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Sociology of Religion and Religious Studies: Disciplines, Fields, and the Limits of Dialogue

As it happens, just two and a half weeks ago, I was in the audience of a panel called ‘Rethinking Theory, Methods, and Data: A Conversation between Religious Studies and Sociology of Religion’ presented at the annual conference of the American Academy of Religion.  The panel was advertised as a ‘conversation’ discussing the: ‘overlaps and differences between the role of theory, method and the collection of data in the respective fields. Panelists will focus on “what counts” as data and how religious studies and sociology of religion can mutually benefit from this discussion.’

Whilst the papers were generally very well-conceived and presented, it was the subsequent Q&A session with the audience that revealed a number of so-called fault lines as well as a general lack of consensus on what exactly religious studies is: discipline or field.  Indeed, it seemed that those with a background in religious studies were generally more open to the idea of their academic arena being framed in terms of a broad ‘field of study’ in which many disciplines and approaches participate.  Yet, those representing the sociology of religion seemed more keen to posit religious studies as a stand-alone ‘discipline’, complete with its own questions, methods, and theories.  When an audience member suggested that to insist on religious studies as a distinct and entirely separate discipline was also to limit even further the appropriate ‘house’ for the sociology of religion, one panelist argued steadfastly that that was not a problem; the sociology of religion was firmly located within sociology departments at the institutional level and had its own associations and publications to prove its established position within academia generally.

This seems to be a particularly American response – as pointed out by Paul-Francois Tremlett and Titus Hjelm in their interview with David Robertson.  Whilst many sociologists of religion in American are, indeed, ‘housed’ in sociology departments where they teach courses beyond those focused on religion, the picture is quite different in the UK and elsewhere.  In the latter contexts, sociology of religion is most frequently encountered within departments of theology and religion, or religious studies.  Indeed, it was refreshing to hear Tremlett and Hjelm agree on this and note that the sociology of religion is therefore sometimes understandably uncomfortable in its own arrangements with higher education as it attempts to maintain a cohesive (and coherent) body of scholarship detached from departments of social science and within a strikingly amorphous and ill-defined branch of the academy.  What is perhaps more interesting, however, is that the scenarios on both sides of the Atlantic highlight a consequent desire to distinguish between a discipline and a field of study.

I concur with those on the panel as well as with Tremlett and Hjelm, then, that such a distinction seems warranted and helpful as we grapple with the nature of religious studies and its relationship to the sociology of religion.  Setting aside the argument that could be made concerning sociology of religion’s status as a ‘sub-discipline’ of sociology – an argument that hardly seems rebutted by the presence of organizations and publications dedicated to the sociology of religion – it does seem clear that a classificatory disparity exists here.  Religious studies has always included a number of approaches, methods, theories, lines of inquiry, etc.  In some sense, religious studies is a both/and endeavour: it is both science-based and humanities-based, both data-driven and theory-driven, both political and apolitical.  At the very least, it contains the potential to be any number of those things.  Accordingly, Hjelm’s observation that religious studies spends too much time looking inward, debating the definitions and theories of religion rather than analysing instances of religion, is likely astute.  As a large inclusive field, religious studies was perhaps always doomed to expend a great deal of energy on self-definition and self-clarification.

Yet, sociology of religion seems a narrower discipline, right?  It has a history traceable to Durkheim and Weber, perhaps Marx as well.  It is ostensibly science-based and data-driven.  Therefore, as both Tremlett and Hjelm suggested it is perhaps more amenable to, or palatable for, the uses put to it by politicians, journalists, and some of those involved in public policy.  In other words, sociology of religion is perhaps more scientific than religious studies because the latter’s scientific qualities are diluted by the presence of non-, or less, scientific approaches.  That being said, it does appear that putting sociology of religion ‘in conversation’ with religious studies is something like putting an apple in conversation with an orange, or putting an apple in conversation with the fresh produce section of the supermarket.  Although such an analogy is doubtlessly flawed in significant ways, it does serve to highlight one of the most striking aspects of these discussions.  To what extent is this a dialogue, a two-way conversation?

I suggest that the answer may be found in the issue of theory.  If an academic discipline is not only defined by a set of acceptable methods, a focused realm for data collection, and a cannon of resources but also is made to include the ‘development of theory’ – a characteristic highlighted as belonging to the sociology of religion but not to religious studies by members of that same AAR panel – then we begin to see the relationship of a discipline to a field more clearly.  Religious studies arguably has its own cannon, acceptable methods, and circumscribed territories for data gathering, even its own popularly used theories, but it is more difficult to contend that it has produced those theories apart from the contributions of the individual disciplines comprising the larger field.  As the interviewees noted, something like ‘lived religion’ as a concept came to religious studies from the sociology of religion.  Likewise, one can easily highlight yet again that the history of religious studies is a history of the development of other narrower disciplines like sociology and anthropology who analysed religion as a central focus of their own agendas.

For those of us working in British religious studies contexts, this relationship is witnessed on a daily basis.  My own department, for example, consists of historians, anthropologists, sociologists, and literary scholars all engaged in the study of religion.  The field of religious studies, thus, encompasses massively diverse disciplinary perspectives and questions.  Large varieties of methods and theories are used to explore and analyse equally broad sets of phenomena.  Somewhere in the cacophony, sociology of religion is speaking to the religious studies enterprise.  It is offering up ideas and methods, sure, but it is also developing theories which may subsequently support or engender the work of other scholars in religious studies.  In the end, the relationship of the discipline to the field is possibly, justifiably, unilateral.  The sociology of religion may have something to say to religious studies, but I am not sure what religious studies has to say to the sociology of religion.  Of course, by placing sociologists of religion in departments of religious studies for a few generations, we may just find out how the latter shapes the former.

Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – 1 March 2016

Calls for papers

Freedom of/for/from/within Religion: Differing DImensions of a Common Right?

September 8–11, 2016

Oxford, UK

Deadline: March 31, 2016

More information

Public Religions and Their Secrets, Secret Religions and Their Publics

October 27–28, 2016

University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Deadline: April 1, 2016

More information: Conference, Master Class

CHAOS-symposium: Religion og materialitet

April 29–30, 2016

University of Bergen, Norway

Deadline: March 1, 2016

More information (Norwegian)

AAR panel: Critical Theory and Discourses on Religion Group

November 19–22, 2016

San Antonio, TX, USA

Deadline: March 1, 2016

More information

AAR panel: Religion, Media, and Culture Group

Deadline: March 1, 2016

November 19–22, 2016

San Antonio, TX, USA

More information

Events

Religious Diversity and Cultural Change in Scotland: Modern Perspectives

April 19, 2016

University of Edinburgh, UK

More information

Les Politiques du Blasphème: Perspectives Comparées

March 7, 2016

Paris, France

More information

Postgraduate Workshop on the Materiality of Divine Agency in the Graeco-Roman World

August 29–September 2, 2016

University of Erfurt, Germany

Deadline: May 31, 2016

More information

Open Access

Open Theology: Cognitive Science of Religion

Available here

Jobs and funding

Postdoctoral teaching fellowship

Kenyon College, OH, USA

Deadline: March 25, 2016

More information

Lecturer in Hebrew

University of California, Santa Barbara, USA

Deadline: April 30, 2016

More information

University Lectureship in Anthropology and Islamic Studies

Leiden University, The Netherlands

Deadline: May 18, 2016

More information

Editor: Shambhala and Snow Lion Publications

Boulder, CO, USA

Deadline: May 17, 2016

More information

Assistant professor of Religious Studies

Utrecht University, the Netherlands

Deadline: March 11, 2016

More information

Instructor in Religion and Culture

Virginia Tech, VA, USA

Deadline: March 14, 2016

More information

AAR-Luce Fellowships in Religion and International Affairs

Deadline: March 31, 2016

DC, USA

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Dean of Graduate Jewish Studies

Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership

Deadline: May 22, 2016

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Postdoctoral Fellow in Judaic Studies

Virginia Tech, VA, USA

March 14, 2016

More information

Funding

CSA Research Fellowship

Deadline: March 1, 2016

More information

Two fully funded PhD positions, one Postdoctoral position in the Study of Religions

Creative Agency and Religious Minorities: “Hidden galleries” in the secret police archives in 20th Century Central and Eastern Europe

University College Cork, Ireland

Deadline: April 22, 2016

More information: PhDs, Postdoc

 

Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – 2 February 2016

Dear subscriber,

We are pleased to bring you this week’s opportunities digest and would like to express our gratitude to everyone who has submitted calls for papers, event notifications, job vacancies, etc. On that note, we would also like to encourage you to continue to do so (and invite those who remain hesitant to begin)!

It is super easy to have a Religious Studies call for papers, exciting event, or alluring job vacancy appear in future Opportunities Digests! Simply use the submission form, forward them to oppsdigest@religiousstudiesproject.com or, better yet, include said e-mail address in your mailing list for such e-mails!

We thank you for your contribution.

Calls for papers

7th Queering Paradigms Conference

June 11–12, 2016

Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands

Deadline: April 4, 2016

More information

Undergraduate conference: “Faith and Power”

August 4–7, 2016

Central European University, Hungary

Deadline: April 1, 2016

More information

Law and Religion Scholars Network

Cardiff University, UK

Deadline: February 29, 2016

More information

Sacred stuff: Material culture and the geography of religion

August 30–September 2, 2016

London, UK

Deadline: February 8, 2016

More information

Religion, literature and culture: Lines in sand

September 9–11, 2016

University of Glasgow, UK

Deadline: April 18, 2016

More information

Historical Re-Enactment, Contemporary Paganism and Fantasy-Based Movements

May 20–21, 2016

Vytautas Magnus University, Lithuania

Deadline: March 21, 2016

More information

Islam and Peaceful Relations

April 5, 2016

Coventry University, UK

Deadline: February 15, 2016

More information

Postgraduate Conference on Religion and Theology: “Perfection”

March 11–12, 2016

University of Bristol, UK

Deadline: February 19, 2016

More information

Time and Myth: The Temporal and the Eternal

May 26–28, 2016

Masaryk University, Czech Republic

Deadline: March 15, 2016

More information

Fetish Boots and Running Shoes: Indecent Theology Today into Tomorrow

July 8, 2016

University of Winchester, UK

Deadline: March 7, 2016

More information

AAR 2016: Religion and Public Schools: International Perspectives Group

November 19–22, 2016

San Antonio, TX, USA

Deadline: March 1, 2016

More information

Fieldwork: Doing Ethnographic Research

June 24, 2016

Birmingham City University, UK

Deadline: March 25, 2016

More information

Events

Inform seminar: New Religious Radicalisms

May 21, 2016

London School of Economics, UK

More information

Arbeitskreis interdisdisziplinäre Hexenforschung

February 18–20, 2016

Stuttgart-Hohenheim, Germany

More information

Research Methods in the Study of Religion

University of Kent, UK

Deadline: February 5, 2016

More information

Jobs

2 PhD positions in sociology project: “Postsecular Conflicts”

University of Innsbruck, Austria

Deadline: February 15, 2016

More information

3 PhD studentships

Coventry University, UK

Deadline: February 19, 2016

More information

PhD position: “Multiple Secularities: Beyond the West, Beyond Modernities”

University of Leipzig, Germany

Deadline: February 5, 2016

More information

PhD studentship: Cognitive Science of Religion

Belfast, UK; Aarhus, Denmark

Deadline: April 29, 2016

More information

Visiting Fellowship

Nalanda-Sriwijaya Centre of the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, Singapore

Deadline: March 31, 2016

More information

Associate Professor, Full Professor: Jewish History/Studies

Case Western Research University, OH, United States

Deadline: March 1, 2016

More information

Postdoctoral fellowship

University of Pennsylvania, USA

Deadline: February 15, 2016

More information

Instructor: Buddhist Studies

Antioch University, OH, USA

Deadline: April 15, 2016

More information

Postdoctoral Fellowship: Chinese Buddhism

Columbia University, NY, USA

Deadline: April 20, 2016

More information

Getting to Know the North American Association for the Study of Religion

In this interview, Russell McCutcheon and Aaron Hughes discuss the North American Association for the Study of Religion (NAASR), an international organization dedicated to historical, critical, and social scientific approaches to the study of religion. McCutcheon and Hughes (the president and vice president of NAASR, respectively) discuss the history of NAASR, their attempt to help return NAASR to its original mission, various publications associated with NAASR, and the philosophy or motivations that guided their annual conference this year.

In January 2016, we welcomed the North American Association for the Study of Religion (NAASR) as an additional sponsor. We are indebted to NAASR for their generosity, and we look forward to working with them in the years to come to continue what we do, and to bring about some important and long-planned innovations.

The North American Association for the Study of Religion (NAASR) was initially formed in 1985 by E. Thomas Lawson, Luther H. Martin, and Donald Wiebe, to encourage the historical, comparative, structural, theoretical, and cognitive approaches to the study of religion among North American scholars; to represent North American scholars of religion at the international level; and to sustain communication between North American scholars and their international colleagues engaged in the study of religion.

Please see their website for more information on their activities, and for membership details. NAASR is incorporated as a nonprofit in the state of Vermont. A brief history of NAASR, written by Luther H. Martin and Donald Wiebe, can be found here.

You can download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us . And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.com, or Amazon.ca links to support us at no additional cost when buying academic texts, incense, driving gloves, and more.

Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – 29 September 2015

Dear subscriber,

We are pleased to bring you this week’s opportunities digest!

We would like to express our gratitude to everyone who has forwarded notifications. On that note, we would also like to encourage you to continue to do so (and invite those who remain hesitant to begin)!

It is super easy to have a Religious Studies call for papers, exciting event, or alluring job vacancy appear in future Opportunities Digests! Simply use the submission form, forward them to oppsdigest@religiousstudiesproject.com or, better yet, include said e-mail address in your mailing list for such e-mails!

We thank you for your contribution. And now for this week’s digest:

Calls for papers

Conference: Yoga darśana, yoga sādhana: traditions, transmissions, transformations

May 19–21, 2016

Uniwersytet Jagielloński w Krakowie, Poland

Deadline: December 21, 2015

More information

Conference: Visual Narratives of Faith: Religion, Ritual and Identity

July 10–14, 2016

Vienna, Austria

Deadline: September 30, 2015

More information

Conference: Religion and Non-Religion in Contemporary Societies

April 21–24, 2016

Zadar, Croatia

Deadline: November 15, 2015

More information

Conference: Symposium Peregrinum

June 16–19, 2016

Tarquinio, Italy

Deadline: March 1, 2016

More information

Journal: Women: A Cultural Review

Special issue: Religion and Gender

Deadline: October 31, 2015

More information

Events

Annual meeting: American Academy of Religion

November 21–24, 2015

Atlanta, GA, USA

More information

Annual meeting: American Anthropological Association

November 18–22, 2015

Denver, CO, USA

More information

Annual meeting: North American Association for the Study of Religion

November 20–22, 2015

Atlanta, GA, USA

More information

Research report launch: What should young people leave school knowing about religion and belief?

November 26, 2015, 5–6:30 p.m.

London, UK

More information

Conference: Radicalization & Islamophobia: Roots, Relationships and Implications in Religiously Diverse Societies

November 30–December 1, 2015

Sydney, Australia

More information

Conference: Pluralism and Community: Social Science History Perspectives

November 12–15, 2015

Baltimore, MD, USA

More information

Grants and awards

Miklós Tomka Award

Deadline: January 10, 2016

More information

Jobs

Postdoctoral Fellowship: History of Religion and Religiosity

German Historical Institute, Washington, D.C.

Deadline: December 1, 2015

More information

Two PhD scholarships in Buddhist Studies

LMU München, Germany

Deadline: October 18, 2015

More information

Fully funded PhD studentship

Newman University, UK

Deadline: October 23, 2015

More information

Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – 10 February 2015

Calls for papers

Conference: In Search of the Origins of Religions

September 11–13, 2015

Ghent, Belgium

Deadline: March 1, 2015

More information (English)

Conference: Second Undegraduate Conference on Religion and Culture

March 28, 2015

Syracuse, NY, USA

Deadline: February 15, 2015

More information

Symposium: Society for the Study of Religion and Transhumanism (SSRT)

June 27, 2015

Lancaster University, UK

Deadline: March 31, 2015

More information

AAR group: Secularism and Secularity

Deadline: March 2, 2015

More information

Journal: Studi e materiali di storia delle religioni

Theme issue: Religion as a Colonial Concept in Early modern History (Africa, America, Asia)

Deadline: May 15, 2015

More information

Article collection: Religious subcultures in Unexpected Places

Deadline: May 1, 2015

More information

Events

Conference: International Tyndale Conference

October 1–4, 2015

Oxford, UK

More information

Congress: “Ad Astra per Corpora: Astrología y Sexualidad en el Mundo Antiguo

February 19–21, 2015

Málaga, Spain

More information (Spanish)

Jobs

Research assistant: Indology

Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster, Germany

Deadline: February 28, 2015

More information (German)

Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – 3 February 2015

Dear subscribers,

We are happy to provide you with this week’s thick and juicy digest, full of opportunities to present intriguing thoughts, discuss important matters, and—not least—do some really engaging research!

Thank you to everyone who forwarded calls for papers, notifications of events, and job openings. Please continue to do so in the future! You know the address, right? (No? It’s oppsdigest@religiousstudiesproject.com.)

Calls for papers

Conference: American Academy of Religion: Annual conference

November 21–24, 2015

Atlanta, Georgia, USA

Deadline: March 2, 2015

More information

AAR group: Religion in Europe

More information 

AAR group: Sociology of Religion

More information

AAR panel: Religion in Public Schools: International Perspectives 

More information

Conference: The European Sociological Association

August 25–28, 2015

Prague, Czech Republic

Deadline: February 15, 2015

More information

Conference: Latin America Peace Research Association

October 26–28, 2015

Guatemala City, Guatemala

Deadline: May 1, 2015

More information

Conference: Asia-Pacific Peace Research Associaton

October 9–11, 2015

Kathmandu, Nepal

Deadline: March 31, 2015

More information

Conference: The Sacred Journeys: Pilgrimages and Beyond Project

July 3–5, 2015

Oxford, UK

Deadline: March 13, 2015

More information

Symposium: Marginal presences: Unorthodox belief and practice, 1837–2014

April 23, 2015

Deadline: March 9, 2015

London, UK

More information

Journal: Religion & Theology

Looking for book review(er)s

Deadline: N/A

More information

Events

Conference: European Network of Buddhist-Christian Studies

Munich, Germany

June 25–29, 2015

More information

Resources

Open access: Entangled Religions: Interdisciplinary Journal for the Study of Religious Contact and Transfer

More information

Jobs

Lectureship in Radicalisation and Protest in a Digital Age

Lancaster University, UK

Deadline: February 22, 2015

More information

Doctoral student: Religious history

Universiteit Antwerpen, the Netherlands

Deadline: February 22, 2015

More information

Postdoctoral researcher: Religious history

Universiteit Antwerpen, the Netherlands

Deadline: February 22, 2015

More information

Postdoctoral fellow: Media studies

Stockholm University, Sweden

Deadline: February 28, 2015

More information

Research associate: Magic and the Expanding Early Modern World

University of Manchester, UK

Deadline: March 1, 2015

More information

THATCamp Roundtable on Digital Religious Studies

At this past year’s meeting of the American Academy of Religion in Baltimore, Maryland, over 70 scholars met to participate in the AAR’s first THATCamp. The Humanities and Technology Camp is an open meeting for those desiring a conference experience outside of the presentation of formal papers. Participants submitted ideas ahead of time to the AAR THATCamp website, but the final shape and content of the event was decided on-site by a vote. In the busy weekend of paper sessions, THATCamp AAR was an oasis of facilitate first, pontificate second. As digital religious studies emerges within the broader digital humanities movement, the Camp was a rather bold move for the AAR, whose interaction has been driven by more conservative timelines.

THATCamp represents one of the bright spots of the digital world and its potential for conference goers. It emphasizes hands-on experience, privileges active learning, and puts expertise and enthusiasm for technology side-by-side. It can be chaotic with its impromptu schedule, but the advantage is the flexibility it offers to solve problems, foster dialogue, and teach digital skills.

Over the course of the day participants had the option to become more familiar with the online curation platform Omeka, learn about the many options for digital publishing, brainstorm ways to harness outside technological expertise for humanities projects, discuss the role of media in the classroom, learn the basics of big data, and even get tips about doing digital ethnography with students. The schedule is still up here, but it was as full a day of information as even the most seasoned technophiles could handle.

For the conference organizers that sat together for a few brief minutes over lunch, there was awareness of both the promises and perils of the digital world. As a fledgling research method whose products are varied and often unique, there is a great need for clear standards of evaluation of “good scholarship in the digital realm.” This should be of special concern to early career scholars who may have to fight for the presence of digital work in their tenure portfolios or in grant applications. This problem would be addressed not only by the development and promotion of open platforms for scholarly work, but also by sincere discussion about basic digital literacy and professionalization with digital tools and methods. Publishers, professional organizations, libraries, departments, scholars, and students–everyone in the academic chain will need to work out their roles for digital methods and digital work.

With so little time, several questions were pre-circulated to help things move along quickly on these topics.

What does it mean to teach or research religious studies digitally?

Does religious “data” make digital religious studies distinct within the digital humanities?

What is a digital religious studies research project you think more people should know about?

How can departments and the field better support digital methods and pedagogies?

For each of the six participants, digital methods and platforms are a key element in their identity as scholars. While there was not an opportunity to to fully explore their contribution and work, if you would like to learn more about them, please use the links below:

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. And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.ca, or Amazon.comlinks to support us at no additional cost when you have a purchase to make.

A Personal Diary from the American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting, Chicago 2012

A Personal Diary from the American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting, Chicago 2012

Jack Tsonis, Macquarie University

Religious Studies Project Conference Report, American Academy of Religion – 16-19 November, 2012 – Chicago, Illinois, USA

When the RSP editors asked if I would be willing to do a report on the annual AAR meeting in Chicago, I eagerly agreed. However, when I arrived and actually thought about how I was going to do such a report, I realized that a different strategy was called for than the one I had envisaged. The AAR is one of those massive events in which every session has at least twenty panels on offer, not to mention the diverse array of evening functions. Attempting a report that provided wide coverage of the event would have prevented me from doing what I was primarily there to do: connect with scholars in my specific field by going to the appropriate sessions. Thus, instead of a full report on the meeting, what follows is a day-by-day personal account of my own little slice of AAR activity.

Day 1 – Friday, November 16, 2012

Having arrived in Chicago the day before to get my bearings, I make an easy bus trip downtown to the McCormick Centre, the location of the 2012 AAR Annual Meeting (which runs concurrently with the Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting). The venue is absolutely massive, and is where President Obama held his election-night convention less than a fortnight ago. It is the biggest conference centre in the United States. It even has a metro stop built into the main lobby. It has four precincts (North, South, East, West), each being huge, multi-story halls in their own right. It is truly something to behold. The complex sits right on the shore of Lake Michigan, of which the East wing has an amazing view. The “lake” is more like an ocean. It, too, is massive.

Most of the sessions take place Saturday through Monday, but I have a workshop to attend from 2-6pm on the Friday afternoon. After registering at the main desk and taking care of the administrivia, I locate Room 353 East (situated opposite the aforementioned expansive view of the lake). The meeting is “The SBL/AAR Study of Religion as an Analytical Discipline Workshop”, co-hosted by the AAR’s Cultural History of the Study of Religion group and the SBL’s Ideological Criticism group. The theme for the workshop is “The Analytical Handling of Norms and Values in the Study of Religion”, a juicy topic that touches upon a lot of the methodological issues in my own work. I was very interested when I signed up. I am also hoping to meet a few new people, as that’s the best part of a conference, and the best way to have fun in the evenings.

The workshop is well attended, perhaps 30 people in total. There are four sessions, plus afternoon tea. The sessions are all interesting, though some more than others. The focus is upon both scholarly and pedagogical responsibilities in the study of religion. The following synopsis provided by the organizers is a good distillation of the workshop:

Analysis of academic norms for the study of religion focuses on construction of a secondary discourse that accomplishes the following: (a) treats all religious phenomena as primary sources, i.e. the object of study; (b) adheres to common academic practices in the humanities and social sciences, as appropriate for the research question under investigation; and (c) incorporates self-critical reflection on the problematic of scholarly, secondary discourse vis-à-vis the primary, intramural discourse of the people and practices studied. These three goals are necessary to adequately formulate the study of religion as a discipline of scholarship in alignment with the Humanities, Social Sciences and Sciences.

The discussion is enthusiastic, and the breadth of topic has attracted scholars from a wide variety of specialist fields within the study of religion. It is not the kind of thing where “resolutions” are reached on anything, but rather an invigorating open-floor exchange about strategies for methodological reflexivity in the production of knowledge about “religion” and other aspects of cultural. Some speakers gravitate towards theoretical issues, others towards the challenges involved in turning ethnographic fieldwork into legitimate (and ethical) knowledge. Others also focus on the treatment of marginalized religious communities, and how this actual social marginalization is perpetuated by certain androcentric, Eurocentric, and graphocentric norms that pervade western discourse. A particularly impassioned point is made by an organizer of the LGBTQ section of the AAR about the near-total discrimination of openly LGBTQ academics in the US job market, and how this reflects the kind of problematic assumptions that are embedded in the dominant discourse (which is to say, embedded in the power structures of Euro-American culture). Did I mention that the afternoon tea is also nice? The standout is some spectacular gingerbread cookies.

At a personal level, it is a great afternoon. I meet a lot of new people, including some who I will connect with again over the weekend. I touch base with a professor with whom I have been communicating via email for the last year, and we plan to meet properly tomorrow. One speaker whose paper I particularly enjoyed is a colleague of another scholar I have been in communication with in recent months, so we have a friendly chat afterwards too. I also get invited to the University of North Carolina reception on Sunday night by some fellow grad students, which I plan to attend in order to network further (and to get some free booze). I catch the shuttle bus back into town with a few nice people from the workshop, and it turns out that a guy I am sitting with is good friends with my current associate supervisor. So it is a bumper start to the AAR meeting at my end: stimulating discussion and some new connections. I ignore the evening’s welcome reception on account of the good mood, as I have no one in particular to meet there and I feel that my work is done for the day. The evening involves dinner, a beer, and bed.

Day 2 – Saturday, November 17

With last night going later than planned (emails always take longer than you think), I decide to sleep through the morning session. There are no sessions of critical import to my work, so I opt for the sleep and a lazier start to the day (loading my energy towards the evenings, as I put it). I thought about attending the 1pm session on the 100-year anniversary of Durkheim’s Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, but at the last minute I see a session called “The Identity of NAASR and the Character of the Critical Study of Religion”. NAASR is the North American Society for the Study of Religion, and is an umbrella society within the AAR that promotes a more critical and “scientific” approach to the study of religion, with the related charge that much of what the AAR does is crypto-theology dressed up as critical scholarship (at one point the AAR is accused of “apologetic phenomenology”). The star panelists are Russell McCutcheon and Donald Wiebe, who are well known for their thoroughgoing criticism of the apologetic tendencies of the “discipline” of religious studies. The discussion is heated at times, and there is clearly no consensus about what precisely the character of NAASR should be. Weibe, one of its founders, wants it to be about scientific approaches to the study of religion (e.g. cognitive science), whereas McCutcheon, its most influential member, advocates a broader approach that also includes history and critical theory – although, as he points out, the problem then becomes that NAASR is little different from the AAR, at least on paper in terms of the sessions that it holds.

A number of the people from yesterday’s workshop are also in attendance, and turn out to be important members of NAASR (which is a big payoff for me). They invite me along to tonight’s NAASR reception, which will be great for more reasons than just the free food and drink. I am hoping to meet McCutcheon and others who will be there, as their work has been deeply influential for the development of my own critical/methodological approach to the study of religion. After that, I am also attending a party hosted by biblical scholars Dale Martin (who I will be interviewing for the RSP next week) and Bart Ehrman. The Bart & Dale Show (as they call it) is a long running Saturday night institution at the AAR/SBL, and presents another great networking opportunity – which I have learnt are far more important than whatever one might learn from attending sessions. Hence why I have decided to skip the AAR Presidential Address in favour of the NAASR reception. However I will have to be careful tonight, as I am attending 2 parties with free booze – this happened last year at the AAR Saturday night, and I awoke with a tremendous hangover that prevented me from absorbing much on the Sunday. I fear a similar outcome.

The final event of my day was a 4pm meeting held with Randall Styers of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Randall’s work (Making Magic [OUP 2004]) has also been deeply influential in the shape of my own project, and he gives me a very generous 90 minutes of his time; we even catch the bus back together. We discuss both my doctoral project as well as wider strategies for carving out a career in the academic world. His advice is extremely helpful on both fronts, and he has proven to be an invaluable mentor whom I am sure to be in contact with over the coming years. He will also be at the NAASR reception tonight, so that’s another plus. Speaking of the reception, I must get out the door.

Day 3 – Sunday, November 18

I emerge on Sunday (mid)morning relatively unscathed, although I would not describe myself as chipper. The evening’s activities were great fun. Good conversation was had and more friends were made. The NAASR reception was a mirthful affair with food and drink aplenty, and the Bart & Dale Show was in its usual swing. My day begins by meeting an old supervisor for coffee, and we have a good catch up. I then attend a stimulating session at 1pm, a 90 minute consultation on future of the newly-formed Social Theory and Religion Cluster, comprised of a number of groups in the AAR which are seeking to co-operate at a level beyond their own specific panel discussions (e.g. the Sociology of Religion group and Cultural History of the Study of Religion group). The theme is “Social Theory and Religion, 2013–2015”. The forum is well attended and the audience represents a diverse spectrum of interests; this bodes well for the future of the Cluster. Although there is a seven person panel, the meeting is more of an open-floor discussion about ways to collaborate at upcoming conferences – such as holding featured guest-speaker lectures, organizing debates, holding cross-group panels on important scholarly milestones (such as the 100 year anniversary of Durkheim), etc.

The evening sees me attend the UNC Chapel Hill reception, to which I had been invited by Randall as well as some of his very amiable doctoral students whom I met at the workshop on Friday. The catering is of a high standard, as is the crowd. There are a lot of nice people there, so further connections are made. It is truly lovely to have met so many nice people when I arrived at the conference knowing virtually no one. My planned early night is yet again railroaded by the “couple” of “quick” emails I had to send, and I crawl into bed just before midnight. Despite the exhaustion, it is difficult to sleep on account of the whirring mind induced by the weekend’s conversations.

Day 4 – Monday, November 19 (The Final Day)

Thankfully the morning session once again contains no panels of crucial importance for me, so the day begins more slowly by catching up for coffee with a friend from Brown University whom I only get to see at the conference every year. I then head into McCormick to attend the final session for the Cultural History of the Study of Religion group, starting at 1pm. The papers comprise a strangely eclectic bunch of topics. It seems odd that they have been placed together. After properly getting lost in McCormick for the first time (I’m surprised it took this long), I arrive just as the session is starting to a scene that I did not quite picture: about 30 people sitting around a large, squared table formation, with no discernible panel of speakers. I grab a seat just as the Chairs explain the slightly experimental format: all papers had been pre-circulated amongst the 6 speakers, and instead of being read, they were summarized for the audience (about 10 mins each). The chairs then lead a fascinating discussion between both speakers and audience, in which they tease out a number of theoretical issues that flow through and connect the otherwise quite disparate papers. If you think that the following topics – C19th protestant missionaries and the telegraph; early reformed Judaism in the US; William James and his concept of the composite photograph; two post-war female, French, Catholic scholars; the translation industry around the Daodejing; and the American civic discourse of religious pluralism – sound like almost completely unrelated issues, then you feel as I felt walking in. You would then have been utterly enthralled to sit through and participate in the discussion that followed, and the session was testament to the productive conceptual spaces that emerge when good thinkers come together sharing broad theoretical commitments. I am amazed at how quickly two and a half hours fly by. The final 15 minutes are the business meeting of the CHSR group, which plots out potential session themes for next year as well as further reflections on experimental formats. Most concur that the format of this session was a success, especially on the Monday afternoon of a long conference when simply listen to talks for 2 hours would have been seriously draining; discussion is also had about linking the group’s agenda with the agenda of the Social Theory and Religion Cluster.

There are further sessions in the afternoon, as well as the final ones on Tuesday morning, but this marks the end of my involvement at the AAR conference. I am extremely happy with how the weekend has gone. I arrived at the workshop on Friday apprehensive that I would not meet many people or that the conference might not be that productive, but those apprehensions appear quaint in hindsight. It was a combination of meeting nice people but also putting myself out there: not just attending sessions, but piping up. I made a comment or asked a question in every session I attended, which I have learned is a great platform to be able to approach people afterwards, introducing yourself, and continue the conversation. I wasted no opportunities, and the conference could not have gone better for me, all things considered.

To unwind from the exhausting frazzlement of the last 4 days, my final mission in Chicago is to head way uptown to The Chicago Sweatlodge for a relaxing sauna. Since visiting Finland 6 years ago I have been an almost evangelistic saunophile, and my motto for world travel since that point has been “Another City, Another Sauna”. Considering myself a connoisseur of intense heat, I was mightily impressed with this young establishment, and I emerge 3 hours later glowing like a saint. The Finns say that the human body is never more beautiful than 30 minutes after a sauna, and the tingle on one’s skin afterwards truly is a remarkable feeling unattainable by any other means. The glow remains with me all night, and I am not even worried about the $50 of cabs that it took to get there and back. This marks the perfect end to a great conference.

I am now at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport awaiting a flight to New York, where I will engage in further meetings and conduct an interview for the Religious Studies Project. Boarding time is close, so over and out.

Podcasts

Sociology of Religion and Religious Studies: Disciplines, Fields, and the Limits of Dialogue

As it happens, just two and a half weeks ago, I was in the audience of a panel called ‘Rethinking Theory, Methods, and Data: A Conversation between Religious Studies and Sociology of Religion’ presented at the annual conference of the American Academy of Religion.  The panel was advertised as a ‘conversation’ discussing the: ‘overlaps and differences between the role of theory, method and the collection of data in the respective fields. Panelists will focus on “what counts” as data and how religious studies and sociology of religion can mutually benefit from this discussion.’

Whilst the papers were generally very well-conceived and presented, it was the subsequent Q&A session with the audience that revealed a number of so-called fault lines as well as a general lack of consensus on what exactly religious studies is: discipline or field.  Indeed, it seemed that those with a background in religious studies were generally more open to the idea of their academic arena being framed in terms of a broad ‘field of study’ in which many disciplines and approaches participate.  Yet, those representing the sociology of religion seemed more keen to posit religious studies as a stand-alone ‘discipline’, complete with its own questions, methods, and theories.  When an audience member suggested that to insist on religious studies as a distinct and entirely separate discipline was also to limit even further the appropriate ‘house’ for the sociology of religion, one panelist argued steadfastly that that was not a problem; the sociology of religion was firmly located within sociology departments at the institutional level and had its own associations and publications to prove its established position within academia generally.

This seems to be a particularly American response – as pointed out by Paul-Francois Tremlett and Titus Hjelm in their interview with David Robertson.  Whilst many sociologists of religion in American are, indeed, ‘housed’ in sociology departments where they teach courses beyond those focused on religion, the picture is quite different in the UK and elsewhere.  In the latter contexts, sociology of religion is most frequently encountered within departments of theology and religion, or religious studies.  Indeed, it was refreshing to hear Tremlett and Hjelm agree on this and note that the sociology of religion is therefore sometimes understandably uncomfortable in its own arrangements with higher education as it attempts to maintain a cohesive (and coherent) body of scholarship detached from departments of social science and within a strikingly amorphous and ill-defined branch of the academy.  What is perhaps more interesting, however, is that the scenarios on both sides of the Atlantic highlight a consequent desire to distinguish between a discipline and a field of study.

I concur with those on the panel as well as with Tremlett and Hjelm, then, that such a distinction seems warranted and helpful as we grapple with the nature of religious studies and its relationship to the sociology of religion.  Setting aside the argument that could be made concerning sociology of religion’s status as a ‘sub-discipline’ of sociology – an argument that hardly seems rebutted by the presence of organizations and publications dedicated to the sociology of religion – it does seem clear that a classificatory disparity exists here.  Religious studies has always included a number of approaches, methods, theories, lines of inquiry, etc.  In some sense, religious studies is a both/and endeavour: it is both science-based and humanities-based, both data-driven and theory-driven, both political and apolitical.  At the very least, it contains the potential to be any number of those things.  Accordingly, Hjelm’s observation that religious studies spends too much time looking inward, debating the definitions and theories of religion rather than analysing instances of religion, is likely astute.  As a large inclusive field, religious studies was perhaps always doomed to expend a great deal of energy on self-definition and self-clarification.

Yet, sociology of religion seems a narrower discipline, right?  It has a history traceable to Durkheim and Weber, perhaps Marx as well.  It is ostensibly science-based and data-driven.  Therefore, as both Tremlett and Hjelm suggested it is perhaps more amenable to, or palatable for, the uses put to it by politicians, journalists, and some of those involved in public policy.  In other words, sociology of religion is perhaps more scientific than religious studies because the latter’s scientific qualities are diluted by the presence of non-, or less, scientific approaches.  That being said, it does appear that putting sociology of religion ‘in conversation’ with religious studies is something like putting an apple in conversation with an orange, or putting an apple in conversation with the fresh produce section of the supermarket.  Although such an analogy is doubtlessly flawed in significant ways, it does serve to highlight one of the most striking aspects of these discussions.  To what extent is this a dialogue, a two-way conversation?

I suggest that the answer may be found in the issue of theory.  If an academic discipline is not only defined by a set of acceptable methods, a focused realm for data collection, and a cannon of resources but also is made to include the ‘development of theory’ – a characteristic highlighted as belonging to the sociology of religion but not to religious studies by members of that same AAR panel – then we begin to see the relationship of a discipline to a field more clearly.  Religious studies arguably has its own cannon, acceptable methods, and circumscribed territories for data gathering, even its own popularly used theories, but it is more difficult to contend that it has produced those theories apart from the contributions of the individual disciplines comprising the larger field.  As the interviewees noted, something like ‘lived religion’ as a concept came to religious studies from the sociology of religion.  Likewise, one can easily highlight yet again that the history of religious studies is a history of the development of other narrower disciplines like sociology and anthropology who analysed religion as a central focus of their own agendas.

For those of us working in British religious studies contexts, this relationship is witnessed on a daily basis.  My own department, for example, consists of historians, anthropologists, sociologists, and literary scholars all engaged in the study of religion.  The field of religious studies, thus, encompasses massively diverse disciplinary perspectives and questions.  Large varieties of methods and theories are used to explore and analyse equally broad sets of phenomena.  Somewhere in the cacophony, sociology of religion is speaking to the religious studies enterprise.  It is offering up ideas and methods, sure, but it is also developing theories which may subsequently support or engender the work of other scholars in religious studies.  In the end, the relationship of the discipline to the field is possibly, justifiably, unilateral.  The sociology of religion may have something to say to religious studies, but I am not sure what religious studies has to say to the sociology of religion.  Of course, by placing sociologists of religion in departments of religious studies for a few generations, we may just find out how the latter shapes the former.

Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – 1 March 2016

Calls for papers

Freedom of/for/from/within Religion: Differing DImensions of a Common Right?

September 8–11, 2016

Oxford, UK

Deadline: March 31, 2016

More information

Public Religions and Their Secrets, Secret Religions and Their Publics

October 27–28, 2016

University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Deadline: April 1, 2016

More information: Conference, Master Class

CHAOS-symposium: Religion og materialitet

April 29–30, 2016

University of Bergen, Norway

Deadline: March 1, 2016

More information (Norwegian)

AAR panel: Critical Theory and Discourses on Religion Group

November 19–22, 2016

San Antonio, TX, USA

Deadline: March 1, 2016

More information

AAR panel: Religion, Media, and Culture Group

Deadline: March 1, 2016

November 19–22, 2016

San Antonio, TX, USA

More information

Events

Religious Diversity and Cultural Change in Scotland: Modern Perspectives

April 19, 2016

University of Edinburgh, UK

More information

Les Politiques du Blasphème: Perspectives Comparées

March 7, 2016

Paris, France

More information

Postgraduate Workshop on the Materiality of Divine Agency in the Graeco-Roman World

August 29–September 2, 2016

University of Erfurt, Germany

Deadline: May 31, 2016

More information

Open Access

Open Theology: Cognitive Science of Religion

Available here

Jobs and funding

Postdoctoral teaching fellowship

Kenyon College, OH, USA

Deadline: March 25, 2016

More information

Lecturer in Hebrew

University of California, Santa Barbara, USA

Deadline: April 30, 2016

More information

University Lectureship in Anthropology and Islamic Studies

Leiden University, The Netherlands

Deadline: May 18, 2016

More information

Editor: Shambhala and Snow Lion Publications

Boulder, CO, USA

Deadline: May 17, 2016

More information

Assistant professor of Religious Studies

Utrecht University, the Netherlands

Deadline: March 11, 2016

More information

Instructor in Religion and Culture

Virginia Tech, VA, USA

Deadline: March 14, 2016

More information

AAR-Luce Fellowships in Religion and International Affairs

Deadline: March 31, 2016

DC, USA

More information

Dean of Graduate Jewish Studies

Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership

Deadline: May 22, 2016

More information

Postdoctoral Fellow in Judaic Studies

Virginia Tech, VA, USA

March 14, 2016

More information

Funding

CSA Research Fellowship

Deadline: March 1, 2016

More information

Two fully funded PhD positions, one Postdoctoral position in the Study of Religions

Creative Agency and Religious Minorities: “Hidden galleries” in the secret police archives in 20th Century Central and Eastern Europe

University College Cork, Ireland

Deadline: April 22, 2016

More information: PhDs, Postdoc

 

Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – 2 February 2016

Dear subscriber,

We are pleased to bring you this week’s opportunities digest and would like to express our gratitude to everyone who has submitted calls for papers, event notifications, job vacancies, etc. On that note, we would also like to encourage you to continue to do so (and invite those who remain hesitant to begin)!

It is super easy to have a Religious Studies call for papers, exciting event, or alluring job vacancy appear in future Opportunities Digests! Simply use the submission form, forward them to oppsdigest@religiousstudiesproject.com or, better yet, include said e-mail address in your mailing list for such e-mails!

We thank you for your contribution.

Calls for papers

7th Queering Paradigms Conference

June 11–12, 2016

Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands

Deadline: April 4, 2016

More information

Undergraduate conference: “Faith and Power”

August 4–7, 2016

Central European University, Hungary

Deadline: April 1, 2016

More information

Law and Religion Scholars Network

Cardiff University, UK

Deadline: February 29, 2016

More information

Sacred stuff: Material culture and the geography of religion

August 30–September 2, 2016

London, UK

Deadline: February 8, 2016

More information

Religion, literature and culture: Lines in sand

September 9–11, 2016

University of Glasgow, UK

Deadline: April 18, 2016

More information

Historical Re-Enactment, Contemporary Paganism and Fantasy-Based Movements

May 20–21, 2016

Vytautas Magnus University, Lithuania

Deadline: March 21, 2016

More information

Islam and Peaceful Relations

April 5, 2016

Coventry University, UK

Deadline: February 15, 2016

More information

Postgraduate Conference on Religion and Theology: “Perfection”

March 11–12, 2016

University of Bristol, UK

Deadline: February 19, 2016

More information

Time and Myth: The Temporal and the Eternal

May 26–28, 2016

Masaryk University, Czech Republic

Deadline: March 15, 2016

More information

Fetish Boots and Running Shoes: Indecent Theology Today into Tomorrow

July 8, 2016

University of Winchester, UK

Deadline: March 7, 2016

More information

AAR 2016: Religion and Public Schools: International Perspectives Group

November 19–22, 2016

San Antonio, TX, USA

Deadline: March 1, 2016

More information

Fieldwork: Doing Ethnographic Research

June 24, 2016

Birmingham City University, UK

Deadline: March 25, 2016

More information

Events

Inform seminar: New Religious Radicalisms

May 21, 2016

London School of Economics, UK

More information

Arbeitskreis interdisdisziplinäre Hexenforschung

February 18–20, 2016

Stuttgart-Hohenheim, Germany

More information

Research Methods in the Study of Religion

University of Kent, UK

Deadline: February 5, 2016

More information

Jobs

2 PhD positions in sociology project: “Postsecular Conflicts”

University of Innsbruck, Austria

Deadline: February 15, 2016

More information

3 PhD studentships

Coventry University, UK

Deadline: February 19, 2016

More information

PhD position: “Multiple Secularities: Beyond the West, Beyond Modernities”

University of Leipzig, Germany

Deadline: February 5, 2016

More information

PhD studentship: Cognitive Science of Religion

Belfast, UK; Aarhus, Denmark

Deadline: April 29, 2016

More information

Visiting Fellowship

Nalanda-Sriwijaya Centre of the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, Singapore

Deadline: March 31, 2016

More information

Associate Professor, Full Professor: Jewish History/Studies

Case Western Research University, OH, United States

Deadline: March 1, 2016

More information

Postdoctoral fellowship

University of Pennsylvania, USA

Deadline: February 15, 2016

More information

Instructor: Buddhist Studies

Antioch University, OH, USA

Deadline: April 15, 2016

More information

Postdoctoral Fellowship: Chinese Buddhism

Columbia University, NY, USA

Deadline: April 20, 2016

More information

Getting to Know the North American Association for the Study of Religion

In this interview, Russell McCutcheon and Aaron Hughes discuss the North American Association for the Study of Religion (NAASR), an international organization dedicated to historical, critical, and social scientific approaches to the study of religion. McCutcheon and Hughes (the president and vice president of NAASR, respectively) discuss the history of NAASR, their attempt to help return NAASR to its original mission, various publications associated with NAASR, and the philosophy or motivations that guided their annual conference this year.

In January 2016, we welcomed the North American Association for the Study of Religion (NAASR) as an additional sponsor. We are indebted to NAASR for their generosity, and we look forward to working with them in the years to come to continue what we do, and to bring about some important and long-planned innovations.

The North American Association for the Study of Religion (NAASR) was initially formed in 1985 by E. Thomas Lawson, Luther H. Martin, and Donald Wiebe, to encourage the historical, comparative, structural, theoretical, and cognitive approaches to the study of religion among North American scholars; to represent North American scholars of religion at the international level; and to sustain communication between North American scholars and their international colleagues engaged in the study of religion.

Please see their website for more information on their activities, and for membership details. NAASR is incorporated as a nonprofit in the state of Vermont. A brief history of NAASR, written by Luther H. Martin and Donald Wiebe, can be found here.

You can download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us . And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.com, or Amazon.ca links to support us at no additional cost when buying academic texts, incense, driving gloves, and more.

Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – 29 September 2015

Dear subscriber,

We are pleased to bring you this week’s opportunities digest!

We would like to express our gratitude to everyone who has forwarded notifications. On that note, we would also like to encourage you to continue to do so (and invite those who remain hesitant to begin)!

It is super easy to have a Religious Studies call for papers, exciting event, or alluring job vacancy appear in future Opportunities Digests! Simply use the submission form, forward them to oppsdigest@religiousstudiesproject.com or, better yet, include said e-mail address in your mailing list for such e-mails!

We thank you for your contribution. And now for this week’s digest:

Calls for papers

Conference: Yoga darśana, yoga sādhana: traditions, transmissions, transformations

May 19–21, 2016

Uniwersytet Jagielloński w Krakowie, Poland

Deadline: December 21, 2015

More information

Conference: Visual Narratives of Faith: Religion, Ritual and Identity

July 10–14, 2016

Vienna, Austria

Deadline: September 30, 2015

More information

Conference: Religion and Non-Religion in Contemporary Societies

April 21–24, 2016

Zadar, Croatia

Deadline: November 15, 2015

More information

Conference: Symposium Peregrinum

June 16–19, 2016

Tarquinio, Italy

Deadline: March 1, 2016

More information

Journal: Women: A Cultural Review

Special issue: Religion and Gender

Deadline: October 31, 2015

More information

Events

Annual meeting: American Academy of Religion

November 21–24, 2015

Atlanta, GA, USA

More information

Annual meeting: American Anthropological Association

November 18–22, 2015

Denver, CO, USA

More information

Annual meeting: North American Association for the Study of Religion

November 20–22, 2015

Atlanta, GA, USA

More information

Research report launch: What should young people leave school knowing about religion and belief?

November 26, 2015, 5–6:30 p.m.

London, UK

More information

Conference: Radicalization & Islamophobia: Roots, Relationships and Implications in Religiously Diverse Societies

November 30–December 1, 2015

Sydney, Australia

More information

Conference: Pluralism and Community: Social Science History Perspectives

November 12–15, 2015

Baltimore, MD, USA

More information

Grants and awards

Miklós Tomka Award

Deadline: January 10, 2016

More information

Jobs

Postdoctoral Fellowship: History of Religion and Religiosity

German Historical Institute, Washington, D.C.

Deadline: December 1, 2015

More information

Two PhD scholarships in Buddhist Studies

LMU München, Germany

Deadline: October 18, 2015

More information

Fully funded PhD studentship

Newman University, UK

Deadline: October 23, 2015

More information

Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – 10 February 2015

Calls for papers

Conference: In Search of the Origins of Religions

September 11–13, 2015

Ghent, Belgium

Deadline: March 1, 2015

More information (English)

Conference: Second Undegraduate Conference on Religion and Culture

March 28, 2015

Syracuse, NY, USA

Deadline: February 15, 2015

More information

Symposium: Society for the Study of Religion and Transhumanism (SSRT)

June 27, 2015

Lancaster University, UK

Deadline: March 31, 2015

More information

AAR group: Secularism and Secularity

Deadline: March 2, 2015

More information

Journal: Studi e materiali di storia delle religioni

Theme issue: Religion as a Colonial Concept in Early modern History (Africa, America, Asia)

Deadline: May 15, 2015

More information

Article collection: Religious subcultures in Unexpected Places

Deadline: May 1, 2015

More information

Events

Conference: International Tyndale Conference

October 1–4, 2015

Oxford, UK

More information

Congress: “Ad Astra per Corpora: Astrología y Sexualidad en el Mundo Antiguo

February 19–21, 2015

Málaga, Spain

More information (Spanish)

Jobs

Research assistant: Indology

Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster, Germany

Deadline: February 28, 2015

More information (German)

Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – 3 February 2015

Dear subscribers,

We are happy to provide you with this week’s thick and juicy digest, full of opportunities to present intriguing thoughts, discuss important matters, and—not least—do some really engaging research!

Thank you to everyone who forwarded calls for papers, notifications of events, and job openings. Please continue to do so in the future! You know the address, right? (No? It’s oppsdigest@religiousstudiesproject.com.)

Calls for papers

Conference: American Academy of Religion: Annual conference

November 21–24, 2015

Atlanta, Georgia, USA

Deadline: March 2, 2015

More information

AAR group: Religion in Europe

More information 

AAR group: Sociology of Religion

More information

AAR panel: Religion in Public Schools: International Perspectives 

More information

Conference: The European Sociological Association

August 25–28, 2015

Prague, Czech Republic

Deadline: February 15, 2015

More information

Conference: Latin America Peace Research Association

October 26–28, 2015

Guatemala City, Guatemala

Deadline: May 1, 2015

More information

Conference: Asia-Pacific Peace Research Associaton

October 9–11, 2015

Kathmandu, Nepal

Deadline: March 31, 2015

More information

Conference: The Sacred Journeys: Pilgrimages and Beyond Project

July 3–5, 2015

Oxford, UK

Deadline: March 13, 2015

More information

Symposium: Marginal presences: Unorthodox belief and practice, 1837–2014

April 23, 2015

Deadline: March 9, 2015

London, UK

More information

Journal: Religion & Theology

Looking for book review(er)s

Deadline: N/A

More information

Events

Conference: European Network of Buddhist-Christian Studies

Munich, Germany

June 25–29, 2015

More information

Resources

Open access: Entangled Religions: Interdisciplinary Journal for the Study of Religious Contact and Transfer

More information

Jobs

Lectureship in Radicalisation and Protest in a Digital Age

Lancaster University, UK

Deadline: February 22, 2015

More information

Doctoral student: Religious history

Universiteit Antwerpen, the Netherlands

Deadline: February 22, 2015

More information

Postdoctoral researcher: Religious history

Universiteit Antwerpen, the Netherlands

Deadline: February 22, 2015

More information

Postdoctoral fellow: Media studies

Stockholm University, Sweden

Deadline: February 28, 2015

More information

Research associate: Magic and the Expanding Early Modern World

University of Manchester, UK

Deadline: March 1, 2015

More information

THATCamp Roundtable on Digital Religious Studies

At this past year’s meeting of the American Academy of Religion in Baltimore, Maryland, over 70 scholars met to participate in the AAR’s first THATCamp. The Humanities and Technology Camp is an open meeting for those desiring a conference experience outside of the presentation of formal papers. Participants submitted ideas ahead of time to the AAR THATCamp website, but the final shape and content of the event was decided on-site by a vote. In the busy weekend of paper sessions, THATCamp AAR was an oasis of facilitate first, pontificate second. As digital religious studies emerges within the broader digital humanities movement, the Camp was a rather bold move for the AAR, whose interaction has been driven by more conservative timelines.

THATCamp represents one of the bright spots of the digital world and its potential for conference goers. It emphasizes hands-on experience, privileges active learning, and puts expertise and enthusiasm for technology side-by-side. It can be chaotic with its impromptu schedule, but the advantage is the flexibility it offers to solve problems, foster dialogue, and teach digital skills.

Over the course of the day participants had the option to become more familiar with the online curation platform Omeka, learn about the many options for digital publishing, brainstorm ways to harness outside technological expertise for humanities projects, discuss the role of media in the classroom, learn the basics of big data, and even get tips about doing digital ethnography with students. The schedule is still up here, but it was as full a day of information as even the most seasoned technophiles could handle.

For the conference organizers that sat together for a few brief minutes over lunch, there was awareness of both the promises and perils of the digital world. As a fledgling research method whose products are varied and often unique, there is a great need for clear standards of evaluation of “good scholarship in the digital realm.” This should be of special concern to early career scholars who may have to fight for the presence of digital work in their tenure portfolios or in grant applications. This problem would be addressed not only by the development and promotion of open platforms for scholarly work, but also by sincere discussion about basic digital literacy and professionalization with digital tools and methods. Publishers, professional organizations, libraries, departments, scholars, and students–everyone in the academic chain will need to work out their roles for digital methods and digital work.

With so little time, several questions were pre-circulated to help things move along quickly on these topics.

What does it mean to teach or research religious studies digitally?

Does religious “data” make digital religious studies distinct within the digital humanities?

What is a digital religious studies research project you think more people should know about?

How can departments and the field better support digital methods and pedagogies?

For each of the six participants, digital methods and platforms are a key element in their identity as scholars. While there was not an opportunity to to fully explore their contribution and work, if you would like to learn more about them, please use the links below:

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A Personal Diary from the American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting, Chicago 2012

A Personal Diary from the American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting, Chicago 2012

Jack Tsonis, Macquarie University

Religious Studies Project Conference Report, American Academy of Religion – 16-19 November, 2012 – Chicago, Illinois, USA

When the RSP editors asked if I would be willing to do a report on the annual AAR meeting in Chicago, I eagerly agreed. However, when I arrived and actually thought about how I was going to do such a report, I realized that a different strategy was called for than the one I had envisaged. The AAR is one of those massive events in which every session has at least twenty panels on offer, not to mention the diverse array of evening functions. Attempting a report that provided wide coverage of the event would have prevented me from doing what I was primarily there to do: connect with scholars in my specific field by going to the appropriate sessions. Thus, instead of a full report on the meeting, what follows is a day-by-day personal account of my own little slice of AAR activity.

Day 1 – Friday, November 16, 2012

Having arrived in Chicago the day before to get my bearings, I make an easy bus trip downtown to the McCormick Centre, the location of the 2012 AAR Annual Meeting (which runs concurrently with the Society of Biblical Literature Annual Meeting). The venue is absolutely massive, and is where President Obama held his election-night convention less than a fortnight ago. It is the biggest conference centre in the United States. It even has a metro stop built into the main lobby. It has four precincts (North, South, East, West), each being huge, multi-story halls in their own right. It is truly something to behold. The complex sits right on the shore of Lake Michigan, of which the East wing has an amazing view. The “lake” is more like an ocean. It, too, is massive.

Most of the sessions take place Saturday through Monday, but I have a workshop to attend from 2-6pm on the Friday afternoon. After registering at the main desk and taking care of the administrivia, I locate Room 353 East (situated opposite the aforementioned expansive view of the lake). The meeting is “The SBL/AAR Study of Religion as an Analytical Discipline Workshop”, co-hosted by the AAR’s Cultural History of the Study of Religion group and the SBL’s Ideological Criticism group. The theme for the workshop is “The Analytical Handling of Norms and Values in the Study of Religion”, a juicy topic that touches upon a lot of the methodological issues in my own work. I was very interested when I signed up. I am also hoping to meet a few new people, as that’s the best part of a conference, and the best way to have fun in the evenings.

The workshop is well attended, perhaps 30 people in total. There are four sessions, plus afternoon tea. The sessions are all interesting, though some more than others. The focus is upon both scholarly and pedagogical responsibilities in the study of religion. The following synopsis provided by the organizers is a good distillation of the workshop:

Analysis of academic norms for the study of religion focuses on construction of a secondary discourse that accomplishes the following: (a) treats all religious phenomena as primary sources, i.e. the object of study; (b) adheres to common academic practices in the humanities and social sciences, as appropriate for the research question under investigation; and (c) incorporates self-critical reflection on the problematic of scholarly, secondary discourse vis-à-vis the primary, intramural discourse of the people and practices studied. These three goals are necessary to adequately formulate the study of religion as a discipline of scholarship in alignment with the Humanities, Social Sciences and Sciences.

The discussion is enthusiastic, and the breadth of topic has attracted scholars from a wide variety of specialist fields within the study of religion. It is not the kind of thing where “resolutions” are reached on anything, but rather an invigorating open-floor exchange about strategies for methodological reflexivity in the production of knowledge about “religion” and other aspects of cultural. Some speakers gravitate towards theoretical issues, others towards the challenges involved in turning ethnographic fieldwork into legitimate (and ethical) knowledge. Others also focus on the treatment of marginalized religious communities, and how this actual social marginalization is perpetuated by certain androcentric, Eurocentric, and graphocentric norms that pervade western discourse. A particularly impassioned point is made by an organizer of the LGBTQ section of the AAR about the near-total discrimination of openly LGBTQ academics in the US job market, and how this reflects the kind of problematic assumptions that are embedded in the dominant discourse (which is to say, embedded in the power structures of Euro-American culture). Did I mention that the afternoon tea is also nice? The standout is some spectacular gingerbread cookies.

At a personal level, it is a great afternoon. I meet a lot of new people, including some who I will connect with again over the weekend. I touch base with a professor with whom I have been communicating via email for the last year, and we plan to meet properly tomorrow. One speaker whose paper I particularly enjoyed is a colleague of another scholar I have been in communication with in recent months, so we have a friendly chat afterwards too. I also get invited to the University of North Carolina reception on Sunday night by some fellow grad students, which I plan to attend in order to network further (and to get some free booze). I catch the shuttle bus back into town with a few nice people from the workshop, and it turns out that a guy I am sitting with is good friends with my current associate supervisor. So it is a bumper start to the AAR meeting at my end: stimulating discussion and some new connections. I ignore the evening’s welcome reception on account of the good mood, as I have no one in particular to meet there and I feel that my work is done for the day. The evening involves dinner, a beer, and bed.

Day 2 – Saturday, November 17

With last night going later than planned (emails always take longer than you think), I decide to sleep through the morning session. There are no sessions of critical import to my work, so I opt for the sleep and a lazier start to the day (loading my energy towards the evenings, as I put it). I thought about attending the 1pm session on the 100-year anniversary of Durkheim’s Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, but at the last minute I see a session called “The Identity of NAASR and the Character of the Critical Study of Religion”. NAASR is the North American Society for the Study of Religion, and is an umbrella society within the AAR that promotes a more critical and “scientific” approach to the study of religion, with the related charge that much of what the AAR does is crypto-theology dressed up as critical scholarship (at one point the AAR is accused of “apologetic phenomenology”). The star panelists are Russell McCutcheon and Donald Wiebe, who are well known for their thoroughgoing criticism of the apologetic tendencies of the “discipline” of religious studies. The discussion is heated at times, and there is clearly no consensus about what precisely the character of NAASR should be. Weibe, one of its founders, wants it to be about scientific approaches to the study of religion (e.g. cognitive science), whereas McCutcheon, its most influential member, advocates a broader approach that also includes history and critical theory – although, as he points out, the problem then becomes that NAASR is little different from the AAR, at least on paper in terms of the sessions that it holds.

A number of the people from yesterday’s workshop are also in attendance, and turn out to be important members of NAASR (which is a big payoff for me). They invite me along to tonight’s NAASR reception, which will be great for more reasons than just the free food and drink. I am hoping to meet McCutcheon and others who will be there, as their work has been deeply influential for the development of my own critical/methodological approach to the study of religion. After that, I am also attending a party hosted by biblical scholars Dale Martin (who I will be interviewing for the RSP next week) and Bart Ehrman. The Bart & Dale Show (as they call it) is a long running Saturday night institution at the AAR/SBL, and presents another great networking opportunity – which I have learnt are far more important than whatever one might learn from attending sessions. Hence why I have decided to skip the AAR Presidential Address in favour of the NAASR reception. However I will have to be careful tonight, as I am attending 2 parties with free booze – this happened last year at the AAR Saturday night, and I awoke with a tremendous hangover that prevented me from absorbing much on the Sunday. I fear a similar outcome.

The final event of my day was a 4pm meeting held with Randall Styers of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Randall’s work (Making Magic [OUP 2004]) has also been deeply influential in the shape of my own project, and he gives me a very generous 90 minutes of his time; we even catch the bus back together. We discuss both my doctoral project as well as wider strategies for carving out a career in the academic world. His advice is extremely helpful on both fronts, and he has proven to be an invaluable mentor whom I am sure to be in contact with over the coming years. He will also be at the NAASR reception tonight, so that’s another plus. Speaking of the reception, I must get out the door.

Day 3 – Sunday, November 18

I emerge on Sunday (mid)morning relatively unscathed, although I would not describe myself as chipper. The evening’s activities were great fun. Good conversation was had and more friends were made. The NAASR reception was a mirthful affair with food and drink aplenty, and the Bart & Dale Show was in its usual swing. My day begins by meeting an old supervisor for coffee, and we have a good catch up. I then attend a stimulating session at 1pm, a 90 minute consultation on future of the newly-formed Social Theory and Religion Cluster, comprised of a number of groups in the AAR which are seeking to co-operate at a level beyond their own specific panel discussions (e.g. the Sociology of Religion group and Cultural History of the Study of Religion group). The theme is “Social Theory and Religion, 2013–2015”. The forum is well attended and the audience represents a diverse spectrum of interests; this bodes well for the future of the Cluster. Although there is a seven person panel, the meeting is more of an open-floor discussion about ways to collaborate at upcoming conferences – such as holding featured guest-speaker lectures, organizing debates, holding cross-group panels on important scholarly milestones (such as the 100 year anniversary of Durkheim), etc.

The evening sees me attend the UNC Chapel Hill reception, to which I had been invited by Randall as well as some of his very amiable doctoral students whom I met at the workshop on Friday. The catering is of a high standard, as is the crowd. There are a lot of nice people there, so further connections are made. It is truly lovely to have met so many nice people when I arrived at the conference knowing virtually no one. My planned early night is yet again railroaded by the “couple” of “quick” emails I had to send, and I crawl into bed just before midnight. Despite the exhaustion, it is difficult to sleep on account of the whirring mind induced by the weekend’s conversations.

Day 4 – Monday, November 19 (The Final Day)

Thankfully the morning session once again contains no panels of crucial importance for me, so the day begins more slowly by catching up for coffee with a friend from Brown University whom I only get to see at the conference every year. I then head into McCormick to attend the final session for the Cultural History of the Study of Religion group, starting at 1pm. The papers comprise a strangely eclectic bunch of topics. It seems odd that they have been placed together. After properly getting lost in McCormick for the first time (I’m surprised it took this long), I arrive just as the session is starting to a scene that I did not quite picture: about 30 people sitting around a large, squared table formation, with no discernible panel of speakers. I grab a seat just as the Chairs explain the slightly experimental format: all papers had been pre-circulated amongst the 6 speakers, and instead of being read, they were summarized for the audience (about 10 mins each). The chairs then lead a fascinating discussion between both speakers and audience, in which they tease out a number of theoretical issues that flow through and connect the otherwise quite disparate papers. If you think that the following topics – C19th protestant missionaries and the telegraph; early reformed Judaism in the US; William James and his concept of the composite photograph; two post-war female, French, Catholic scholars; the translation industry around the Daodejing; and the American civic discourse of religious pluralism – sound like almost completely unrelated issues, then you feel as I felt walking in. You would then have been utterly enthralled to sit through and participate in the discussion that followed, and the session was testament to the productive conceptual spaces that emerge when good thinkers come together sharing broad theoretical commitments. I am amazed at how quickly two and a half hours fly by. The final 15 minutes are the business meeting of the CHSR group, which plots out potential session themes for next year as well as further reflections on experimental formats. Most concur that the format of this session was a success, especially on the Monday afternoon of a long conference when simply listen to talks for 2 hours would have been seriously draining; discussion is also had about linking the group’s agenda with the agenda of the Social Theory and Religion Cluster.

There are further sessions in the afternoon, as well as the final ones on Tuesday morning, but this marks the end of my involvement at the AAR conference. I am extremely happy with how the weekend has gone. I arrived at the workshop on Friday apprehensive that I would not meet many people or that the conference might not be that productive, but those apprehensions appear quaint in hindsight. It was a combination of meeting nice people but also putting myself out there: not just attending sessions, but piping up. I made a comment or asked a question in every session I attended, which I have learned is a great platform to be able to approach people afterwards, introducing yourself, and continue the conversation. I wasted no opportunities, and the conference could not have gone better for me, all things considered.

To unwind from the exhausting frazzlement of the last 4 days, my final mission in Chicago is to head way uptown to The Chicago Sweatlodge for a relaxing sauna. Since visiting Finland 6 years ago I have been an almost evangelistic saunophile, and my motto for world travel since that point has been “Another City, Another Sauna”. Considering myself a connoisseur of intense heat, I was mightily impressed with this young establishment, and I emerge 3 hours later glowing like a saint. The Finns say that the human body is never more beautiful than 30 minutes after a sauna, and the tingle on one’s skin afterwards truly is a remarkable feeling unattainable by any other means. The glow remains with me all night, and I am not even worried about the $50 of cabs that it took to get there and back. This marks the perfect end to a great conference.

I am now at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport awaiting a flight to New York, where I will engage in further meetings and conduct an interview for the Religious Studies Project. Boarding time is close, so over and out.