alternative proposals or to contribute to spread initiatives, from small religious spaces, that attempt to bring about a more equitable and just world with greater respect for nature and greater opportunities for all human beings.

From this perspective, the event aims to focus the reflections on the following topics:

·        Religion, power and hegemony

·        Religion and the environment

·        Religion and social inequities

·        Religion and diversity

·        Theoretical and methodological approaches

·        Religion, migration and cultural  identity

·        Religious actors, dialogues and transformation.

·        Religion and mass media

·        Institutions, spirituality and religious networks

·        Religion, consumption and market

The Seventh Meeting, like the previous ones held by the Department of Socio-religious Studies, every three years since 1995, aims at creating an environment conducive to dialogue among the participants, exchange of knowledge and sharing experiences.

The official language of the event is Spanish, but translation requests by English speakers can be addressed upon previous notice by the Organizing Committee. All participants will receive documentation related to the event and information of interest about the city and the country.

Presentations can be made in lectures, workshops, panels, posters and by means of audiovisual aids.

The official travel agency is CUBATUR. Contact Person: Arlene Alvarez (eventos1 [at] cbtevent.cbt.tur.cu ).

The registration fee is 150.00 CUC (Cuban Convertible Currency Cubana) for participants; 120.00 CUC for accompanying persons; and 75.00 CUC for students (previous accreditation).

All those interested in participating must fill the data form and e-mail it to: desr_encuentro [at] cips.cu, before November 15, 2012 to be considered by the Organizing Committee:


CFP: The Graduate Committee for the Study of Religion at the University of Texas is currently accepting paper proposals for its first interdisciplinary graduate student conference.

March 23-24, 2013

The University of Texas, Austin, TX

The keynote speakers for this conference are:

Professor David Brakke

Joe R. Engle Chair in the History of Christianity at The Ohio State University

Professor Kevin Trainor

Professor of Religion at the University of Vermont

The study of religion has used a succession of binary terms to distinguish between normative, officially sanctioned practice and religion on the ground: orthodoxy vs. heterodoxy, elite vs. folk, official vs. popular, and so on. Although some of these terms have served as a useful conceptual tool, the use of binary distinctions is problematic. There is an ever-present danger of confusing example with exemplum–of privileging those individuals, institutions, and

practices most closely aligned with the sources of power or our own world-view. Binarization begets valorization. This endless parade of new terminology suggests that the drive to dichotomize is to blame. Even the recent attempts to resolve this issue under the headings

“lived religion” or “everyday religion” retain polarizing antonymns that obscure some aspects of religion. In order to problematize the cycle of successive binary oppositions, this conference aims to interrogate the middle space between these conceptual extremes. We invite participants to consider religious action and authority as a fluid continuum–a network of

overlapping spheres of religious influence. In this model, every religious actor–from the Israelite high priest to a Shinto shrine maiden, from the Dalai Lama to a streetcorner evangelist–is a potential source of religious authority, differing only in the degree

to which they can attract and channel the flow of religious power within society. Here, authority is a shifting current rather than a stagnant pool. We encourage participants to explore the possibility of mapping previous binaries onto a continuum model and retaining

these distinctions as “ideal types” in order to organize the data and focus the scholar’s attention. This conference is purposely eclectic: We welcome papers critiquing binary models as well as those treating religious actors from all time periods and cultures as situated within a continuum model. Such actors include, but are not limited to: faith healers, mediums, temple personnel, prophets, religious reformers, pilgrims, exorcists, breeders of sacrificial animals, vendors of religious paraphernalia, and mendicant preachers. Participants are encouraged to

show how evidence from their areas of specialization can inform a more general dialogue about the problem of binary categories and contribute to the development of a new theoretical approach to the study of religion.

Please send paper titles and abstracts (300 words or less) to byebyebinaries [at ] gmail.com <mailto:byebyebinaries%40gmail.com>  by November 27th, 2012. Please

include your name, institutional and departmental affiliation, and email address.

We hope to publish the results of the conference in some form. Sincerely,

Megan Case (Religious Studies) Benjamin Cox (Religious Studies) Aren Wilson-Wright (Middle Eastern Studies)

Sponsors: The Graduate School, The Institute for the Study of Antiquity and Christian Origins, The Center for Middle Eastern Studies, The Religious Studies Department, The Department of Asian Studies


CFP: 32nd ISSR Conference

RETHINKING COMMUNITY RELIGIOUS CONTINUITIES AND MUTATIONS IN LATE MODERNITY Turku-Åbo, Finland, 27-30 June, 2013

Conference website:

http://www.sisr-issr.org/English/Conferences/Conferences.htm

Call for papers:

http://www.sisr-issr.org/English/Newsletters/Network%20%28PDF%20and%20Word%29/Network%2043.pdf

Deadlines: October 31th 2012:

-Abstracts of proposed papers for the Thematic Sessions (STS) and Working Groups (WGT), to be sent to the SESSION ORGANISER (S)

-Abstracts of proposed papers for the Thematic Sessions of the New Researchers Forum (NRF) and Miscellaneous papers (MPL) for the NRF, to be sent to the Session Organiser

-Abstracts of Miscellaneous Papers (MPL) to be sent to the GENERAL SECRETARY

Financial support available.

The conference languages are English and French.

Important notice: Organisers of Thematic Sessions (STS) and Working Groups (WGT) and Presenters of papers have to be members of the International Society for the Sociology of Religions (ISSR). Each participant may only present one paper at the conference.

Submission details available in the full call for papers:

http://www.sisr-issr.org/English/Newsletters/Network%20%28PDF%20and%20Word%29/Network%2043.pdf


CFP: Imagination and Narrative in Jewish Thought

Date: 2012-11-30

Description:  The University of Toronto Journal of Jewish Thought

CALL FOR PAPERS: Vol. IV: Imagination and Narrative in Jewish Thought The 2013 issue of The University of Toronto Journal of Jewish Thought invites papers reflecting on the role of imagination and narrative in Jewish thought.

Contact: utjjt.cjs [at] gmail.com

URL: cjs.utoronto.ca/tjjt/

Announcement ID: 198043

http://www.h-net.org/announce/show.cgi?ID=198043


Call for Papers: “Pilgrimage, Travel, and Cult”

Date: 2013-05-24

Description:  When an ancient communitys life involved a focus upon a specific holy place, that groups ideas about pilgrimage and travel were necessarily pivotal to its religious praxis. To understand the complex interrelations between a communitys

ideology of pilgrimage and travel and its religious activities,

Contact: hekhal.dublinia@gmail.com

URL: hekhal.wordpress.com/

Announcement ID: 198071

http://www.h-net.org/announce/show.cgi?ID=198071


CFP: The Journal of the National Association of Student Anthropologists

Call for Papers for Special Issue on African  Diaspora Religion

Submission Deadline EXTENDED TO OCTOBER 31ST, 2012

Student Anthropologist is the flagship peer-reviewed journal of the National Association of Student Anthropologists (the largest organization of anthropologist students in the world). It is an annual digital publication. Students from all levels and disciplines are encouraged to contribute.

Aims and Scope

This special issue aims to explore the social, political, and cultural meanings and functions of African diaspora religions. From the beginning of anthropological study, Africana religion has been at the forefront of anthropological inquiry. Africana Religion (African and African diaspora religion, also including those religions influenced by the diversity of African cultural heritage) has provided a space in which anthropologists have been able to explore concepts about kinship (both fictive and non- fictive), ritual, embodiment, identity, transnationalism, diversity, etc. This inquiry has continued up to the present day as African diaspora religions have become transnational and are networks through which ideas about spirituality, community, authenticity, origins, body and space circulate.

In addition, this special issue will examine the latest work on African diaspora religious practice, its contribution to the field of anthropology, and a discussion of its trajectory and where scholars hope to see it go in the future. This edition will discuss and examine the different ways of viewing and analyzing the African diaspora in and through religious practice, and the accompanying complications that occur in social, political, cultural and material life. This special issue will seek to explore how African diaspora religious tradition intersects with and enhances discussions of a wide array of topics such as the environment, globalization, spatialization, urbanization, immigration, etc.

We seek to bring together a diverse range of scholars working on different aspects of African diaspora religion. We will only accept original scholarly submissions from undergraduate and graduate students worldwide. Below are a list of possible areas of inquiry, but please do not feel limited to these questions only.

Possible questions and areas of inquiry include, but are not limited to:

•   The contribution of African diaspora religions to the study of anthropolog

•   How do African diaspora religions intersect with music, film, performance, visual arts, media studies, history, philosophy, sociology, gender studies, political science, economics, education, geography, environmental science, legal studies, and public health?”

•   How do complex concepts such as “blackness” and “Africanness” inform each other and shape individual and group/community religious identities? And what do they ultimately mean, especially given the temporal and spatial distance from the African continent?”

•   How do lived and imagined experiences of religious diasporic spaces differ between individual and group?”

•   How do different diaspora communities relate to each other across boundaries of time, space and historical context?

•   How is “Africa” (re)imagined in different ways within these African diasporic religions?

Submission Guidelines

Any student currently enrolled in a BA, MA, or PhD program is welcome to submit original research to be considered for publication. While this is an anthropology journal, students do not need to be enrolled in an anthropology program.

All submissions should be under 6,000 words in length and are subject to a peer review process. All submissions should be sent in a single document as an attachment and saved in Microsoft Office Word (.doc or .docx) or Mac Pages (.pages) format and conform to AAA style (http://www.aaanet.org/publications/style_guide.pdf). Submissions should be double spaced and adhere to the word limits outlined in this CFP. Rarely, we consider longer submissions or those of an irregular nature.

Please remove all identifying information from the manuscript and include a coverpage including name, institution, student status, up to five keywords describing the paper, and an 250 word abstract. Please save the document with your last name in the title.

Send submissions, as well as any questions, to the Special Issue Guest Editor, Lisanne C Norman, at lnorman918 [at] gmail.com.

Special Issue Guest Editor Bio: Lisanne C Norman is currently in the fifth year of her PhD at Harvard University. Her research focus is African Americans who practice Yoruba religion from 1959- present. Her work is an analysis of the expansion of this predominantly Afro-Cuba religious community to include the numerous African Americans who converted during the 1960s and 1970s. The work will also analyze the role that African diaspora civil rights and geopolitical movements played in the transmission and adaptation of this religious practice and how that has come to define its current practice. Through participation-observation and semi-structured interviews, Lisanne hopes to understand how global forces have come to shape this transnational religious practice and how emerging African diaspora networks have worked to change the dynamics of religious practice not only for African Americans, but for Afro-Cubans and Nigerian practitioners as well. Lisanne is fluent in Spanish and Portuguese.”


CFP: Global Religious Experiences and Identities among Lesbians

The Journal of Lesbian Studies (Taylor & Francis) will devote an entire issue to the topic of global religious experiences and identities among lesbians, guest edited by S.J. Creek. The intention behind this special edition is to generate richer and more varied scholarship around the lived experiences of lesbians connected to (or alienated by) religious practices or faiths around the world. Papers from sociology, history, anthropology, political science, english, psychology, religious studies, gender and women’s studies, religious studies, communication studies, linguistics, criminology, queer studies, international studies, art history, or other fields are welcome.

Topics may include, but are not limited, to: the intersection of race/class/gender/sexuality and religion, religious movements, orthopraxy, orthodoxy, representation in media/literature/art, trends in religiosity, clergy/religious officials, resistance and activism, indigenous religions, Wicca, Santeria, Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Shintoism, Confucianism, Taoism, Sikhism, Baha’i, Judaism, Islam, Christianity, atheism, popular religions, Mujerista theology, practice, belief, religious socialization, disability, size, critiques of lesbian sexualities or spiritualities from post-colonial or transgender studies perspectives, religious individualism, secularism, celibacy, “religious nones,” nuns, intentional communities, state control of religious practice, reproduction, families, identities, cognitive dissonance, oppression, reparative therapies, migration, religious education, or emotions.  Works attending to the experiences of queer, bisexual, and transgender individuals will also be considered, if these pieces strongly connect to the central theme.

Please direct inquiries or proposals of no more than 500 words to S.J. Creek at creeksj [at] hollins.edu by December 20, 2012.  Invitations for full manuscripts will be issued in January 2013.  Both abstracts and manuscripts will be evaluated for originality, style, and fit within the overall edition. Authors of selected abstracts will be invited to submit a full manuscript of 5,000-6,500 words, due May 15, 2013.


CONFERENCES


The Higher Education Academy’s Second Annual Arts & Humanities Conference

Storyville: Exploring narratives of learning and teaching

The HEA’s Second Annual Arts & Humanities Conference

Thistle hotel, Brighton

29–30 May 2013

At the heart of the Arts and Humanities disciplines sit stories – stories which create and recreate worlds, distant and present, stories which inspire and engage, stories which grow imaginations and expand what is thinkable.

Stories are everywhere, and our second annual conference seeks to explore the intersections between narrative and learning and teaching by considering:

  • the narratives of how we teach – our stories as educators;
  • the narratives of how our students learn – travelogues from the student journey;
  • the narratives we teach – our subjects and (inter)disciplinarity;
  • the narratives we teach by – pedagogies and methodologies, academic identities, research-based teaching and teaching-based research;
  • the narratives we teach within – policy, dominant media narratives, student expectations informed by Key Information Sets and the National Student Survey;
  • the narratives we (co-)create – the impact of the Arts and Humanities, the experience and memories of our students, students as partners.

As stories have the power to ‘reveal meaning without committing the error of defining it’ (Hannah Arendt) we welcome poster, paper and workshop proposals on any aspect of teaching and learning in the Arts and Humanities within the broad theme of ‘narratives of learning and teaching’. We have also introduced wildcard sessions, for you to create your own conference format – wildcards come in slices of 15 minutes, 90 minutes and 3 hours.

For more information please visit the conference website.

Call closes: 21 December 2012.


The Director, Chair and Fellows of the Faiths and Civil Society Unit, Goldsmiths, University of London invite you to;

Race, Faith & Integration; a discussion and debate with Prof. Ted Cantle, Chair of the Institute of Community Cohesion. Professor Cantle will joined by a panel of discussants including Marjorie Mayo, Professor Emeritus at Goldsmiths, Pragna Patel, Director of Southall Black Sisters and Jenny Kartupelis, Director of the East of England Faiths Forum.

22nd November at 4.15 – 6pm, in the Ben Pimlott Lecture Theatre, Goldsmiths, New Cross, London, SE14 6NW

This is a free event and places are limited  – please contact m.shaw [at] gold.ac.uk to book.


The 2013 CESNUR Conference co-organized by Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR) International Society for the Study of New Religions (ISSNR) Institute for Studies of Religion, Baylor University Finyar (The Nordic Network for the Study of New Religiosity) Dalarna University

CHANGING RELIGIOUS MOVEMENTS IN A CHANGING WORLD Dalarna University Falun (Sweden), 21-24 June 2013

Registration for the conference will open on 15 February 2013.

http://www.cesnur.org/2013/swe-cfp.htm

CALL FOR PAPERS

2013 celebrates the 25th anniversary of the first CESNUR conference, held in Southern Italy in 1988, and the opening of INFORM (Information Network Focus on Religious Movements) in the UK.

How has the religious scenario evolved within the context of a changing world over the past 25 years? How are religious movements different today? How does society react differently to religious pluralism?

These will be the themes of the 2013 conference, with special attention being paid to the Nordic countries, contemporary spiritual and esoteric movements in a globalized and transnational perspective, and the reactions of the media, the mainline churches, the law and society in general to the new religious pluralism.

The conference will start on Midsummer Night’s Eve, Friday 21 June 2013, when participants will congregate in Stockholm in the morning and board a bus for a field trip that will take them to culturally significant locations throughout the Swedish region of Dalarna. Dalarna is famous for its small and picturesque villages, beautiful nature, traditional culture and handicraft. We will first visit Falun’s World Heritage Site and the 17th century part of the town. At that time, Falun was one of the most important towns in Sweden because of its copper mine. Then we will continue to the old traditional villages around Lake Siljan, stopping on our way at some other places of traditional and cultural importance. The journey will culminate with a traditional Swedish Midsummer Feast in the village of Leksand, before our arrival in Falun late that evening.

The sessions of the conference will run from the morning of Saturday 22 June to the morning of Monday 24 June. On Monday 24 June buses will leave Falun at lunchtime (box lunches will be provided), taking participants either directly to Arlanda Airport in Stockholm or to a visit to Kalle Runristare, a neo-Pagan rune-carver on an island outside Stockholm. This island, Adelsö, is a World Heritage Site with historical importance, where the king lived in the Viking era. The journey ends in Stockholm in the evening. In this package is included the field trip (including meals) on Friday, lunches from Saturday to Monday, the reception on Saturday night, and the journey back to Arlanda/Stockholm on Monday. Price: 220 euro.

An option will be offered for those who only want to participate in the conference, have the lunches on Saturday and Sunday and attend the banquet on Sunday evening as well as the reception on Saturday night.

Participants opting for this package will not be included in any of the field trips and these participants will have to make their own arrangements to reach and leave Falun by train and plan their transfers privately. Price: 120 euro.

Option 1

Full package, including transportation from Arlanda airport, Stockholm, the field trip on Friday (including meals); lunches; the reception on Saturday evening and the banquet on Sunday evening and either transportation back to Arlanda only or the field trip with arrival in Stockholm on Monday evening: Euro 220.

Option 2:

Conference attendance only, including lunch on Saturday and Sunday, the Saturday reception and the Sunday banquet (but no field trips or

transportation) at: Euro 120.

Papers and sessions proposals should be submitted by email before the close of business on 10 January 2013 to cesnur_to [at] virgilio.it, accompanied by an abstract of no more than 300 words and a CV of no more than 200 words. Proposals may be submitted either in English or in French.


Digital Methodologies in the Sociology of Religion

http://www.derby.ac.uk/digital-methodologies-in-the-sociology-of-religion

16th November 2012, Enterprise Centre, University of Derby

Organised by the Centre for Society, Religion & Belief (SRB), University of Derby

Funded by Digital Social Research (DSR)

To book your place please visit http://unishop.derby.ac.uk/browse/extra_info.asp?modid=1&prodid=592&deptid=76&compid=1&prodvarid=0&catid=77

This conference is generously subsidised by Digital Social Research. There is a small registration fee of £30 (+ £6 VAT)

Within an era of a growing reliance on digital technologies to instantly and effectively express our values, allegiances, and multi-faceted identities, the interest in digital research methodologies among Sociologists of Religion comes as no surprise (e.g. Bunt 2009; Cantoni and Zyga 2007; Contractor 2012 and Ostrowski 2006; Taylor 2003). However the methodological challenges associated with such research have been given significantly less attention. What are the epistemological underpinnings and rationale for the use ‘digital’ methodologies? What ethical dilemmas do sociologists face, including while protecting participants’ interests in digital contexts that are often perceived as anonymised and therefore ‘safe’? Implementing such ‘digital’ research also leads to practical challenges such as mismatched expectations of IT skills, limited access to specialized tools, project management and remote management of research processes. Hosted by the Centre for Society, Religion, and Belief at the University of Derby and funded by Digital Social Research, this conference brings together scholars to critically evaluate the uses, impacts, challenges and future of Digital Methodologies in the Sociology of Religion.

Please forward this to your invitation to your professional networks and to your students. A few travel bursaries are available for post-graduate students in the UK. Please write to either Sariya Contractor (s.contractor [at] derby.ac.uk) or Suha Shakkour (s.shakkour [at] derby.ac.uk) for further details.

Plenary Speakers:

Prof. Heidi Campbell, Texas A&M University Methodological Challenges, Innovations and Growing Pains in Digital Religion Research

Dr. Eric Atwell, Leeds University Applying Artificial Intelligence to the Understanding of Islam

Draft Programme

09:45 – 10:15  Registration & Refreshments

10:15 – 10:40  Welcome, Introduction and Housekeeping

Dr. Sariya Contractor & Dr. Suha Shakkour

Prof. Paul Weller, Head of Research and Commercial Development, EHS

Dr. Kristin Aune, Director, Centre for Society, Religion & Belief

 

10:40 – 11:25  Plenary: Methodological Challenges, Innovations and Growing Pains in Digital Religion Research

 Prof. Heidi Campbell, Texas A&M University

11:25 – 12:40  Social Networking Sites

Anti-Social networking: Facebook as a site and method for researching anti-Muslim and anti-Islam opposition

Dr. Chris Allen, University of Birmingham

Role of Digital Communication Technology in the Muslim Brotherhood’s Lead Revolution in Egypt

Dr. Abul Hassan & Prof. Toseef Azid, Markfield Institute of Higher Education

Ethical Challenges of researching Muslim women’s closed religious newsgroups

Dr. Anna Piela, Independent Researcher

12:40 – 13:40  Lunch

13:40 – 14:55  Digital Resources and Tools

Surveying the Religious and the Non-Religious

Dr. Tristram Hooley & Prof. Paul Weller, University of Derby

Research Approaches to the Digital Bible

Dr. Tim Hutchings, Durham University

Employing Distance Learning to Improve the Quantity and Quality of Islamic Studies

Dr Muhammad Mesbahi, Islamic College & Morteza Rezaei-Zadeh, University of Limerick

14:55 – 15:40  Plenary: Applying Artificial Intelligence to the Understanding of Islam

Eric Atwell, Leeds University

15:40 – 15:55 Refreshments

15:55 – 17:10  Communication

Prospects and Limits for Mxit and Mobi Methodologies for Religion in Sub-Saharan Africa

Dr. Federico Settler, University of KwaZulu-Natal

Researching Religious Discourses Online: Some thoughts on method

Thomas Alberts, SOAS

The Online Communication Model: A theoretical Framework to Analyse the Institutional Communication on the Internet

Juan Narbona & Dr. Daniel Arasa, Pontifical University of the Holy Cross

17:10 – 17:30  Concluding Comments, Publication Plans


JOBS


RUB – CERES

Department of East Asian Studies

The Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB) is one of Germany’s leading research universities. The University draws its strengths from both the diversity and the proximity of scientific and engineering disciplines on a single, coherent campus. This highly dynamic setting en-ables students and researchers to work across traditional boundaries of academic subjects and departments. The RUB is a vital institution in the Ruhr area, which has been selected as European Capital of Culture for the year 2010.

The Center of Religious Studies (CERES) and the Department of East Asian Studies of the Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB) invite applications for the position of a

Professor (W 2 – permanent position) in Religions of Central Asia Past and Present

to start on 1 April 2013 or at the earliest possible time.

The future holder of the post will represent the subject in research and teaching. The ap-plicant should represent Central Asian religious history in full breadth within the BA and MA study programs of Religious Studies. He or she should participate in the promotion of young researchers in religious studies, should coordinate the own research with the re-search program of the Käte Hamburger Kolleg (KHK) “Dynamics of Religious History be-tween Asia and Europe” which focuses on religious contacts and transfers, and should integrate him- or herself into the Faculty of East Asian Studies.

Positively assessed junior professorships, habilitation or equivalent academic achieve-ments and evidence of special aptitude are just as much required as the willingness to in-volve in university self-administration, in particular in the coordination of the study program of Religious Studies and of cooperative research within CERES and in particular within the KHK.

We expect furthermore:

  • high commitment in teaching;

  • readiness to participate in interdisciplinary academic work;

  • willingness and ability to attract external funding;

  • non academic skills (task specific) where applicable;

  • German language competence or the readiness to achieve sufficient competence within three years.

The Ruhr-Universität Bochum is an equal opportunity employer.

Complete applications with CV, list of publications, taught courses and research profile should be sent to the Dean of the Department of East Asian Studies of the Ruhr-Universität Bochum, D-44780 Bochum no later than 2012-11-30. Further information is available at www.ceres.rub.de /www.khk.ceres.rub.de.


Chinese University of Hong Kong – Assistant Professor

http://www.h-net.org/jobs/job_display.php?id=45634

Earlham College – Assistant or Associate Professor of Japanese Studies

http://www.h-net.org/jobs/job_display.php?id=45636

Florida International University – Lecturer/Instructor in Chinese

Language, Culture and Literature

http://www.h-net.org/jobs/job_display.php?id=45642


GRANTS


Grants of the Max van Berchem Foundation

Date: 2013-03-31

Description: The Max van Berchem Foundation, whose goal is to promote the study of Islamic and Arabic archaeology, history, geography, art history, epigraphy, religion and literature, awards grants for research carried out in these areas by scholars who have already received their doctorate.

Contact: info@maxvanberchem.org

URL: www.maxvanberchem.org

Announcement ID: 197989

http://www.h-net.org/announce/show.cgi?ID=197989

Ethics on the Internet: Public versus Private, is it that simple?

Ethics on the Internet: Public versus Private, is it that simple?

By Lauren Bernauer, University of Sydney

Published by the Religious Studies Project, on 3 October 2012 in response to the Religious Studies Project Interview with Tim Hutchings on Digital Religion (1 October 2012).

In this week’s podcast about religion and digital media, Tim Hutchings and Jonathan Tuckett discuss various areas of current research into religion and digital media, such as use of online forums, creation of prayer groups and pages, and also the use of virtual worlds like Second Life in people’s religiosity, and the ability to construct churches and temples in such settings.  My own research deals with digital media and religion, although is more about the religious content of that media than how religious people might engage with it. Yet, I must still examine forums and blogs for general fan reactions to such content, and it is the potential ethics around this type of research practice that will be the focus of this discussion.

When it comes to discovering a community’s response to an issue of interest, the Internet serves as a great resource, for often people will share their opinions on public forums and blogs for the rest of the world to read.  For a researcher this is an easy way to gather material for an argument without having to engage with an ethics committee, or even with the people writing the forum or blog posts.  As these people have made their posts public, they will be found via search engines or the simple browsing of a forum or website. Thus it is generally considered that this content is public domain (McKee & Porter 2009, p.9). However there is some evidence that attitudes towards this are changing.

Before discussing the changes that are occurring in some universities around ethics, the issue of what constitutes ‘public’ and ‘private’ on the Internet should also be considered.  Some might view this simply as a case of: if it can be read without having to sign up and potentially have someone approve your membership, then it is public content.  However, as some scholars have rightly pointed out, just because the place is viewable to all, it does not mean that the members consider their discussions to be public (Elm 2008).  An example of this is Norman K. Denzin’s research of people’s use of a Usenet group to discuss their emotional stories related to destructive relationships (Denzin 1998).  As the archives of this group are open access, Denzin was freely able to find and use the information that members of the community posted, without having to seek consent for its use.  Despite the group’s posting archive being publicly accessible, the people who posted their private stories may not have intended for them to be read by an outsider, someone who had not been involved in similar abusive emotional situations.

Denzin’s research did occur some fourteen years ago when the Internet was still relatively new and not as widespread as it is now. Yet, about the same length of time ago, in 1995, Lynne Schrum wrote on ethics for Internet research, and how the ethics used in standard research might be adapted for those doing research online.  Under the concept of Privacy she writes:

Closely related to unintended or unanticipated harm, the issue of privacy evokes strong emotions among researchers.  Guba and Lincoln (1989) maintain that privacy and confidentiality have also been defined too narrowly, so that the personal space of individuals, including many areas of intense and private significance, are too often considered by researchers to be open to investigation. (Schrum 1995, p.315)

In their recent work, The Ethics of Internet Research (2009), Heidi A. McKee and James E. Porter have built upon the previous research of Mali Sveningsson (2004) to map where statements and information a person reveals online might sit on an X-Y grid.  The X axis represents Private to Public, while the Y axis scales Non-Sensitive to Sensitive.  McKee and Porter add to this by determining that if information can be placed in the Public-Non-Sensitive quadrant or just outside of it, the information should be regarded as not requiring informed consent.  Examples given include; a resume listed online is Private but Non-Sensitive and thus would not need informed consent, while a public blog discussing a personal account of abuse, despite being Public is highly Sensitive and informed consent should be obtained before using the information in research (McKee & Porter 2009, pp.20–21).

My research deals with statements and information in the Public-Non-Sensitive quadrant, and as this is the case, should consent be gained from those whose public forum posts I have quoted?  I do not actively engage with these communities, or even actively ‘lurk’, which is considered an advantageous research method by some (Brownlow & O’Dell 2002, p.685), yet the guidelines created by Barbara F. Sharf after her research and communication with an online Breast Cancer support group would suggest that I should (Sharf 1999, pp.254–255).  However it would seem that Sharf’s research would fall into the Sensitive half of Sveningsson’s grid, and as she was actively engaging with the participants of the community, informed consent does seem to be important.

The issues surrounding ethics when researching online and utilising information provided seemingly freely by members of different communities are not clear.  For those interviewing and engaging with people via a digital medium for their research it would seem only sensible that they follow standard ethical guidelines and obtain ethics clearance, just as they would for face-to-face interviews.  Yet, what is not clear is casual observation of forum posting, reading the comments on a YouTube video or blog post.  If it is viewable by all, is it public domain?  Denzin considered it so, yet the Private-Public/Non-Sensitive-Sensitive grid, and our own implicit understanding of prevalent posting habits, would deem that some information of that nature requires informed consent.

At my own institution there are some changes occurring in regards to ethics clearance, primarily for postgraduate students, as it would appear a large number of them are not aware that their research may need an ethics clearance.  In Australia if research is done without approval from an ethics committee, this does not prevent the student receiving a successful Master of Philosophy or PhD examination. However it does deem their dissertations unpublishable, and thus stalls their hopes of an academic career.  One solution to this is to have new postgraduate students complete an ethics clearance form or provide a written acknowledgement of having read through the form to ensure that if they will be conducting interviews or similar for their research they are aware of what is required of them in terms of the law.

There is also discussion of changes being made to ethics clearances regarding online research. Currently this is not required for type of work I do, but in three to five years that could change, with lurking on forums to be considered worthy of seeking ethics committee approval.  This ultimately has to do with potential changes in Australian law, with which ethics committees in research institutions would have to comply.

While ethics regarding research on the internet has been discussed and methods have been proposed for years, it is still something that is unclear and worked out on a ‘case by case’ basis by ethics boards and committees. Although such research is quite common and the Internet is widely used, online research is relatively new. It is safe to conclude that how to tackle the issue of ethical research online will still take some time, even for those currently engaged in this endeavor.

This material is disseminated under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. and can be distributed and utilised freely, provided full citation is given.

About the Author:

Lauren Bernauer is a PhD candidate in the Studies in Religion department at the University of Sydney. She completed her MPhil in 2007, writing on the computer game Age of Mythology and its portrayal of pre-Christian religion and deities. Her PhD is continuing this topic, though expanding it to include the young teen novel series, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, the computer game World of Warcraft, and the Japanese video game Ōkami.  She has had articles recently published in Brill’s Handbook of New Religions and Cultural Production (article co-authored with Garry W. Trompf) and Handbook of Hyper-real Religions.

References:

  • Brownlow, C. & O’Dell, L., 2002. Ethical Issues for Qualitative Research in On-line Communities. Disablitiy and Society, 17(6), pp.685–694.
  • Denzin, N.K., 1998. In search of the inner child: Co-dependency and gender in cyberspace. In G. Bendelow & S. J. Williams, eds. Emotions in Social Life: Critical themes and contemporary issues. London: Routledge, pp. 97–119.
  • Elm, M.S., 2008. How Do Various Notions of Privacy Influence Decisions in Qualitative Internet Research. In A. N. Markham & N. K. Baym, eds. Internet Inquiry: Conversations about method. London: Sage, pp. 69–87.
  • McKee, H.A. & Porter, J.E., 2009. The Ethics of Internet Research: A Rhetorical, Case-Based Process, New York: Peter Lang.
  • Schrum, L., 1995. Framing the Debate: Ethical research in the Information age. Qualitative Inquiry, 1, pp.311–326.
  • Sharf, B.F., 1999. Beyond netiquette: the ethics of doing naturalistic discourse research on the Internet. In S. Jones, ed. Doing Internet Research: Critical Issues and Methods for Examining the Net. London: Sage, pp. 243–257.
  • Sveningsson, M., 2004. Ethics in Internet Ethnography. In E. A. Buchanan, ed. Readings in Virtual Research Ethics: Issues and Controversies. London: Information Science Publishing, pp. 45–61.

 

Digital Religion

Second Life, World of Warcraft, over the past few years the internet has seen an explosion of activity in virtual realms. People have taken to creating digital avatars whether its to join in epic fantasy battles or simply to meet other people. And where you find people meeting you’re bound to find religion in the mix. Unlike chatrooms and blog posts where people simply write out their ideas and discuss their beliefs these digital worlds offer a whole new way in which to act out and practice religious beliefs. From meditation sessions, church congregations, to memorial services the range of activities not only matches what can be found in the real world but can exceed it also. The Digital realm opens up a whole new range of possibilities for a person to be religious.

For many of us in the study of religions this may seem like a daunting task. The digital realm is a dark continent in which the standard practices of methodology and theory find themselves tested by a whole new landscape. To introduce us to the vast array of topics Tim Hutchings provides us with an introductory discussion into the world of digital religion. We discuss the ways in which religion is finding itself in the digital realm and how this new format of expression differs from its real world iterations. The digital realm poses a number of interesting challenges to the questions of religious authority and orthodoxy in ways not visible/possible in the real world. Finally we tackle some of the issues that we as researchers must face when we try and study digital religion like the methods of data collection and ethics involved in studying digital avatars.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to our weekly podcast, on iTunes. And if you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us.

Tim Hutchings recently completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the HUMlab digital humanities centre in Umeå, Sweden and has now returned to the UK to join the CODEC research initiative at St John’s College, Durham. Tim is currently working with CODEC to develop a series of digital art exhibitions and installations in response to the Lindisfarne Gospels. His PhD thesis (Durham University, 2010) was an ethnographic study of five online Christian churches, focusing on the relationship between online and offline religion. Research interests include e-vangelism, online Christian storytelling, the future of the Bible as a digital sacred text and the role of new media in death and mourning. Tim has also written for us before responding to Callum Brown, you can find his article which also discusses Digital Religion here.

A Response to Callum Brown: Connecting “When” and “Why” in Digital Religion, by Tim Hutchings

A Response to Callum Brown: Connecting “When” and “Why” in Digital Religion

By Tim Hutchings, Durham University

Published by the Religious Studies Project, on 4 May 2012 in response to the Religious Studies Project Interview with Callum Brown on Historical Approaches to (Losing) Religion (30 April 2012). For a more ‘informal’ response, you can listen to our roundtable discussion session on the question Can We Trust the Social Sciences?.

In his new podcast for the Religious Studies Project, Callum Brown has given us an excellent introduction to the historical approach to the study of religion. In conversation with Christopher Cotter, Brown outlines rival traditions within the history of religion and demonstrates what each has contributed to our understanding of secularisation. Along the way, Brown summarises his research career and offers some tantalising hints about his current interview-based study of the life stories of people who have left religion. He also emphasises the value of demographics, arguing that sophisticated analyses of census data reveal that people develop ‘an entirely new sense of self’ when they leave religion.  This is a fascinating and challenging claim, but I have chosen to focus in this response on another of the main themes of this podcast: the relationship between history and sociology.

At the end of this interview, Brown distinguishes the history of religion sharply from sociology. According to Brown, there is a “huge gap” in method, approach and interests between the two disciplines. Sociologists, he argues, believe that the world is governed by rules. They undertake research to study the contemporary religious landscape, interpret this snapshot in time by framing it within a particular model of fixed, linear change, and then make predictions about the future. Historians, on the other hand, believe that nothing is inevitable and assume that “when” must be the first step in working out “why”. Instead of collecting snapshots, historians map change year-on-year, using that longitudinal data to establish the effects of key events.

My own field of research is digital religion, an area with a particularly troubled relationship to history. Scholars and commentators interested in digital culture and its significance for religion have struggled to distinguish what is truly new from what has come before, and continue to search for helpful ways to talk about change.

One classic strategy since the 1990s has been to contrast an anecdotal snapshot of contemporary life against visions of the near future and the recent past.  In the most common forms of this argument, the past is characterised by stable local communities, face-to-face relationships and a secure, unchanging personal identity. Contemporary digital technology challenges this stability by supporting fluid, self-determined, global communication networks, so the argument goes, and these changes will intensify in the near future. Different observers have interpreted this same basic approach in positive, neutral and negative ways, seeing technology as the route to new spiritual awareness (Cobb 1998), a powerful tool that can be used to promote an unchanging religious message to the new mission field of digital culture (Estes 2009, Sweet 2012), or a dangerous threat to church, character and society. Sherry Turkle’s recent declaration that social media is facilitating a “flight from conversation” is a good example of this third type (2012). Young people now use their phones a lot, she argues, and they previously spent time face-to-face, and this shift is very bad for everyone. Her argument is simple and intuitively appealing, contrasting a recognisable snapshot of everyday life with a widely-accepted vision of the recent past and calling for immediate action to rescue the future, and her article has provoked much discussion online in recent weeks.

Scholars of media and religion have tried to challenge this approach over the last decade by framing their observations within a more rigorous historical perspective. The forms of religious community observed online are not unique after all, they argue: they actually continue long-running trajectories of social change from groups to networks (Wellman 2012) or from stable to fluid religious identities (Wagner 2012). Heidi Campbell’s recent work (2010) focuses on the power of religious groups to construct and interpret the technology they use, a process that includes engagement with group history. For Campbell, contemporary religious uses of the internet must be interpreted in the context of the theology and values of particular communities, including how those communities have changed their approach to media over time.  Many other scholars have tried to complicate popular understandings of the past and present of media religion, undertaking detailed comparative studies to show that religious authority, community and identity have not changed in the ways some observers allege.

Listening to Callum Brown’s interview, it becomes clear that all of these scholarly approaches represent a distinctively sociological way of using history. These scholars analyse the past to identify long-term trajectories in social or religious change and use that model to interpret the present. “When” questions are rarely considered: the purpose of the exercise is to establish a tension between a stable (or predictably-changing) past and a snapshot of the present, to generate insights into continuity and change.

There is clear scope here for inter-disciplinary collaboration. Sociological interest in the history of religion and media has generated a space for interventions by historians, who can greatly benefit the study of digital culture by offering detailed critiques of our assumed trajectories of change. Recent examples include Jeremy Stolow’s keynote speech on the spirituality of the telegraph, delivered to the Digital Religion conference in Colorado earlier this year (see Stolow 2011), and Stefan Gelfgren’s work (2012) on the history of religious attitudes to media. Sociologists of digital religion are still not as interested in the connection between “when” and “why” as Callum Brown might like, but clear progress is being made to forge connections with historians. This podcast is an excellent provocation to think harder about the questions we overlook and the interdisciplinary conversations that might help us uncover them.

This material is disseminated under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. and can be distributed and utilised freely, provided full citation is given.

About the Author

Tim Hutchings recently completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the HUMlab digital humanities centre in Umeå, Sweden and has now returned to the UK to join the CODEC research initiative at St John’s College, Durham. Tim is currently working with CODEC to develop a series of digital art exhibitions and installations in response to the Lindisfarne Gospels. His PhD thesis (Durham University, 2010) was an ethnographic study of five online Christian churches, focusing on the relationship between online and offline religion. Research interests include e-vangelism, online Christian storytelling, the future of the Bible as a digital sacred text and the role of new media in death and mourning.

Bibliography

Campbell, Heidi. When Religion Meets New Media. Abingdon: Routledge, 2010.

Cobb, Jennifer. CyberGrace: The Search for God in the Digital World. New York: Crown, 1998.

Estes, Douglas. SimChurch: Being the Church in the Virtual World. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009.

Gelfgren, Stefan. “Let there be digital networks and God will provide growth?” Comparing the aims and hopes of 19th-century and post-millenial Christianity. In Pauline Hope Cheong, Peter Fischer-Nielsen, Stefan Gelfgren and Charles Ess (eds.), Digital Religion, Social Media and Culture: Perspectives, Practices and Futures. New York: Peter Lang, 2012. p. 227-242.

Hogan, Bernie and Barry Wellman. The immanent internet redux. In Pauline Hope Cheong, Peter Fischer-Nielsen, Stefan Gelfgren and Charles Ess (eds.), Digital Religion, Social Media and Culture: Perspectives, Practices and Futures. New York: Peter Lang, 2012. p. 43-62.

Stolow, Jeremy. ‘Telegraph’, in freq.uenci.es: a collaborative genealogy of spirituality. September 7 2011. Available online: http://freq.uenci.es/2011/09/07/telegraph/.  Accessed May 2 2012.

Sweet, Leonard. Viral: How Social Networking is Poised to Ignite Revival. Colorado Springs: Waterbrook, 2012.

Turkle, Sherry. The flight from conversation. New York Times, April 21 2012. Available online: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/22/opinion/sunday/the-flight-from-conversation.html. Accessed May 2 2012.

Wagner, Rachel. Godwired: Religion, Ritual and Virtual Reality. Abingdon: Routledge, 2012.

 

Podcasts

Transnational Gurus and the Making of a Modern Devotional Public

During the reception following the first South Asian performance I attended after moving to Denver, I met several members of the Denver Tamil community. Towards the end of my conversation with a woman from a village outside Chennai, she began to tell me about her devotion to Amma. She began by asking, “Do you follow Amma?” And without waiting for my response, she volunteered, “We are all Amma devotees here. We just went to see her in Las Vegas.” I knew that she came from a conservative Brahmin background; so, it was surprising to see her enthusiasm when she spoke about Amma. Curious to know more, I asked her how she became interested in Amma. She quickly turned to her daughter and asked her to share her first experience of meeting Amma. There was wonder and joy in her daughter’s voice as she told me of her plans to go see Amma again. This exchange was illuminating as I was unaware of Amma’s popularity in the broader South Indian Tamil community. Before listening to this podcast, it had seemed somewhat baffling that Amma would appear in Las Vegas. Dr. Marianne Qvortrup Fibiger explains how Amma’s embrace of her position as a transnational and “translocal” guru makes the broad reach of platforms such as Las Vegas fitting for her message.

The phenomenon of buying and selling spirituality has always been a part of public religious praxis. With transnational spirituality comes a neoliberal underpinning in which identities and cultural icons can become brands in which people can invest. Listening to Dr. Marianne Fibiger speak about Amma and her remarkable relationship with a broad community of devotees, I was struck by Amma’s uncanny ability to “market” her message to various groups. Fibiger describes this process as “hearing with different ears.” She references a devotee who remarks that Amma is “truly a saint,” in order to show how Amma has become “transnational” through a sort of Christianizing of her status as divine. It also appears to show Amma’s skills at making herself appealing to both local and universal communities. In many ways, Amma’s “universalism” dovetails with the efforts of early transnational yogis such Swami Vivekananda, Aurobindo, and BKS Iyengar. They are able to repackage yoga as a universal health and wellness practice that does not require scriptural knowledge. Through a disciplined, embodied, practice, one would gain spiritual enlightenment. For Amma, hugging functions as both an act of love and darshan (seeing/experiencing the divine), helping to fashion a sort of humanistic theology (Lucia, 6).

Fibiger’s interview underscores the sheer numbers of Amma devotees as well as their varied backgrounds. The material presence of Amma is buttressed by a robust virtual one. Her website and social media presence are indicative of a savvy marketing platform. Her physical presence lends authenticity to her online brand. My response considers how transnational gurus such as Amma have learned to navigate a global neoliberal marketplace in order to sell their ideas. Amma, similar to conservative Indian public figure Ramdev, appears to have a keen understanding of her audience and how to disseminate her message and broaden her appeal. While Ramdev uses patanjaliayurved.net to market products building his name as brand, Amma’s website centers on building her brand by hawking her message. On https://amma.org/ the visitor is greeted by a smiling Amma with open arms, her tour dates emblazoned across her image. Linking a devotional picture of Amma with her next tour presents her persona and message as important and valuable commodities in high demand. Just below her image on the home page, the visitor will see four links detailing what Amma is doing now, how to donate, and information on Amrita Yoga (her signature practice). Here, the main facets of Amma’s brand emerge: charity, accessibility, and a doctrine to follow. The bottom of the home page has a brief introduction that describes Amma as a transnational spiritual teacher. Statements such as “she never asked anyone to change their religion” and “her entire life has been dedicated to alleviating the pain of the poor, and those suffering physically and emotionally” are designed to cement a vision of Amma as the accessible divine.

While her Facebook pages are largely centered on events and appearances, Amma uses her Twitter handle (@Amritanandamayi) to promote her message and build her brand as the “Hugging Guru.” The social media communities that form around Amma (e.g. unofficial “Amma” social media accounts) reinforce the transnational character of her message. These disparate groups of devotees form virtual networks through which Amma’s message disseminates. This devotional network further boosts the reach of Amma’s message and platform for charitable donation. Amma also has a series of apps (Amrita Apps). These apps provide links to her social media, news of her appearances as well as chants for sādhana (daily practice) and seva (service) opportunities. In these ways, Amma becomes a “full-service” spiritual guide, larger than just her person and her hugs. She also has several books and a few periodicals along with Amrita TV which continuously connect her devotees to her message (Lucia, 6). Through these virtual extensions of her material presence, Amma has transformed herself into a non-sectarian religious “brand,” competing for devotees in a growing soteriological marketplace.

 

Above, advertisements for one of the several shows on Amrita TV that features Amma. The network offers a variety of wholesome programming, including comedies and dramas, not just devotional programming. This program, Amritavarsham, aims to “promote world peace and imbibe the spirit of service among peoples of the world.” It opens with a brief message from Amma in which she shares “simple anecdotes and examples from day-to-day life to make it engrossing for one and all.” English subtitles are provided “so that people across the world can understand the meaning.”

Marianne Quvortrup Fibiger’s research on Amma highlights an important aspect of public religion: the making of a devotional public. Near the beginning of the interview, she calls Amma “a trans-local, transnational, global guru of today.” She then describes Amma’s appeal to her diverse community of devotees as rooted in her “authenticity,” which allows her to be a “traditional bhakti guru” as well as have “universal appeal.” Fibiger’s also points out the unsettling imagery of a large public darshan (40,000+) with Europeans in the front row in white and everyone else behind them, though she notes that these events were often a place for Hindus to reconnect with their faith. These communal gatherings of devotion provide a good example of the delicate balancing act Amma performs between the universal and local aspects of devotion. Transnational gurus like Amma must repackage religious praxis in the language of human connection in order to appeal to a diverse and broad constituency. In doing so, Amma and her message help build a public devotional community held together by commitment to abstract values such as love and spiritual harmony that are achieved through practices and teachings rooted in specific traditions. I think Fibiger’s comments on translation and understanding of religion are particularly interesting in this context. She suggests that transnational gurus like Amma can function, in a way, as translators of traditions, producing “bridges of understanding.” The questions that follow are: What is the content of this “understanding”?  And for whom is it understood?  Fibiger’s discussion near the end of the interview regarding her project on East and West spirituality underscores the ways in which these questions produce the boundaries within which these emerging spiritual identities are being forged and negotiated.

 

Reference

Lucia, Amanda J. Reflections of Amma: Devotees in a Global Embrace. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014.

Historical Approaches to Studying Religion

As the RSP continues to grow, we’re going to be returning more frequently to topics and themes which have already been touched upon in previous podcasts and features. This week, we are pleased to bring you a double re-post in response to our double podcast with John Wolffe & Ronald Hutton on Historical Approaches to the Study of Religion.

First, in the following podcast – first ‘broadcast’ on 30 April 2012, and later selected as one of our editors’ picks the following summer – Louise Connelly introduces Chris’s interview with Professor Callum Brown. How can we use historical approaches in the study of religion? More specifically, can we use historical approaches to understand why people are losing it? Professor Callum Brown tells us why historical approaches have much to tell us about religious change.

 

Download.

Second, Dr Tim Hutchings – who has also been an interviewee on the RSP, and participated in our ‘Religion in the News Panel Session’ – wrote the following response essay to Professor Brown’s interview. We ‘re-print’ it here in its entirety. We hope you enjoy these different takes on this week’s central theme. If you do, you can subscribe to receive our weekly podcast through iTunes and other portals. You can also use our Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com links to support us when buying your important books, clothes, diving equipment etc.


A Response to Callum Brown: Connecting “When” and “Why” in Digital Religion

By Tim Hutchings, Durham University

In his new podcast for the Religious Studies Project, Callum Brown has given us an excellent introduction to the historical approach to the study of religion. In conversation with Christopher Cotter, Brown outlines rival traditions within the history of religion and demonstrates what each has contributed to our understanding of secularisation. Along the way, Brown summarises his research career and offers some tantalising hints about his current interview-based study of the life stories of people who have left religion. He also emphasises the value of demographics, arguing that sophisticated analyses of census data reveal that people develop ‘an entirely new sense of self’ when they leave religion.  This is a fascinating and challenging claim, but I have chosen to focus in this response on another of the main themes of this podcast: the relationship between history and sociology.

At the end of this interview, Brown distinguishes the history of religion sharply from sociology. According to Brown, there is a “huge gap” in method, approach and interests between the two disciplines. Sociologists, he argues, believe that the world is governed by rules. They undertake research to study the contemporary religious landscape, interpret this snapshot in time by framing it within a particular model of fixed, linear change, and then make predictions about the future. Historians, on the other hand, believe that nothing is inevitable and assume that “when” must be the first step in working out “why”. Instead of collecting snapshots, historians map change year-on-year, using that longitudinal data to establish the effects of key events.

My own field of research is digital religion, an area with a particularly troubled relationship to history. Scholars and commentators interested in digital culture and its significance for religion have struggled to distinguish what is truly new from what has come before, and continue to search for helpful ways to talk about change.

One classic strategy since the 1990s has been to contrast an anecdotal snapshot of contemporary life against visions of the near future and the recent past.  In the most common forms of this argument, the past is characterised by stable local communities, face-to-face relationships and a secure, unchanging personal identity. Contemporary digital technology challenges this stability by supporting fluid, self-determined, global communication networks, so the argument goes, and these changes will intensify in the near future. Different observers have interpreted this same basic approach in positive, neutral and negative ways, seeing technology as the route to new spiritual awareness (Cobb 1998), a powerful tool that can be used to promote an unchanging religious message to the new mission field of digital culture (Estes 2009, Sweet 2012), or a dangerous threat to church, character and society. Sherry Turkle’s recent declaration that social media is facilitating a “flight from conversation” is a good example of this third type (2012). Young people now use their phones a lot, she argues, and they previously spent time face-to-face, and this shift is very bad for everyone. Her argument is simple and intuitively appealing, contrasting a recognisable snapshot of everyday life with a widely-accepted vision of the recent past and calling for immediate action to rescue the future, and her article has provoked much discussion online in recent weeks.

Scholars of media and religion have tried to challenge this approach over the last decade by framing their observations within a more rigorous historical perspective. The forms of religious community observed online are not unique after all, they argue: they actually continue long-running trajectories of social change from groups to networks (Wellman 2012) or from stable to fluid religious identities (Wagner 2012). Heidi Campbell’s recent work (2010) focuses on the power of religious groups to construct and interpret the technology they use, a process that includes engagement with group history. For Campbell, contemporary religious uses of the internet must be interpreted in the context of the theology and values of particular communities, including how those communities have changed their approach to media over time.  Many other scholars have tried to complicate popular understandings of the past and present of media religion, undertaking detailed comparative studies to show that religious authority, community and identity have not changed in the ways some observers allege.

Listening to Callum Brown’s interview, it becomes clear that all of these scholarly approaches represent a distinctively sociological way of using history. These scholars analyse the past to identify long-term trajectories in social or religious change and use that model to interpret the present. “When” questions are rarely considered: the purpose of the exercise is to establish a tension between a stable (or predictably-changing) past and a snapshot of the present, to generate insights into continuity and change.

There is clear scope here for inter-disciplinary collaboration. Sociological interest in the history of religion and media has generated a space for interventions by historians, who can greatly benefit the study of digital culture by offering detailed critiques of our assumed trajectories of change. Recent examples include Jeremy Stolow’s keynote speech on the spirituality of the telegraph, delivered to the Digital Religion conference in Colorado earlier this year (see Stolow 2011), and Stefan Gelfgren’s work (2012) on the history of religious attitudes to media. Sociologists of digital religion are still not as interested in the connection between “when” and “why” as Callum Brown might like, but clear progress is being made to forge connections with historians. This podcast is an excellent provocation to think harder about the questions we overlook and the interdisciplinary conversations that might help us uncover them.

This material is disseminated under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. and can be distributed and utilised freely, provided full citation is given.

Bibliography

  • Campbell, Heidi. When Religion Meets New Media. Abingdon: Routledge, 2010.
  • Cobb, Jennifer. CyberGrace: The Search for God in the Digital World. New York: Crown, 1998.
  • Estes, Douglas. SimChurch: Being the Church in the Virtual World. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009.
  • Gelfgren, Stefan. “Let there be digital networks and God will provide growth?” Comparing the aims and hopes of 19th-century and post-millenial Christianity. In Pauline Hope Cheong, Peter Fischer-Nielsen, Stefan Gelfgren and Charles Ess (eds.), Digital Religion, Social Media and Culture: Perspectives, Practices and Futures. New York: Peter Lang, 2012. p. 227-242.
  • Hogan, Bernie and Barry Wellman. The immanent internet redux. In Pauline Hope Cheong, Peter Fischer-Nielsen, Stefan Gelfgren and Charles Ess (eds.), Digital Religion, Social Media and Culture: Perspectives, Practices and Futures. New York: Peter Lang, 2012. p. 43-62.
  • Stolow, Jeremy. ‘Telegraph’, in freq.uenci.es: a collaborative genealogy of spirituality. September 7 2011. Available online: http://freq.uenci.es/2011/09/07/telegraph/.  Accessed May 2 2012.
  • Sweet, Leonard. Viral: How Social Networking is Poised to Ignite Revival. Colorado Springs: Waterbrook, 2012.
  • Turkle, Sherry. The flight from conversation. New York Times, April 21 2012. Available online: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/22/opinion/sunday/the-flight-from-conversation.html. Accessed May 2 2012.
  • Wagner, Rachel. Godwired: Religion, Ritual and Virtual Reality. Abingdon: Routledge, 2012.

 

Networked religion, blurring boundaries and shifts in the field of authority

Central to questions of authority is the ability to define the tradition; to define how scripture should be interpreted, and to tell orthodoxy from heresy.

A freehand commentary, published by the Religious Studies Project on 12 June 2013 in response to the Religious Studies Project Interview with Heidi Campbell on Religion in a Networked Society (10 June 2013)

The past 15 years or so have witnessed a period of swift development of the World Wide Web and a wide range of other information and communication technologies (ICTs).  It has also become a truism that individuals, communities and cultures are more interconnected than ever before. This can be seen in all areas of life from economics and entertainment to education, and politics. Religion is no exception, and scholars of religious phenomena have increasingly turned their gaze to the ways in which these new technological possibilities affect religious communities.  As the field of interest has developed, researcher’s foci and insights have followed suit.

The Religious Studies Project’s interview with Heidi Campbell focuses mainly on her recently published article which examines the emergence of both online religion and the way scholars have approached this phenomenon. A key aspect examined in the article is the blurring boundaries between religion online and offline. Campbell uses the term ‘networked religion’ to better grasp the phenomenon.

The questions addressed in the interview are hugely interesting, and the topic is also a tricky one. The impact modern ICTs have on religious communities and religious activity must be mapped in an increasingly fluid and rapidly changing environment, in which distinctions between online and offline, public and private, as well as member and non-member is difficult, and often impossible, to maintain.

Blurred boundaries

Even though it is still technically possible to talk about time spent online and offline, this distinction is, according to Campbell, becoming more and more blurred. In everyday experience, this development seems fairly self-evident, as it is facilitated by the evolving communication technologies themselves. 15 years ago most people only had access to Internet from one or two, clearly defined geographical locations. For me, these were the family computer in our living room, and the single enormous PC with Internet access at the local library (under the watchful eye of the librarian). Growing connection speeds, the development of smart phones and tablets, and increasingly widespread access to wireless networks has made the Internet available almost everywhere. Consequently, ‘being online’ may – and in many cases, has – become a constant feature of everyday life.

Heidi Campbell uses the term networked religion to describe the more or less fused online/offline religion emerging in the digital age. With this term, Campbell wishes to point out how religion has been affected by the new ‘socio-technological infrastructure’ and its logic, much like all other areas of society. The term ‘network’ is probably most well-known from Manuel Castells’ extensive work on the emergence of the network society and the various social implications of the development of ICTs. Network has become a common metaphor in social sciences, but also outside academia.

Campbell mentions five core aspects that constitute a networked religion. These are convergent practice, multisite reality, network community, storied identity and shifts in authority. Although the names are different and the topic discussed here more specialized, these themes strike a familiar chord to many general sociological accounts of developments in contemporary religiosity. Dr Teemu Taira, for example, has written on ‘liquid religiosity’ (2006), which he describes as being individualistic and this-worldly in orientation. In Taira’s view this type of religiosity typically emphasizes the authority of the individual. Spiritual seekership and mix-and-match religiosity is accepted and common. Community formations are often loose networks or ‘coatrack communities’ where individuals come and go as they please. All sorts of religious and spiritual self-help materials, fairs, teachers and groups form a fluid milieu, in which people create their individual spiritual roadmaps – or ‘storied identities’, to borrow Campbell’s terminology.

Even though Taira’s work operates on a rather general level and does not focus on the Internet or ICTs, they are clearly present in his views. Where else can you find as liquid religion as on the Internet, where moving from one society and information source to another is only a matter of clicking a mouse?

An interesting question is, how do we research this type of religiosity and religious communities that are ‘liquid’ or in the state of ‘flux’? I for one am only beginning to examine these tricky methodological issues. On a more quantitative level, all sorts of new computer programs for data mining and network analysis are being developed rapidly. Ethnographically, though, how is it possible to fruitfully approach this kind of networked religion which stretches over the divide between online communities and offline environments, in which memberships are not clearly defined, and even the teachings are more or less open source, available for use and modification?  I am eagerly looking forward to innovative approaches.

Religion and technology

New technologies affect religious practices both directly and indirectly. Religions old and new take up these new tools and move in to these new forums, actively adopting innovative ways of organization, communication and attracting members. Needless to say, these new possibilities are not merely a passive medium in the hands of religion. They may well give rise to new questions and challenges, ranging from practical issues, to ethical and theological dilemmas. They may also affect the expectations people have of their community and of life in general. Some forms of religion handle these changes well, others less so.

New technologies allow for new possibilities for organizing communities, and for communication within communities as well as with the surrounding society. They also create new possibilities for thought and imagination, and so may affect values, expectations, and even inspire the creation of new religions.

An example of such connection between technology and religious thought is presented by Jeremy Stolow in his article Salvation by Electricity (2008). His article examines the relationship between the Spiritualist movement of the early 19th century and the newly invented telegraph. Stolow examines the ways in which Spiritualism developed hand in hand with the new technologies, and how both its ideas and the formation of the movement were in many ways facilitated by the technology. To put things briefly, on a material level, the telegraph made it possible to create loose grassroots networks and share ideas globally. Spirit mediums also found publicity and possibilities of voicing their opinions, thereby challenging powers that be and negotiating anew the existing locations of authority.

On a less tangible level, the new technologies brought with themselves very powerful new imageries. In Spiritualism, one of the most powerful images was electricity. Similarly, the Internet and other ICTs may also have an effect on new religious imaginations. There are religious groups that can be reasonably called digitally based. They may have existed before the Internet started spreading, but the Internet has given them the kind of environment where they can create a relatively free community. One interesting example is the Open Source Religion Project, an online community in which people discuss and debate religious ideas. As the name suggests, Open Source Religion shares the logic of collectively creating something that everyone can develop and improve.

Shifts in authority

The questions of networked religion are also central to my own research project. I am currently studying the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, a quasi-religious community that is usually categorized as a spoof religion or a satire with political aims. The aim of my study is to examine precisely the blurring of boundaries – not only the border between online and offline, but also the blurring between the realms of public and private, and of religion, humour and politics.

Campbell notes that, on the one hand, religious communities and individuals online may challenge the authority of traditional authorities. On the other, these traditional authorities themselves have in some cases begun to use these new spaces to reassert their authority. Even the pope has a twitter account.

Central to questions of authority is the ability to define the tradition; to define how scripture should be interpreted, and to tell orthodoxy from heresy.  In the case of many new religious movements, such as some neo-pagan groups, it is not so much about definitions within the tradition but the category of religion in general. This is especially visible in cases where a religious community attempts become a state-recognized religious institution. Having been denied this status, these movements often claim that the definitions used in this legal framework are biased in favour of more established scriptural religions, often Christianity. This in turn creates interesting dilemmas for the state, as it has to define what a religion is and what it is not. Religion was, after all, supposed to be private and consequently not a political issue.

All in all, the interview with Professor Campbell gives a good, concise account on where the development of religion online seems to be headed. This is no small achievement, given the huge complexity of the field of online religion, and I am looking forward to getting my hands on her article. A small problem in general summaries like this is that they often tend to lose edge and become difficult to grasp and apply on a more concrete level.  Nevertheless, I think networked religion seems like a promising tool in examining the messy reality.  In this commentary I have tried to open up some possible fields where Campbell’s formulations could be taken and applied to. The next step is the quest for fruitful research methods…

This material is disseminated under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. and can be distributed and utilised freely, provided full citation is given.

About the Author

Digital CameraHanna Lehtinen is a graduate student and currently an intern in Comparative religion in Turku University, Finland. She is working on her MA thesis on the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Her research interests include parody religions, religious innovation, evolving discourse on religion, and power relations in general. She has also written the essays Divine Inspiration Revisited and What should we do with the study of new religions? for the Religious Studies Project.

 

References

  • Stolow, Jeremy. 2008. Salvation by Electricity pp. 668–686 in Hent de Vries (ed.) 2008: Religion. Beyond a Concept. New York: Fordham.
  • Taira, Teemu. 2006. Notkea uskonto. Published in Eetos-series. Turku: Eetos.

Religion in a Networked Society

CampbellMedia, religion and culture is an emerging area, with much attention being given to four themes, namely authority, community, identity and ritual. Research has focused on a wide range of topics, including different religions in virtual worlds; religion and video games; online cyber-churches and temples; and an exploration into how religious organisations and individuals are accepting or rejecting digital media. Heidi Campbell is one of the leading scholars in the field of media, religion and culture and has written extensively about this topic; providing us with an insight into the relationship between digital culture and religion. For scholars of religious studies, media studies and other related disciplines, the exploration of religion and the internet provides an insight into the relationship between religion and technology and consequently, the possible impact and challenge to traditional religion.

On a recent visit to Edinburgh, the Religious Studies Project (Louise) met with Heidi Campbell (the interview is set in a restaurant and so on occasion you may hear some background noise). The interview focuses on her recent article in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion (March 2012), “Understanding the Relationship between Religion Online and Offline in a Networked Society”, which presents five key traits of the concept of “networked religion”. These are: networked community; storied identities; shifting authority; convergent practice; and a multisite reality. Campbell presents an overview of each of these traits and concludes by questioning how digital communications technologies might affect religious authority in the future.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. And if you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us, or use our Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com link to support us when buying your important books etc.

Heidi Campbell is Associate Professor of Communication at Texas A&M University where she teaches in Telecommunications and Media Studies. Campbell’s teaching and research explores the social shaping of technology, rhetoric of new media, and themes related to the intersection of media religion and culture, with a special interest in the internet and mobile phones. She has written extensively about media, religion and culture, comprising of a number of journal articles and books, including When Religion Meets New Media (Routledge, 2010) and her recent publication Digital Religion. Understanding Religious Practice in New Media Worlds (Routledge, 2012).

Select Publications:

Campbell, H. (2005). Exploring religious community online: We are one in the network. New York, NY: Peter Lang.

Campbell, H. (2010). When religion meets new media. London, UK: Routledge.

Campbell, H & Connelly, L. (2012). Cyber behavior and religious practice on the internet, In Z. Yeng (ed.) Encyclopedia of Cyber Behavior, (pp. 434-445). Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

Campbell, H. (ed.) (2012). Digital Religion: Understanding Religious Practice in New Media Worlds. New York: Routledge.

Campbell, H. (2012). Understanding the Relationship between Religion Online and Offline in a Networked Society, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 80 (1), 64-93.

This interview was based upon the article: http://jaar.oxfordjournals.org/content/80/1/64.abstract

Religious Studies Opportunities Digest – 26 October 2012

We are not responsible for any content contained herein, but have simply copied and pasted from a variety of sources. If you have any content for future digestimage of bookss, please contact us via the various options on our ‘contact’ page.

A pdf summary documentcan now be download. This can be printed and circulated to colleagues or put up on a notice board.

In this issue:

  • Call for Papers
  • Conferences
  • Jobs
  • Grants

And don’t forget, you can always get involved with the Religious Studies Project by writing one of our features essays or resources pages. Contact the editors for more information.


CALLS FOR PAPERS

CFP: Engaging Religious Experience: A Return to Ethnography and Theology

Practical Matters is now seeking submissions on the theme of Engaging Religious Experience: A Return to Ethnography and Theology.  Practical Matters is an online, multimedia, transdisciplinary journal designed to ask and provoke questions about religious practice and practical theology. Practical Matters is funded by a grant from the Lilly Endowment, Inc. and published out of the Emory University Graduate Division of Religion.  The journal contains both peer-reviewed and non-peer-reviewed content.

The sixth issue of Practical Matters will return to themes that emerged in our Spring 2010 issue, which explored why theologians are turning to ethnographic methods and how an interdisciplinary conversation among anthropologists, scholars of religion, and theologians contributes new insights into the doing and creating of both ethnography and theology.  This new issue will focus on the description of religious experience as a theologically relevant and persistently elusive phenomenon. It will reflect on the possibilities and limitations of ethnography for translating communal embodied experience into different communities and contexts.  Finally, this issue will continue to explore intersections and interferences of descriptive and normative modes of scholarship on religious experience.  We welcome submissions from theologians, anthropologists, scholars and practitioners of religion broadly defined.

We are interested in featuring work that engages a broad spectrum of questions and themes, such as…

  • How does attention to human embodiment inform our understandings of religious experience?  Can ethnographic methods provide access to certain kinds of experience that other methods sometimes overlook or obscure, such as bodily experience, interiority, and experiences of suffering? In what ways do these experiences escape the ethnographic interpreter? How does ethnography provide attentiveness to practices and experiences of exclusion?
  • How can scholars and practitioners move between the descriptive work of ethnography and theological or normative claims?  Why are these moves sometimes experienced as problematic?  Do moral, theological, scholarly, or activist commitments obscure the ethnographer’s ability to represent religious experience? Does the ethnographer need to be an “insider” to make theological claims or norm religious practice?
  • How does incorporating ethnography into a theological or ethical project affect the epistemological assumptions of that project? Does ethnography bring more ambiguity? More clarity? Or does using ethnography in theological projects limit the theologian’s ability to make general or normative claims? How does ethnographic study redefine the role of a theologian or ethicist?
  • How can teaching the ethnographic method in the undergraduate or seminary classrooms enrich or disrupt the study of religion and theology?  How do “experiential learning” and “engaged learning” pedagogies shift students’ perspectives on religious experience? How might the use of digital media facilitate or hinder the study of religious experience in the classroom setting?
  • Can the work of ethnography itself constitute a kind of “religious experience”?  Should it?  And for whom?
  • We welcome “notes from the field” (in multiple forms including audio, video, and photos) in which those doing ethnography describe unexpected challenges in their work as well as explorations into the craft of ethnographic writing and the steps between field notes and manuscript.  What is required to practice ethnography as an interpretive art and what is the role of religious or theological imagination in ethnographic practice?

Specifically, we are looking for submissions intended for peer review in Analyzing Matters, as well as for the non-peer reviewed categories of Practicing and Teaching Matters:

  1. Submissions for Analyzing Matters on the theme of Engaging Religious Experience: A Return to Ethnography and Theology will be submitted for peer review;

  2. Submissions for Practicing and Teaching Matters on the theme of Engaging Religious Experience: A Return to Ethnography and Theology will be reviewed by the editors.  We welcome reflections of practitioners, essays, pedagogical reflections, or field notes concerning religious practices, rituals, or other issues of concern for scholars, theologians, teachers and practitioners;

Practical Matters is an academic journal with a diverse audience. We encourage those considering submission to think broadly, creatively, and experimentally about form and content. Submissions in any form (i.e., film, text, audio, images) may be eligible for peer review; however, the peer review process is not mandatory for all submissions.  We especially encourage non-U.S. submissions as well as multimedia and interdisciplinary pieces of original scholarship.

The submission deadline is November 1, 2012. For more specific instructions on possible forms of submissions, more information on our peer review process, or to read current and past issues of Practical Matters, visit our web site: http://www.practicalmattersjournal.org/


CFP: SEVENTH INTERNATIONAL MEETING ON SOCIO-RELIGIOUS STUDIES

Religion, utopias and alternatives to contemporary dilemmas

Havana, July 2-5, 2013

The Department of Socio-religious Studies of the Center for Psychological and Sociological Research (CIPS) of the Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment of Cuba calls scholars on religion, academics and religious believers to participate in the SEVENTH INTERNATIONAL MEETING ON SOCIO-RELIGIOUS STUDIES, sponsored by religious institutions and non-governmental organizations, that will be held on July 2-5, at the Hotel Nacional in El Vedado, Havana.

It is well-known the role of religion as an important producer of interpretation frameworks of social reality, and as generator of social transformation practices, halting or reproducing injustice situations. Amid a turbulent international scene, marked by unresolved socioeconomic and political crises, to approach some of these processes requires complex analyses that transcend mere description to think of alternative proposals or to contribute to spread initiatives, from small religious spaces, that attempt to bring about a more equitable and just world with greater respect for nature and greater opportunities for all human beings.

From this perspective, the event aims to focus the reflections on the following topics:

·        Religion, power and hegemony

·        Religion and the environment

·        Religion and social inequities

·        Religion and diversity

·        Theoretical and methodological approaches

·        Religion, migration and cultural  identity

·        Religious actors, dialogues and transformation.

·        Religion and mass media

·        Institutions, spirituality and religious networks

·        Religion, consumption and market

The Seventh Meeting, like the previous ones held by the Department of Socio-religious Studies, every three years since 1995, aims at creating an environment conducive to dialogue among the participants, exchange of knowledge and sharing experiences.

The official language of the event is Spanish, but translation requests by English speakers can be addressed upon previous notice by the Organizing Committee. All participants will receive documentation related to the event and information of interest about the city and the country.

Presentations can be made in lectures, workshops, panels, posters and by means of audiovisual aids.

The official travel agency is CUBATUR. Contact Person: Arlene Alvarez (eventos1 [at] cbtevent.cbt.tur.cu ).

The registration fee is 150.00 CUC (Cuban Convertible Currency Cubana) for participants; 120.00 CUC for accompanying persons; and 75.00 CUC for students (previous accreditation).

All those interested in participating must fill the data form and e-mail it to: desr_encuentro [at] cips.cu, before November 15, 2012 to be considered by the Organizing Committee:


CFP: The Graduate Committee for the Study of Religion at the University of Texas is currently accepting paper proposals for its first interdisciplinary graduate student conference.

March 23-24, 2013

The University of Texas, Austin, TX

The keynote speakers for this conference are:

Professor David Brakke

Joe R. Engle Chair in the History of Christianity at The Ohio State University

Professor Kevin Trainor

Professor of Religion at the University of Vermont

The study of religion has used a succession of binary terms to distinguish between normative, officially sanctioned practice and religion on the ground: orthodoxy vs. heterodoxy, elite vs. folk, official vs. popular, and so on. Although some of these terms have served as a useful conceptual tool, the use of binary distinctions is problematic. There is an ever-present danger of confusing example with exemplum–of privileging those individuals, institutions, and

practices most closely aligned with the sources of power or our own world-view. Binarization begets valorization. This endless parade of new terminology suggests that the drive to dichotomize is to blame. Even the recent attempts to resolve this issue under the headings

“lived religion” or “everyday religion” retain polarizing antonymns that obscure some aspects of religion. In order to problematize the cycle of successive binary oppositions, this conference aims to interrogate the middle space between these conceptual extremes. We invite participants to consider religious action and authority as a fluid continuum–a network of

overlapping spheres of religious influence. In this model, every religious actor–from the Israelite high priest to a Shinto shrine maiden, from the Dalai Lama to a streetcorner evangelist–is a potential source of religious authority, differing only in the degree

to which they can attract and channel the flow of religious power within society. Here, authority is a shifting current rather than a stagnant pool. We encourage participants to explore the possibility of mapping previous binaries onto a continuum model and retaining

these distinctions as “ideal types” in order to organize the data and focus the scholar’s attention. This conference is purposely eclectic: We welcome papers critiquing binary models as well as those treating religious actors from all time periods and cultures as situated within a continuum model. Such actors include, but are not limited to: faith healers, mediums, temple personnel, prophets, religious reformers, pilgrims, exorcists, breeders of sacrificial animals, vendors of religious paraphernalia, and mendicant preachers. Participants are encouraged to

show how evidence from their areas of specialization can inform a more general dialogue about the problem of binary categories and contribute to the development of a new theoretical approach to the study of religion.

Please send paper titles and abstracts (300 words or less) to byebyebinaries [at ] gmail.com <mailto:byebyebinaries%40gmail.com>  by November 27th, 2012. Please

include your name, institutional and departmental affiliation, and email address.

We hope to publish the results of the conference in some form. Sincerely,

Megan Case (Religious Studies) Benjamin Cox (Religious Studies) Aren Wilson-Wright (Middle Eastern Studies)

Sponsors: The Graduate School, The Institute for the Study of Antiquity and Christian Origins, The Center for Middle Eastern Studies, The Religious Studies Department, The Department of Asian Studies


CFP: 32nd ISSR Conference

RETHINKING COMMUNITY RELIGIOUS CONTINUITIES AND MUTATIONS IN LATE MODERNITY Turku-Åbo, Finland, 27-30 June, 2013

Conference website:

http://www.sisr-issr.org/English/Conferences/Conferences.htm

Call for papers:

http://www.sisr-issr.org/English/Newsletters/Network%20%28PDF%20and%20Word%29/Network%2043.pdf

Deadlines: October 31th 2012:

-Abstracts of proposed papers for the Thematic Sessions (STS) and Working Groups (WGT), to be sent to the SESSION ORGANISER (S)

-Abstracts of proposed papers for the Thematic Sessions of the New Researchers Forum (NRF) and Miscellaneous papers (MPL) for the NRF, to be sent to the Session Organiser

-Abstracts of Miscellaneous Papers (MPL) to be sent to the GENERAL SECRETARY

Financial support available.

The conference languages are English and French.

Important notice: Organisers of Thematic Sessions (STS) and Working Groups (WGT) and Presenters of papers have to be members of the International Society for the Sociology of Religions (ISSR). Each participant may only present one paper at the conference.

Submission details available in the full call for papers:

http://www.sisr-issr.org/English/Newsletters/Network%20%28PDF%20and%20Word%29/Network%2043.pdf


CFP: Imagination and Narrative in Jewish Thought

Date: 2012-11-30

Description:  The University of Toronto Journal of Jewish Thought

CALL FOR PAPERS: Vol. IV: Imagination and Narrative in Jewish Thought The 2013 issue of The University of Toronto Journal of Jewish Thought invites papers reflecting on the role of imagination and narrative in Jewish thought.

Contact: utjjt.cjs [at] gmail.com

URL: cjs.utoronto.ca/tjjt/

Announcement ID: 198043

http://www.h-net.org/announce/show.cgi?ID=198043


Call for Papers: “Pilgrimage, Travel, and Cult”

Date: 2013-05-24

Description:  When an ancient communitys life involved a focus upon a specific holy place, that groups ideas about pilgrimage and travel were necessarily pivotal to its religious praxis. To understand the complex interrelations between a communitys

ideology of pilgrimage and travel and its religious activities,

Contact: hekhal.dublinia@gmail.com

URL: hekhal.wordpress.com/

Announcement ID: 198071

http://www.h-net.org/announce/show.cgi?ID=198071


CFP: The Journal of the National Association of Student Anthropologists

Call for Papers for Special Issue on African  Diaspora Religion

Submission Deadline EXTENDED TO OCTOBER 31ST, 2012

Student Anthropologist is the flagship peer-reviewed journal of the National Association of Student Anthropologists (the largest organization of anthropologist students in the world). It is an annual digital publication. Students from all levels and disciplines are encouraged to contribute.

Aims and Scope

This special issue aims to explore the social, political, and cultural meanings and functions of African diaspora religions. From the beginning of anthropological study, Africana religion has been at the forefront of anthropological inquiry. Africana Religion (African and African diaspora religion, also including those religions influenced by the diversity of African cultural heritage) has provided a space in which anthropologists have been able to explore concepts about kinship (both fictive and non- fictive), ritual, embodiment, identity, transnationalism, diversity, etc. This inquiry has continued up to the present day as African diaspora religions have become transnational and are networks through which ideas about spirituality, community, authenticity, origins, body and space circulate.

In addition, this special issue will examine the latest work on African diaspora religious practice, its contribution to the field of anthropology, and a discussion of its trajectory and where scholars hope to see it go in the future. This edition will discuss and examine the different ways of viewing and analyzing the African diaspora in and through religious practice, and the accompanying complications that occur in social, political, cultural and material life. This special issue will seek to explore how African diaspora religious tradition intersects with and enhances discussions of a wide array of topics such as the environment, globalization, spatialization, urbanization, immigration, etc.

We seek to bring together a diverse range of scholars working on different aspects of African diaspora religion. We will only accept original scholarly submissions from undergraduate and graduate students worldwide. Below are a list of possible areas of inquiry, but please do not feel limited to these questions only.

Possible questions and areas of inquiry include, but are not limited to:

•   The contribution of African diaspora religions to the study of anthropolog

•   How do African diaspora religions intersect with music, film, performance, visual arts, media studies, history, philosophy, sociology, gender studies, political science, economics, education, geography, environmental science, legal studies, and public health?”

•   How do complex concepts such as “blackness” and “Africanness” inform each other and shape individual and group/community religious identities? And what do they ultimately mean, especially given the temporal and spatial distance from the African continent?”

•   How do lived and imagined experiences of religious diasporic spaces differ between individual and group?”

•   How do different diaspora communities relate to each other across boundaries of time, space and historical context?

•   How is “Africa” (re)imagined in different ways within these African diasporic religions?

Submission Guidelines

Any student currently enrolled in a BA, MA, or PhD program is welcome to submit original research to be considered for publication. While this is an anthropology journal, students do not need to be enrolled in an anthropology program.

All submissions should be under 6,000 words in length and are subject to a peer review process. All submissions should be sent in a single document as an attachment and saved in Microsoft Office Word (.doc or .docx) or Mac Pages (.pages) format and conform to AAA style (http://www.aaanet.org/publications/style_guide.pdf). Submissions should be double spaced and adhere to the word limits outlined in this CFP. Rarely, we consider longer submissions or those of an irregular nature.

Please remove all identifying information from the manuscript and include a coverpage including name, institution, student status, up to five keywords describing the paper, and an 250 word abstract. Please save the document with your last name in the title.

Send submissions, as well as any questions, to the Special Issue Guest Editor, Lisanne C Norman, at lnorman918 [at] gmail.com.

Special Issue Guest Editor Bio: Lisanne C Norman is currently in the fifth year of her PhD at Harvard University. Her research focus is African Americans who practice Yoruba religion from 1959- present. Her work is an analysis of the expansion of this predominantly Afro-Cuba religious community to include the numerous African Americans who converted during the 1960s and 1970s. The work will also analyze the role that African diaspora civil rights and geopolitical movements played in the transmission and adaptation of this religious practice and how that has come to define its current practice. Through participation-observation and semi-structured interviews, Lisanne hopes to understand how global forces have come to shape this transnational religious practice and how emerging African diaspora networks have worked to change the dynamics of religious practice not only for African Americans, but for Afro-Cubans and Nigerian practitioners as well. Lisanne is fluent in Spanish and Portuguese.”


CFP: Global Religious Experiences and Identities among Lesbians

The Journal of Lesbian Studies (Taylor & Francis) will devote an entire issue to the topic of global religious experiences and identities among lesbians, guest edited by S.J. Creek. The intention behind this special edition is to generate richer and more varied scholarship around the lived experiences of lesbians connected to (or alienated by) religious practices or faiths around the world. Papers from sociology, history, anthropology, political science, english, psychology, religious studies, gender and women’s studies, religious studies, communication studies, linguistics, criminology, queer studies, international studies, art history, or other fields are welcome.

Topics may include, but are not limited, to: the intersection of race/class/gender/sexuality and religion, religious movements, orthopraxy, orthodoxy, representation in media/literature/art, trends in religiosity, clergy/religious officials, resistance and activism, indigenous religions, Wicca, Santeria, Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Shintoism, Confucianism, Taoism, Sikhism, Baha’i, Judaism, Islam, Christianity, atheism, popular religions, Mujerista theology, practice, belief, religious socialization, disability, size, critiques of lesbian sexualities or spiritualities from post-colonial or transgender studies perspectives, religious individualism, secularism, celibacy, “religious nones,” nuns, intentional communities, state control of religious practice, reproduction, families, identities, cognitive dissonance, oppression, reparative therapies, migration, religious education, or emotions.  Works attending to the experiences of queer, bisexual, and transgender individuals will also be considered, if these pieces strongly connect to the central theme.

Please direct inquiries or proposals of no more than 500 words to S.J. Creek at creeksj [at] hollins.edu by December 20, 2012.  Invitations for full manuscripts will be issued in January 2013.  Both abstracts and manuscripts will be evaluated for originality, style, and fit within the overall edition. Authors of selected abstracts will be invited to submit a full manuscript of 5,000-6,500 words, due May 15, 2013.


CONFERENCES


The Higher Education Academy’s Second Annual Arts & Humanities Conference

Storyville: Exploring narratives of learning and teaching

The HEA’s Second Annual Arts & Humanities Conference

Thistle hotel, Brighton

29–30 May 2013

At the heart of the Arts and Humanities disciplines sit stories – stories which create and recreate worlds, distant and present, stories which inspire and engage, stories which grow imaginations and expand what is thinkable.

Stories are everywhere, and our second annual conference seeks to explore the intersections between narrative and learning and teaching by considering:

  • the narratives of how we teach – our stories as educators;
  • the narratives of how our students learn – travelogues from the student journey;
  • the narratives we teach – our subjects and (inter)disciplinarity;
  • the narratives we teach by – pedagogies and methodologies, academic identities, research-based teaching and teaching-based research;
  • the narratives we teach within – policy, dominant media narratives, student expectations informed by Key Information Sets and the National Student Survey;
  • the narratives we (co-)create – the impact of the Arts and Humanities, the experience and memories of our students, students as partners.

As stories have the power to ‘reveal meaning without committing the error of defining it’ (Hannah Arendt) we welcome poster, paper and workshop proposals on any aspect of teaching and learning in the Arts and Humanities within the broad theme of ‘narratives of learning and teaching’. We have also introduced wildcard sessions, for you to create your own conference format – wildcards come in slices of 15 minutes, 90 minutes and 3 hours.

For more information please visit the conference website.

Call closes: 21 December 2012.


The Director, Chair and Fellows of the Faiths and Civil Society Unit, Goldsmiths, University of London invite you to;

Race, Faith & Integration; a discussion and debate with Prof. Ted Cantle, Chair of the Institute of Community Cohesion. Professor Cantle will joined by a panel of discussants including Marjorie Mayo, Professor Emeritus at Goldsmiths, Pragna Patel, Director of Southall Black Sisters and Jenny Kartupelis, Director of the East of England Faiths Forum.

22nd November at 4.15 – 6pm, in the Ben Pimlott Lecture Theatre, Goldsmiths, New Cross, London, SE14 6NW

This is a free event and places are limited  – please contact m.shaw [at] gold.ac.uk to book.


The 2013 CESNUR Conference co-organized by Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR) International Society for the Study of New Religions (ISSNR) Institute for Studies of Religion, Baylor University Finyar (The Nordic Network for the Study of New Religiosity) Dalarna University

CHANGING RELIGIOUS MOVEMENTS IN A CHANGING WORLD Dalarna University Falun (Sweden), 21-24 June 2013

Registration for the conference will open on 15 February 2013.

http://www.cesnur.org/2013/swe-cfp.htm

CALL FOR PAPERS

2013 celebrates the 25th anniversary of the first CESNUR conference, held in Southern Italy in 1988, and the opening of INFORM (Information Network Focus on Religious Movements) in the UK.

How has the religious scenario evolved within the context of a changing world over the past 25 years? How are religious movements different today? How does society react differently to religious pluralism?

These will be the themes of the 2013 conference, with special attention being paid to the Nordic countries, contemporary spiritual and esoteric movements in a globalized and transnational perspective, and the reactions of the media, the mainline churches, the law and society in general to the new religious pluralism.

The conference will start on Midsummer Night’s Eve, Friday 21 June 2013, when participants will congregate in Stockholm in the morning and board a bus for a field trip that will take them to culturally significant locations throughout the Swedish region of Dalarna. Dalarna is famous for its small and picturesque villages, beautiful nature, traditional culture and handicraft. We will first visit Falun’s World Heritage Site and the 17th century part of the town. At that time, Falun was one of the most important towns in Sweden because of its copper mine. Then we will continue to the old traditional villages around Lake Siljan, stopping on our way at some other places of traditional and cultural importance. The journey will culminate with a traditional Swedish Midsummer Feast in the village of Leksand, before our arrival in Falun late that evening.

The sessions of the conference will run from the morning of Saturday 22 June to the morning of Monday 24 June. On Monday 24 June buses will leave Falun at lunchtime (box lunches will be provided), taking participants either directly to Arlanda Airport in Stockholm or to a visit to Kalle Runristare, a neo-Pagan rune-carver on an island outside Stockholm. This island, Adelsö, is a World Heritage Site with historical importance, where the king lived in the Viking era. The journey ends in Stockholm in the evening. In this package is included the field trip (including meals) on Friday, lunches from Saturday to Monday, the reception on Saturday night, and the journey back to Arlanda/Stockholm on Monday. Price: 220 euro.

An option will be offered for those who only want to participate in the conference, have the lunches on Saturday and Sunday and attend the banquet on Sunday evening as well as the reception on Saturday night.

Participants opting for this package will not be included in any of the field trips and these participants will have to make their own arrangements to reach and leave Falun by train and plan their transfers privately. Price: 120 euro.

Option 1

Full package, including transportation from Arlanda airport, Stockholm, the field trip on Friday (including meals); lunches; the reception on Saturday evening and the banquet on Sunday evening and either transportation back to Arlanda only or the field trip with arrival in Stockholm on Monday evening: Euro 220.

Option 2:

Conference attendance only, including lunch on Saturday and Sunday, the Saturday reception and the Sunday banquet (but no field trips or

transportation) at: Euro 120.

Papers and sessions proposals should be submitted by email before the close of business on 10 January 2013 to cesnur_to [at] virgilio.it, accompanied by an abstract of no more than 300 words and a CV of no more than 200 words. Proposals may be submitted either in English or in French.


Digital Methodologies in the Sociology of Religion

http://www.derby.ac.uk/digital-methodologies-in-the-sociology-of-religion

16th November 2012, Enterprise Centre, University of Derby

Organised by the Centre for Society, Religion & Belief (SRB), University of Derby

Funded by Digital Social Research (DSR)

To book your place please visit http://unishop.derby.ac.uk/browse/extra_info.asp?modid=1&prodid=592&deptid=76&compid=1&prodvarid=0&catid=77

This conference is generously subsidised by Digital Social Research. There is a small registration fee of £30 (+ £6 VAT)

Within an era of a growing reliance on digital technologies to instantly and effectively express our values, allegiances, and multi-faceted identities, the interest in digital research methodologies among Sociologists of Religion comes as no surprise (e.g. Bunt 2009; Cantoni and Zyga 2007; Contractor 2012 and Ostrowski 2006; Taylor 2003). However the methodological challenges associated with such research have been given significantly less attention. What are the epistemological underpinnings and rationale for the use ‘digital’ methodologies? What ethical dilemmas do sociologists face, including while protecting participants’ interests in digital contexts that are often perceived as anonymised and therefore ‘safe’? Implementing such ‘digital’ research also leads to practical challenges such as mismatched expectations of IT skills, limited access to specialized tools, project management and remote management of research processes. Hosted by the Centre for Society, Religion, and Belief at the University of Derby and funded by Digital Social Research, this conference brings together scholars to critically evaluate the uses, impacts, challenges and future of Digital Methodologies in the Sociology of Religion.

Please forward this to your invitation to your professional networks and to your students. A few travel bursaries are available for post-graduate students in the UK. Please write to either Sariya Contractor (s.contractor [at] derby.ac.uk) or Suha Shakkour (s.shakkour [at] derby.ac.uk) for further details.

Plenary Speakers:

Prof. Heidi Campbell, Texas A&M University Methodological Challenges, Innovations and Growing Pains in Digital Religion Research

Dr. Eric Atwell, Leeds University Applying Artificial Intelligence to the Understanding of Islam

Draft Programme

09:45 – 10:15  Registration & Refreshments

10:15 – 10:40  Welcome, Introduction and Housekeeping

Dr. Sariya Contractor & Dr. Suha Shakkour

Prof. Paul Weller, Head of Research and Commercial Development, EHS

Dr. Kristin Aune, Director, Centre for Society, Religion & Belief

 

10:40 – 11:25  Plenary: Methodological Challenges, Innovations and Growing Pains in Digital Religion Research

 Prof. Heidi Campbell, Texas A&M University

11:25 – 12:40  Social Networking Sites

Anti-Social networking: Facebook as a site and method for researching anti-Muslim and anti-Islam opposition

Dr. Chris Allen, University of Birmingham

Role of Digital Communication Technology in the Muslim Brotherhood’s Lead Revolution in Egypt

Dr. Abul Hassan & Prof. Toseef Azid, Markfield Institute of Higher Education

Ethical Challenges of researching Muslim women’s closed religious newsgroups

Dr. Anna Piela, Independent Researcher

12:40 – 13:40  Lunch

13:40 – 14:55  Digital Resources and Tools

Surveying the Religious and the Non-Religious

Dr. Tristram Hooley & Prof. Paul Weller, University of Derby

Research Approaches to the Digital Bible

Dr. Tim Hutchings, Durham University

Employing Distance Learning to Improve the Quantity and Quality of Islamic Studies

Dr Muhammad Mesbahi, Islamic College & Morteza Rezaei-Zadeh, University of Limerick

14:55 – 15:40  Plenary: Applying Artificial Intelligence to the Understanding of Islam

Eric Atwell, Leeds University

15:40 – 15:55 Refreshments

15:55 – 17:10  Communication

Prospects and Limits for Mxit and Mobi Methodologies for Religion in Sub-Saharan Africa

Dr. Federico Settler, University of KwaZulu-Natal

Researching Religious Discourses Online: Some thoughts on method

Thomas Alberts, SOAS

The Online Communication Model: A theoretical Framework to Analyse the Institutional Communication on the Internet

Juan Narbona & Dr. Daniel Arasa, Pontifical University of the Holy Cross

17:10 – 17:30  Concluding Comments, Publication Plans


JOBS


RUB – CERES

Department of East Asian Studies

The Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB) is one of Germany’s leading research universities. The University draws its strengths from both the diversity and the proximity of scientific and engineering disciplines on a single, coherent campus. This highly dynamic setting en-ables students and researchers to work across traditional boundaries of academic subjects and departments. The RUB is a vital institution in the Ruhr area, which has been selected as European Capital of Culture for the year 2010.

The Center of Religious Studies (CERES) and the Department of East Asian Studies of the Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB) invite applications for the position of a

Professor (W 2 – permanent position) in Religions of Central Asia Past and Present

to start on 1 April 2013 or at the earliest possible time.

The future holder of the post will represent the subject in research and teaching. The ap-plicant should represent Central Asian religious history in full breadth within the BA and MA study programs of Religious Studies. He or she should participate in the promotion of young researchers in religious studies, should coordinate the own research with the re-search program of the Käte Hamburger Kolleg (KHK) “Dynamics of Religious History be-tween Asia and Europe” which focuses on religious contacts and transfers, and should integrate him- or herself into the Faculty of East Asian Studies.

Positively assessed junior professorships, habilitation or equivalent academic achieve-ments and evidence of special aptitude are just as much required as the willingness to in-volve in university self-administration, in particular in the coordination of the study program of Religious Studies and of cooperative research within CERES and in particular within the KHK.

We expect furthermore:

  • high commitment in teaching;

  • readiness to participate in interdisciplinary academic work;

  • willingness and ability to attract external funding;

  • non academic skills (task specific) where applicable;

  • German language competence or the readiness to achieve sufficient competence within three years.

The Ruhr-Universität Bochum is an equal opportunity employer.

Complete applications with CV, list of publications, taught courses and research profile should be sent to the Dean of the Department of East Asian Studies of the Ruhr-Universität Bochum, D-44780 Bochum no later than 2012-11-30. Further information is available at www.ceres.rub.de /www.khk.ceres.rub.de.


Chinese University of Hong Kong – Assistant Professor

http://www.h-net.org/jobs/job_display.php?id=45634

Earlham College – Assistant or Associate Professor of Japanese Studies

http://www.h-net.org/jobs/job_display.php?id=45636

Florida International University – Lecturer/Instructor in Chinese

Language, Culture and Literature

http://www.h-net.org/jobs/job_display.php?id=45642


GRANTS


Grants of the Max van Berchem Foundation

Date: 2013-03-31

Description: The Max van Berchem Foundation, whose goal is to promote the study of Islamic and Arabic archaeology, history, geography, art history, epigraphy, religion and literature, awards grants for research carried out in these areas by scholars who have already received their doctorate.

Contact: info@maxvanberchem.org

URL: www.maxvanberchem.org

Announcement ID: 197989

http://www.h-net.org/announce/show.cgi?ID=197989

Ethics on the Internet: Public versus Private, is it that simple?

Ethics on the Internet: Public versus Private, is it that simple?

By Lauren Bernauer, University of Sydney

Published by the Religious Studies Project, on 3 October 2012 in response to the Religious Studies Project Interview with Tim Hutchings on Digital Religion (1 October 2012).

In this week’s podcast about religion and digital media, Tim Hutchings and Jonathan Tuckett discuss various areas of current research into religion and digital media, such as use of online forums, creation of prayer groups and pages, and also the use of virtual worlds like Second Life in people’s religiosity, and the ability to construct churches and temples in such settings.  My own research deals with digital media and religion, although is more about the religious content of that media than how religious people might engage with it. Yet, I must still examine forums and blogs for general fan reactions to such content, and it is the potential ethics around this type of research practice that will be the focus of this discussion.

When it comes to discovering a community’s response to an issue of interest, the Internet serves as a great resource, for often people will share their opinions on public forums and blogs for the rest of the world to read.  For a researcher this is an easy way to gather material for an argument without having to engage with an ethics committee, or even with the people writing the forum or blog posts.  As these people have made their posts public, they will be found via search engines or the simple browsing of a forum or website. Thus it is generally considered that this content is public domain (McKee & Porter 2009, p.9). However there is some evidence that attitudes towards this are changing.

Before discussing the changes that are occurring in some universities around ethics, the issue of what constitutes ‘public’ and ‘private’ on the Internet should also be considered.  Some might view this simply as a case of: if it can be read without having to sign up and potentially have someone approve your membership, then it is public content.  However, as some scholars have rightly pointed out, just because the place is viewable to all, it does not mean that the members consider their discussions to be public (Elm 2008).  An example of this is Norman K. Denzin’s research of people’s use of a Usenet group to discuss their emotional stories related to destructive relationships (Denzin 1998).  As the archives of this group are open access, Denzin was freely able to find and use the information that members of the community posted, without having to seek consent for its use.  Despite the group’s posting archive being publicly accessible, the people who posted their private stories may not have intended for them to be read by an outsider, someone who had not been involved in similar abusive emotional situations.

Denzin’s research did occur some fourteen years ago when the Internet was still relatively new and not as widespread as it is now. Yet, about the same length of time ago, in 1995, Lynne Schrum wrote on ethics for Internet research, and how the ethics used in standard research might be adapted for those doing research online.  Under the concept of Privacy she writes:

Closely related to unintended or unanticipated harm, the issue of privacy evokes strong emotions among researchers.  Guba and Lincoln (1989) maintain that privacy and confidentiality have also been defined too narrowly, so that the personal space of individuals, including many areas of intense and private significance, are too often considered by researchers to be open to investigation. (Schrum 1995, p.315)

In their recent work, The Ethics of Internet Research (2009), Heidi A. McKee and James E. Porter have built upon the previous research of Mali Sveningsson (2004) to map where statements and information a person reveals online might sit on an X-Y grid.  The X axis represents Private to Public, while the Y axis scales Non-Sensitive to Sensitive.  McKee and Porter add to this by determining that if information can be placed in the Public-Non-Sensitive quadrant or just outside of it, the information should be regarded as not requiring informed consent.  Examples given include; a resume listed online is Private but Non-Sensitive and thus would not need informed consent, while a public blog discussing a personal account of abuse, despite being Public is highly Sensitive and informed consent should be obtained before using the information in research (McKee & Porter 2009, pp.20–21).

My research deals with statements and information in the Public-Non-Sensitive quadrant, and as this is the case, should consent be gained from those whose public forum posts I have quoted?  I do not actively engage with these communities, or even actively ‘lurk’, which is considered an advantageous research method by some (Brownlow & O’Dell 2002, p.685), yet the guidelines created by Barbara F. Sharf after her research and communication with an online Breast Cancer support group would suggest that I should (Sharf 1999, pp.254–255).  However it would seem that Sharf’s research would fall into the Sensitive half of Sveningsson’s grid, and as she was actively engaging with the participants of the community, informed consent does seem to be important.

The issues surrounding ethics when researching online and utilising information provided seemingly freely by members of different communities are not clear.  For those interviewing and engaging with people via a digital medium for their research it would seem only sensible that they follow standard ethical guidelines and obtain ethics clearance, just as they would for face-to-face interviews.  Yet, what is not clear is casual observation of forum posting, reading the comments on a YouTube video or blog post.  If it is viewable by all, is it public domain?  Denzin considered it so, yet the Private-Public/Non-Sensitive-Sensitive grid, and our own implicit understanding of prevalent posting habits, would deem that some information of that nature requires informed consent.

At my own institution there are some changes occurring in regards to ethics clearance, primarily for postgraduate students, as it would appear a large number of them are not aware that their research may need an ethics clearance.  In Australia if research is done without approval from an ethics committee, this does not prevent the student receiving a successful Master of Philosophy or PhD examination. However it does deem their dissertations unpublishable, and thus stalls their hopes of an academic career.  One solution to this is to have new postgraduate students complete an ethics clearance form or provide a written acknowledgement of having read through the form to ensure that if they will be conducting interviews or similar for their research they are aware of what is required of them in terms of the law.

There is also discussion of changes being made to ethics clearances regarding online research. Currently this is not required for type of work I do, but in three to five years that could change, with lurking on forums to be considered worthy of seeking ethics committee approval.  This ultimately has to do with potential changes in Australian law, with which ethics committees in research institutions would have to comply.

While ethics regarding research on the internet has been discussed and methods have been proposed for years, it is still something that is unclear and worked out on a ‘case by case’ basis by ethics boards and committees. Although such research is quite common and the Internet is widely used, online research is relatively new. It is safe to conclude that how to tackle the issue of ethical research online will still take some time, even for those currently engaged in this endeavor.

This material is disseminated under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. and can be distributed and utilised freely, provided full citation is given.

About the Author:

Lauren Bernauer is a PhD candidate in the Studies in Religion department at the University of Sydney. She completed her MPhil in 2007, writing on the computer game Age of Mythology and its portrayal of pre-Christian religion and deities. Her PhD is continuing this topic, though expanding it to include the young teen novel series, Percy Jackson and the Olympians, the computer game World of Warcraft, and the Japanese video game Ōkami.  She has had articles recently published in Brill’s Handbook of New Religions and Cultural Production (article co-authored with Garry W. Trompf) and Handbook of Hyper-real Religions.

References:

  • Brownlow, C. & O’Dell, L., 2002. Ethical Issues for Qualitative Research in On-line Communities. Disablitiy and Society, 17(6), pp.685–694.
  • Denzin, N.K., 1998. In search of the inner child: Co-dependency and gender in cyberspace. In G. Bendelow & S. J. Williams, eds. Emotions in Social Life: Critical themes and contemporary issues. London: Routledge, pp. 97–119.
  • Elm, M.S., 2008. How Do Various Notions of Privacy Influence Decisions in Qualitative Internet Research. In A. N. Markham & N. K. Baym, eds. Internet Inquiry: Conversations about method. London: Sage, pp. 69–87.
  • McKee, H.A. & Porter, J.E., 2009. The Ethics of Internet Research: A Rhetorical, Case-Based Process, New York: Peter Lang.
  • Schrum, L., 1995. Framing the Debate: Ethical research in the Information age. Qualitative Inquiry, 1, pp.311–326.
  • Sharf, B.F., 1999. Beyond netiquette: the ethics of doing naturalistic discourse research on the Internet. In S. Jones, ed. Doing Internet Research: Critical Issues and Methods for Examining the Net. London: Sage, pp. 243–257.
  • Sveningsson, M., 2004. Ethics in Internet Ethnography. In E. A. Buchanan, ed. Readings in Virtual Research Ethics: Issues and Controversies. London: Information Science Publishing, pp. 45–61.

 

Digital Religion

Second Life, World of Warcraft, over the past few years the internet has seen an explosion of activity in virtual realms. People have taken to creating digital avatars whether its to join in epic fantasy battles or simply to meet other people. And where you find people meeting you’re bound to find religion in the mix. Unlike chatrooms and blog posts where people simply write out their ideas and discuss their beliefs these digital worlds offer a whole new way in which to act out and practice religious beliefs. From meditation sessions, church congregations, to memorial services the range of activities not only matches what can be found in the real world but can exceed it also. The Digital realm opens up a whole new range of possibilities for a person to be religious.

For many of us in the study of religions this may seem like a daunting task. The digital realm is a dark continent in which the standard practices of methodology and theory find themselves tested by a whole new landscape. To introduce us to the vast array of topics Tim Hutchings provides us with an introductory discussion into the world of digital religion. We discuss the ways in which religion is finding itself in the digital realm and how this new format of expression differs from its real world iterations. The digital realm poses a number of interesting challenges to the questions of religious authority and orthodoxy in ways not visible/possible in the real world. Finally we tackle some of the issues that we as researchers must face when we try and study digital religion like the methods of data collection and ethics involved in studying digital avatars.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to our weekly podcast, on iTunes. And if you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us.

Tim Hutchings recently completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the HUMlab digital humanities centre in Umeå, Sweden and has now returned to the UK to join the CODEC research initiative at St John’s College, Durham. Tim is currently working with CODEC to develop a series of digital art exhibitions and installations in response to the Lindisfarne Gospels. His PhD thesis (Durham University, 2010) was an ethnographic study of five online Christian churches, focusing on the relationship between online and offline religion. Research interests include e-vangelism, online Christian storytelling, the future of the Bible as a digital sacred text and the role of new media in death and mourning. Tim has also written for us before responding to Callum Brown, you can find his article which also discusses Digital Religion here.

A Response to Callum Brown: Connecting “When” and “Why” in Digital Religion, by Tim Hutchings

A Response to Callum Brown: Connecting “When” and “Why” in Digital Religion

By Tim Hutchings, Durham University

Published by the Religious Studies Project, on 4 May 2012 in response to the Religious Studies Project Interview with Callum Brown on Historical Approaches to (Losing) Religion (30 April 2012). For a more ‘informal’ response, you can listen to our roundtable discussion session on the question Can We Trust the Social Sciences?.

In his new podcast for the Religious Studies Project, Callum Brown has given us an excellent introduction to the historical approach to the study of religion. In conversation with Christopher Cotter, Brown outlines rival traditions within the history of religion and demonstrates what each has contributed to our understanding of secularisation. Along the way, Brown summarises his research career and offers some tantalising hints about his current interview-based study of the life stories of people who have left religion. He also emphasises the value of demographics, arguing that sophisticated analyses of census data reveal that people develop ‘an entirely new sense of self’ when they leave religion.  This is a fascinating and challenging claim, but I have chosen to focus in this response on another of the main themes of this podcast: the relationship between history and sociology.

At the end of this interview, Brown distinguishes the history of religion sharply from sociology. According to Brown, there is a “huge gap” in method, approach and interests between the two disciplines. Sociologists, he argues, believe that the world is governed by rules. They undertake research to study the contemporary religious landscape, interpret this snapshot in time by framing it within a particular model of fixed, linear change, and then make predictions about the future. Historians, on the other hand, believe that nothing is inevitable and assume that “when” must be the first step in working out “why”. Instead of collecting snapshots, historians map change year-on-year, using that longitudinal data to establish the effects of key events.

My own field of research is digital religion, an area with a particularly troubled relationship to history. Scholars and commentators interested in digital culture and its significance for religion have struggled to distinguish what is truly new from what has come before, and continue to search for helpful ways to talk about change.

One classic strategy since the 1990s has been to contrast an anecdotal snapshot of contemporary life against visions of the near future and the recent past.  In the most common forms of this argument, the past is characterised by stable local communities, face-to-face relationships and a secure, unchanging personal identity. Contemporary digital technology challenges this stability by supporting fluid, self-determined, global communication networks, so the argument goes, and these changes will intensify in the near future. Different observers have interpreted this same basic approach in positive, neutral and negative ways, seeing technology as the route to new spiritual awareness (Cobb 1998), a powerful tool that can be used to promote an unchanging religious message to the new mission field of digital culture (Estes 2009, Sweet 2012), or a dangerous threat to church, character and society. Sherry Turkle’s recent declaration that social media is facilitating a “flight from conversation” is a good example of this third type (2012). Young people now use their phones a lot, she argues, and they previously spent time face-to-face, and this shift is very bad for everyone. Her argument is simple and intuitively appealing, contrasting a recognisable snapshot of everyday life with a widely-accepted vision of the recent past and calling for immediate action to rescue the future, and her article has provoked much discussion online in recent weeks.

Scholars of media and religion have tried to challenge this approach over the last decade by framing their observations within a more rigorous historical perspective. The forms of religious community observed online are not unique after all, they argue: they actually continue long-running trajectories of social change from groups to networks (Wellman 2012) or from stable to fluid religious identities (Wagner 2012). Heidi Campbell’s recent work (2010) focuses on the power of religious groups to construct and interpret the technology they use, a process that includes engagement with group history. For Campbell, contemporary religious uses of the internet must be interpreted in the context of the theology and values of particular communities, including how those communities have changed their approach to media over time.  Many other scholars have tried to complicate popular understandings of the past and present of media religion, undertaking detailed comparative studies to show that religious authority, community and identity have not changed in the ways some observers allege.

Listening to Callum Brown’s interview, it becomes clear that all of these scholarly approaches represent a distinctively sociological way of using history. These scholars analyse the past to identify long-term trajectories in social or religious change and use that model to interpret the present. “When” questions are rarely considered: the purpose of the exercise is to establish a tension between a stable (or predictably-changing) past and a snapshot of the present, to generate insights into continuity and change.

There is clear scope here for inter-disciplinary collaboration. Sociological interest in the history of religion and media has generated a space for interventions by historians, who can greatly benefit the study of digital culture by offering detailed critiques of our assumed trajectories of change. Recent examples include Jeremy Stolow’s keynote speech on the spirituality of the telegraph, delivered to the Digital Religion conference in Colorado earlier this year (see Stolow 2011), and Stefan Gelfgren’s work (2012) on the history of religious attitudes to media. Sociologists of digital religion are still not as interested in the connection between “when” and “why” as Callum Brown might like, but clear progress is being made to forge connections with historians. This podcast is an excellent provocation to think harder about the questions we overlook and the interdisciplinary conversations that might help us uncover them.

This material is disseminated under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. and can be distributed and utilised freely, provided full citation is given.

About the Author

Tim Hutchings recently completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the HUMlab digital humanities centre in Umeå, Sweden and has now returned to the UK to join the CODEC research initiative at St John’s College, Durham. Tim is currently working with CODEC to develop a series of digital art exhibitions and installations in response to the Lindisfarne Gospels. His PhD thesis (Durham University, 2010) was an ethnographic study of five online Christian churches, focusing on the relationship between online and offline religion. Research interests include e-vangelism, online Christian storytelling, the future of the Bible as a digital sacred text and the role of new media in death and mourning.

Bibliography

Campbell, Heidi. When Religion Meets New Media. Abingdon: Routledge, 2010.

Cobb, Jennifer. CyberGrace: The Search for God in the Digital World. New York: Crown, 1998.

Estes, Douglas. SimChurch: Being the Church in the Virtual World. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009.

Gelfgren, Stefan. “Let there be digital networks and God will provide growth?” Comparing the aims and hopes of 19th-century and post-millenial Christianity. In Pauline Hope Cheong, Peter Fischer-Nielsen, Stefan Gelfgren and Charles Ess (eds.), Digital Religion, Social Media and Culture: Perspectives, Practices and Futures. New York: Peter Lang, 2012. p. 227-242.

Hogan, Bernie and Barry Wellman. The immanent internet redux. In Pauline Hope Cheong, Peter Fischer-Nielsen, Stefan Gelfgren and Charles Ess (eds.), Digital Religion, Social Media and Culture: Perspectives, Practices and Futures. New York: Peter Lang, 2012. p. 43-62.

Stolow, Jeremy. ‘Telegraph’, in freq.uenci.es: a collaborative genealogy of spirituality. September 7 2011. Available online: http://freq.uenci.es/2011/09/07/telegraph/.  Accessed May 2 2012.

Sweet, Leonard. Viral: How Social Networking is Poised to Ignite Revival. Colorado Springs: Waterbrook, 2012.

Turkle, Sherry. The flight from conversation. New York Times, April 21 2012. Available online: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/22/opinion/sunday/the-flight-from-conversation.html. Accessed May 2 2012.

Wagner, Rachel. Godwired: Religion, Ritual and Virtual Reality. Abingdon: Routledge, 2012.