Posts

After the World Religions Paradigm…?

In this week’s podcast, We discussed some of the problems with the World Religions paradigm, most notably its colonial heritage and Christocentrism. Given its dominance in the public perception of “Religion”, however, can we as teachers get away from it? Is there a pedagogical approach which focusses on issues of power and domination, and challenges, rather than reinforces, outmoded common-sense categorisations? In other words, can “Religion 101” ever be more than a survey of “the World”s Faiths”, and if so, what do we replace it with?

We begin with James Cox, who adds a postscript to his previous interview, suggesting some possibilities for pedagogical approaches to Religious Studies without falling back into the  problematic World Religions paradigm. Mark Jurgensmeyer, Peter Beyer and Craig Martin then outline approaches they have utilised in the US – critical, sociological…. – and reflect on their success. Suzanne Owen, however, points out some of the serious practical issues of teaching based on alternative and indigenous religions. We close with Steve Sutcliffe who, while accepting some challenging issues in the UK situation, nevertheless expresses a need for the field as a whole to work together to move Religious Studies pedagogy forward.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us, ‘Like’ us on Facebook, and/or follow us on Twitter. And if you want to support the RSP, you can click through to Amazon.co.uk through our affiliates link, and we will earn referral fees from any transactions during your visit.

Jim CoxJames Cox is Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies in the University of Edinburgh and an Honorary Professorial Fellow in the School of Divinity in the University of Edinburgh. In 2012 he was de Carle Distinguished Lecturer in the University of Otago in Dunedin, during which time he wrote his forthcoming monograph, ‘Inventions of God in Indigenous Societies’. We have interviewed James twice; on Phenomenology, and The World Religions Paradigm.

Mark Juergensmeyer is a former president of the American Academy of Religion and the current director of the here.

here.

here.

Suzanne Owen lectures at Leeds Trinity University College, UK, and is currently co-chair of the Indigenous Religious Traditions Group for the American Academy of Religion. Her PhD focussed on the sharing of Native American ceremonies and included fieldwork among Mi’kmaq in Newfoundland. Listen to her interview on Druidry and the Definition of Religion here.

Steven Sutcliffe is Senior Lecturer in the Study of Religion at the University of Edinburgh, and the author of Children of the New Age, editor of Religion: Empirical Studies and Beyond the New Age (with Marion Bowman).

What is the Public Benefit of the Study of Religion?

This year’s BASR annual conference at the University of Winchester included a panel on the ‘Public benefit in the study of religion’. The panel was organised by BASR Hon. Secretary, Bettina Schmidt, and Chair of BSA-SOCREL, Abby Day, representing the two main professional organisations representing the UK’s scholars of religion. The other speakers taking part were Eileen Barker of INFORM, Tim Jensen and Douglas Davies. Given that the Religious Studies Project has a manifesto of disseminating contemporary RS research to the public, we felt that we wanted to talk to scholars about this question. This edited podcast was the result.  

Does the public benefit from the social-scientific study of religion? Should it? How do we demonstrate benefit, measure it, communicate it? What are the practical and theoretical issues surrounding the idea of how the study of religion can operate in the, or perhaps as a, public good? For that matter, what do we mean by ‘public’ or ‘benefit’?

This question relates to our daily practice as researchers when asking for funding or having to present the outcomes of our research. Research Councils ask every applicant to explain the possible impact of a research project and in the coming years we will have to demonstrate as part of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) the wider impact of our research. But are discussions of this type necessary in order to  understand and perhaps improve the relevance to the public of our research – and discipline – or are we simply looking for justifications to be able to continue research which has little public benefit?

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.

Redefinition of the eclectic group-identity

In a way, when registering themselves, non-institutional religious groups take a step toward being more institutional and possibly even hierarchical – even if there is not much of hierarchy within the group to begin with.

Redefinition of the eclectic group-identity

By Essi Mäkelä

Published by the Religious Studies Project, on 31 October 2012 in response to the Religious Studies Project Interview with Suzanne Owen on Druidry and the Definition of Religion (29 October 2012).

In the podcast Suzanne Owen refers to the Druidry’s manifold self-identification situation. It seems to me this is a wide-spread phenomenon where there are conflicting ideas about how ‘religion’ should be defined in practice of less institutional groups and more or less eclectic individuals as opposed to what it seems to be in the traditional and institutional context. When written tradition is forced on non-written tradition, conflicts of definition are bound to happen. Druidry is mostly used as a term for a tribute to the ”ancient Druidic ways” that are believed to have been the practice in Britain. The quality of the details is then dependent on how an indivual – or a group – uses this idea of Druidry. Similarly, in Discordianism – a parody at it’s birth – there is an idea of it being a religion since it has a Goddess, a book and so on, but in practice the ideas of freedom and humour as salvation are more important to an individual than what is written about Eris, the Greek goddess of discord (Cusack, 2010; Mäkelä, 2012).

Like in religious devoutness, there are different levels of commitment in the way an ideology or a tradition is used – be it as a religious practice, philosophy or folklorism or something completely different. In my own studies with Discordians, I have come to learn that the use of Discordianism varies from political to philosophical to religious or plain humorous depending on the individual, the time and the place. The membership of the Archibishop of Canterbury in a Druidic society does not necessarily affect the status of Druidry as a religion in itself. For the Archibishop it might indeed not be an individual religion – or an institutional one that would question the so called authority of the Anglican church. For him, Druidry might be more of a traditional and even political practice – as discussed in the podcast – but for other members the definition might be something else. For Druidry, it seems, this is not a problem since it uses the so called eclectic approval of many pagan traditions: an individual does not have to commit to only one tradition at the expense of other traditions. The Anglican Church might have a different policy, but since Druidry – as other pagan traditions – can be used very differently depending on the needs of the individuals, this does not have to be a conflict of terms.

I agree with Owen that instead of trying to define these mixed groups as religion or not, it is more interesting to ask why and in what situations does a group or an individual define their tradition as a religion or something else. Also, it is an interesting concept how these societies come to register themselves as religious charity or religious communities and by doing so, end up writing a sort of definition of their religion that was never before actually official. A Finnish group, called Karhun kansa (”Bear Tribe”), is trying to register themselves as a religious community in Finland. As I write this, the application is still being handled. As with the Druid Network in Britain, Karhun kansa has now given a written definition of their Finnish folk faith tradition. Should they be registered, I believe this definition could end up being more definitive about the whole faith than what, perhaps, the founders of the group had in mind.

In a way, when registering themselves, non-institutional religious groups take a step toward being more institutional and possibly even hierarchical – even if there is not much of hierarchy within the group to begin with. It might be interesting to study these emerging registered group-identities compared to the non-registered groups that claim to follow the same tradition as the registered one – but with a different agenda. Also the individual idea of ‘religion’ as a definition from outside as opposed to the religious or spiritual needs from within could be a subject for a closer analysis in the future. What are some of the individual definitions of ‘religion’ and how often and how closely do they coincide with the concepts defined within the different national registering systems? This could be a good starting point for possible renewal of these registering systems to better suit the needs of these emerging religious community-trends.

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:

Essi Mäkelä, MA, graduated from the University of Helsinki in the summer of 2012. She did her Thesis on Discordianism within the theoretical framework of “liquid religion”. New religious movements are in her special interests. At the moment, among others, she is working on the Finnish translation of the Discordian book Principia Discordia. She is also the author of the Religious Studies Project Feature, Finding religiosity within a parody.

 

 

 

References:

  • Cusack, Carole 2010: Invented Religions – Imagination, Fiction and Faith (Ashgate Publishing Limited, Surrey, England)
  • Mäkelä, Essi 2012: Parodian ja uskonnon risteyksessä : Notkea uskonto suomalaisten diskordianistien puheessa (Unpublished MA Thesis for the University of Helsinki)

Druidry and the Definition of Religion

Contemporary Druidry often presents itself as the native spirituality of the British Isles. However, there is not one form of Druidry and there are also significant numbers of Christian and atheist Druids as well as those that combine Druidry with Wiccan or other perspectives and practices. From international organisations to local ‘groves’, there are diverse types of Druid groups, as well as lone practitioners. Chris and David are joined this week by Dr Suzanne Owen to talk in-depth about this fascinating subject, and its implications for wider understandings of the category ‘religion’.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on Redefinition of the eclectic group identity.

The modern roots of Druidry, detailed in Ronald Hutton’s Blood and Mistletoe: the History of the Druids in Britain (Yale UP, 2009), began largely with the seventeenth and eighteenth century antiquarians who formed various societies and fraternities, some of which still exist. Many features of contemporary Druidry originated with Edward Williams (1747-1826), who took the bardic name Iolo Morganwg and founded the Gorsedd (gathering of Bards). It is difficult to determine a common element between the various groups, though many contemporary Druids recognise awen, the ‘inspiration’ of bards and Druids, and have an interest in trees and tree lore. To find out more, have a listen to the podcast and/or check out some of Suzanne’s publications.

Suzanne Owen lectures at Leeds Trinity University College, UK,  in all aspects of Religious Studies (especially method and theory and south Asian traditions) and researches indigeneity and contemporary indigenous traditions, particularly in North America. She is currently co-chair of the Indigenous Religious Traditions Group for the American Academy of Religion. Her PhD from the University of Edinburgh focussed on the sharing of Native American ceremonies and included fieldwork among Mi’kmaq in Newfoundland. More recently, she has been researching Druidry and has given papers on this topic in relation to indigeneity or religion at several international conferences, and written the following piece for the Bulletin for the Study of Religion, which listeners should be interested in: Religion / Not Religion – A Discourse Analysis.

This interview was recorded at the University of Edinburgh in April 2012, and we are very grateful for Suzanne’s help in compiling this post and, of course, for a great interview.

Suzanne and David at the 2012 BASR Conference in Winchester

Podcasts

After the World Religions Paradigm…?

In this week’s podcast, We discussed some of the problems with the World Religions paradigm, most notably its colonial heritage and Christocentrism. Given its dominance in the public perception of “Religion”, however, can we as teachers get away from it? Is there a pedagogical approach which focusses on issues of power and domination, and challenges, rather than reinforces, outmoded common-sense categorisations? In other words, can “Religion 101” ever be more than a survey of “the World”s Faiths”, and if so, what do we replace it with?

We begin with James Cox, who adds a postscript to his previous interview, suggesting some possibilities for pedagogical approaches to Religious Studies without falling back into the  problematic World Religions paradigm. Mark Jurgensmeyer, Peter Beyer and Craig Martin then outline approaches they have utilised in the US – critical, sociological…. – and reflect on their success. Suzanne Owen, however, points out some of the serious practical issues of teaching based on alternative and indigenous religions. We close with Steve Sutcliffe who, while accepting some challenging issues in the UK situation, nevertheless expresses a need for the field as a whole to work together to move Religious Studies pedagogy forward.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us, ‘Like’ us on Facebook, and/or follow us on Twitter. And if you want to support the RSP, you can click through to Amazon.co.uk through our affiliates link, and we will earn referral fees from any transactions during your visit.

Jim CoxJames Cox is Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies in the University of Edinburgh and an Honorary Professorial Fellow in the School of Divinity in the University of Edinburgh. In 2012 he was de Carle Distinguished Lecturer in the University of Otago in Dunedin, during which time he wrote his forthcoming monograph, ‘Inventions of God in Indigenous Societies’. We have interviewed James twice; on Phenomenology, and The World Religions Paradigm.

Mark Juergensmeyer is a former president of the American Academy of Religion and the current director of the here.

here.

here.

Suzanne Owen lectures at Leeds Trinity University College, UK, and is currently co-chair of the Indigenous Religious Traditions Group for the American Academy of Religion. Her PhD focussed on the sharing of Native American ceremonies and included fieldwork among Mi’kmaq in Newfoundland. Listen to her interview on Druidry and the Definition of Religion here.

Steven Sutcliffe is Senior Lecturer in the Study of Religion at the University of Edinburgh, and the author of Children of the New Age, editor of Religion: Empirical Studies and Beyond the New Age (with Marion Bowman).

What is the Public Benefit of the Study of Religion?

This year’s BASR annual conference at the University of Winchester included a panel on the ‘Public benefit in the study of religion’. The panel was organised by BASR Hon. Secretary, Bettina Schmidt, and Chair of BSA-SOCREL, Abby Day, representing the two main professional organisations representing the UK’s scholars of religion. The other speakers taking part were Eileen Barker of INFORM, Tim Jensen and Douglas Davies. Given that the Religious Studies Project has a manifesto of disseminating contemporary RS research to the public, we felt that we wanted to talk to scholars about this question. This edited podcast was the result.  

Does the public benefit from the social-scientific study of religion? Should it? How do we demonstrate benefit, measure it, communicate it? What are the practical and theoretical issues surrounding the idea of how the study of religion can operate in the, or perhaps as a, public good? For that matter, what do we mean by ‘public’ or ‘benefit’?

This question relates to our daily practice as researchers when asking for funding or having to present the outcomes of our research. Research Councils ask every applicant to explain the possible impact of a research project and in the coming years we will have to demonstrate as part of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) the wider impact of our research. But are discussions of this type necessary in order to  understand and perhaps improve the relevance to the public of our research – and discipline – or are we simply looking for justifications to be able to continue research which has little public benefit?

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.

Redefinition of the eclectic group-identity

In a way, when registering themselves, non-institutional religious groups take a step toward being more institutional and possibly even hierarchical – even if there is not much of hierarchy within the group to begin with.

Redefinition of the eclectic group-identity

By Essi Mäkelä

Published by the Religious Studies Project, on 31 October 2012 in response to the Religious Studies Project Interview with Suzanne Owen on Druidry and the Definition of Religion (29 October 2012).

In the podcast Suzanne Owen refers to the Druidry’s manifold self-identification situation. It seems to me this is a wide-spread phenomenon where there are conflicting ideas about how ‘religion’ should be defined in practice of less institutional groups and more or less eclectic individuals as opposed to what it seems to be in the traditional and institutional context. When written tradition is forced on non-written tradition, conflicts of definition are bound to happen. Druidry is mostly used as a term for a tribute to the ”ancient Druidic ways” that are believed to have been the practice in Britain. The quality of the details is then dependent on how an indivual – or a group – uses this idea of Druidry. Similarly, in Discordianism – a parody at it’s birth – there is an idea of it being a religion since it has a Goddess, a book and so on, but in practice the ideas of freedom and humour as salvation are more important to an individual than what is written about Eris, the Greek goddess of discord (Cusack, 2010; Mäkelä, 2012).

Like in religious devoutness, there are different levels of commitment in the way an ideology or a tradition is used – be it as a religious practice, philosophy or folklorism or something completely different. In my own studies with Discordians, I have come to learn that the use of Discordianism varies from political to philosophical to religious or plain humorous depending on the individual, the time and the place. The membership of the Archibishop of Canterbury in a Druidic society does not necessarily affect the status of Druidry as a religion in itself. For the Archibishop it might indeed not be an individual religion – or an institutional one that would question the so called authority of the Anglican church. For him, Druidry might be more of a traditional and even political practice – as discussed in the podcast – but for other members the definition might be something else. For Druidry, it seems, this is not a problem since it uses the so called eclectic approval of many pagan traditions: an individual does not have to commit to only one tradition at the expense of other traditions. The Anglican Church might have a different policy, but since Druidry – as other pagan traditions – can be used very differently depending on the needs of the individuals, this does not have to be a conflict of terms.

I agree with Owen that instead of trying to define these mixed groups as religion or not, it is more interesting to ask why and in what situations does a group or an individual define their tradition as a religion or something else. Also, it is an interesting concept how these societies come to register themselves as religious charity or religious communities and by doing so, end up writing a sort of definition of their religion that was never before actually official. A Finnish group, called Karhun kansa (”Bear Tribe”), is trying to register themselves as a religious community in Finland. As I write this, the application is still being handled. As with the Druid Network in Britain, Karhun kansa has now given a written definition of their Finnish folk faith tradition. Should they be registered, I believe this definition could end up being more definitive about the whole faith than what, perhaps, the founders of the group had in mind.

In a way, when registering themselves, non-institutional religious groups take a step toward being more institutional and possibly even hierarchical – even if there is not much of hierarchy within the group to begin with. It might be interesting to study these emerging registered group-identities compared to the non-registered groups that claim to follow the same tradition as the registered one – but with a different agenda. Also the individual idea of ‘religion’ as a definition from outside as opposed to the religious or spiritual needs from within could be a subject for a closer analysis in the future. What are some of the individual definitions of ‘religion’ and how often and how closely do they coincide with the concepts defined within the different national registering systems? This could be a good starting point for possible renewal of these registering systems to better suit the needs of these emerging religious community-trends.

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:

Essi Mäkelä, MA, graduated from the University of Helsinki in the summer of 2012. She did her Thesis on Discordianism within the theoretical framework of “liquid religion”. New religious movements are in her special interests. At the moment, among others, she is working on the Finnish translation of the Discordian book Principia Discordia. She is also the author of the Religious Studies Project Feature, Finding religiosity within a parody.

 

 

 

References:

  • Cusack, Carole 2010: Invented Religions – Imagination, Fiction and Faith (Ashgate Publishing Limited, Surrey, England)
  • Mäkelä, Essi 2012: Parodian ja uskonnon risteyksessä : Notkea uskonto suomalaisten diskordianistien puheessa (Unpublished MA Thesis for the University of Helsinki)

Druidry and the Definition of Religion

Contemporary Druidry often presents itself as the native spirituality of the British Isles. However, there is not one form of Druidry and there are also significant numbers of Christian and atheist Druids as well as those that combine Druidry with Wiccan or other perspectives and practices. From international organisations to local ‘groves’, there are diverse types of Druid groups, as well as lone practitioners. Chris and David are joined this week by Dr Suzanne Owen to talk in-depth about this fascinating subject, and its implications for wider understandings of the category ‘religion’.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on Redefinition of the eclectic group identity.

The modern roots of Druidry, detailed in Ronald Hutton’s Blood and Mistletoe: the History of the Druids in Britain (Yale UP, 2009), began largely with the seventeenth and eighteenth century antiquarians who formed various societies and fraternities, some of which still exist. Many features of contemporary Druidry originated with Edward Williams (1747-1826), who took the bardic name Iolo Morganwg and founded the Gorsedd (gathering of Bards). It is difficult to determine a common element between the various groups, though many contemporary Druids recognise awen, the ‘inspiration’ of bards and Druids, and have an interest in trees and tree lore. To find out more, have a listen to the podcast and/or check out some of Suzanne’s publications.

Suzanne Owen lectures at Leeds Trinity University College, UK,  in all aspects of Religious Studies (especially method and theory and south Asian traditions) and researches indigeneity and contemporary indigenous traditions, particularly in North America. She is currently co-chair of the Indigenous Religious Traditions Group for the American Academy of Religion. Her PhD from the University of Edinburgh focussed on the sharing of Native American ceremonies and included fieldwork among Mi’kmaq in Newfoundland. More recently, she has been researching Druidry and has given papers on this topic in relation to indigeneity or religion at several international conferences, and written the following piece for the Bulletin for the Study of Religion, which listeners should be interested in: Religion / Not Religion – A Discourse Analysis.

This interview was recorded at the University of Edinburgh in April 2012, and we are very grateful for Suzanne’s help in compiling this post and, of course, for a great interview.

Suzanne and David at the 2012 BASR Conference in Winchester