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What is the point of of academic conferences?: A roundtable discussion

At the European Association for the Study of Religions’ Annual Conference in Bern (June 2018), five members of the RSP team – Sammy Bishop, Chris Cotter, Moritz Klenk, Angela Puca and Tom White – gathered together on the final day of the conference to discuss academic conferences in general – the good, the bad and the ugly. Why attend conferences? What is the point? What else could we do instead that might be a better use of our time? And how did we find having a fully-functional podcast studio set up at this conference? These are just a few of the issues that crop up in this lively roundtable discussion, facilitated by the inestimable Moritz Klenk.

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A transcription of this interview is also available, and has been pasted below.


EASR Roundtable 2018: What is the Point of Academic Conferences?

Podcast with Chris Cotter, Sammy Bishop, Moritz Klenk, Angela Puca and Tom White (24 September 2018).

Transcribed by Helen Bradstock.

 

Audio and transcript available at: EASR_Roundtable_2018_1.1

Christopher Cotter (CC): Welcome to the podcast studio in Bern, Switzerland, on the final day of the European Association for the Study of Religions Conference on Multiple Religious Identities. I’m Chris Cotter, and I’m joined here for an impromptu roundtable with some of my esteemed colleagues. I’m going to say, let’s go round to my right. So I’m Chris, and you should all know me, Listeners, and if you don’t, then: what are you doing? I don’t know. Who have we got here?

Sammy Bishop (SB): I’m Sammy Bishop. I am a PhD student, based in Edinburgh, and also I’m involved with the Religious Studies Project, sometimes interviewing, sometimes helping out in other respects. And it is great to be here.

Angela Puca (AP): I’m Angela Puca and I’m also a PhD student, but at Leeds Trinity University. And I don’t know why I’m here, (laughter) but I’m happy to . . .

CC: We’ll find out, later. And there’s a man behind the sound desk there with a beard that is more impressive than mine!

Moritz Klenk (MK): You’re so kind! My name is Moritz Klenk and I’m also a PhD student, here – from Bern. I’m doing a PhD somewhere between Sociology of Religion, epistemology and the academic Study of Religion – or whatever the most recent name of this discipline might be. And also I’m a podcaster. And this is why I have built this studio for this conference. And I’m very happy to see it in such good use.

CC: And Listeners will really be appreciating the sexy sound quality of everything that has been coming out of this conference! Who’s the last individual?

Tom White (TW): And lastly . . .

CC: And least . . .

TW: And least – last and least – Tom White. I’m also a PhD candidate, from the University of Otago – where it is very wintry, in the South Island of New Zealand – mostly looking at religion, law and climate change in Fiji.

CC: So Moritz, you’ve got us all together here, so I’m going to pass over to you to stir the pot, as it were.

MK: Cheers. So the idea I had in mind, when thinking about making this a reality to come together for a last roundtable at this conference, was actually just . . . I would be interested in some reflections and possible criticism of the conference and what is happening here. Because every one of us, I assume, is getting used to travelling to conferences like these, telling others about his or her research. And so we are . . . . This is what we are doing. This is one part of our business. And so we, I think, can take the time to reflect a bit on what we are actually doing here. If it is the discourse we are all looking for, are we so interested in it? Or if not this, then what else do we do here? And to have a conversation. Because, at least – I’m already telling you what I was experiencing – but I think it is the most important thing you can experience, in these kinds of conferences and events, is that you get into conversations sometimes, and they are very fascinating. Sometimes you want to find your way out of them (Laughter).

CC: Claw your own eyes out sometimes . . .

MK: Yes, also that. (Laughter). But a conversation seemed to be the fitting end of that kind of event. So yes, I’m very glad that you all joined me for this and I’d be interested in your opinion about this conference. I’m a bit biased because I’m a local. So, this happens in Bern, so I shouldn’t start I guess. But maybe some of you have impressions, ideas?

CC: Well, my immediate reaction is that I have spent so much time podcasting! And I decided that this conference would be a chance for me to film various little bits of video and whatnot – which has been a useful experience. I think it’s really ramped up the engagement from folk who hadn’t been able to be here. But my actual impression of this particular conference has been somewhat limited, because I’ve been running around so much. I have seen something like, I don’t know, ten to fifteen papers. (5:00) But that’s not quite . . . you should normally be expecting to see maybe at least double that. So, perhaps someone who . . . . Well, Angela has been probably been the most participatory because the rest of us have been running around doing podcasts.

AP: I’ve been running around from one paper to another, or from a panel to another – so still running! Yes, this was my first EASR Conference and I really enjoyed it. Maybe the only criticism I have is that all the panels on the same topic were at the same time. So it was really difficult. There were, for example, some time slots where I really wished I had the gift of ubiquity and other timeslots there was really nothing relevant to my research – of course, still interesting panels, but not quite relevant to my research. So I would have liked to attend more panels on my research, which were actually there, but at the same time as others.

MK: But maybe this was also the intention, in a way, to bring together scholars from different research areas and to give them, by this kind of overlap . . . . I don’t know if that was the intention. I chose to interpret it in that very friendly way. But I think, to give them a chance to look beyond their own work they’re doing; to see the broader field of the European Studies of Religion, what people are doing. This is also I think the only chance you will get, because normally you’re . . .

CC: That’s a fair point, actually, I would say. Because you come to conferences and at the start of this conference I thought, “Oh. Damn. There’s about five or six different panels on the ‘nones’, the ‘secular’ and all this kind of stuff. I’m going to have to go to those.” But, equally, I’ve kind-of heard all I need to hear, perhaps . . . not all I need to hear. But if I want to approach these scholars, I can approach them; we can have dialogue anyway. But I sort-of felt I was going to have to attend them, because they were there, because I didn’t want to miss out on that key snippet. At the end of the day I actually didn’t go to that many, because of my podcasting schedule and whatnot. But I sometimes do find at a conference that it’s the panels that you go to just because it “sounds vaguely interesting, but isn’t quite connected to your research”, that you can suddenly find, actually, there’s a really good connection. And it opens up a whole new vista, in a way that you aren’t ever going to just pick up a journal article that’s just not on your topic and read it – much as we would all like to. There’s only so many hours in the day! So a conference can do that, that way. Has anyone had that sort of revelation at this one, that we a saw a paper that we didn’t really . . . that we went along to because it was in a panel with something else, or because there was nothing else in the schedule?

TW: I’ve ended up going to a lot of education, or the kind-of “role of religion in schools”, “schools as ideological production sites” whereby people are being trained in citizenship, or where schools are “sites of contested religious identities”: the crucifix; the burka. And, without any intention, I’ve ended up having quite an education in religion-focussed conference – which isn’t really my discipline or my key area, but has been quite nice to move into that and become more familiar with that subject area. But, yes, I think there is a point in picking a theme and trying to go deep, rather than doing a random pick-and-mix of entire breadth of the discipline. Because it loses a certain coherency. And that coherency with the education panels, I’ve really enjoyed.

SB: Just on the topic of themes as well: I was thinking about conference themes, and how this one was “multiple religious identities”. And I don’t know how many papers actually speak to that, that I’ve been to. And then, I was just kind-of wondering . . . sometimes, what the point of having a theme of the conference is. Because everyone knows that, at the EASR, you’ll go if you want to present a paper. And sometimes you can mould it to the conference theme, just for the sake of it. Sometimes there just seems like a bit of a facade, I think.

CC: My one bit of input on that . . . well I’m sure I’ll end up having a bit more . . . ! So, I’ve been doing a history project, on the British Association of the Study of Religions. For a number of years, now, we’ve ended up having a conference theme. But when I went back through the record, the conferences didn’t used to have themes. (10:00) Back in the day, it was just like sort-of ten old white men gathering in effectively a living room and having a chat. There would be one paper, and that was the conference. It then expanded to two papers, one in the evening and then one the following morning. And that’s what the Association was for decades. And then, as things grew and grew, it got bigger. And then they started to have an annual lecture. But there still wasn’t a conference theme. And then what seems to have happened at some point in the mid-‘90s a couple of years after the annual lecture was established, the annual lecture then became the conference theme. It was like, “We’re going to have a keynote. They’ll speak on this.” Then it seems to be people try and get everyone to speak around that topic. And I suppose the justification is that it’s away for having a relatively coherent conversation – but that never really happens! Conferences might produce a conference volume of key papers. But I think most conferences I go to now would even struggle to find enough coherency for that volume. And it’s been proposed at the BASR, recently, that perhaps we just abandon the theme and say that it’s a conference for scholars working in, or on, religion in Britain – and just leave it at that. And tell them what the keynotes are. And the keynotes might produce a certain sort of discourse just by their power position as being the keynote speeches. But, yes. It’s unclear, now, what the utility is. Any thoughts from the others?

TW: Well I think it also relates to . . . you know, you can only go to so many conferences each year. I mean, I’m in New Zealand so, you know, unless the conference is in New Zealand it’s a very expensive exercise going to conferences. So how do you select which ones to go to?

AP: That’s a good question.

CC: And maybe that is where the theme comes into play? Because, yes, there’ll be a core constituency who’d go to every European Association Conference, right? But for others who don’t have that luxury, then having a theme provides a justification.

AP: I don’t know whether the theme actually helps you with that, to be honest. (Laughs).

SB: I think if you want to present your research then you’ll present your research – never mind the theme.

AP: I guess, once you go to a conference, you will find scholars sort-of in your field that can give you feed-back, that you can network with. So it’s not something that a theme will help you with, I feel.

TW: I mean, what are the criteria with which you choose a conference? The exotic location? The location of your family on the travel route? Networking opportunities? Who else is going to be there, and what kind of feedback you might get on your paper? You know, and it’s a juggle between all of these different issues, isn’t it? Some more honourable and some more profane.

AP: Not always purely professional.

CC: And that’s ok, isn’t it? It’s one of the, I’d say, many perks of an academic life. We can all bitch and moan about all the various stresses and strains. But all the travelling to conferences is one of the perks.

SB: Definitely.

CC: Sometimes it’s funded. Sometimes one decides, “Well, I need a holiday, anyway. And that might be a good environment to go to . . .” Mostly I do it based on the sort-of network of scholars. I go to BASR, now, every single year. And it will continue, because that’s become my sort of family. It’s a much smaller conference. This is my first European one since 2013 – again because of the financial commitment is quite heavy. But I would have come regardless of what the theme was. But then, there are other conferences. Like, there’s the Non-religion and Secularity Research one in a few weeks, and I’ll go to that because of the topic. Yes. But that’s more to do with network. I don’t think I’ve ever actually gone to a conference because of a specific theme. It’s more I’ve gone . . . I want to go to that organisation’s conference, rather than . . .

SB: Although even though I’ve just been saying that themes are pointless: this years’ BASR, I only put in a paper because it did directly relate to my research, and I felt like I probably should!

MK: (15:00) Well, I think the theme of conferences, although not the only criteria, at least invite people to talk about something different or just look at it from a different angle than they are normally doing. And they’re normally telling people about their research. And so . . . for applying to get a paper in, you have to, at least . . . I don’t know . . . tentatively, put in some reference to the conference theme. And I think it’s a good way. It would be better – or sometimes I think it could be better – if people are directly invited to talk about this: “I know this person, I know him or her. He or she might be an expert on this or that. I would like to hear her talk about this, although it might not be the current research project she’s working on. But inviting her to say something about that would help to . . . I don’t know, stimulate another kind of conversation than just repeating myself.”

CC: Three points: I said I was going to . . . (Laughs). I think we’re maybe having two conversations. We shouldn’t allow the behaviour of scholars who tend to just go, “Well, I’ll fire in whatever paper anyway, and just put a vague allusion to the theme in.” That’s what we default to doing. But the ideal, where everyone actually engages with the theme, that’s maybe still the ideal to aim for. We shouldn’t be conflating behaviours with ideals. Another point is that some of us . . . I’ve certainly had experience of being at very small conferences that you might more describe as workshops. I’ve been at one on atheist identities, one on religious indifference, where there’s maybe fifteen to twenty-five scholars and it’s very intense, very focussed discussion. And those conferences have always produced, for me, the best outputs. So maybe there’s a scale thing? The final point is, I’ve got a friend who is in Business Studies, in marketing. And she was telling me, she was applying for her first conference. And the selection criteria are very different. You have to write your entire paper ahead, submit it, and then they accept it or reject it. And then you come and present a shortened version of your paper. So we’re used to presenting a very short vague abstract, and conferences tend to be eager for people to come. Whereas, if the conference was having thousands more people than they could actually take applying then the selection criteria would be quite different, and the coherence of the conference would probably be much higher than it is in our discipline.

MK: I’m not sure if you could actually call that kind of workshop experience you had a conference. Because I think that would just mix up terms, and put it in a better light than conferences deserve, I guess!

CC: (Laughs).

MK: Because at least in my experience – and I go to different conferences in Religious Studies, but also in Sociology – I never find the discourse there. I just find repetition. Never actually something really new or interesting – or just a few papers presented. And this is in kind of a contradiction to the bare fact that there are more and more conferences that you could go to and you should attend – or you’re supposed to, if you want to . . . I don’t know, work on your career, or something like that. So I find it really challenging to think about what to do at conferences. What is it we are doing, when we are doing conferencing? And I think, more and more, it turns out to be just some occasion you meet each other and talk to each other, yet the papers and the panels are so full of papers and panels in such a short time, that . . .

CC: But is that ok? In the sense that . . . because I’ve often said that sometimes the papers are the excuse. They’re the excuse for the funding, they’re the excuse that you give, to justify to yourself for going. And sometimes I’ve found them . . . . You know, I will use a conference paper as a way to force myself to write something that I’d been meaning to write for ages. But then, the valuable things are the things like we’re doing right now, or in the coffee breaks, or at an excellent night out dancing to “The Thriller” with Steve Sutcliffe and Giovanni Casadio the other night! (20:00) (Laughter). Those are the things that stay with you, and sort-of humanise the scholarship. But then, also, all the conversations that happen around a conference . . .

SB: In which case, do you think more time should be dedicated to social interactions? Like, you could have . . . take one panel out and just say: “People who want to gather in a room and talk about this topic . . .” – have a round table?

CC: But they wouldn’t . . .

MK: If it’s too much time between the panels they would not – they would just leave. They would split up in very small groups. Friends who haven’t seen each other for a long time, and then they leave the venue. And then they are all scattered all round the city. And I think some of the conversations that you have between the panellists – this was something I was thinking about the other day: some of the conversations you have between the panellists are actually gaining from the fact that you have to run off just in a few minutes. So you get to your point very quickly – and hope you find some laughs – and then go on your daily routine, at these conferences! So I think if you’re there too long, with a break between, this might not happen.

SB: But if it wasn’t a break. If it was, like, “This room can be dedicated to this subject,” then have a conversation about it when you got there.

CC: Would you?

SB: I think I would like to. (Laughs). Don’t sound so sceptical!

MK: (Laughs). Well, maybe you shouldn’t call it “a room that you go to to have the conversations”, but maybe you can call it a podcasting studio and also have the ability to record!

SB: Yes. If conversation’s valuable thing it would be good to facilitate that, you know?

CC: And my facetious thing there is that maybe there are ways that are slightly more innovative than, “Here’s a room, go and talk.”

SB: Well that is a basic presentation of it! (Laughs).

CC: But the spirit of it, I think, is probably quite good. More . . . like more barbeques, for example! I’m not saying they all need to be filled with free alcohol and things. But if there was a barbecue every night and all these conversations . . . . Well, then, maybe not as many people would come every night. But those are the places where the exciting things happen.

TW: What do we think about the stratification of people at various levels in their academic careers? You know, having a junior scholars’ meeting tends to be something a lot of conferences are doing these days. Workshops for post-graduates. There hasn’t really been that here. It’s generally been far less hierarchically organised. But to some degree, what do you miss out from not having those . . . not having kind-of a post-graduate talking shop, or being a bit more aware of facilitating meetings through the hierarchy – which is still a very kind-of important aspect of university institutions. So should we be doing it by topics? Or should we perhaps be doing it by kind of you know career experience? Any thoughts on that?

SB: I think I prefer it by topic. I don’t know if that’s because in Edinburgh I feel like I have a good post-graduate community, where we can share post-graduate experiences in that way. And obviously it would be good to come across other post-grads from other places but I feel like I would benefit more from meeting people at all levels, within my subject area. And it would be great if some of them were also post-grads at the same level as me. But also people who have more experience and more range, I think.

AP: Yes. I usually prefer people with more experience just because they can teach me something about how to improve my research, and how to do stuff, basically. But of course, even a conversation on a topic with a post-grad can be beneficial as well.

CC: Yes, the more democratising things are the better, as far as I’m concerned. I do like it when you get to rub alongside people right at the top end of the field, and at the bottom end, and where titles don’t really matter. I mean, like, last night we were just casually sitting with Veikko Antonnen and just having a beer, talking. There was no pretence of, you know, “He’s really important. We should be deferring here.”

SB: I mean sometimes you don’t realise who they are until afterwards, anyway.

CC: Which is even better as well. There was one thing I remember: Peggy Morgan organised the BASR’s 40th Anniversary Conference. She said she insisted on not having name labels, because it means that you go around the conference and you spent the whole time peering at everyone’s chests – maybe somewhat inappropriately – trying to see what their name is (25:00). And everyone’s looking around for a better person to talk to. They’re waiting to catch that name. And apparently the objection was, “But you could be talking to someone really important, and not realise it!” And her justification was, “Well maybe that’s the point. If you want to introduce yourself, you introduce yourself. If you want to know someone’s name, you ask them their name.” A lot of the name badges thing can actually be a way of kind-of spoiling those conversations a little bit, I know.

TW: It does save you from the forgetting of names once you’ve already been introduced.

AP: And also, especially when you have so many people from different countries. It’s really hard to catch the name properly, unless you have a tag.

MK: Yes, and also I think it is also kind of a misconception of how networks and networking works. I mean, in a network your value is defined by being a knot and the ties you have. So the name is some kind of a label of this knot. So talking to someone who has a name, or might have a name, also means you get the connections you might be looking for. So if it is for just coming together and talk about research questions, or something you’re really interested in topic-wise or something, then this might be a good idea to get rid of badges. But if not, if it is for networking, then it’s really helpful . . . I mean, like helping to find people.

CC: Yes. I have seen instances where you spot a name badge, and you don’t know what the person looks like, but you do know their research. And then you spot the name badge and it’s like: “Yes! Hello! I should speak to you!” Exactly. But that was just feeding into . . . going right back to what Tom was saying: do we want to be coming to this sort of conference and having sitting down just with early career people? Well that’s what we’re doing right now, isn’t it?

MK: Yes it is. And it’s not surprising, I think. Because all the others are busy doing business as usual. So podcasting is not something that is not quite usual yet, maybe. Maybe we could also talk about this institution of podcasting studio at conferences, as an opportunity to get together and record some conversations . . . to be proving the real thing we are looking for at these kind of events? But coming back to the question, I think it’s sometimes might be the only way to get the input you need. Because from established professors you normally tend to get just the usual thing you find in their books and papers.

TW: I think the point I was driving at – and I’m not sure if there’s a difference between, say a European conference and an American conference. My suspicion – completely ungrounded – is that an American conference might have more stratified forums where, as early career researchers, you could meet up. But that’s not for sociability. This is the professionalisation of the trade. And there’s a lot more to this than simply knowing your topic very well. And perhaps doing workshops where you are kind-of professionalised to a degree, would provide that additional aspect to attending a conference – particularly for early career researchers – than just simply attending topic-based panels would provide. So I think that was kind of where I as ruminating around. But of course there’s drawbacks to that as well. Because you are missing out on the more interesting stuff and just learning the CV-building skills. And so on and so forth.

MK: Just reminding of Paul (audio unclear) analysis of “anything goes”, and the critique of the method, and stuff. He showed that the innovative research is not coming from the old established ones, but from those who haven’t read the “important books” you should have read at that time, or didn’t understand it. And then you innovate the hell out this . . . endeavour we call academia. So that might be the place of being here.

CC: Exactly! Well, we’ve always seen the Religious Studies Project as a way of . . . you know . . . . There are all these existing academic structures there: there’s hierarchies, there’s conferences, there’s journals and everything. (30:00) And we never saw the RSP as a way of supplanting that, but as a way of kind-of democratising things a bit; as a way of humanising scholarship and having conversations, alongside what’s going on, and in an alternative fashion; providing ways of accessing research and ideas that are maybe a little bit more irreverent, a little more accessible. And still acknowledging that the other structures are there. But, you know – do we want to be professionalised? Well, to an extent, yes! We have to be . . .

TW: We want to be employed!

CC: We want to be employed, but equally there’s a lot going on in the existing structures that is there just because of habit and tradition and authority. And these little ways, these little things that we’re doing, will hopefully be ways of challenging that or just forcing it to justify itself. I’m speaking in huge generalities here, but . . . . Things shouldn’t be done the way that they are done, just because . . . . And so, having little things that come in and go: “Mmm?”

MK: Well I don’t think that this is actually speaking in huge generalities. I think this is the concrete reality you could experience in these kind of conferences: these connections and power struggles within academia. You can really experience it here. And so I would agree that there might be a reason why we’re not professionalising in a way that, I don’t know, businesses have to . . . . Or get together just for networking purposes only. Because if we are no longer interested in our research topics, then we are no longer researchers!

CC: Exactly. Tom, you may not want to talk about this, but you’re just about to go to Honk Kong to a quite different conference. And you were describing, I guess maybe, the perceived differences. And that might be a useful thing to bring in . . . ?

TW: Yes. Well I think the first thing to say is that I haven’t been there yet. So these are all kind-of anticipations which could be completely grounded in my misunderstandings. But it’s a big public law conference in Hong Kong. And something like 39 concurrent panels, so I’m not sure how many delegates that adds up to – but pretty huge. But I was at the Law and Society Conference in Otago last year and because you’ve got a lot of lawyers going to these conferences, it’s not just academics. It’s a far more kind-of mixing of people who apply the trade, and people who research. And there was a slickness to them: everyone was smartly dressed; and PowerPoints ran to time; and often they would be synchronised with the rehearsed script. And it is impressive when people provide a far more slick presentation. I’m not sure if the ideas rea any better! [Laughter]. But there was a sense that, you know, corporatisation isn’t all bad. And if it’s a more efficient and more crisp delivery, and if the PowerPoints aren’t failing, and people are IT savvy, and they’ve been told to reduce their paper to three or four points – because that’s what people are able to remember, and you want you papers to be efficacious and to walk away with the key concepts – that aspect of the professionalization, I think, is worthwhile learning from and replicating. Whether the horse will take to water, or whether we’ll continue to try and preserve some of the more romantic off-the-cuff presentations that do take place in more Humanities-based subjects, is something . . . I don’t know how things will turn out. It will be very interesting to see how the Hong Kong conference differs from this one.

CC: I must say that there’s a spectrum of conference presentation, right? You’ve got the sort-of very slick end and then you’ve got this off-the-cuff end. And then, somewhere in the middle, you’ve got the reading of a pre-prepared thing – which I tend to probably do far too often. But the ones that I enjoy are either the ones that are very slick, or the ones that are almost entirely off-the-cuff. You know, they’ve got an idea and they just turn up (35:00). And they’ve got a couple of points and they speak around it. And they don’t really know where it’s going to go before it happens. But it can be great.

SB: You do need a certain amount of confidence in yourself as an academic to be able to do that, I think.

TW: Again I think that comes back to the point of professionalisation. Because it gives you those structures with which to be confident through. I don’t think people just emerge confident individuals. They’re given the training. And that kind of aspect, I think, is perhaps undervalued, or not explored enough, or not given enough assistance to people in their early careers.

MK: Well, I would be interested in what you think about the formats that actually prepare one to go to these conferences: what other teaching that may be required, to be prepared presenting in front of an academic professional crowd. Or is there anything you learn during studies and various programmes and universities? Is there something that is reflected in the courses or the structure of the programmes? And is it also reflected in what is worth doing career-wise. Because I have the impression that, at the end, it counts what you have written. And the papers you published in possibly well-known and established peer-reviewed journals. And the books you published. And among us there are only a few people who already published books. But yes, I think this is what counts. And it does not count to be able to get a straight sentence out in front of a crowd listening to you. And in a way I think, this just is reflected . . .

AP: Somehow it does, because it allows you to network in an academic sense. And that will lead to publications in some cases.

MK: Ok. But this also, just already prepares you for another written publication.

AP: Yes. But I think that with your presentation you will catch the attention on yourself as a researcher and on your research topic. So other people who are interested can contact you even afterwards,

CC: And it’s not necessarily just connected to feeding into publications. I suppose, what are academic outputs? They’re publications, they’re large research projects and everything. But you’ve got no idea . . . . And I’ve seen some presentations here that I’ve immediately thought, “I need to contact that person for this other project, down the line.” Or sometimes it will be someone else tells you about a paper that they heard, that you weren’t at, and that personal recommendation can be enough that you will then look at the conference programme, find out who that person was and then seek them out in some sort of other way.

MK: Well my questions were just related to the idea that we might need a professionalisation of conferences. And this sleek point of presenting, 5 points only . . .

TW: I’m saying it through gritted teeth.

MK: I hope so, yes. Because the reason that we don’t have that kind of well, established, elaborate presentation style is because we’re not teaching at universities, and it doesn’t count that much as writing papers properly. And then to read, to hold a paper, literally, and to read a paper you wrote, that is the thing you do. We have nothing else! I mean, podcast has just started to get a standing in the discipline.

CC: Yes. And the podcasts I recorded yesterday evening, for example, with Carmen Becker, went really well in the sense that she had a narrative worked out for her paper. So she had a twenty-minute narrative, which provided an excellent structure for what ended up being a thirty-five-minute podcast. But we did the same content in a much more – I hope, and Listeners can let me know – conversational and accessible way. We got through it all, but the act of it being a conversation was an alternative presentation format, that will hopefully have complemented the presentation (40:00). But maybe, just to put the spotlight on Angela: you’re relatively new to the conference circuit in a sense, so you might be . . . . What preparation did you get before you stepped up to the podium to deliver your first few papers?

AP: Well, actually, I found it quite easy to present in front of people. Because I’ve been teaching for a few years. And I also do some lecturing. So, yes. And also, well my degrees were in Italy, so at the University of Naples. And there, you have to do a lot of exams – there are presentations but without a PowerPoint. You have to orally answer quite a few questions in a well-structured way. So I think that helped me to organise how I elaborate on my thought and on my research. But yes, maybe the only thing would be to . . . . Yes, I spoke to my supervisor, of course, about what would be the main point that I had to address. So it’s like a sort of introduction.

CC: That is what I was thinking. From my outside observation you seem to have a very supportive supervisor in Suzanne Owen. I know that I’ve had very supportive supervisors and now being mentored by Kim Knott and Steve Sutcliffe, who have sort-of walked me through a lot of these things that might seem quite daunting in an academic career. And I think that, for me, like the first few conferences I went to and everything, having a couple of more established advocates guiding me around, introducing me to people – that really helped.

AP: Sometimes it can also help when you have interests beside academia. For example, in my case, I think that since I’ve been a singer for quite a few years, I think that helped me. Because when I ‘m up there it’s like being on a stage and you have to perform. So I think that doing . . . even other kinds of activities – besides academia – that can help you be more relaxed in front of people, can also help.

TW: Yes, by comparison, my hobby is long distance running. (Laughter). I don’t think that’s comparable to the kind of sociability aspect . . .

AP: I guess the other, for example, might be another . . .

CC: Well the long distance running will help you deal with the long keynote lecture in the warm rooms . . . !

MK: Both are different ways to deal with stage fright. The one can run off easily, the other can perform!

CC: Exactly. But you wanted to say something . . . ?

SB: Yes. Just a couple of things. Because the first EASR was the one in Helsinki two years ago, I think, and I didn’t present at that one. And I purposefully went just so I could go to a European conference, suss out the level of things that were happening there. And yes, I had people like Steve Sutcliffe and the whole . . . I think they were referred to as the Edinburgh Mafia at the time, because there was so many of us! And it was really nice just having those people there to introduce me, and not having the pressure to present, but be able to just suss out the situation. And then also, back in Edinburgh, I think in the first year of my PhD, we did a smaller . . . we called it a Post-Grad Colloquium. And that was one where people from all over the Divinity School would present. I can’t remember whether it was a five or ten-minute paper. But they tried to organise it in a very professional way. And I think the day before there’d been a different conference at New College, and Marian Bowman was in Edinburgh and so she came to the Colloquium. So it was quite nice to have a certain level of professionalism there, only have to present for ten minutes. And it was a really good trial run for future presentations.

MK: But isn’t it strange that we already fulfil all the requirements of a conference and presenting professionally, even if we’re just doing post grad or that kind of meeting and workshops just for us, for our sakes, for our research, just to get into conversation and find other people talking about interesting topics. We could do this in many different ways. We could also just meet for podcasting, for example .Just to bring it up once more! (Laughter). Because I think the format is so different. And this kind of professionalisation . . . of the peer pressure you then feel at these big conferences like EASR, or other conferences. (45:00) It’s strange, I think, that we already assume all that professionalism is, in that way that we experience it later. And there is no change. There is no real . . . I don’t know. There is no real development in presentation style.

CC: Yes. We could probably come up with a lot of optimistic things that . . . and think, “Well, surely we could be doing this networking without endless collaboration, without having to have the big carbon footprint and come to this place and sit through lots of papers?” I don’t know how much we would all . . . actually. The existence of the structure acts as gravitational pull, and people make time for it. But, just another anecdote: I think it’s maybe over 5 years ago now, that Russell McCutcheon added me as a Friend on Facebook. And I remember it happening and being “Wow! He’s added me as a Friend on Facebook!” And I’ve still never met him face to face. And, I don’t know . . . I think he was aware of the Religious Studies Project and was just purposefully setting out to network and create the network

MK: Yes. We think of Russell T. McCutcheon as the kind of RSP Twitter-bot. Because he reads everything you guys Tweet!

CC: Yes. And he engages. But I’ve now collaborated with him on a number of publications; I’ve been to conferences that he has helped organise, even though he didn’t end up going there; we’ll bounce around Facebook messages and Twitter conversations and I’m now part of his Culture On The Edge thing. And all of this has happened without ever needing to go to a conference. And there’s been a lot of productive collaboration there. And I’m not saying that we all need to start Facebook stalking and adding people that we’ve never met before. Because that is just weird, and there are issues with that. (Laughter). But there are other ways perhaps than necessarily coming to a physical space and productive scholarly collaboration can happen. We just maybe need to ignore or think outside the large powerful pull that these things have.

SB: And you do need certain ways of making you and your research visible. Because, obviously, you have the platform that Russell was then able to find you on. So it’s just ways of making that work, as well.

MK: And the reason I brought this up again is because I think that, with podcasting, we have the kind of medium that gets out conversations in a proper way. And make it possible to quote podcasts, as well. And I think that only a few of those established scholars in the discipline already know how many downloads those podcasts get. If they knew, I think they would realise that their papers in their established and beloved journals never ever will find so many readers than those podcasts find downloads.

CC: We have already, in this conversation, had more impact than probably every other scholar . . . !

MK: And more listeners than any dissertation ever written!

SB: Yes. And we briefly touched on it earlier. And you were saying that you go to a conference to present only to then write a paper afterwards. Whereas podcasting occupies that in-between space where you can be quoted on it, you don’t have to produce this written piece afterwards.

CC: Exactly. We’re coming up to 12 O’clock, which is going to be our time for getting out. I’m using my “radio host” thing which Moritz has been railing against the whole time. Moritz, I think, would have us talking for another three hours.

MK: Yes. Definitely. There’s no time limit. There’s always space in the Internet.

CC: There is always space in the Internet. And this is a point to remember. So hopefully, Listeners, you’ve enjoyed this conversation. And it’s, maybe, given you some food for thought about conferencing and maybe alternative ways that you can augment that. And one way would be to participate in the conversation surrounding this podcast. You could record your own podcast and respond in that way; YouTube – there’s all the social media options and website options for writing written responses. Don’t be afraid. Just get out there and say it. A lot of people seem to not really like typing written comments on the website.

MK: But then you should definitely establish a way to get audio comments as well. So it’s very easy to record them with WhatsApp or voice memo apps on smart phones (50:00). So you could send it easily and in a very nice format. And you could include them in the podcasts.

CC: That would be a brilliant idea, Moritz! Thank you for that!

MK: You’re welcome.

CC: So, Listeners, thanks for listening. We should all say that I suppose. So, from all five of us here in Switzerland:

All: Thanks for listening!


Citation Info: Cotter, Christopher, Sammy Bishop, Moritz Klenk, Angela Puca, Tom White. 2018. “What is the Point of Academic Conferences?”, The Religious Studies Project (Podcast Transcript). 24 September 2018. Transcribed by Helen Bradstock. Version 1.1, 19 September 2018. Available at: https://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/podcast/easr-roundtable-2108-what-is-the-point-of-academic-conferences/

If you spot any errors in this transcription, please let us know at editors@religiousstudiesproject.com. If you would be willing to help with transcribing our podcast archive, or know of any sources of funding for the transcription project, please get in touch. Thanks for reading.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- NonCommercial- NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. The views expressed in podcasts are the views of the individual contributors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of THE RELIGIOUS STUDIES PROJECT or the British Association for the Study of Religions.

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Graduate Conference on Religious Studies: Protest, Public Religion, and Social Change

October 1, 2016

Boston University, USA

Deadline: June 1, 2016.

More information

Middle East – Topics and Arguments

Special issue: Iconography

Deadline: June 30, 2016

More information

Open Journal of Social Sciences

Special issue: Cross-Cultural Studies

Deadline: May 31, 2016

More information

Events

Modern Religious History

June 14–15, 2016

University of Stirling, UK

More information

Public Religions and Their Secrets, Secret Religions and Their Publics

October 27–28, 2016

University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands

NEW DEADLINE: June 1, 2016

More information: Conference, Master Class

Summer school: Doing and Communicating Qualitative Research

July 4–8, 2016

Kingston University London, UK

More information

Religion and Greater Scotland Christianity and Scottish Global Networks, 1603-1950

June 3–4, 2016

Aberdeen, Scotland

More information

Religion, Gender and Sexualities

July 1, 2016

Aston University, UK

More information

The Role of the Church in a Pluralist Society: Good Riddance or Good Influence?

June 22–24, 2016

The Loyola Institute in Trinity College Dublin, Ireland

More information

Translating Buddhism

June 30–July 2, 2016

York St John University, UK

More information

Awards

Sofja Kovalevskaja Award

Humboldt Foundation

Deadline: July 31, 2016

More information

Jobs

PhD position: Indigenous Religion(s): Local Grounds, Global Networks

University of Tromsø, Norway

Deadline: June 1, 2016

More information

University Teacher in Islamic Studies

University of Glasgow, UK

Deadline: May 29, 2016

More information

Tutor: Theology and Religious Studies

University of Glasgow, UK

Deadline: May 29, 2016

More information

University Teacher

University of Glasgow, UK

Deadline: May 29, 2016

More information

Doctoral scholarships

University of Erfurt, Germany

Deadline: May 29, 2016

More information

PhD positions: History of Hermetic Philosophy and Related Currents

University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Deadline: July 15, 2016

More information

PhD positions

Utrecht University, The Netherlands

Deadline: June 15, 2016

More information

PhD positions: Medieval Studies

University of Bergen, Norway

Deadline: August 1, 2016

More information

Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – March 29, 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. Our inbox seems to be a little quiet of late, so don’t forget to send us any opportunities you come across. 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. If you notice anything weird this week, it’s because Chris has compiled this digest while Jane enjoys a well-earned holiday.

Calls for Papers

British Association for the Study of Religions Annual Conference

Theme: ‘Religion Beyond the Textbook’

Keynote Speaker: Prof. Martin Stringer (Swansea University)

University of Wolverhampton, UK, 5-7 September 2016

Deadline: 31 May 2016

More details here (.doc)

Costruzione e Definizione del Concetto di Religione

12-13-14-15-16 Luglio 2016

Velletri (Roma)

Call for Papers (English)

Deadline: 15 April 2016

Celtic migrations and territories: tradition, religion and beliefs

Trilingual international conference

Rennes (France), 20-21 October 2016.

Deadline: 15 April 2016

http://mitecelt.sciencesconf.org/?lang=en

Sermon Studies journal

Sponsored by Marshall University, Sermon Studies is a new online, open access journal that is looking for submissions. The journal can be found at: http://mds.marshall.edu/sermonstudies/

Further details (pdf).

Conferences

ICSA Annual Conference

Theme: Recovery From Cults and High-Control Groups

Dallas, Texas, June 30, 2016—July 2, 2016

http://www.icsahome.com/events/conferenceannual

1st International Congress on Religious-Spiritual Counselling & Care

7-10 April 2016, Grand Cevahir Hotel & Convention Center, Istanbul

http://mdrk.org/en

Jobs

Permanent Research Fellow

Centre for Science, Knowledge and Belief in Society, Newman University.

‘Science and Religion: Exploring the Spectrum’ project.

Project overview: http://sciencereligionspectrum.org

Closing date for applications: 15th April 2016 – 1pm BST

Further particulars can be obtained from the vacancies web page www.newman.ac.uk/jobs  or alternatively e-mail: recruitment@newman.ac.uk or telephone 0121 476 1181 ext. 2398

Director, School of Religious Studies

McGill University,

Deadline: May 2, 2016

http://www.h-net.org/jobs/job_display.php?id=52758

Associate or Full Professor of Religious Studies and Chaplain

Centenary College of Louisiana

Deadline: June 13 2016

http://www.h-net.org/jobs/job_display.php?id=52730

Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – March 15, 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 and applications

Workshop: Translations: indigenous, religion, tradition, culture

University of Tromsø, Norway

August 17–19, 2016

Deadline: June 1, 2016

More information

Travel grants: Religious Pluralisation – A Challenge for Modern Societies

October 4–6, 2016

Hanover, Germany

More information (travel grants, program)

Summer school: Religion and water

June 13–24, 2016

University of Bergen, Norway

Deadline: April 1, 2016

More information

Summer school: Religion, Culture and Society: Entanglement and Confrontation

August 28–September 3, 2016

Antwerpen, Belgium

Deadline: May 15, 2016

More information

Events

Conference: Islam and Peaceful Relations

April 5, 2016

Coventry University, UK

More information

Conference: Radicalisaton and Violent Extremism: Society, Identity and Security

July 22–23, 2016

University of Leeds, UK

April 15, 2016

More information

Conference: Reconsidering Religious Radicalism

May 21, 2016

University of Cambridge, UK

More information

Symposium: Muslims in the UK and Europe

May 13–15, 2016

University of Cambridge, UK

More information

Jobs

Funded postgraduate positions

University of Gothenburg, Sweden

Deadline: March 31, 2016

More information

Full-time PhD studentships

Lancaster University, UK

Deadline: April 4, 2016

More information

Faculty Fellow: Japanese Religions

University of California, Santa Barbara, USA

Deadline: May 15, 2016

More information

Professor: Alevism in Europe

University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Deadline: April 13, 2016

More information

Professor: History of Modern/Contemporary Christianity

University of Groningen, The Netherlands

Deadline: April 14, 2016

More information

Religious Studies as a Discipline

Aaron Hughes (University of Rochester) has been a vocal critic of some of the theories and methods used by religious studies scholars working on Islam. In this podcast, he discusses his critique of the discipline and practice of religious studies he has made through works such as Situating Islam (Equinox, 2008), Theorizing Islam (Equinox, 2012), Abrahamic Religions (Oxford, 2012), The Study of Judaism (SUNY, 2013), and, most recently, Islam and the Tyranny of Authenticity (Equinox, 2015).

This sustained focus on the field of religious studies is not only a concern with identity–the political boundaries of the field as established by its scholars and professional organizations–but also with method. What should be the critical orientation of our field? Which methods are more or less suited for religious studies when it the discipline is viewed as a critical endeavor? When and how should we critique the way our field is responding to the context of the 21st Century? Are area studies especially vulnerable to these criticisms? What happens when identity politics begins to mix with scholarship?

Listeners might also be interested in our previous podcasts on Religion as Sui Generis, The Relationship between Theology and Religious Studies, Teaching and Learning in Contemporary Religious Studies, The Critical Study of Religion, and Biblical Studies and Religious Studies. 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, storage boxes, tiny shoes and more.

SPSP 2016 Report: The state of religion in social and personality psychology

This past January, the Society for Personality and Social Psychology had its biggest turn out to date for its 17th Annual Convention in San Diego, California. Despite religion, as a broad category of research, all to often being missing in action in the psychological sciences, researchers embracing the study of religion were hard to miss throughout SPSP 2016. Conference report for The Religious Studies Project by Adam Baimel, University of British Columbia.

The Religion and Spirituality Preconference meeting kicked off as Aiyana Willard presented her work on the cognitive foundations of belief. Much ink has been spilled as to what sorts of cognitive processes make supernatural beliefs ‘easy to think’ – Willard’s work demonstrates how we can actually test these theoretical and causal models in the minds of real believers (for more on this, see here). What this type of work demonstrates is that what we need, as psychologists, to understand religion in any sort of systematic way, is access to empirical data.

ARDA database hub.

ARDA Research Hub.

Representatives from the Association of Religion Data Archives (the ARDA) drove this very point home by presenting both the existing (and quite impressive) database that they have built and what sorts of features users can expect from the ARDA in the near future.  The ARDA currently offers researchers a large collection of international and national survey data on the broad topic of religion – and they have recently made mining through these surveys by topic and specific questions of interest all that much easier. Joining in on the benefits of open and transparent science – the ARDA has made a call for researchers to publish their data sets of all varieties (experimental, ethnographic, etc.) on the website in the hopes of the ARDA becoming the premier location of all that is empirical data on religion. Best of all, their databases are open-access – so get digging, I know I will be.

The remainder of this year’s Religion and Spirituality Preconference emphasized how (1) the psychological sciences can add to our broader understanding of religion as well as (2) how believers can be an important population of individuals to study in furthering our understanding of more typical social psychological hypotheses. For example, Zhen Cheng and Kimberly Rios presented their work on the how stereotype threat – feeling at risk of confirming a stereotype of one’s social group – might play an important role in keeping religious believers from pursuing interests and performing in scientific domains.  This is important to consider given the demographic majority of liberals, and atheists (or at the very least less-fervently devoted) amongst psychologists. Speaking to the complexity of how ‘religion’ manifests in human psychological processes and behavior, Joni Sasaki presented her lab’s work exploring how interactions between genetic differences in oxytocin receptor genes and social contexts moderate the strength of religious reminders in promoting self-control (full paper here). The theme of this bi-directional interest and value in exploring religion in the psychological sciences persisted throughout the remainder of the conference.

The issue of replicability (and non-replicability) is currently a pressing concern for researchers in psychology, and was a topic of a number of presentations at SPSP 2016 (for more info see here). At the forefront of this ‘crisis’, and of particular interest to those who study religion, is work on priming. Psychological priming, the method of exposing individuals to some stimulus (often done outside of the individual’s awareness) to detect its effects on a later stimulus, is used in all sorts of psychological research. For example, Shariff & Norenzayan (2007), in their now foundational study, had participants complete a sentence unscrambling task that either involved god-related (e.g., blessed, divine), government (e.g., jury, contract), or neutral words. The mere presence of these words serve as a prime, making the concepts of god or government more readily accessible to the minds of their subjects. What they demonstrated is that activating god or government related concepts shifted the norm from being selfish (not giving much at all), to being more fair – as participants, on average, gave up just under half of their allotted windfall of money in a dictator game. These findings have served as the bedrock for continued exploration into the role of religion in sustaining human cooperation.

Despite its varied applications (not just in the study of religion), recent efforts to replicate priming studies have lead psychologists to understand how complicated (finicky) these methods really are. However, as part of a symposium organized to demonstrate important examples of how and when priming is useful – Aiyana Willard presented the results of a meta-analysis (a statistical approach to studying an effect over a number of studies – in this case, 93 studies) that suggests that religious priming is indeed an effective method for studying the effects of activating ‘religion’ on a number psychological processes and behaviors. This effect holds even after statistically correcting for publication bias (the reality that there are many an unpublished study hiding in the physical and virtual file-drawers of researchers around the world).

The psychological sciences face another important problem in understanding religion and more broadly, the psychological foundations of human nature – the over-representation of WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic) populations in our studies. Religion is by no means a monolithic phenomenon, and our understanding of religion should reflect the rampant theodiversity that exists across cultures today, and has existed throughout our collective cultural histories. In one symposium session, researchers representing the Cultural Evolution of Religion Consortium (CERC), with its home at the University of British Columbia, demonstrated how the study of religion is an ideal test case for breaking through this boundary.

Michael Muthukrishna introduced the audience to the Database of Religious History and its goals of becoming a premier source for quantified religious history. This database is being built with the help of religious scholars and historians from around the world whose knowledge of diverse religious beliefs and practices is being mapped and quantified in order for history to move off the page and become subject to statistical inquiry. Edward Slingerland spoke to the value of moving beyond the laboratory and seeking answers to our questions about religion in what he called the untapped population of ‘dead minds’ in the process of quantifying and statistically mining the literary corpus at the core of many religions.

Joe Henrich presenting.

Joe Henrich presenting.

Joseph Henrich and Coren Apicella presented results from a cross-cultural study exploring the relationship between big moralizing gods and prosociality in eight diverse societies around the world. Henrich spoke to the broader goals of such a massive undertaking, in that understanding cultural variation is key to understanding anything about human nature. Apicella presented her work on this project with the Hadza – indigenous hunter-gatherers in Tanzania who serve as an interesting case study for questions regarding religion and morality given that previous ethnographies have indicated that they have no religion at all. In (very) brief, this study supports the hypothesis that belief in omniscient, punishing, moralizing gods extends the bounds of prosociality to distant others – and thus may have played an important role in the expansion of human societies. For the complete report of the work presented at SPSP, check out Benjamin Purzycki et al.’s recently published piece in Nature.

The work highlighted here is just beginning to scratch the surface of what was on offer at SPSP 2016 on the study of religion. However, what is clear across the board is that the general interest in religion as a psychological phenomenon is growing – with the countless poster presentations by the next generation of researchers as evidence. Furthermore, there is a growing consensus in the field that religion is not only an interesting phenomenon to study – but an essential one to explore in furthering our understanding of human psychological processes and behaviors.

Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – 16 February 2016

Calls for papers

Journal: Open Theology

Special issue: Alternative Religiosities in the Soviet Union and the Communist

East-Central Europe: Formations, Resistances and Manifestations

Deadline: June 30, 2016

More information

Journal: Culture and Society: Journal of Social Research

Special issue: Religion and Belief in the Public Sphere of Eastern Europe

Deadline: February 28, 2016

More information

Conference: ISASR: Religion and Revolution

June 16–17, 2016

University College Cork, Ireland

Deadline: February 19, 2016

More information

Conference: Implicit Religion

May 20–22, 2016

Salisbury, UK

Deadline: February 26, 2016

More information

Conference: Reconsidering Religious Radicalism

May 21, 2016

University of Cambridge, UK

Deadline: March 11, 2016

More information

Workshop on Gender, Religion and Family Violence

September 13–14, 2016

New Brunswick, Canada

Deadline: April 1, 2016

More information

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

May 20–21, 2016

Kaunas, Lithuania

Deadline: March 21, 2016

More information

Conference: Border Crossings: Exploring the ‘visible’ and the ‘invisible’ in the humanities

June 3, 2016

University of Stirling, UK

Deadline: March 20, 2016

More information

Events

Conference: Spalding Symposium on Indian Religions

April 15–17, 2016

Cardiff University, UK

More information

Conference: Landscape and Myth in North-Western Europe

April 6–8, 2016

Munich, Germany

More information

Jobs

Three PhD studentships

Lunds universitet, Sweden

Deadline: March 1, 2016

More information

Tenure-track position in American Church History

Catholic University of America, DC, USA

Deadline: March 7, 2016

More information

Sabbatical replacement: Buddhist Traditions and Asian Religions

Vanderbilt University, TN, USA

Deadline: April 28, 2016

More information

PhD studentship

Coventry University, UK

Deadline: March 7, 2016

More information

Instructor: Sanskrit and Buddhist Studies

Mangalam Research Center for Buddhist Languages

Deadline: May 8, 2016

More information

Postdoctoral Teaching Fellowship in East Asian Religions

Washington University in St. Louis, USA

Deadline: March 16, 2016

More information

Podcasts

What is the point of of academic conferences?: A roundtable discussion

At the European Association for the Study of Religions’ Annual Conference in Bern (June 2018), five members of the RSP team – Sammy Bishop, Chris Cotter, Moritz Klenk, Angela Puca and Tom White – gathered together on the final day of the conference to discuss academic conferences in general – the good, the bad and the ugly. Why attend conferences? What is the point? What else could we do instead that might be a better use of our time? And how did we find having a fully-functional podcast studio set up at this conference? These are just a few of the issues that crop up in this lively roundtable discussion, facilitated by the inestimable Moritz Klenk.

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, pickles, duct tape, and more.


A transcription of this interview is also available, and has been pasted below.


EASR Roundtable 2018: What is the Point of Academic Conferences?

Podcast with Chris Cotter, Sammy Bishop, Moritz Klenk, Angela Puca and Tom White (24 September 2018).

Transcribed by Helen Bradstock.

 

Audio and transcript available at: EASR_Roundtable_2018_1.1

Christopher Cotter (CC): Welcome to the podcast studio in Bern, Switzerland, on the final day of the European Association for the Study of Religions Conference on Multiple Religious Identities. I’m Chris Cotter, and I’m joined here for an impromptu roundtable with some of my esteemed colleagues. I’m going to say, let’s go round to my right. So I’m Chris, and you should all know me, Listeners, and if you don’t, then: what are you doing? I don’t know. Who have we got here?

Sammy Bishop (SB): I’m Sammy Bishop. I am a PhD student, based in Edinburgh, and also I’m involved with the Religious Studies Project, sometimes interviewing, sometimes helping out in other respects. And it is great to be here.

Angela Puca (AP): I’m Angela Puca and I’m also a PhD student, but at Leeds Trinity University. And I don’t know why I’m here, (laughter) but I’m happy to . . .

CC: We’ll find out, later. And there’s a man behind the sound desk there with a beard that is more impressive than mine!

Moritz Klenk (MK): You’re so kind! My name is Moritz Klenk and I’m also a PhD student, here – from Bern. I’m doing a PhD somewhere between Sociology of Religion, epistemology and the academic Study of Religion – or whatever the most recent name of this discipline might be. And also I’m a podcaster. And this is why I have built this studio for this conference. And I’m very happy to see it in such good use.

CC: And Listeners will really be appreciating the sexy sound quality of everything that has been coming out of this conference! Who’s the last individual?

Tom White (TW): And lastly . . .

CC: And least . . .

TW: And least – last and least – Tom White. I’m also a PhD candidate, from the University of Otago – where it is very wintry, in the South Island of New Zealand – mostly looking at religion, law and climate change in Fiji.

CC: So Moritz, you’ve got us all together here, so I’m going to pass over to you to stir the pot, as it were.

MK: Cheers. So the idea I had in mind, when thinking about making this a reality to come together for a last roundtable at this conference, was actually just . . . I would be interested in some reflections and possible criticism of the conference and what is happening here. Because every one of us, I assume, is getting used to travelling to conferences like these, telling others about his or her research. And so we are . . . . This is what we are doing. This is one part of our business. And so we, I think, can take the time to reflect a bit on what we are actually doing here. If it is the discourse we are all looking for, are we so interested in it? Or if not this, then what else do we do here? And to have a conversation. Because, at least – I’m already telling you what I was experiencing – but I think it is the most important thing you can experience, in these kinds of conferences and events, is that you get into conversations sometimes, and they are very fascinating. Sometimes you want to find your way out of them (Laughter).

CC: Claw your own eyes out sometimes . . .

MK: Yes, also that. (Laughter). But a conversation seemed to be the fitting end of that kind of event. So yes, I’m very glad that you all joined me for this and I’d be interested in your opinion about this conference. I’m a bit biased because I’m a local. So, this happens in Bern, so I shouldn’t start I guess. But maybe some of you have impressions, ideas?

CC: Well, my immediate reaction is that I have spent so much time podcasting! And I decided that this conference would be a chance for me to film various little bits of video and whatnot – which has been a useful experience. I think it’s really ramped up the engagement from folk who hadn’t been able to be here. But my actual impression of this particular conference has been somewhat limited, because I’ve been running around so much. I have seen something like, I don’t know, ten to fifteen papers. (5:00) But that’s not quite . . . you should normally be expecting to see maybe at least double that. So, perhaps someone who . . . . Well, Angela has been probably been the most participatory because the rest of us have been running around doing podcasts.

AP: I’ve been running around from one paper to another, or from a panel to another – so still running! Yes, this was my first EASR Conference and I really enjoyed it. Maybe the only criticism I have is that all the panels on the same topic were at the same time. So it was really difficult. There were, for example, some time slots where I really wished I had the gift of ubiquity and other timeslots there was really nothing relevant to my research – of course, still interesting panels, but not quite relevant to my research. So I would have liked to attend more panels on my research, which were actually there, but at the same time as others.

MK: But maybe this was also the intention, in a way, to bring together scholars from different research areas and to give them, by this kind of overlap . . . . I don’t know if that was the intention. I chose to interpret it in that very friendly way. But I think, to give them a chance to look beyond their own work they’re doing; to see the broader field of the European Studies of Religion, what people are doing. This is also I think the only chance you will get, because normally you’re . . .

CC: That’s a fair point, actually, I would say. Because you come to conferences and at the start of this conference I thought, “Oh. Damn. There’s about five or six different panels on the ‘nones’, the ‘secular’ and all this kind of stuff. I’m going to have to go to those.” But, equally, I’ve kind-of heard all I need to hear, perhaps . . . not all I need to hear. But if I want to approach these scholars, I can approach them; we can have dialogue anyway. But I sort-of felt I was going to have to attend them, because they were there, because I didn’t want to miss out on that key snippet. At the end of the day I actually didn’t go to that many, because of my podcasting schedule and whatnot. But I sometimes do find at a conference that it’s the panels that you go to just because it “sounds vaguely interesting, but isn’t quite connected to your research”, that you can suddenly find, actually, there’s a really good connection. And it opens up a whole new vista, in a way that you aren’t ever going to just pick up a journal article that’s just not on your topic and read it – much as we would all like to. There’s only so many hours in the day! So a conference can do that, that way. Has anyone had that sort of revelation at this one, that we a saw a paper that we didn’t really . . . that we went along to because it was in a panel with something else, or because there was nothing else in the schedule?

TW: I’ve ended up going to a lot of education, or the kind-of “role of religion in schools”, “schools as ideological production sites” whereby people are being trained in citizenship, or where schools are “sites of contested religious identities”: the crucifix; the burka. And, without any intention, I’ve ended up having quite an education in religion-focussed conference – which isn’t really my discipline or my key area, but has been quite nice to move into that and become more familiar with that subject area. But, yes, I think there is a point in picking a theme and trying to go deep, rather than doing a random pick-and-mix of entire breadth of the discipline. Because it loses a certain coherency. And that coherency with the education panels, I’ve really enjoyed.

SB: Just on the topic of themes as well: I was thinking about conference themes, and how this one was “multiple religious identities”. And I don’t know how many papers actually speak to that, that I’ve been to. And then, I was just kind-of wondering . . . sometimes, what the point of having a theme of the conference is. Because everyone knows that, at the EASR, you’ll go if you want to present a paper. And sometimes you can mould it to the conference theme, just for the sake of it. Sometimes there just seems like a bit of a facade, I think.

CC: My one bit of input on that . . . well I’m sure I’ll end up having a bit more . . . ! So, I’ve been doing a history project, on the British Association of the Study of Religions. For a number of years, now, we’ve ended up having a conference theme. But when I went back through the record, the conferences didn’t used to have themes. (10:00) Back in the day, it was just like sort-of ten old white men gathering in effectively a living room and having a chat. There would be one paper, and that was the conference. It then expanded to two papers, one in the evening and then one the following morning. And that’s what the Association was for decades. And then, as things grew and grew, it got bigger. And then they started to have an annual lecture. But there still wasn’t a conference theme. And then what seems to have happened at some point in the mid-‘90s a couple of years after the annual lecture was established, the annual lecture then became the conference theme. It was like, “We’re going to have a keynote. They’ll speak on this.” Then it seems to be people try and get everyone to speak around that topic. And I suppose the justification is that it’s away for having a relatively coherent conversation – but that never really happens! Conferences might produce a conference volume of key papers. But I think most conferences I go to now would even struggle to find enough coherency for that volume. And it’s been proposed at the BASR, recently, that perhaps we just abandon the theme and say that it’s a conference for scholars working in, or on, religion in Britain – and just leave it at that. And tell them what the keynotes are. And the keynotes might produce a certain sort of discourse just by their power position as being the keynote speeches. But, yes. It’s unclear, now, what the utility is. Any thoughts from the others?

TW: Well I think it also relates to . . . you know, you can only go to so many conferences each year. I mean, I’m in New Zealand so, you know, unless the conference is in New Zealand it’s a very expensive exercise going to conferences. So how do you select which ones to go to?

AP: That’s a good question.

CC: And maybe that is where the theme comes into play? Because, yes, there’ll be a core constituency who’d go to every European Association Conference, right? But for others who don’t have that luxury, then having a theme provides a justification.

AP: I don’t know whether the theme actually helps you with that, to be honest. (Laughs).

SB: I think if you want to present your research then you’ll present your research – never mind the theme.

AP: I guess, once you go to a conference, you will find scholars sort-of in your field that can give you feed-back, that you can network with. So it’s not something that a theme will help you with, I feel.

TW: I mean, what are the criteria with which you choose a conference? The exotic location? The location of your family on the travel route? Networking opportunities? Who else is going to be there, and what kind of feedback you might get on your paper? You know, and it’s a juggle between all of these different issues, isn’t it? Some more honourable and some more profane.

AP: Not always purely professional.

CC: And that’s ok, isn’t it? It’s one of the, I’d say, many perks of an academic life. We can all bitch and moan about all the various stresses and strains. But all the travelling to conferences is one of the perks.

SB: Definitely.

CC: Sometimes it’s funded. Sometimes one decides, “Well, I need a holiday, anyway. And that might be a good environment to go to . . .” Mostly I do it based on the sort-of network of scholars. I go to BASR, now, every single year. And it will continue, because that’s become my sort of family. It’s a much smaller conference. This is my first European one since 2013 – again because of the financial commitment is quite heavy. But I would have come regardless of what the theme was. But then, there are other conferences. Like, there’s the Non-religion and Secularity Research one in a few weeks, and I’ll go to that because of the topic. Yes. But that’s more to do with network. I don’t think I’ve ever actually gone to a conference because of a specific theme. It’s more I’ve gone . . . I want to go to that organisation’s conference, rather than . . .

SB: Although even though I’ve just been saying that themes are pointless: this years’ BASR, I only put in a paper because it did directly relate to my research, and I felt like I probably should!

MK: (15:00) Well, I think the theme of conferences, although not the only criteria, at least invite people to talk about something different or just look at it from a different angle than they are normally doing. And they’re normally telling people about their research. And so . . . for applying to get a paper in, you have to, at least . . . I don’t know . . . tentatively, put in some reference to the conference theme. And I think it’s a good way. It would be better – or sometimes I think it could be better – if people are directly invited to talk about this: “I know this person, I know him or her. He or she might be an expert on this or that. I would like to hear her talk about this, although it might not be the current research project she’s working on. But inviting her to say something about that would help to . . . I don’t know, stimulate another kind of conversation than just repeating myself.”

CC: Three points: I said I was going to . . . (Laughs). I think we’re maybe having two conversations. We shouldn’t allow the behaviour of scholars who tend to just go, “Well, I’ll fire in whatever paper anyway, and just put a vague allusion to the theme in.” That’s what we default to doing. But the ideal, where everyone actually engages with the theme, that’s maybe still the ideal to aim for. We shouldn’t be conflating behaviours with ideals. Another point is that some of us . . . I’ve certainly had experience of being at very small conferences that you might more describe as workshops. I’ve been at one on atheist identities, one on religious indifference, where there’s maybe fifteen to twenty-five scholars and it’s very intense, very focussed discussion. And those conferences have always produced, for me, the best outputs. So maybe there’s a scale thing? The final point is, I’ve got a friend who is in Business Studies, in marketing. And she was telling me, she was applying for her first conference. And the selection criteria are very different. You have to write your entire paper ahead, submit it, and then they accept it or reject it. And then you come and present a shortened version of your paper. So we’re used to presenting a very short vague abstract, and conferences tend to be eager for people to come. Whereas, if the conference was having thousands more people than they could actually take applying then the selection criteria would be quite different, and the coherence of the conference would probably be much higher than it is in our discipline.

MK: I’m not sure if you could actually call that kind of workshop experience you had a conference. Because I think that would just mix up terms, and put it in a better light than conferences deserve, I guess!

CC: (Laughs).

MK: Because at least in my experience – and I go to different conferences in Religious Studies, but also in Sociology – I never find the discourse there. I just find repetition. Never actually something really new or interesting – or just a few papers presented. And this is in kind of a contradiction to the bare fact that there are more and more conferences that you could go to and you should attend – or you’re supposed to, if you want to . . . I don’t know, work on your career, or something like that. So I find it really challenging to think about what to do at conferences. What is it we are doing, when we are doing conferencing? And I think, more and more, it turns out to be just some occasion you meet each other and talk to each other, yet the papers and the panels are so full of papers and panels in such a short time, that . . .

CC: But is that ok? In the sense that . . . because I’ve often said that sometimes the papers are the excuse. They’re the excuse for the funding, they’re the excuse that you give, to justify to yourself for going. And sometimes I’ve found them . . . . You know, I will use a conference paper as a way to force myself to write something that I’d been meaning to write for ages. But then, the valuable things are the things like we’re doing right now, or in the coffee breaks, or at an excellent night out dancing to “The Thriller” with Steve Sutcliffe and Giovanni Casadio the other night! (20:00) (Laughter). Those are the things that stay with you, and sort-of humanise the scholarship. But then, also, all the conversations that happen around a conference . . .

SB: In which case, do you think more time should be dedicated to social interactions? Like, you could have . . . take one panel out and just say: “People who want to gather in a room and talk about this topic . . .” – have a round table?

CC: But they wouldn’t . . .

MK: If it’s too much time between the panels they would not – they would just leave. They would split up in very small groups. Friends who haven’t seen each other for a long time, and then they leave the venue. And then they are all scattered all round the city. And I think some of the conversations that you have between the panellists – this was something I was thinking about the other day: some of the conversations you have between the panellists are actually gaining from the fact that you have to run off just in a few minutes. So you get to your point very quickly – and hope you find some laughs – and then go on your daily routine, at these conferences! So I think if you’re there too long, with a break between, this might not happen.

SB: But if it wasn’t a break. If it was, like, “This room can be dedicated to this subject,” then have a conversation about it when you got there.

CC: Would you?

SB: I think I would like to. (Laughs). Don’t sound so sceptical!

MK: (Laughs). Well, maybe you shouldn’t call it “a room that you go to to have the conversations”, but maybe you can call it a podcasting studio and also have the ability to record!

SB: Yes. If conversation’s valuable thing it would be good to facilitate that, you know?

CC: And my facetious thing there is that maybe there are ways that are slightly more innovative than, “Here’s a room, go and talk.”

SB: Well that is a basic presentation of it! (Laughs).

CC: But the spirit of it, I think, is probably quite good. More . . . like more barbeques, for example! I’m not saying they all need to be filled with free alcohol and things. But if there was a barbecue every night and all these conversations . . . . Well, then, maybe not as many people would come every night. But those are the places where the exciting things happen.

TW: What do we think about the stratification of people at various levels in their academic careers? You know, having a junior scholars’ meeting tends to be something a lot of conferences are doing these days. Workshops for post-graduates. There hasn’t really been that here. It’s generally been far less hierarchically organised. But to some degree, what do you miss out from not having those . . . not having kind-of a post-graduate talking shop, or being a bit more aware of facilitating meetings through the hierarchy – which is still a very kind-of important aspect of university institutions. So should we be doing it by topics? Or should we perhaps be doing it by kind of you know career experience? Any thoughts on that?

SB: I think I prefer it by topic. I don’t know if that’s because in Edinburgh I feel like I have a good post-graduate community, where we can share post-graduate experiences in that way. And obviously it would be good to come across other post-grads from other places but I feel like I would benefit more from meeting people at all levels, within my subject area. And it would be great if some of them were also post-grads at the same level as me. But also people who have more experience and more range, I think.

AP: Yes. I usually prefer people with more experience just because they can teach me something about how to improve my research, and how to do stuff, basically. But of course, even a conversation on a topic with a post-grad can be beneficial as well.

CC: Yes, the more democratising things are the better, as far as I’m concerned. I do like it when you get to rub alongside people right at the top end of the field, and at the bottom end, and where titles don’t really matter. I mean, like, last night we were just casually sitting with Veikko Antonnen and just having a beer, talking. There was no pretence of, you know, “He’s really important. We should be deferring here.”

SB: I mean sometimes you don’t realise who they are until afterwards, anyway.

CC: Which is even better as well. There was one thing I remember: Peggy Morgan organised the BASR’s 40th Anniversary Conference. She said she insisted on not having name labels, because it means that you go around the conference and you spent the whole time peering at everyone’s chests – maybe somewhat inappropriately – trying to see what their name is (25:00). And everyone’s looking around for a better person to talk to. They’re waiting to catch that name. And apparently the objection was, “But you could be talking to someone really important, and not realise it!” And her justification was, “Well maybe that’s the point. If you want to introduce yourself, you introduce yourself. If you want to know someone’s name, you ask them their name.” A lot of the name badges thing can actually be a way of kind-of spoiling those conversations a little bit, I know.

TW: It does save you from the forgetting of names once you’ve already been introduced.

AP: And also, especially when you have so many people from different countries. It’s really hard to catch the name properly, unless you have a tag.

MK: Yes, and also I think it is also kind of a misconception of how networks and networking works. I mean, in a network your value is defined by being a knot and the ties you have. So the name is some kind of a label of this knot. So talking to someone who has a name, or might have a name, also means you get the connections you might be looking for. So if it is for just coming together and talk about research questions, or something you’re really interested in topic-wise or something, then this might be a good idea to get rid of badges. But if not, if it is for networking, then it’s really helpful . . . I mean, like helping to find people.

CC: Yes. I have seen instances where you spot a name badge, and you don’t know what the person looks like, but you do know their research. And then you spot the name badge and it’s like: “Yes! Hello! I should speak to you!” Exactly. But that was just feeding into . . . going right back to what Tom was saying: do we want to be coming to this sort of conference and having sitting down just with early career people? Well that’s what we’re doing right now, isn’t it?

MK: Yes it is. And it’s not surprising, I think. Because all the others are busy doing business as usual. So podcasting is not something that is not quite usual yet, maybe. Maybe we could also talk about this institution of podcasting studio at conferences, as an opportunity to get together and record some conversations . . . to be proving the real thing we are looking for at these kind of events? But coming back to the question, I think it’s sometimes might be the only way to get the input you need. Because from established professors you normally tend to get just the usual thing you find in their books and papers.

TW: I think the point I was driving at – and I’m not sure if there’s a difference between, say a European conference and an American conference. My suspicion – completely ungrounded – is that an American conference might have more stratified forums where, as early career researchers, you could meet up. But that’s not for sociability. This is the professionalisation of the trade. And there’s a lot more to this than simply knowing your topic very well. And perhaps doing workshops where you are kind-of professionalised to a degree, would provide that additional aspect to attending a conference – particularly for early career researchers – than just simply attending topic-based panels would provide. So I think that was kind of where I as ruminating around. But of course there’s drawbacks to that as well. Because you are missing out on the more interesting stuff and just learning the CV-building skills. And so on and so forth.

MK: Just reminding of Paul (audio unclear) analysis of “anything goes”, and the critique of the method, and stuff. He showed that the innovative research is not coming from the old established ones, but from those who haven’t read the “important books” you should have read at that time, or didn’t understand it. And then you innovate the hell out this . . . endeavour we call academia. So that might be the place of being here.

CC: Exactly! Well, we’ve always seen the Religious Studies Project as a way of . . . you know . . . . There are all these existing academic structures there: there’s hierarchies, there’s conferences, there’s journals and everything. (30:00) And we never saw the RSP as a way of supplanting that, but as a way of kind-of democratising things a bit; as a way of humanising scholarship and having conversations, alongside what’s going on, and in an alternative fashion; providing ways of accessing research and ideas that are maybe a little bit more irreverent, a little more accessible. And still acknowledging that the other structures are there. But, you know – do we want to be professionalised? Well, to an extent, yes! We have to be . . .

TW: We want to be employed!

CC: We want to be employed, but equally there’s a lot going on in the existing structures that is there just because of habit and tradition and authority. And these little ways, these little things that we’re doing, will hopefully be ways of challenging that or just forcing it to justify itself. I’m speaking in huge generalities here, but . . . . Things shouldn’t be done the way that they are done, just because . . . . And so, having little things that come in and go: “Mmm?”

MK: Well I don’t think that this is actually speaking in huge generalities. I think this is the concrete reality you could experience in these kind of conferences: these connections and power struggles within academia. You can really experience it here. And so I would agree that there might be a reason why we’re not professionalising in a way that, I don’t know, businesses have to . . . . Or get together just for networking purposes only. Because if we are no longer interested in our research topics, then we are no longer researchers!

CC: Exactly. Tom, you may not want to talk about this, but you’re just about to go to Honk Kong to a quite different conference. And you were describing, I guess maybe, the perceived differences. And that might be a useful thing to bring in . . . ?

TW: Yes. Well I think the first thing to say is that I haven’t been there yet. So these are all kind-of anticipations which could be completely grounded in my misunderstandings. But it’s a big public law conference in Hong Kong. And something like 39 concurrent panels, so I’m not sure how many delegates that adds up to – but pretty huge. But I was at the Law and Society Conference in Otago last year and because you’ve got a lot of lawyers going to these conferences, it’s not just academics. It’s a far more kind-of mixing of people who apply the trade, and people who research. And there was a slickness to them: everyone was smartly dressed; and PowerPoints ran to time; and often they would be synchronised with the rehearsed script. And it is impressive when people provide a far more slick presentation. I’m not sure if the ideas rea any better! [Laughter]. But there was a sense that, you know, corporatisation isn’t all bad. And if it’s a more efficient and more crisp delivery, and if the PowerPoints aren’t failing, and people are IT savvy, and they’ve been told to reduce their paper to three or four points – because that’s what people are able to remember, and you want you papers to be efficacious and to walk away with the key concepts – that aspect of the professionalization, I think, is worthwhile learning from and replicating. Whether the horse will take to water, or whether we’ll continue to try and preserve some of the more romantic off-the-cuff presentations that do take place in more Humanities-based subjects, is something . . . I don’t know how things will turn out. It will be very interesting to see how the Hong Kong conference differs from this one.

CC: I must say that there’s a spectrum of conference presentation, right? You’ve got the sort-of very slick end and then you’ve got this off-the-cuff end. And then, somewhere in the middle, you’ve got the reading of a pre-prepared thing – which I tend to probably do far too often. But the ones that I enjoy are either the ones that are very slick, or the ones that are almost entirely off-the-cuff. You know, they’ve got an idea and they just turn up (35:00). And they’ve got a couple of points and they speak around it. And they don’t really know where it’s going to go before it happens. But it can be great.

SB: You do need a certain amount of confidence in yourself as an academic to be able to do that, I think.

TW: Again I think that comes back to the point of professionalisation. Because it gives you those structures with which to be confident through. I don’t think people just emerge confident individuals. They’re given the training. And that kind of aspect, I think, is perhaps undervalued, or not explored enough, or not given enough assistance to people in their early careers.

MK: Well, I would be interested in what you think about the formats that actually prepare one to go to these conferences: what other teaching that may be required, to be prepared presenting in front of an academic professional crowd. Or is there anything you learn during studies and various programmes and universities? Is there something that is reflected in the courses or the structure of the programmes? And is it also reflected in what is worth doing career-wise. Because I have the impression that, at the end, it counts what you have written. And the papers you published in possibly well-known and established peer-reviewed journals. And the books you published. And among us there are only a few people who already published books. But yes, I think this is what counts. And it does not count to be able to get a straight sentence out in front of a crowd listening to you. And in a way I think, this just is reflected . . .

AP: Somehow it does, because it allows you to network in an academic sense. And that will lead to publications in some cases.

MK: Ok. But this also, just already prepares you for another written publication.

AP: Yes. But I think that with your presentation you will catch the attention on yourself as a researcher and on your research topic. So other people who are interested can contact you even afterwards,

CC: And it’s not necessarily just connected to feeding into publications. I suppose, what are academic outputs? They’re publications, they’re large research projects and everything. But you’ve got no idea . . . . And I’ve seen some presentations here that I’ve immediately thought, “I need to contact that person for this other project, down the line.” Or sometimes it will be someone else tells you about a paper that they heard, that you weren’t at, and that personal recommendation can be enough that you will then look at the conference programme, find out who that person was and then seek them out in some sort of other way.

MK: Well my questions were just related to the idea that we might need a professionalisation of conferences. And this sleek point of presenting, 5 points only . . .

TW: I’m saying it through gritted teeth.

MK: I hope so, yes. Because the reason that we don’t have that kind of well, established, elaborate presentation style is because we’re not teaching at universities, and it doesn’t count that much as writing papers properly. And then to read, to hold a paper, literally, and to read a paper you wrote, that is the thing you do. We have nothing else! I mean, podcast has just started to get a standing in the discipline.

CC: Yes. And the podcasts I recorded yesterday evening, for example, with Carmen Becker, went really well in the sense that she had a narrative worked out for her paper. So she had a twenty-minute narrative, which provided an excellent structure for what ended up being a thirty-five-minute podcast. But we did the same content in a much more – I hope, and Listeners can let me know – conversational and accessible way. We got through it all, but the act of it being a conversation was an alternative presentation format, that will hopefully have complemented the presentation (40:00). But maybe, just to put the spotlight on Angela: you’re relatively new to the conference circuit in a sense, so you might be . . . . What preparation did you get before you stepped up to the podium to deliver your first few papers?

AP: Well, actually, I found it quite easy to present in front of people. Because I’ve been teaching for a few years. And I also do some lecturing. So, yes. And also, well my degrees were in Italy, so at the University of Naples. And there, you have to do a lot of exams – there are presentations but without a PowerPoint. You have to orally answer quite a few questions in a well-structured way. So I think that helped me to organise how I elaborate on my thought and on my research. But yes, maybe the only thing would be to . . . . Yes, I spoke to my supervisor, of course, about what would be the main point that I had to address. So it’s like a sort of introduction.

CC: That is what I was thinking. From my outside observation you seem to have a very supportive supervisor in Suzanne Owen. I know that I’ve had very supportive supervisors and now being mentored by Kim Knott and Steve Sutcliffe, who have sort-of walked me through a lot of these things that might seem quite daunting in an academic career. And I think that, for me, like the first few conferences I went to and everything, having a couple of more established advocates guiding me around, introducing me to people – that really helped.

AP: Sometimes it can also help when you have interests beside academia. For example, in my case, I think that since I’ve been a singer for quite a few years, I think that helped me. Because when I ‘m up there it’s like being on a stage and you have to perform. So I think that doing . . . even other kinds of activities – besides academia – that can help you be more relaxed in front of people, can also help.

TW: Yes, by comparison, my hobby is long distance running. (Laughter). I don’t think that’s comparable to the kind of sociability aspect . . .

AP: I guess the other, for example, might be another . . .

CC: Well the long distance running will help you deal with the long keynote lecture in the warm rooms . . . !

MK: Both are different ways to deal with stage fright. The one can run off easily, the other can perform!

CC: Exactly. But you wanted to say something . . . ?

SB: Yes. Just a couple of things. Because the first EASR was the one in Helsinki two years ago, I think, and I didn’t present at that one. And I purposefully went just so I could go to a European conference, suss out the level of things that were happening there. And yes, I had people like Steve Sutcliffe and the whole . . . I think they were referred to as the Edinburgh Mafia at the time, because there was so many of us! And it was really nice just having those people there to introduce me, and not having the pressure to present, but be able to just suss out the situation. And then also, back in Edinburgh, I think in the first year of my PhD, we did a smaller . . . we called it a Post-Grad Colloquium. And that was one where people from all over the Divinity School would present. I can’t remember whether it was a five or ten-minute paper. But they tried to organise it in a very professional way. And I think the day before there’d been a different conference at New College, and Marian Bowman was in Edinburgh and so she came to the Colloquium. So it was quite nice to have a certain level of professionalism there, only have to present for ten minutes. And it was a really good trial run for future presentations.

MK: But isn’t it strange that we already fulfil all the requirements of a conference and presenting professionally, even if we’re just doing post grad or that kind of meeting and workshops just for us, for our sakes, for our research, just to get into conversation and find other people talking about interesting topics. We could do this in many different ways. We could also just meet for podcasting, for example .Just to bring it up once more! (Laughter). Because I think the format is so different. And this kind of professionalisation . . . of the peer pressure you then feel at these big conferences like EASR, or other conferences. (45:00) It’s strange, I think, that we already assume all that professionalism is, in that way that we experience it later. And there is no change. There is no real . . . I don’t know. There is no real development in presentation style.

CC: Yes. We could probably come up with a lot of optimistic things that . . . and think, “Well, surely we could be doing this networking without endless collaboration, without having to have the big carbon footprint and come to this place and sit through lots of papers?” I don’t know how much we would all . . . actually. The existence of the structure acts as gravitational pull, and people make time for it. But, just another anecdote: I think it’s maybe over 5 years ago now, that Russell McCutcheon added me as a Friend on Facebook. And I remember it happening and being “Wow! He’s added me as a Friend on Facebook!” And I’ve still never met him face to face. And, I don’t know . . . I think he was aware of the Religious Studies Project and was just purposefully setting out to network and create the network

MK: Yes. We think of Russell T. McCutcheon as the kind of RSP Twitter-bot. Because he reads everything you guys Tweet!

CC: Yes. And he engages. But I’ve now collaborated with him on a number of publications; I’ve been to conferences that he has helped organise, even though he didn’t end up going there; we’ll bounce around Facebook messages and Twitter conversations and I’m now part of his Culture On The Edge thing. And all of this has happened without ever needing to go to a conference. And there’s been a lot of productive collaboration there. And I’m not saying that we all need to start Facebook stalking and adding people that we’ve never met before. Because that is just weird, and there are issues with that. (Laughter). But there are other ways perhaps than necessarily coming to a physical space and productive scholarly collaboration can happen. We just maybe need to ignore or think outside the large powerful pull that these things have.

SB: And you do need certain ways of making you and your research visible. Because, obviously, you have the platform that Russell was then able to find you on. So it’s just ways of making that work, as well.

MK: And the reason I brought this up again is because I think that, with podcasting, we have the kind of medium that gets out conversations in a proper way. And make it possible to quote podcasts, as well. And I think that only a few of those established scholars in the discipline already know how many downloads those podcasts get. If they knew, I think they would realise that their papers in their established and beloved journals never ever will find so many readers than those podcasts find downloads.

CC: We have already, in this conversation, had more impact than probably every other scholar . . . !

MK: And more listeners than any dissertation ever written!

SB: Yes. And we briefly touched on it earlier. And you were saying that you go to a conference to present only to then write a paper afterwards. Whereas podcasting occupies that in-between space where you can be quoted on it, you don’t have to produce this written piece afterwards.

CC: Exactly. We’re coming up to 12 O’clock, which is going to be our time for getting out. I’m using my “radio host” thing which Moritz has been railing against the whole time. Moritz, I think, would have us talking for another three hours.

MK: Yes. Definitely. There’s no time limit. There’s always space in the Internet.

CC: There is always space in the Internet. And this is a point to remember. So hopefully, Listeners, you’ve enjoyed this conversation. And it’s, maybe, given you some food for thought about conferencing and maybe alternative ways that you can augment that. And one way would be to participate in the conversation surrounding this podcast. You could record your own podcast and respond in that way; YouTube – there’s all the social media options and website options for writing written responses. Don’t be afraid. Just get out there and say it. A lot of people seem to not really like typing written comments on the website.

MK: But then you should definitely establish a way to get audio comments as well. So it’s very easy to record them with WhatsApp or voice memo apps on smart phones (50:00). So you could send it easily and in a very nice format. And you could include them in the podcasts.

CC: That would be a brilliant idea, Moritz! Thank you for that!

MK: You’re welcome.

CC: So, Listeners, thanks for listening. We should all say that I suppose. So, from all five of us here in Switzerland:

All: Thanks for listening!


Citation Info: Cotter, Christopher, Sammy Bishop, Moritz Klenk, Angela Puca, Tom White. 2018. “What is the Point of Academic Conferences?”, The Religious Studies Project (Podcast Transcript). 24 September 2018. Transcribed by Helen Bradstock. Version 1.1, 19 September 2018. Available at: https://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/podcast/easr-roundtable-2108-what-is-the-point-of-academic-conferences/

If you spot any errors in this transcription, please let us know at editors@religiousstudiesproject.com. If you would be willing to help with transcribing our podcast archive, or know of any sources of funding for the transcription project, please get in touch. Thanks for reading.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- NonCommercial- NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. The views expressed in podcasts are the views of the individual contributors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of THE RELIGIOUS STUDIES PROJECT or the British Association for the Study of Religions.

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Events

Conference: Religious Imaginations and Global Transitions: How narratives of faith are shaping today’s world

June 14, 2017

London, UK

More information

Conference: SocRel: On the Edgte? Centres and Margins in the Sociology of Religion

July 12–14, 2017

University of Leeds, UK

More information

Conference: Holism: Possibilities and Problems

September 8–10, 2017

University of Essex, UK

More information

Symposium: Symposium Classicum Peregrinum

June 18, 2017

Scarbantia, Hungary

More information

Symposium: The Uses of Euhemerism

July 17–18, 2017

Aberdeen, UK

More information

Jobs and funding

Teaching fellow: Anthropology of South Asian Religions

University of Edinburgh, UK

Deadline: June 6, 2017

More information

Four PhD positions

University of Erfurt, Germany

Deadline: June 11, 2017

More information

Lecturer: Classics and Religious Studies

Washington University in St. Louis, USA

Deadline: June 30, 2017

More information

Jameel Scholarship: Islam in Contemporary Britain

Cardiff University, UK

Deadline: June 12, 2017

More information

Associate Lecturer: New Religious Movements, Hinduism

University of Chidester, UK

Deadlines: N/A

More information: NRMs, Hinduism

Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – 27 April 2017

Exciting news!

You may now advertise with the Religious Studies Project!

Platforms include podcasts, web pages, opportunities digest, and social media.

Send an e-mail to editors@religiousstudiesproject.com to learn more!

Of course, you may still send or forward submissions regarding calls for papers, events, jobs, awards, grants, etc. to oppsdigest@religiousstudiesproject.com for free advertisement in this (mostly) weekly digest.

Calls for papers

Conference: The Impact of Religion: Challenges for Society, Law and Democracy

April 24–26, 2018

Uppsala University, Sweden

Deadline: May 31 and October 31, 2017

More information

Conference: History of Religions and Archaeology II: Cult Places

July 11–15, 2017

Rome, Italy

Deadline: May 1, 2017

More information

Conference: International Conference on Religious Studies

August 25–26, 2017

Warsaw, Poland

Deadline: June 10, 2017

More information

Conference: Dynamics of Religious Diversity: The Study of Different Religions and Religious Difference in Postcolonial Configurations

October 19–20, 2017

Utrecht University, The Netherlands,

Deadline: May 19, 2017

More information

Conference: The Evolution of Religion II: How Biology, Psychology and Culture Interact

November 12–15, 2017

Santa Ana Pueblo, USA

Deadline: June 1, 2017

More information

Conference: ISA World Congress of Sociology: Power, Violence and Justice: Reflections, Responses, Responsibilities

July 15–21, 2018

Toronto, Canada

Deadline: September 30, 2017

More information

Events

Conference: Remembering Beliefs: The Shifting Worlds of Religion in Faith in Secular Society

July 14–15, 2017

Leeds Trinity University, UK

More information

Conference: On the Edge? Centres and Margins in the Sociology of Religion

July 12–14, 2017

University of Leeds, UK

More information

Symposium: Researching the Church of England

July 25, 2017: 12 p.m. – 5 p.m.

Aston University, UK

More information

Jobs

Director, School of Religious Studies

McGill University, Canada

Deadline: July 9, 2017

More information

PostDoc: Global Network for Christian Muslims Studies

University of Edinburgh, UK

Deadline: May 11, 2017

More information

Maclaurin Goodfellow Chair in Theological and Religious Studies

University of Auckland, New Zealand

Deadline: May 29, 2017

More information

Assistant Professor of Comparative Religious Studies

Radboud University, The Netherlands

Deadline: May 7, 2017

More information

Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – 14 February 2017

Exciting news!

You may now advertise with the Religious Studies Project!

Platforms include podcasts, web pages, opportunities digest, and social media.

Send an e-mail to editors@religiousstudiesproject.com to learn more!

Calls for papers

Conference: Society for Phenomenology and the Human Sciences

October 19–21, 2017

University of Memphis, USA

Deadline: May 1, 2017

More information

Conference: SSSR: Going Public: The Social Impact of Scientific Research on Religion

October 13–15, 2017

Washington, D.C., USA

Deadline: March 31, 2017

More information

Conference: Social Movements

April 10–12, 2017

Manchester Metropolitan University, UK

Deadline: March 31, 2017

More information

Conference: Heavenly Acts IV

May 8–9, 2017

University of Sheffield, UK

Deadline: March 31, 2017

More information

Conference: Religion(s) and Power(s)

October 5–6, 2017

Deadline: April 1, 2017

More information

Conference: The Life and Legacy of Sun Myung Moon and the Unification Movements in Scholarly Perspective

May 29–30, 2017

Antwerp, Belgium

Deadline: February 28, 2017

More information

Conference: Holism: Possibilities and problems

September 8–10, 2017

University of Essex, UK

New deadline: March 31, 2017

More information

Conference panel: RGS-IBS: Faith and the “practising” of social justice

August 29–September 1, 2017

London, UK

Deadline: February 8, 2017

More information

Journal: International Journal of Human Rights in Healthcare

Special issue: Negotiating Belief in Health and Social Care

Deadline: September 15, 2017

More information

Journal: Palgrave Communications

Special issue: Religion and poverty

Deadline: September 30, 2017

More information

Journal: Journal for Religion and Society in Central and Eastern Europe

Special issue: Religion and Non-religion in Contemporary Societies

Deadline: May 15, 2017

More information

Symposium: Islamic Studies and Middle Eastern Studies Post-graduate Symposium

May 18, 2017

University of Birmingham, UK

Deadline: February 22, 2017

More information

Symposium: The Cognition of Belief

June 2, 2017

Georgetown University, USA

Deadline: February 17, 2017

More information

Events

Seminar: The Reformation and the Arts around the North Sea

March 6, 2017

Bergen, Norway

More information

Summer school: “Critical Approaches to the Study of Religion and Gender: Postcolonial, Post-secular and Queer Perspectives”

May 17–21, 2017

Deadline: March 1, 2017

More information

Workshop: SOCREL: “Let’s get critical”

February 24, 2017

University of Westminster, UK

More information

Jobs and funding

Award: Early Career Awards

University of Kent / John Templeton Foundation

Deadline: June 1, 2017

More information

Professorship: History of Religions with focus on indigenous religions

The Arctic University of Tromsø, Norway

Deadline: March 3, 2017

More information

PhD position: Religion and morality policy: An analysis of the influence of religious groups during the implementation stage

Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Germany

Deadline: March 1, 2017

More information

Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – 10 January 2017

Dear subscriber,

Please note this week’s special opportunity from the RSP itself! Want to become part of our vital team? Scroll all the way down to “Jobs” (but do stop by the other opportunities on the way… :)).

Do you have a call for papers, an event announcement, a job vacancy, grant or award you would like others to distribute?

How about having your notification posted with the Religious Studies Project’s weekly Opportunities Digest? It’s easy, just send them to oppsdigest@religiousstudiesproject.com, which is now back in order!

Don’t worry if you keep sending to oppsdigest@gmail.com; e-mails will be forwarded to the proper address.

Thank you!

You can find previous Opportunities Digests here: https://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/categ…/opportunities/

Calls for papers

Conference: Creatures of the Night: Mythologies of the Otherworld and Its Denizens

June 8–10, 2017

University of Edinburgh, UK

Deadline: March 15, 2017

More information

Conference: The Beasts of the Forest: Denizens of the Dark Woods

July, 2017 (date TBA)

St Mary’s University, UK

Deadline: April 14, 2017

More information

Conference: The Talking Sky: Myths and Meaning in Celestial Spheres

July 1–2, 2017

Bath, UK

Deadline: January 15, 2017

More information

Conference: The Place of Religion in Film

March 30–April 1, 2017

Syracuse University, USA

Deadline (extended): January 15, 2017

More information

Conference: Egyptian and Eastern Cults in the Roman Empire

June 15–18, 2017

Szombathely/Savaria, Hungary

Deadline: March 1, 2017

More information

Conference panel: SISR/ISSR: Global Pentecostal Charismatic Christianities

July 4–7, 2017

Lausanne, Switzerland

Deadline: January 10, 2017

More information

Conference panel: ESA: Sociology of Religion: Religion and (Un)Making Europe: Capitalism, Solidarities, Subjectivities

August 29–September 1, 2017

Deadline: February 1, 2017

More information

Journal: Open Theology

Special issue: Phenomenology of Religious Experience

Deadline: June 1, 2017

More information

Workshop: Ritual ‘Litter’ Redressed

May 5, 2017

University of Hertfordshire, UK

Deadline: January 15, 2017

More information

Open access

Journal: Journal for the Study of Religious Experience

Special issue: Fieldwork in Religion: Bodily Experience and Ethnographic Knowledge

More information

Jobs

Interviewers and audio interns

Religious Studies Project

Deadline: January 23, 2017

More information

Opportunities Digest – 3 January 2017

Dear subscriber,

Do you have a call for papers, an event announcement, a job vacancy, grant or award you would like others to distribute?

How about having your notification posted with the Religious Studies Project’s weekly Opportunities Digest? It’s easy, just send them to oppsdigest@religiousstudiesproject.com, which is now back in order!

Don’t worry if you keep sending to oppsdigest@gmail.com; e-mails will be forwarded to the proper address.

Thank you!

You can find previous Opportunities Digests here: https://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/categ…/opportunities/

Calls for papers

Colloquium: Education: East and West

March 17–18, 2017

Bath Spa University, UK

Deadline: January 20, 2017

More information

Conference: Exploring the spiritual in music: Interdisciplinary dialogues in music, wellbeing and education

December 9–10, 2017

London, UK

Deadline: February 28, 2017

More information

Conference: Holism: Possibilities and problems

September 8–10, 2017

University of Essex, UK

Deadline: February 17, 2017

More information

Conference: European Sociological Association

August 29–September 1, 2017

Athens, Greece

February 1, 2017

More information

Conference: The Religious and Ethnic Future of Europe

June 12–13, 2017

Åbo Akademi University, Finland

Deadline: January 31, 2017

More information

Journal: New Directions in Folklore

Special Issue: The Folk Awakens: Star Wars and Folkloristics in Popular Culture

Deadline: January 31, 2017

More information

Journal: Changing Societies & Personalities

Special issue: Freedom of Conscience in [the] Post-Secular World

Deadline: November 30, 2017

More information

Journal: Journal of Management, Spirituality & Religion

Special issue: The Marketing and Consumption of Spirituality and Religion

Deadline: January 10, 2017

More information

Workshop: Religions Consuming Surveillance

March 22, 2017

Edinburgh, UK

Deadline: January 15, 2017

More information

Events

Conference: Mani in Cambridge

March 25, 2017

Cambridge, UK

More information

Symposium: Places and processes of pilgrimage, past and present

January 11, 2017

Tartu, Estonia

More information

Jobs

Professor: History of Religions with Focus on Indigenous Religions

University of Tromsø, Norway

Deadline: March 3, 2017

More information

Postdoctoral Scholarship: Chinese Buddhism

University of California – Berkeley, USA

Deadline: March 24, 2017

More information

Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – 30 August 2016

Do you have a call for papers, an event announcement, a job vacancy, grant or award you would like others to distribute?

How about having your notification posted with the Religious Studies Project’s weekly Opportunities Digest? It’s easy, just forward them to oppsdigest@gmail.com! Please be aware that the old e-mail address oppsdigest@religiousstudiesproject.com does not currently work.

You can find previous Opportunities Digests here: https://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/categ…/opportunities/

Calls for papers

Special issue: Journal for the Study of Religion

Theme: The Role of Religion in Violence and Peacebuilding

Deadline: November 15, 2016

More information

Reviews and overviews: Material Religion

Theme: Museums, exhibitions

More information

Conference: Mountains and Sacred Landscapes

April 20-23, 2017

New York City, USA

Deadline: September 19, 2016

More information

Conference: Modern Hadith Studies Between Arabophone and Western Scholarship

January 9-10, 2017

Pembroke, Oxford, UK

Deadline: October 15, 2016

More information

Symposium & Ph.D. course, workshop: Death Online: Method and content

March 6-8; 9-10, 2017

Aarhus University, Denmark

Deadline: September 10, 2016

More information

Symposium: Simpósio sobre Religião e Política

October 17-21, 2016

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Deadline: September 20, 2016

More information (Portuguese)

Events

“Om at tage animisme alvorligt – men ikke for alvorligt?”

September 1, 8 PM – 10 PM

Copenhagen, Denmark

More information (Danish)

Jobs

University researchers, Postdoctoral researchers, Doctoral students

University of Helsinki, Finland

Deadline: September 18, 2016

More information

Interdisciplinary Fellowships: Sacred Music, Religion, and the Arts

Yale Institute of Sacred Music, USA

Deadline: November 1, 2016

More information

Assistant Professor, Tenure Track: Religion and Environment

University of California, Santa Barbara, USA

Deadline: October 31, 2016

More information

Assistant Professor: Hinduism

University of California, Davis, USA

Deadline: October 31, 2016

More information

Associate / Full Professor: Latin American/Latino/LatinX Christianity

Emory University, USA

Deadline: August 26, 2016

More information

Assistant / Associate Professor: Buddhist Philosophy

University of New Mexico, USA

Deadline: October 19, 2016

More information

Assistant Professor: South Asian Religions

University of Toronto Mississauga, Canada

Deadline: October 17, 2016

More information

Fellowships: Research Group “Editing Metaphysics”

Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Germany

Deadline: October 15, 2016

More information

Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – 19 July 2016

Calls for papers

Conference: Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism

June 6–7, 2017

Rome, Italy

Deadline: December 30, 2016

More information

Conference: Understanding and explanation in the study of religions

November 7–9, 2016

Jagiellonian University, Poland

Deadline: September 7, 2016

More information

Conference: Meditation in Buddhist-Christian Encounter: A Critical Analysis

June 29–July 3, 2016

Abbey of Montserrat, Spain

Deadline: February 28, 2017

More information

Journal: Antisemitism Studies

Deadline: September 15, 2016

More information

Jobs and funding

PhD grant

University of Antwerp, Belgium

Deadline: August 15, 2016

More information

Lecturer in Sociology

Loughborough University, UK

Deadline: August 11, 2016

More information

Peer Review College member

Arts & Humanities Research Council

Deadline: September 22, 2016

More information

Social Media Assistant

Sociology

Deadline: July 22, 2016

More information

Writing fellowships

Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Germany

Deadline: July 31, 2016

More information

Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – 24 May 2016

Calls for papers

BASR: Religion Beyond the Textbook

September 5–7, 2016

University of Wolverhampton, UK

Deadline: May 31, 2016

More information

First International Congress of the Chilean Society for the Sciences of Religions: Dialogue, Education and Religious Tolerance

May 23–26, 2017

Concepción, Chile

Deadline: August 30, 2016

More information

The Reception of the Church Fathers and Early Church Historians, c.1470-1650

September 23, 2016

Trinity College, Cambridge, UK

Deadline: June 1, 2016

More information

The politics of marginalised groups in the UK and Ireland: Perspectives and approaches

September 21, 2016

University of Manchester, UK

Deadline: June 17, 2016

More information

Evolving through Context: The Transformation of Buddhism(s) and their Legitimation(s)

March 24–25, 2017

Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Germany

Deadline: September 4, 2016

More information

Compassion, Social Engagement, and Discontent: Believing and the Politics of Belonging in Europe Today

November 10–11, 2016

Leiden University Centre for the Study of Religion, The Netherlands

Deadline: June 1, 2016

More inormation

Exodus: Migrants and frontiers

September 21–23, 2016

University of Aveiro, Portugal

Deadline: June 12, 2016

More information

Comparative Study of Religious Seminaries

October 5, 2016

UCL, UK

Deadline: June 30, 2016

More information

The Ethnographic Archive: History, Anthropology and the Sudan Archive Durham

26-28 September 2016

Durham University, UK

Deadline: May 31, 2016

More information

Graduate Conference on Religious Studies: Protest, Public Religion, and Social Change

October 1, 2016

Boston University, USA

Deadline: June 1, 2016.

More information

Middle East – Topics and Arguments

Special issue: Iconography

Deadline: June 30, 2016

More information

Open Journal of Social Sciences

Special issue: Cross-Cultural Studies

Deadline: May 31, 2016

More information

Events

Modern Religious History

June 14–15, 2016

University of Stirling, UK

More information

Public Religions and Their Secrets, Secret Religions and Their Publics

October 27–28, 2016

University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands

NEW DEADLINE: June 1, 2016

More information: Conference, Master Class

Summer school: Doing and Communicating Qualitative Research

July 4–8, 2016

Kingston University London, UK

More information

Religion and Greater Scotland Christianity and Scottish Global Networks, 1603-1950

June 3–4, 2016

Aberdeen, Scotland

More information

Religion, Gender and Sexualities

July 1, 2016

Aston University, UK

More information

The Role of the Church in a Pluralist Society: Good Riddance or Good Influence?

June 22–24, 2016

The Loyola Institute in Trinity College Dublin, Ireland

More information

Translating Buddhism

June 30–July 2, 2016

York St John University, UK

More information

Awards

Sofja Kovalevskaja Award

Humboldt Foundation

Deadline: July 31, 2016

More information

Jobs

PhD position: Indigenous Religion(s): Local Grounds, Global Networks

University of Tromsø, Norway

Deadline: June 1, 2016

More information

University Teacher in Islamic Studies

University of Glasgow, UK

Deadline: May 29, 2016

More information

Tutor: Theology and Religious Studies

University of Glasgow, UK

Deadline: May 29, 2016

More information

University Teacher

University of Glasgow, UK

Deadline: May 29, 2016

More information

Doctoral scholarships

University of Erfurt, Germany

Deadline: May 29, 2016

More information

PhD positions: History of Hermetic Philosophy and Related Currents

University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Deadline: July 15, 2016

More information

PhD positions

Utrecht University, The Netherlands

Deadline: June 15, 2016

More information

PhD positions: Medieval Studies

University of Bergen, Norway

Deadline: August 1, 2016

More information

Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – March 29, 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. Our inbox seems to be a little quiet of late, so don’t forget to send us any opportunities you come across. 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. If you notice anything weird this week, it’s because Chris has compiled this digest while Jane enjoys a well-earned holiday.

Calls for Papers

British Association for the Study of Religions Annual Conference

Theme: ‘Religion Beyond the Textbook’

Keynote Speaker: Prof. Martin Stringer (Swansea University)

University of Wolverhampton, UK, 5-7 September 2016

Deadline: 31 May 2016

More details here (.doc)

Costruzione e Definizione del Concetto di Religione

12-13-14-15-16 Luglio 2016

Velletri (Roma)

Call for Papers (English)

Deadline: 15 April 2016

Celtic migrations and territories: tradition, religion and beliefs

Trilingual international conference

Rennes (France), 20-21 October 2016.

Deadline: 15 April 2016

http://mitecelt.sciencesconf.org/?lang=en

Sermon Studies journal

Sponsored by Marshall University, Sermon Studies is a new online, open access journal that is looking for submissions. The journal can be found at: http://mds.marshall.edu/sermonstudies/

Further details (pdf).

Conferences

ICSA Annual Conference

Theme: Recovery From Cults and High-Control Groups

Dallas, Texas, June 30, 2016—July 2, 2016

http://www.icsahome.com/events/conferenceannual

1st International Congress on Religious-Spiritual Counselling & Care

7-10 April 2016, Grand Cevahir Hotel & Convention Center, Istanbul

http://mdrk.org/en

Jobs

Permanent Research Fellow

Centre for Science, Knowledge and Belief in Society, Newman University.

‘Science and Religion: Exploring the Spectrum’ project.

Project overview: http://sciencereligionspectrum.org

Closing date for applications: 15th April 2016 – 1pm BST

Further particulars can be obtained from the vacancies web page www.newman.ac.uk/jobs  or alternatively e-mail: recruitment@newman.ac.uk or telephone 0121 476 1181 ext. 2398

Director, School of Religious Studies

McGill University,

Deadline: May 2, 2016

http://www.h-net.org/jobs/job_display.php?id=52758

Associate or Full Professor of Religious Studies and Chaplain

Centenary College of Louisiana

Deadline: June 13 2016

http://www.h-net.org/jobs/job_display.php?id=52730

Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – March 15, 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 and applications

Workshop: Translations: indigenous, religion, tradition, culture

University of Tromsø, Norway

August 17–19, 2016

Deadline: June 1, 2016

More information

Travel grants: Religious Pluralisation – A Challenge for Modern Societies

October 4–6, 2016

Hanover, Germany

More information (travel grants, program)

Summer school: Religion and water

June 13–24, 2016

University of Bergen, Norway

Deadline: April 1, 2016

More information

Summer school: Religion, Culture and Society: Entanglement and Confrontation

August 28–September 3, 2016

Antwerpen, Belgium

Deadline: May 15, 2016

More information

Events

Conference: Islam and Peaceful Relations

April 5, 2016

Coventry University, UK

More information

Conference: Radicalisaton and Violent Extremism: Society, Identity and Security

July 22–23, 2016

University of Leeds, UK

April 15, 2016

More information

Conference: Reconsidering Religious Radicalism

May 21, 2016

University of Cambridge, UK

More information

Symposium: Muslims in the UK and Europe

May 13–15, 2016

University of Cambridge, UK

More information

Jobs

Funded postgraduate positions

University of Gothenburg, Sweden

Deadline: March 31, 2016

More information

Full-time PhD studentships

Lancaster University, UK

Deadline: April 4, 2016

More information

Faculty Fellow: Japanese Religions

University of California, Santa Barbara, USA

Deadline: May 15, 2016

More information

Professor: Alevism in Europe

University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Deadline: April 13, 2016

More information

Professor: History of Modern/Contemporary Christianity

University of Groningen, The Netherlands

Deadline: April 14, 2016

More information

Religious Studies as a Discipline

Aaron Hughes (University of Rochester) has been a vocal critic of some of the theories and methods used by religious studies scholars working on Islam. In this podcast, he discusses his critique of the discipline and practice of religious studies he has made through works such as Situating Islam (Equinox, 2008), Theorizing Islam (Equinox, 2012), Abrahamic Religions (Oxford, 2012), The Study of Judaism (SUNY, 2013), and, most recently, Islam and the Tyranny of Authenticity (Equinox, 2015).

This sustained focus on the field of religious studies is not only a concern with identity–the political boundaries of the field as established by its scholars and professional organizations–but also with method. What should be the critical orientation of our field? Which methods are more or less suited for religious studies when it the discipline is viewed as a critical endeavor? When and how should we critique the way our field is responding to the context of the 21st Century? Are area studies especially vulnerable to these criticisms? What happens when identity politics begins to mix with scholarship?

Listeners might also be interested in our previous podcasts on Religion as Sui Generis, The Relationship between Theology and Religious Studies, Teaching and Learning in Contemporary Religious Studies, The Critical Study of Religion, and Biblical Studies and Religious Studies. 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, storage boxes, tiny shoes and more.

SPSP 2016 Report: The state of religion in social and personality psychology

This past January, the Society for Personality and Social Psychology had its biggest turn out to date for its 17th Annual Convention in San Diego, California. Despite religion, as a broad category of research, all to often being missing in action in the psychological sciences, researchers embracing the study of religion were hard to miss throughout SPSP 2016. Conference report for The Religious Studies Project by Adam Baimel, University of British Columbia.

The Religion and Spirituality Preconference meeting kicked off as Aiyana Willard presented her work on the cognitive foundations of belief. Much ink has been spilled as to what sorts of cognitive processes make supernatural beliefs ‘easy to think’ – Willard’s work demonstrates how we can actually test these theoretical and causal models in the minds of real believers (for more on this, see here). What this type of work demonstrates is that what we need, as psychologists, to understand religion in any sort of systematic way, is access to empirical data.

ARDA database hub.

ARDA Research Hub.

Representatives from the Association of Religion Data Archives (the ARDA) drove this very point home by presenting both the existing (and quite impressive) database that they have built and what sorts of features users can expect from the ARDA in the near future.  The ARDA currently offers researchers a large collection of international and national survey data on the broad topic of religion – and they have recently made mining through these surveys by topic and specific questions of interest all that much easier. Joining in on the benefits of open and transparent science – the ARDA has made a call for researchers to publish their data sets of all varieties (experimental, ethnographic, etc.) on the website in the hopes of the ARDA becoming the premier location of all that is empirical data on religion. Best of all, their databases are open-access – so get digging, I know I will be.

The remainder of this year’s Religion and Spirituality Preconference emphasized how (1) the psychological sciences can add to our broader understanding of religion as well as (2) how believers can be an important population of individuals to study in furthering our understanding of more typical social psychological hypotheses. For example, Zhen Cheng and Kimberly Rios presented their work on the how stereotype threat – feeling at risk of confirming a stereotype of one’s social group – might play an important role in keeping religious believers from pursuing interests and performing in scientific domains.  This is important to consider given the demographic majority of liberals, and atheists (or at the very least less-fervently devoted) amongst psychologists. Speaking to the complexity of how ‘religion’ manifests in human psychological processes and behavior, Joni Sasaki presented her lab’s work exploring how interactions between genetic differences in oxytocin receptor genes and social contexts moderate the strength of religious reminders in promoting self-control (full paper here). The theme of this bi-directional interest and value in exploring religion in the psychological sciences persisted throughout the remainder of the conference.

The issue of replicability (and non-replicability) is currently a pressing concern for researchers in psychology, and was a topic of a number of presentations at SPSP 2016 (for more info see here). At the forefront of this ‘crisis’, and of particular interest to those who study religion, is work on priming. Psychological priming, the method of exposing individuals to some stimulus (often done outside of the individual’s awareness) to detect its effects on a later stimulus, is used in all sorts of psychological research. For example, Shariff & Norenzayan (2007), in their now foundational study, had participants complete a sentence unscrambling task that either involved god-related (e.g., blessed, divine), government (e.g., jury, contract), or neutral words. The mere presence of these words serve as a prime, making the concepts of god or government more readily accessible to the minds of their subjects. What they demonstrated is that activating god or government related concepts shifted the norm from being selfish (not giving much at all), to being more fair – as participants, on average, gave up just under half of their allotted windfall of money in a dictator game. These findings have served as the bedrock for continued exploration into the role of religion in sustaining human cooperation.

Despite its varied applications (not just in the study of religion), recent efforts to replicate priming studies have lead psychologists to understand how complicated (finicky) these methods really are. However, as part of a symposium organized to demonstrate important examples of how and when priming is useful – Aiyana Willard presented the results of a meta-analysis (a statistical approach to studying an effect over a number of studies – in this case, 93 studies) that suggests that religious priming is indeed an effective method for studying the effects of activating ‘religion’ on a number psychological processes and behaviors. This effect holds even after statistically correcting for publication bias (the reality that there are many an unpublished study hiding in the physical and virtual file-drawers of researchers around the world).

The psychological sciences face another important problem in understanding religion and more broadly, the psychological foundations of human nature – the over-representation of WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic) populations in our studies. Religion is by no means a monolithic phenomenon, and our understanding of religion should reflect the rampant theodiversity that exists across cultures today, and has existed throughout our collective cultural histories. In one symposium session, researchers representing the Cultural Evolution of Religion Consortium (CERC), with its home at the University of British Columbia, demonstrated how the study of religion is an ideal test case for breaking through this boundary.

Michael Muthukrishna introduced the audience to the Database of Religious History and its goals of becoming a premier source for quantified religious history. This database is being built with the help of religious scholars and historians from around the world whose knowledge of diverse religious beliefs and practices is being mapped and quantified in order for history to move off the page and become subject to statistical inquiry. Edward Slingerland spoke to the value of moving beyond the laboratory and seeking answers to our questions about religion in what he called the untapped population of ‘dead minds’ in the process of quantifying and statistically mining the literary corpus at the core of many religions.

Joe Henrich presenting.

Joe Henrich presenting.

Joseph Henrich and Coren Apicella presented results from a cross-cultural study exploring the relationship between big moralizing gods and prosociality in eight diverse societies around the world. Henrich spoke to the broader goals of such a massive undertaking, in that understanding cultural variation is key to understanding anything about human nature. Apicella presented her work on this project with the Hadza – indigenous hunter-gatherers in Tanzania who serve as an interesting case study for questions regarding religion and morality given that previous ethnographies have indicated that they have no religion at all. In (very) brief, this study supports the hypothesis that belief in omniscient, punishing, moralizing gods extends the bounds of prosociality to distant others – and thus may have played an important role in the expansion of human societies. For the complete report of the work presented at SPSP, check out Benjamin Purzycki et al.’s recently published piece in Nature.

The work highlighted here is just beginning to scratch the surface of what was on offer at SPSP 2016 on the study of religion. However, what is clear across the board is that the general interest in religion as a psychological phenomenon is growing – with the countless poster presentations by the next generation of researchers as evidence. Furthermore, there is a growing consensus in the field that religion is not only an interesting phenomenon to study – but an essential one to explore in furthering our understanding of human psychological processes and behaviors.

Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – 16 February 2016

Calls for papers

Journal: Open Theology

Special issue: Alternative Religiosities in the Soviet Union and the Communist

East-Central Europe: Formations, Resistances and Manifestations

Deadline: June 30, 2016

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Journal: Culture and Society: Journal of Social Research

Special issue: Religion and Belief in the Public Sphere of Eastern Europe

Deadline: February 28, 2016

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Conference: ISASR: Religion and Revolution

June 16–17, 2016

University College Cork, Ireland

Deadline: February 19, 2016

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Conference: Implicit Religion

May 20–22, 2016

Salisbury, UK

Deadline: February 26, 2016

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Conference: Reconsidering Religious Radicalism

May 21, 2016

University of Cambridge, UK

Deadline: March 11, 2016

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Workshop on Gender, Religion and Family Violence

September 13–14, 2016

New Brunswick, Canada

Deadline: April 1, 2016

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

May 20–21, 2016

Kaunas, Lithuania

Deadline: March 21, 2016

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Conference: Border Crossings: Exploring the ‘visible’ and the ‘invisible’ in the humanities

June 3, 2016

University of Stirling, UK

Deadline: March 20, 2016

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Events

Conference: Spalding Symposium on Indian Religions

April 15–17, 2016

Cardiff University, UK

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Conference: Landscape and Myth in North-Western Europe

April 6–8, 2016

Munich, Germany

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Jobs

Three PhD studentships

Lunds universitet, Sweden

Deadline: March 1, 2016

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Tenure-track position in American Church History

Catholic University of America, DC, USA

Deadline: March 7, 2016

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Sabbatical replacement: Buddhist Traditions and Asian Religions

Vanderbilt University, TN, USA

Deadline: April 28, 2016

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PhD studentship

Coventry University, UK

Deadline: March 7, 2016

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Instructor: Sanskrit and Buddhist Studies

Mangalam Research Center for Buddhist Languages

Deadline: May 8, 2016

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Postdoctoral Teaching Fellowship in East Asian Religions

Washington University in St. Louis, USA

Deadline: March 16, 2016

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