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“Communicating Religion”. Annual Conference of the EASR

A conference report by Hans Van Eyghen

Visiting your Alma Mater is always accompanied by mixed emotions. On the one hand you see familiar things you missed but on the other hand you’re confronted with downsides you hoped were a thing of the past. My visit to the KULeuven for the EASR conference had both, although the positives far outweighed the downsides. Read more

Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – 17 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!

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

Thank you!

Oh, by the way: You can find previous Opportunities Digests here: https://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/categ…/opportunities/

Calls for papers

EASR: Open sessions

September 18–21, 2017

Leuven, Belgium

Deadline: January 31, 2017

More information

Jobs

Postdoctoral Fellowship: Islam in North America

Stanford University, USA

Deadline: February 20, 2017

More information

Research Associate / Research Fellow

University of Sheffield

Deadline: February 16, 2017

More information

Senior Research Fellowships: Secularity in Pre-Modern Asian Cultures

Leipzig University, Germany

Deadline: Mystery

More information

Spiritual Performance Training and Education Coordinator

MacDill Air Force Base, USA

Deadline: Another mystery

More information

Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – 15 December 2015

Calls for papers

EASR panel: Religion and youth culture

June 28–July 1, 2015

Helsinki, Finland

Deadline: December 31, 2015

More information

EASR panel: “Boring, detached, heap of facts – and disregarding the really important questions”? – Outsider representations of the academic Study of Religions

January 28–29, 2016

Queen’s University Belfast, UK

Deadline: December 18, 2015

More information

EASR panel: Thinking pluralism

June 28–July 1, 2015

Helsinki, Finland

Deadline: December 31, 2015

More information

EASR panel: Hindu pilgrimage and tourism

June 28–July 1, 2015

Helsinki, Finland

Deadline: December 31, 2015

More information

The Gender of Apocalypse: Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives

January 28–29, 2016

Queen’s University Belfast, UK

Deadline: December 18, 2015

More information

Pew Research Center: Advancing the Demographic Study of Religion

March 30, 2016

Washington, DC, USA

Deadline: February 1, 2016

More information

Events

SOCREL: Religion and the Media

January 20, 2016

London, UK

More information

Jobs and funding

CREST research program

Lancaster University and others, UK

Deadline: February 5, 2015

More information

Visiting Assistant Professor of South Asian Religions

Oberlin College, OH, USA

Deadline: February 1, 2016

More information

PhD fellow: Ancient History of Religion

University of Erfurt, Germany

Deadline: January 15, 2016

More information

PhD Scholarships: Philosophy, Religion and the History of Science

University of Leeds, UK

Deadline: February 5, 2016

More information

Jameel Scholarships

Cardiff University, UK

Deadline: January 29, 2016

More information

Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – 8 December 2015

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

Journal: Open Theology

Special issue: Multiple Religious Belonging

Deadline: April 1, 2016

More information

Conference: FINYAR-konferanse 2016: Mellomvesen og mellom vesen: Kommunikasjon i og om nyreligiøsiteten

April 27–28, 2016

Bergen, Norway

Deadline: December 20, 2015

More information (Norwegian)

Conference: NSRN Conference: The Diversity of Nonreligion

July 7–9, 2016

Universität Zürich, Switzerland

Deadline: January 15, 2016

More information

Conference: SOCREL: Construction and disruption: The power of religion in the public sphere

July 12–14, 2016

Lancaster University, UK

Deadline: December 11, 2015

More information

Conference: BRISMES: Networks: Connecting the Middle East through Time, Space and Cyberspace

July 13–15, 2016

University of Wales, UK

Deadline: February 19, 2016

More information

Conference panel: EASR: Relocating Protestants: Pilgrimage and De-/Re-Reformation

June 28–July 1, 2016

Helsinki, Finland

Deadline: December 31, 2015

More information

Conference panel: EASR: Christianity in diaspora: Ethnographic case studies of religoius practice and identity construction

June 28–July 1, 2016

Helsinki, Finland

Deadline: December 31, 2015

More information

Conference panel: EASR: Contesting and Relocating Authority

Helsinki, Finland

Deadline: December 31, 2015

More information

Events

Animals in Mesopotamia

December 14–15, 2015

Helsinki, Finland

More information

Jobs

Assistant Professor: Islamic Studies

Virginia Commonwealth University, USA

Deadline: January 15, 2016

More information

Assistant Professor, Associate Professor: Roman History and Culture

University of British Columbia, Canada

Deadline: January 16, 2016

More information

Postdoc Position

Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Germany

Deadline: February 14, 2016

More information

Assistant Professor, Associate Professor: Japanese Religions

McGill University, Canada

Deadline: August 1, 2016

More information

PhD Studentship: Integrated Peace Building, Living Side by Side and Trust Matters

Coventry University, UK

Deadline: February 19, 2016

More information

Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – 13 October 2015

Dear subscriber,

We are pleased to bring you this week’s opportunities digest, booming with calls for papers, events and job opportunities!

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

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

We thank you for your contribution.

Now, sink your teeth into this:

Calls for papers

Conference: Religious Materiality and Emotion

February 17–18, 2016

Adelaide City, Australia

Deadline: October 31, 2015

More information

Conference: Hermeneutics, symbol and myth and the Modernity of Antiquity in Italian Literature and the Arts

December 1–2, 2015

Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Milano, Italy

Deadline: November 10, 2015

More information

Conference: Shia Minorities in the Contemporary World

May 20–21, 2016

University of Chester, UK

Deadline: December 15, 2015

More information

Conference: Religion and Non-Religion in Contemporary Societies

April 21–24, 2016

Zadar, Croatia

Deadline: November 15, 2015

More information

Conference: Esotericism, Literature and Culture in Central and Eastern Europe

May 27–28, 2016

Belgrade, Serbia

Deadline: December 1, 2015

More information

Conference: Religion and Revolution

June 16–17, 2016

University College Cork, Ireland

Deadline: January 21, 2016

More information

Conference: Dialogue among religions as strategy and means for peace

July 12–15, 2016

Havana, Cuba

Deadline: November 20, 2015

More information

Conference: Anticipating the End Times: Millennialism, Apocalypticism, and Utopianism in Intentional Communities

October 6–8, 2016

Salt Lake City, UT, USA

Deadline: May 15, 2016

More information

Conference: Knowing Demons, Knowing Spirits

July 5–7, 2016

University of Oxford, UK

Deadline: November 10, 2015

More information

Colloquium: Translating Christianities

December 7, 2015

University of Stirling, UK

Deadline: October 30, 2015

More information

Symposium: The End of the World: A Universal Imagination

June 8–10, 2016

Nantes, France

Deadline: December 15, 2015

More information

Symposium: 41st Spalding Symposium on Indian Religions

April 15–17, 2015

Cardiff University, UK

Deadline: December 7, 2014

More information

Symposium: Oxford Symposium on Religious Studies

December 7–9, 2015

University of Oxford, UK

Deadline: November 6, 2015

More information

EASR panel: Nonreligion and Atheism in Central and Eastern Europe

June 28–July 1, 2015

Helsinki, Finland

More information

Journal: Preternature

Special issue: Delineating the Preternatural: Modern Occultism in a Scientific Context

Deadline: December 15, 2015

More information

Journal: Open Theology

Special issue: Religion and Racism: Intercultural Perspectives

Deadline: January 31, 2016

More information

Events

Conference: Religion, Addiction and Recovery

November 2, 2015

University of Chester, UK

More information

Seminar: Islamic Studies in Scotland: Retrospect and Prospect

October 23–24, 2015

University of Edinburgh, UK

More information

Jobs

4 PhD positions: “Communication and Exploitation of Knowledge in the Middle Ages”

University of Groningen, The Netherlands

Deadline: October 15, 2015

More information

Assistant Professor of Religion: Buddhist Studies

Bard College, NY, USA

Deadline: November 1, 2015

More information

Senior Research Associate: CREST

Lancaster University, UK

Deadline: October 23, 2015

More information

Doctoral positions: Muslim Cultures and Societies

Freie Universität Berlin, Germany

Deadline: November 15, 2015

More information

Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – 1 September 2015

Dear subscriber,

 

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

We would like to thank everyone who has forwarded notifications using the submission form, by forwarding e-mails to oppsdigest@religiousstudiesproject.com, or by contacting one of our editors or assistant editors.

Please continue to contribute in the future!

Now for this week’s digest:

Calls for papers

Conference: EASR: Relocating Religion

June 28–July 1, 2016

Helsinki, Finland

Deadline: October 30, 2015

More information

Symposium: Religions: Fields of research, methods and perspectives

November 16–18, 2015

Jagiellonian University, Kraków, Poland

Deadline: September 15, 2015

More information

Annual meeting: Association for the Sociology of Religion: Exploring Diversity: Varieties of Religion and Nonreligion

August 20–21, 2016

Seattle, WA, USA

Deadlines: March 31, 2016 (sessions); April 30, 2016 (papers)

More information

Annual meeting: Eastern International Region of the American Academy of Religion: Globalizing the Human(ities)

May 6–7, 2016

University of Pittsburgh

Deadline: February 15, 2016

More information

Conference: The Supernatural

March 11–13, 2016

Deadline: October 16, 2015

More information

Journal: SHARE E-Journal

Special issue: Connections

Deadline: November 1, 2015

More information

Events

Conference: Tyndale Society’s 20th anniversary

October 1–4, 2015

Hertford College, Oxford, UK

More information (details, booking form)

Conference: Religious Freedom Summit

September 18, 2015

The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC, USA

More information

Jobs and fellowships

Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship in Digital Humanities

University of Pennsylvania, PA, USA

Deadline: October 30, 2015

More information

Kingdon Fellowships

University of Wisconsin-Madison, WI, USA

Deadline: November 1, 2015

More information

Solmsen Fellowships

University of Wisconsin-Madison, WI, USA

Deadline: November 1, 2015

More information

Visual Culture and the Study of Religion

Birgit Meyer is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Utrecht, The Netherlands. A distinguished and prolific scholar who trained as a cultural anthropologist and who worked on lived religion in Ghana for more than 20 years, Meyer is vice-chair of the International African Institute, a member of the Royal Dutch Academy of Arts and Sciences, and one of the editors ofMaterial Religion. She has been a leading voice for some time in such topics and fields as diverse as the colonial missions and local appropriations of Christianity, the rise of Pentecostalism in the context of neoliberal capitalism, popular culture and video-films in Ghana, the relations between religion, media and identity, the study of lived and material religion, and the place and role of religion in the 21st century more broadly. She is the author of Translating the Devil: Religion and Modernity Among the Ewe in Ghana, editor of Aesthetic Formations: Media, Religion and the Senses, and co-editor of Globalization and Identity: Dialectics of Flow and ClosureMagic and Modernity: Interfaces of Revelation and ConcealmentReligion, Media and the Public Sphere, and Things: Religion and the Question of Materiality.

Along with Bruno Latour, Carlo Ginzburg, and Jörg Rüpke, Professor Meyer was a keynote speaker at the European Association for the Study of Religions (EASR) and Dutch Association for the Study of Religion (NGG) Joint Conference held at the University of Groningen, The Netherlands, 11-15 May 2014. Meyer’s keynote address, ‘Visual Culture and the Study of Religion,’ sought to make an intervention into the study of religion and material and visual culture through an understanding of religion as a practice of mediation, one in and through which some kind of spiritual or divine presence, however conceptualised, is effected, actualised, or materialised. Meyer argued that such an understanding of religion as mediation allows us to draw attention to the fascinating issue of religious images and sensory regimes, thinking through the implications of placing such visual culture and a consideration of material, multi-sensuous embodiment at the core of scholarly inquiry for the production of knowledge about religion.

After the keynote, George Ioannides had the opportunity to meet with Professor Meyer to discuss her work, her career, her views on the importance of studying religion and/as material and visual culture, and her advice for students who similarly wish to research topics at the intersection of cultural anthropology and the study of religion.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us. And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.ca, or Amazon.com links to support us at no additional cost when you have a purchase to make.

From 30 June, the RSP will be on “summer vacation”. This means no regular podcasts and posts until mid-September. However, we will endeavour to bring you some material, including weekly opportunities digests, and you can follow our regular updates on our social media pages. Thanks for listening!

“Religion and Pluralities of Knowledge”: A Roundtable Discussion

It’s time for another RSP roundtable, folks. Thanks very much to Liam for facilitating this, and to Angus, Essi, George and Hanna for joining him for a stimulating discussion. For now, we’ll pass over to Liam to set the scene…

Angus and Liam looking pleased with themselves.

Angus and Liam looking pleased with themselves.

“This year scholars from across the globe gathered in the city of Groningen in the north-west of the Netherlands for the annual conference of the European Association for the Study of Religion (EASR), acolytes of the Religious Studies Project among their number. We were hosted by a University on the brink of celebrating its 4ooth year and which looked forward to infinity and beyond! To a city whose name, the President of the University no less assured us is pronounced with a guttural g-, a rolled –r and a silent –g to finish! Not too difficult for a Scotsman but there was plenty of beer, wine and gin to aid in this process

The conference theme this year was ‘religion and the plurality of knowledge’, a topic which I initially considered dubious but which proved to be deeply pertinent. It became clear to me at least, during the many presentations and discussions taking place, that there was a division between those who regarded the kind of knowledge which should be accepted within the field to be singular – rooted in science and empiricism and those who thought the field should be open to a range of types of knowledge.

To address this issue there was only solution for the RSP: hold a roundtable of course! So, in a small room a group of bright young things gathered around ‘Steve’ the dictaphone to have a discussion. Also I was there! They even let me chair it and put up with my no doubt flawed attempt to kick off proceedings in Dutch! So apologies to the people of the Netherlands and His Majesty King Willem-Alexander for that, but it was done with the best of intentions!

What's Essi plotting?

What’s Essi plotting?

It became pretty clear that our cosy little group was not immune to the great gulf widening throughout the conference. Boorishly, from my privileged position of power I set out my case for exclusivity which clearly did not impress Angus and George but luckily Hanna and Essi appeared to be on my side….

What ensued was a debate as heated as it was enjoyed by all (I hope) and which continued long into the evening, kept afloat by a sea of libations! We hope you enjoy the discussion as much as we did and that it will add to the debate on these vital questions.”

You can also download this discussion, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us. And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.ca, or Amazon.com links to support us at no additional cost when you have a purchase to make.

George didn't realise what he had gotten himself into...

George didn’t realise what he had gotten himself into…

Global Categories; Local Contexts

Carlo Ginzburg is professor emeritus in History of European Cultures in Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa, Italy. A distinguished historian with a remarkable career, Ginzburg is known for his microhistorical research approach. His most well-known book The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth Century Miller follows clues from seemingly small and inconsequential cases and details, in order to illuminate the bigger picture, the richness and complexity of historical phenomena. Other publications include Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches SabbathClues, Myths and the Historical Method, and The Judge and the Historian: Marginal Notes on a late-twentieth century miscarriage of justice.

The Religious Studies Project had the opportunity to interview Ginzburg at the annual conference of the European Association for the Study of Religions in Groningen, the Netherlands. Ginzburg was one of the keynote speakers of the conference, and his lecture “Traveling in Spirit: From Friuli to Siberia” dealt with interpretative categories and their “wandering beyond the original context.” As a case study, Ginzburg reflected on his own research and the realization that his own work on the Friulianbenandanti was profoundly affected by the work of S.M. Shirokogoroff.

After the keynote, Hanna had a chance to meet professor Ginzburg and hear about his career, his work and his advice for students who wish to pursue the microhistorical research.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us. And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.ca, or Amazon.com links to support us at no additional cost when you have a purchase to make.

Religious Education

For those of us in Britain the question of Religious Education has become an ever-increasing issue of concern. Just last October Ofsted, the regulatory board for all education at school level, reported that over half the schools in Britain were failing to provide students with adequate RE. In the wake of this calls were made for clearer standardisation of the subject and a “national benchmark”. The deterioration of RE is perhaps not all that surprising after it was excluded from the English Baccalaureate in 2011. But the call for improvement raises with it a number of questions. First and foremost, just what exactly should RE entail? Should RE be teaching about religion or teaching religion? Who, even, should be RE teachers? PGCE (teacher training) courses in RE accept candidates with degrees in Religious Studies, Theology, Philosophy or indeed any other topic so long as they can, in the words of one program, show “demonstrable knowledge of the study of religion”. But does a theologian or a philosopher have the same skill sets as an RS scholar? To be sure, they may know the facts of a particular religion but are the facts enough for a satisfactory education? Just what is exactly is it we are teaching students to do in RE classrooms?

In this interview, Jonathan Tuckett speaks with Tim Jensen to try to answer some of these questions and more. Not only has Jensen spoken widely on the topic of RE he has recently headed the EASR working group in Religious Education which has studied the status of RE in Denmark, Sweden and Norway highlighting that the question of RE is of particular concern to any secular state.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us. And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.ca, or Amazon.com links to support us at no additional cost when you have a purchase to make.

Ends and Beginnings: A Reflection on the 2012 EASR Conference

Ends and Beginnings: A Reflection on the 2012 EASR Conference

By Venetia Robertson, University of Sydney

A Religious Studies Project Conference Report, published on 27 September 2012. European Association for the Study of Religions – 23-26 August 2012 – Stockholm, Sweden

Some months ago, I was encouraged by my supervisor, Jay Johnston, to submit abstracts to the 2012 EASR and the 1st International Conference on Contemporary Esotericism. Much to my delight, I ended up attending and presenting at both of these amazing events in August. I would like to share with you some of my experiences from this intense, week-long symposium.

EASR 2012 – Ends and Beginnings

Venetia was really proud of that name-tag

To open the 2012 conference for the European Association for the Study of Religions (in conjunction with the International Association for the History of Religion) at Södetörn University, Stockholm, Ingvild Sælid Gilhus tackled the theme of ‘Ends and Beginnings’ by talking about the ‘founding fathers’ of our discipline. As we mulled over Müller and theorised Freud (what were their motivations? Where did they locate the origins of religion?) the inevitable question that kept repeating in my mind was, ‘where are the founding mothers?’ Mary Douglas, Gilhus added, could be considered a founding mother for sure, but this concession does little to address the white male dominance of the humanities in general. But as I looked around the packed auditorium at the sea of heads belonging to people of all genders, all ages, all stages of their careers, I felt some comfort. In my (albeit limited) experience of international conferences, I have been frequently mislabeled as someone’s wife or daughter, rather than a scholar in my own right, or, for that matter, a presenter intending to deliver a paper. In Stockholm for a solid week of conferencing, I made it my aim never to be mislabeled, and in this atmosphere of diversity coupled with solidarity, I don’t think at any point I was.

If I had to choose I would say my favourite thing about these conferences was seeing young and vibrant postgraduate students presenting their craft. I was continuously impressed and excited by the high quality scholarship, ideas, and conversations presented and stimulated by my peers. This year’s EASR delivered an incredibly extensive program. Four days with as many as twelve parallel sessions per session, this conference featured hundreds of speakers. Topics ranged from the Arab Spring to apocalypticism, ecology to esotericism, Pureland to popular culture, and almost everything in between. Of course this leads to the problems that plague all good conferences – one cannot get to see everything they would like to, if speakers drop out and the order is changed scheduling can be even more complicated, etc. Some rooms saw overwhelming popularity – not an inch of space could be spared for latecomers hoping to see Jörg Rüpke talk about death in lived religion! Luckily for me, my session saw no lack of seats. I was speaking in the aula, the massive main hall set aside for keynotes and network sessions.

Venetia delivering her presentation

I spoke, alongside Manon Hedenborg White (Stockholm University) and Sara Duppils (Åbo Akademi) as part of the Graham Harvey and Donald Wiebe), but I was pleased to see about thirty attendees making that vast space seem a little less empty. Actually, the session was very enjoyable as we three (all still students) presented on vastly different topics – Manon on gender in Wicca, Sara on ‘neo-spiritism’ and paranormal beliefs online, and I on Therianthropy and animal-human identity. The response from the audience was brilliant, with intelligent and genuinely engaged questions, suggestions, and comments. This level of interest was followed up with the exchanging of emails, soliciting of articles, and promises to publish forthwith! Nothing is so inspiring as getting the opportunity to pull your head of the proverbial arse of thesis-land to experience an international community of your colleagues understanding and encouraging your seemingly obscure area of interest.

It was disappointing to miss hearing from speakers who pulled out (Henrik Bogdan, Oliver Krüger) and even more frustrating to fail to catch the brief window given to others. Nonetheless, I saw some provocative and valuable papers. For the sake of convenience, I restricted myself to sessions that directly related to my research interests. This is always a gamble, and can be a little monotonous, but there were certainly some highlights. It was really enjoyable to see Doug Ezzy of the University of Tasmania present on a katabatic ritual performed by Australian neo-Pagans. His personable yet informative delivery, supported by his own photographs of the event, made this talk particularly appealing. Jonas Otterbeck of Lund University gave a very interesting paper on masculinity in the genre of ‘Halal pop.’ Franz Höllinger of the University of Graz presented some intriguing statistics on the political and social attitudes of New Agers in Austria, and Peter Åkerbäck of Stockholm University provided insights into the changing reactions toward ‘cults’ in Sweden by government bodies and ‘cult awareness’ groups. On the second day, the impeccably dressed Kocku von Stuckrad of the University of Gronigen delivered an astute key note that highlighted the imbrication of science and religion, and specifically, the ‘scientification’ of religion, and the ‘religionism’ of science. The overlapping of these two magisteria (to misquote Steven Jay Gould) is a topic eye-opening in its relevance and insidiousness in our field of work.

The impeccably dressed Kocku von Stuckrad

Student speakers also proffered papers that spoke to their burgeoning expertise and laudable research efforts. Sara Duppils and Minja Blom (University of Helsinki) both presented findings from their online research of discussion forums (a still woefully under utilized source pool), Manon Hedenborg White discussed information gathered from her own fieldwork and interviews with British Wiccans, Christian Greer (University of Amsterdam) exhibited his collection of rare and arcane Discordian primary materials, and Kristian Pettersson (Uppsala University) in his talk on entheogens and the spiritual experience, submitted his theory of ‘altered states of perception’ to challenge the more commonly and perhaps mistakenly used phrase ‘altered states of consciousness.’ On the New Religious Movements front, Rasa Pranskeviciute (Vytautas Magnus University) introduced me to two environmentally-minded NRMs that have emerged in the post-Soviet world, the Anastasians and the Vissarionites, while the Raëlians got a reappraisal from Erik Östling (Stockholm University) as a group that relies not only on the Bible, but several works of science fiction in constructing their UFOlogical theology. Many of the papers I saw dealt with the meeting of spirituality and popular culture, and one theme that I felt was overlooked was the paradigm shift involved in making fictional texts sacred texts – a more nuanced understanding of changing attitudes towards the boundaries of fantasy and reality was needed.

Round table on Wouter Hanegraaff’s new “Esotericism in the Academy” with O. Hammer, M. Pasi, M. Stausberg

While some student papers were less polished or analytically sophisticated than those of more established scholars, I think it is commendable that conferences like the EASR extend the opportunity for such a number of postgrads (and even the occasional undergrad) to contribute their scholarship to the broader academic community. The fact that so many of the sessions I chose to attend consisted, unbeknownst to me initially, of mostly student presenters strongly suggests that it is a younger generation of scholars that are investigating the ‘alternative’ and ‘fringe’ currents of spirituality which are, ironically, becoming more and more visible, mainstreamed, and imperative to the study of modern religion. In short, these students have their finger on the pulse, and it is events like international conferences that allow the rest of the academic world to learn from these fresh and innovative perspectives.

Of course conferences offer the opportunity for social as well as professional networking (facilitated somewhat by free, room-temperature glasses of box wine). Personal highlights here include discovering that Wouter Hanegraaff’s spirit animal is the Owl, being asked to contribute a paper to Pomegranate, and being invited to speak at the 2013 ISSR Conference in Turku. Ending up at Medusa Bar for a pint and a bit of a headbang with some of the pretty young things wasn’t a bad end to an evening either. But, after four intense days of stimulating conversation, there was little time to rest before it all had to pick up again at the Contemporary Esotericism conference at Stockholm University!

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

About the Author:

Venetia Robertson is a PhD candidate, tutor, and research assistant at the University of Sydney in the department of Studies in Religion. Her thesis explores themes of animal-human identity, shape-shifting, popular oc/culture, and myth-making. Forthcoming publications include an article that delves into her thesis topic by discussing the online Therianthropy community and non-human ontology, and an article that offers an explication of masculinity, fandom, and the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic cartoon series. She is currently co-editing an issue of the Journal for the Academic Study of Religion, and will be contributing a paper that looks at the intersections of posthumanism, animality, and eschatology.

 

The Relationship between Theology and Religious Studies

Our interview this week features Chris speaking to Professor Donald Wiebe from the Faculty of Divinity at Trinity College in the University of Toronto on the relationship between Theology and Religious Studies.

Out of necessity this interview was not recorded on our normal equipment, and we apologise for the poorer quality of the sound this week. You can also listen to this podcast on iTunes, and subscribe to receive our weekly interviews.

The relationship between Theology and Religious Studies  is not a simple one. David Ford writes that at its broadest, theology is thinking about questions raised by and about religions (2000:3). These questions are largely directed towards notions of transcendence (typically gods), incorporate doctrinal issues and are “essentially a second-order activity arising from ‘faith’ and interpreting faith” (Whaling, 1999:228-229). Essentially, theology is thinking about religion from within religion – although when most people refer to “Theology”, what they mean is “Christian Theology”.

It is generally accepted – at least as far as most academics are concerned – that there is a distinct difference between religious studies and theology. This is succinctly summarised by Ninian Smart’s statement that “historical and structural enquiries, such as sociology, phenomenology, etc., […] are the proper province of [the study of] Religion, and the use of such materials for Expressive ends […is] the doing of Theology” (in Wiebe, 1999:55).

As you shall see from this interview, however, things are much more complicated, and Professor Wiebe is particularly qualified to present his own take on the relationship between these two distinct disciplines. His primary areas of research interest are philosophy of the social sciences, epistemology, philosophy of religion, the history of the academic and scientific study of religion, and method and theory in the study of religion. He is the author of a number of books, including Religion and Truth: Towards and Alternative Paradigm for the Study of Religion (1981), The Irony of Theology and the Nature of Religious Thought (1991), and, of particular relevance to this interview, The Politics of Religious Studies: The Continuing Conflict with Theology in the Academy (1999). In 1985 Professor Wiebe, with Luther H. Martin and E. Thomas Lawson, founded the North American Association for the Study of Religion, which became affiliated to the IAHR in 1990; he twice served as President of that Association (1986-87, 1991-92).

This interview was recorded at the European Association for the Study of Religions‘ Annual Conference in Budapest in September 2011, where Professor Wiebe also presented a particularly relevant paper with his colleague Luther H. Martin, entitled “Religious Studies as a Scientific Discipline: The Persistence of a Delusion”. Out of necessity it was not recorded on our normal equipment, and we apologise for the poorer quality of the sound this week.

Jonathan Z Smith: “[R]eligion is an inextricably human phenomenon. […] Religious studies are [therefore] most appropriately described in relation to the Humanities and the Human Sciences, in relation to Anthropology rather than Theology. What we study when we study religion is one mode of constructing worlds of meaning, worlds within which men find themselves and in which they choose to dwell.” (1978, Map is Not Territory, 290)

References:

Ford, David F., 2000 [1999]. Theology: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Whaling, Frank, 1999. “Theological Approaches” in Peter Connoly (ed.), Approaches to the Study of Religion. London: Cassell, pp. 226-274.

Wiebe, Donald, 1999. The Politics of Religious Studies: The Continuing Conflict with Theology in the Academy. New York: St Martin’s Press.

Podcasts

“Communicating Religion”. Annual Conference of the EASR

A conference report by Hans Van Eyghen

Visiting your Alma Mater is always accompanied by mixed emotions. On the one hand you see familiar things you missed but on the other hand you’re confronted with downsides you hoped were a thing of the past. My visit to the KULeuven for the EASR conference had both, although the positives far outweighed the downsides. Read more

Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – 17 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!

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

Thank you!

Oh, by the way: You can find previous Opportunities Digests here: https://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/categ…/opportunities/

Calls for papers

EASR: Open sessions

September 18–21, 2017

Leuven, Belgium

Deadline: January 31, 2017

More information

Jobs

Postdoctoral Fellowship: Islam in North America

Stanford University, USA

Deadline: February 20, 2017

More information

Research Associate / Research Fellow

University of Sheffield

Deadline: February 16, 2017

More information

Senior Research Fellowships: Secularity in Pre-Modern Asian Cultures

Leipzig University, Germany

Deadline: Mystery

More information

Spiritual Performance Training and Education Coordinator

MacDill Air Force Base, USA

Deadline: Another mystery

More information

Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – 15 December 2015

Calls for papers

EASR panel: Religion and youth culture

June 28–July 1, 2015

Helsinki, Finland

Deadline: December 31, 2015

More information

EASR panel: “Boring, detached, heap of facts – and disregarding the really important questions”? – Outsider representations of the academic Study of Religions

January 28–29, 2016

Queen’s University Belfast, UK

Deadline: December 18, 2015

More information

EASR panel: Thinking pluralism

June 28–July 1, 2015

Helsinki, Finland

Deadline: December 31, 2015

More information

EASR panel: Hindu pilgrimage and tourism

June 28–July 1, 2015

Helsinki, Finland

Deadline: December 31, 2015

More information

The Gender of Apocalypse: Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives

January 28–29, 2016

Queen’s University Belfast, UK

Deadline: December 18, 2015

More information

Pew Research Center: Advancing the Demographic Study of Religion

March 30, 2016

Washington, DC, USA

Deadline: February 1, 2016

More information

Events

SOCREL: Religion and the Media

January 20, 2016

London, UK

More information

Jobs and funding

CREST research program

Lancaster University and others, UK

Deadline: February 5, 2015

More information

Visiting Assistant Professor of South Asian Religions

Oberlin College, OH, USA

Deadline: February 1, 2016

More information

PhD fellow: Ancient History of Religion

University of Erfurt, Germany

Deadline: January 15, 2016

More information

PhD Scholarships: Philosophy, Religion and the History of Science

University of Leeds, UK

Deadline: February 5, 2016

More information

Jameel Scholarships

Cardiff University, UK

Deadline: January 29, 2016

More information

Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – 8 December 2015

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

Journal: Open Theology

Special issue: Multiple Religious Belonging

Deadline: April 1, 2016

More information

Conference: FINYAR-konferanse 2016: Mellomvesen og mellom vesen: Kommunikasjon i og om nyreligiøsiteten

April 27–28, 2016

Bergen, Norway

Deadline: December 20, 2015

More information (Norwegian)

Conference: NSRN Conference: The Diversity of Nonreligion

July 7–9, 2016

Universität Zürich, Switzerland

Deadline: January 15, 2016

More information

Conference: SOCREL: Construction and disruption: The power of religion in the public sphere

July 12–14, 2016

Lancaster University, UK

Deadline: December 11, 2015

More information

Conference: BRISMES: Networks: Connecting the Middle East through Time, Space and Cyberspace

July 13–15, 2016

University of Wales, UK

Deadline: February 19, 2016

More information

Conference panel: EASR: Relocating Protestants: Pilgrimage and De-/Re-Reformation

June 28–July 1, 2016

Helsinki, Finland

Deadline: December 31, 2015

More information

Conference panel: EASR: Christianity in diaspora: Ethnographic case studies of religoius practice and identity construction

June 28–July 1, 2016

Helsinki, Finland

Deadline: December 31, 2015

More information

Conference panel: EASR: Contesting and Relocating Authority

Helsinki, Finland

Deadline: December 31, 2015

More information

Events

Animals in Mesopotamia

December 14–15, 2015

Helsinki, Finland

More information

Jobs

Assistant Professor: Islamic Studies

Virginia Commonwealth University, USA

Deadline: January 15, 2016

More information

Assistant Professor, Associate Professor: Roman History and Culture

University of British Columbia, Canada

Deadline: January 16, 2016

More information

Postdoc Position

Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Germany

Deadline: February 14, 2016

More information

Assistant Professor, Associate Professor: Japanese Religions

McGill University, Canada

Deadline: August 1, 2016

More information

PhD Studentship: Integrated Peace Building, Living Side by Side and Trust Matters

Coventry University, UK

Deadline: February 19, 2016

More information

Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – 13 October 2015

Dear subscriber,

We are pleased to bring you this week’s opportunities digest, booming with calls for papers, events and job opportunities!

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

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

We thank you for your contribution.

Now, sink your teeth into this:

Calls for papers

Conference: Religious Materiality and Emotion

February 17–18, 2016

Adelaide City, Australia

Deadline: October 31, 2015

More information

Conference: Hermeneutics, symbol and myth and the Modernity of Antiquity in Italian Literature and the Arts

December 1–2, 2015

Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Milano, Italy

Deadline: November 10, 2015

More information

Conference: Shia Minorities in the Contemporary World

May 20–21, 2016

University of Chester, UK

Deadline: December 15, 2015

More information

Conference: Religion and Non-Religion in Contemporary Societies

April 21–24, 2016

Zadar, Croatia

Deadline: November 15, 2015

More information

Conference: Esotericism, Literature and Culture in Central and Eastern Europe

May 27–28, 2016

Belgrade, Serbia

Deadline: December 1, 2015

More information

Conference: Religion and Revolution

June 16–17, 2016

University College Cork, Ireland

Deadline: January 21, 2016

More information

Conference: Dialogue among religions as strategy and means for peace

July 12–15, 2016

Havana, Cuba

Deadline: November 20, 2015

More information

Conference: Anticipating the End Times: Millennialism, Apocalypticism, and Utopianism in Intentional Communities

October 6–8, 2016

Salt Lake City, UT, USA

Deadline: May 15, 2016

More information

Conference: Knowing Demons, Knowing Spirits

July 5–7, 2016

University of Oxford, UK

Deadline: November 10, 2015

More information

Colloquium: Translating Christianities

December 7, 2015

University of Stirling, UK

Deadline: October 30, 2015

More information

Symposium: The End of the World: A Universal Imagination

June 8–10, 2016

Nantes, France

Deadline: December 15, 2015

More information

Symposium: 41st Spalding Symposium on Indian Religions

April 15–17, 2015

Cardiff University, UK

Deadline: December 7, 2014

More information

Symposium: Oxford Symposium on Religious Studies

December 7–9, 2015

University of Oxford, UK

Deadline: November 6, 2015

More information

EASR panel: Nonreligion and Atheism in Central and Eastern Europe

June 28–July 1, 2015

Helsinki, Finland

More information

Journal: Preternature

Special issue: Delineating the Preternatural: Modern Occultism in a Scientific Context

Deadline: December 15, 2015

More information

Journal: Open Theology

Special issue: Religion and Racism: Intercultural Perspectives

Deadline: January 31, 2016

More information

Events

Conference: Religion, Addiction and Recovery

November 2, 2015

University of Chester, UK

More information

Seminar: Islamic Studies in Scotland: Retrospect and Prospect

October 23–24, 2015

University of Edinburgh, UK

More information

Jobs

4 PhD positions: “Communication and Exploitation of Knowledge in the Middle Ages”

University of Groningen, The Netherlands

Deadline: October 15, 2015

More information

Assistant Professor of Religion: Buddhist Studies

Bard College, NY, USA

Deadline: November 1, 2015

More information

Senior Research Associate: CREST

Lancaster University, UK

Deadline: October 23, 2015

More information

Doctoral positions: Muslim Cultures and Societies

Freie Universität Berlin, Germany

Deadline: November 15, 2015

More information

Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – 1 September 2015

Dear subscriber,

 

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

We would like to thank everyone who has forwarded notifications using the submission form, by forwarding e-mails to oppsdigest@religiousstudiesproject.com, or by contacting one of our editors or assistant editors.

Please continue to contribute in the future!

Now for this week’s digest:

Calls for papers

Conference: EASR: Relocating Religion

June 28–July 1, 2016

Helsinki, Finland

Deadline: October 30, 2015

More information

Symposium: Religions: Fields of research, methods and perspectives

November 16–18, 2015

Jagiellonian University, Kraków, Poland

Deadline: September 15, 2015

More information

Annual meeting: Association for the Sociology of Religion: Exploring Diversity: Varieties of Religion and Nonreligion

August 20–21, 2016

Seattle, WA, USA

Deadlines: March 31, 2016 (sessions); April 30, 2016 (papers)

More information

Annual meeting: Eastern International Region of the American Academy of Religion: Globalizing the Human(ities)

May 6–7, 2016

University of Pittsburgh

Deadline: February 15, 2016

More information

Conference: The Supernatural

March 11–13, 2016

Deadline: October 16, 2015

More information

Journal: SHARE E-Journal

Special issue: Connections

Deadline: November 1, 2015

More information

Events

Conference: Tyndale Society’s 20th anniversary

October 1–4, 2015

Hertford College, Oxford, UK

More information (details, booking form)

Conference: Religious Freedom Summit

September 18, 2015

The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC, USA

More information

Jobs and fellowships

Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship in Digital Humanities

University of Pennsylvania, PA, USA

Deadline: October 30, 2015

More information

Kingdon Fellowships

University of Wisconsin-Madison, WI, USA

Deadline: November 1, 2015

More information

Solmsen Fellowships

University of Wisconsin-Madison, WI, USA

Deadline: November 1, 2015

More information

Visual Culture and the Study of Religion

Birgit Meyer is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Utrecht, The Netherlands. A distinguished and prolific scholar who trained as a cultural anthropologist and who worked on lived religion in Ghana for more than 20 years, Meyer is vice-chair of the International African Institute, a member of the Royal Dutch Academy of Arts and Sciences, and one of the editors ofMaterial Religion. She has been a leading voice for some time in such topics and fields as diverse as the colonial missions and local appropriations of Christianity, the rise of Pentecostalism in the context of neoliberal capitalism, popular culture and video-films in Ghana, the relations between religion, media and identity, the study of lived and material religion, and the place and role of religion in the 21st century more broadly. She is the author of Translating the Devil: Religion and Modernity Among the Ewe in Ghana, editor of Aesthetic Formations: Media, Religion and the Senses, and co-editor of Globalization and Identity: Dialectics of Flow and ClosureMagic and Modernity: Interfaces of Revelation and ConcealmentReligion, Media and the Public Sphere, and Things: Religion and the Question of Materiality.

Along with Bruno Latour, Carlo Ginzburg, and Jörg Rüpke, Professor Meyer was a keynote speaker at the European Association for the Study of Religions (EASR) and Dutch Association for the Study of Religion (NGG) Joint Conference held at the University of Groningen, The Netherlands, 11-15 May 2014. Meyer’s keynote address, ‘Visual Culture and the Study of Religion,’ sought to make an intervention into the study of religion and material and visual culture through an understanding of religion as a practice of mediation, one in and through which some kind of spiritual or divine presence, however conceptualised, is effected, actualised, or materialised. Meyer argued that such an understanding of religion as mediation allows us to draw attention to the fascinating issue of religious images and sensory regimes, thinking through the implications of placing such visual culture and a consideration of material, multi-sensuous embodiment at the core of scholarly inquiry for the production of knowledge about religion.

After the keynote, George Ioannides had the opportunity to meet with Professor Meyer to discuss her work, her career, her views on the importance of studying religion and/as material and visual culture, and her advice for students who similarly wish to research topics at the intersection of cultural anthropology and the study of religion.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us. And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.ca, or Amazon.com links to support us at no additional cost when you have a purchase to make.

From 30 June, the RSP will be on “summer vacation”. This means no regular podcasts and posts until mid-September. However, we will endeavour to bring you some material, including weekly opportunities digests, and you can follow our regular updates on our social media pages. Thanks for listening!

“Religion and Pluralities of Knowledge”: A Roundtable Discussion

It’s time for another RSP roundtable, folks. Thanks very much to Liam for facilitating this, and to Angus, Essi, George and Hanna for joining him for a stimulating discussion. For now, we’ll pass over to Liam to set the scene…

Angus and Liam looking pleased with themselves.

Angus and Liam looking pleased with themselves.

“This year scholars from across the globe gathered in the city of Groningen in the north-west of the Netherlands for the annual conference of the European Association for the Study of Religion (EASR), acolytes of the Religious Studies Project among their number. We were hosted by a University on the brink of celebrating its 4ooth year and which looked forward to infinity and beyond! To a city whose name, the President of the University no less assured us is pronounced with a guttural g-, a rolled –r and a silent –g to finish! Not too difficult for a Scotsman but there was plenty of beer, wine and gin to aid in this process

The conference theme this year was ‘religion and the plurality of knowledge’, a topic which I initially considered dubious but which proved to be deeply pertinent. It became clear to me at least, during the many presentations and discussions taking place, that there was a division between those who regarded the kind of knowledge which should be accepted within the field to be singular – rooted in science and empiricism and those who thought the field should be open to a range of types of knowledge.

To address this issue there was only solution for the RSP: hold a roundtable of course! So, in a small room a group of bright young things gathered around ‘Steve’ the dictaphone to have a discussion. Also I was there! They even let me chair it and put up with my no doubt flawed attempt to kick off proceedings in Dutch! So apologies to the people of the Netherlands and His Majesty King Willem-Alexander for that, but it was done with the best of intentions!

What's Essi plotting?

What’s Essi plotting?

It became pretty clear that our cosy little group was not immune to the great gulf widening throughout the conference. Boorishly, from my privileged position of power I set out my case for exclusivity which clearly did not impress Angus and George but luckily Hanna and Essi appeared to be on my side….

What ensued was a debate as heated as it was enjoyed by all (I hope) and which continued long into the evening, kept afloat by a sea of libations! We hope you enjoy the discussion as much as we did and that it will add to the debate on these vital questions.”

You can also download this discussion, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us. And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.ca, or Amazon.com links to support us at no additional cost when you have a purchase to make.

George didn't realise what he had gotten himself into...

George didn’t realise what he had gotten himself into…

Global Categories; Local Contexts

Carlo Ginzburg is professor emeritus in History of European Cultures in Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa, Italy. A distinguished historian with a remarkable career, Ginzburg is known for his microhistorical research approach. His most well-known book The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth Century Miller follows clues from seemingly small and inconsequential cases and details, in order to illuminate the bigger picture, the richness and complexity of historical phenomena. Other publications include Ecstasies: Deciphering the Witches SabbathClues, Myths and the Historical Method, and The Judge and the Historian: Marginal Notes on a late-twentieth century miscarriage of justice.

The Religious Studies Project had the opportunity to interview Ginzburg at the annual conference of the European Association for the Study of Religions in Groningen, the Netherlands. Ginzburg was one of the keynote speakers of the conference, and his lecture “Traveling in Spirit: From Friuli to Siberia” dealt with interpretative categories and their “wandering beyond the original context.” As a case study, Ginzburg reflected on his own research and the realization that his own work on the Friulianbenandanti was profoundly affected by the work of S.M. Shirokogoroff.

After the keynote, Hanna had a chance to meet professor Ginzburg and hear about his career, his work and his advice for students who wish to pursue the microhistorical research.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us. And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.ca, or Amazon.com links to support us at no additional cost when you have a purchase to make.

Religious Education

For those of us in Britain the question of Religious Education has become an ever-increasing issue of concern. Just last October Ofsted, the regulatory board for all education at school level, reported that over half the schools in Britain were failing to provide students with adequate RE. In the wake of this calls were made for clearer standardisation of the subject and a “national benchmark”. The deterioration of RE is perhaps not all that surprising after it was excluded from the English Baccalaureate in 2011. But the call for improvement raises with it a number of questions. First and foremost, just what exactly should RE entail? Should RE be teaching about religion or teaching religion? Who, even, should be RE teachers? PGCE (teacher training) courses in RE accept candidates with degrees in Religious Studies, Theology, Philosophy or indeed any other topic so long as they can, in the words of one program, show “demonstrable knowledge of the study of religion”. But does a theologian or a philosopher have the same skill sets as an RS scholar? To be sure, they may know the facts of a particular religion but are the facts enough for a satisfactory education? Just what is exactly is it we are teaching students to do in RE classrooms?

In this interview, Jonathan Tuckett speaks with Tim Jensen to try to answer some of these questions and more. Not only has Jensen spoken widely on the topic of RE he has recently headed the EASR working group in Religious Education which has studied the status of RE in Denmark, Sweden and Norway highlighting that the question of RE is of particular concern to any secular state.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us. And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.ca, or Amazon.com links to support us at no additional cost when you have a purchase to make.

Ends and Beginnings: A Reflection on the 2012 EASR Conference

Ends and Beginnings: A Reflection on the 2012 EASR Conference

By Venetia Robertson, University of Sydney

A Religious Studies Project Conference Report, published on 27 September 2012. European Association for the Study of Religions – 23-26 August 2012 – Stockholm, Sweden

Some months ago, I was encouraged by my supervisor, Jay Johnston, to submit abstracts to the 2012 EASR and the 1st International Conference on Contemporary Esotericism. Much to my delight, I ended up attending and presenting at both of these amazing events in August. I would like to share with you some of my experiences from this intense, week-long symposium.

EASR 2012 – Ends and Beginnings

Venetia was really proud of that name-tag

To open the 2012 conference for the European Association for the Study of Religions (in conjunction with the International Association for the History of Religion) at Södetörn University, Stockholm, Ingvild Sælid Gilhus tackled the theme of ‘Ends and Beginnings’ by talking about the ‘founding fathers’ of our discipline. As we mulled over Müller and theorised Freud (what were their motivations? Where did they locate the origins of religion?) the inevitable question that kept repeating in my mind was, ‘where are the founding mothers?’ Mary Douglas, Gilhus added, could be considered a founding mother for sure, but this concession does little to address the white male dominance of the humanities in general. But as I looked around the packed auditorium at the sea of heads belonging to people of all genders, all ages, all stages of their careers, I felt some comfort. In my (albeit limited) experience of international conferences, I have been frequently mislabeled as someone’s wife or daughter, rather than a scholar in my own right, or, for that matter, a presenter intending to deliver a paper. In Stockholm for a solid week of conferencing, I made it my aim never to be mislabeled, and in this atmosphere of diversity coupled with solidarity, I don’t think at any point I was.

If I had to choose I would say my favourite thing about these conferences was seeing young and vibrant postgraduate students presenting their craft. I was continuously impressed and excited by the high quality scholarship, ideas, and conversations presented and stimulated by my peers. This year’s EASR delivered an incredibly extensive program. Four days with as many as twelve parallel sessions per session, this conference featured hundreds of speakers. Topics ranged from the Arab Spring to apocalypticism, ecology to esotericism, Pureland to popular culture, and almost everything in between. Of course this leads to the problems that plague all good conferences – one cannot get to see everything they would like to, if speakers drop out and the order is changed scheduling can be even more complicated, etc. Some rooms saw overwhelming popularity – not an inch of space could be spared for latecomers hoping to see Jörg Rüpke talk about death in lived religion! Luckily for me, my session saw no lack of seats. I was speaking in the aula, the massive main hall set aside for keynotes and network sessions.

Venetia delivering her presentation

I spoke, alongside Manon Hedenborg White (Stockholm University) and Sara Duppils (Åbo Akademi) as part of the Graham Harvey and Donald Wiebe), but I was pleased to see about thirty attendees making that vast space seem a little less empty. Actually, the session was very enjoyable as we three (all still students) presented on vastly different topics – Manon on gender in Wicca, Sara on ‘neo-spiritism’ and paranormal beliefs online, and I on Therianthropy and animal-human identity. The response from the audience was brilliant, with intelligent and genuinely engaged questions, suggestions, and comments. This level of interest was followed up with the exchanging of emails, soliciting of articles, and promises to publish forthwith! Nothing is so inspiring as getting the opportunity to pull your head of the proverbial arse of thesis-land to experience an international community of your colleagues understanding and encouraging your seemingly obscure area of interest.

It was disappointing to miss hearing from speakers who pulled out (Henrik Bogdan, Oliver Krüger) and even more frustrating to fail to catch the brief window given to others. Nonetheless, I saw some provocative and valuable papers. For the sake of convenience, I restricted myself to sessions that directly related to my research interests. This is always a gamble, and can be a little monotonous, but there were certainly some highlights. It was really enjoyable to see Doug Ezzy of the University of Tasmania present on a katabatic ritual performed by Australian neo-Pagans. His personable yet informative delivery, supported by his own photographs of the event, made this talk particularly appealing. Jonas Otterbeck of Lund University gave a very interesting paper on masculinity in the genre of ‘Halal pop.’ Franz Höllinger of the University of Graz presented some intriguing statistics on the political and social attitudes of New Agers in Austria, and Peter Åkerbäck of Stockholm University provided insights into the changing reactions toward ‘cults’ in Sweden by government bodies and ‘cult awareness’ groups. On the second day, the impeccably dressed Kocku von Stuckrad of the University of Gronigen delivered an astute key note that highlighted the imbrication of science and religion, and specifically, the ‘scientification’ of religion, and the ‘religionism’ of science. The overlapping of these two magisteria (to misquote Steven Jay Gould) is a topic eye-opening in its relevance and insidiousness in our field of work.

The impeccably dressed Kocku von Stuckrad

Student speakers also proffered papers that spoke to their burgeoning expertise and laudable research efforts. Sara Duppils and Minja Blom (University of Helsinki) both presented findings from their online research of discussion forums (a still woefully under utilized source pool), Manon Hedenborg White discussed information gathered from her own fieldwork and interviews with British Wiccans, Christian Greer (University of Amsterdam) exhibited his collection of rare and arcane Discordian primary materials, and Kristian Pettersson (Uppsala University) in his talk on entheogens and the spiritual experience, submitted his theory of ‘altered states of perception’ to challenge the more commonly and perhaps mistakenly used phrase ‘altered states of consciousness.’ On the New Religious Movements front, Rasa Pranskeviciute (Vytautas Magnus University) introduced me to two environmentally-minded NRMs that have emerged in the post-Soviet world, the Anastasians and the Vissarionites, while the Raëlians got a reappraisal from Erik Östling (Stockholm University) as a group that relies not only on the Bible, but several works of science fiction in constructing their UFOlogical theology. Many of the papers I saw dealt with the meeting of spirituality and popular culture, and one theme that I felt was overlooked was the paradigm shift involved in making fictional texts sacred texts – a more nuanced understanding of changing attitudes towards the boundaries of fantasy and reality was needed.

Round table on Wouter Hanegraaff’s new “Esotericism in the Academy” with O. Hammer, M. Pasi, M. Stausberg

While some student papers were less polished or analytically sophisticated than those of more established scholars, I think it is commendable that conferences like the EASR extend the opportunity for such a number of postgrads (and even the occasional undergrad) to contribute their scholarship to the broader academic community. The fact that so many of the sessions I chose to attend consisted, unbeknownst to me initially, of mostly student presenters strongly suggests that it is a younger generation of scholars that are investigating the ‘alternative’ and ‘fringe’ currents of spirituality which are, ironically, becoming more and more visible, mainstreamed, and imperative to the study of modern religion. In short, these students have their finger on the pulse, and it is events like international conferences that allow the rest of the academic world to learn from these fresh and innovative perspectives.

Of course conferences offer the opportunity for social as well as professional networking (facilitated somewhat by free, room-temperature glasses of box wine). Personal highlights here include discovering that Wouter Hanegraaff’s spirit animal is the Owl, being asked to contribute a paper to Pomegranate, and being invited to speak at the 2013 ISSR Conference in Turku. Ending up at Medusa Bar for a pint and a bit of a headbang with some of the pretty young things wasn’t a bad end to an evening either. But, after four intense days of stimulating conversation, there was little time to rest before it all had to pick up again at the Contemporary Esotericism conference at Stockholm University!

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

About the Author:

Venetia Robertson is a PhD candidate, tutor, and research assistant at the University of Sydney in the department of Studies in Religion. Her thesis explores themes of animal-human identity, shape-shifting, popular oc/culture, and myth-making. Forthcoming publications include an article that delves into her thesis topic by discussing the online Therianthropy community and non-human ontology, and an article that offers an explication of masculinity, fandom, and the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic cartoon series. She is currently co-editing an issue of the Journal for the Academic Study of Religion, and will be contributing a paper that looks at the intersections of posthumanism, animality, and eschatology.

 

The Relationship between Theology and Religious Studies

Our interview this week features Chris speaking to Professor Donald Wiebe from the Faculty of Divinity at Trinity College in the University of Toronto on the relationship between Theology and Religious Studies.

Out of necessity this interview was not recorded on our normal equipment, and we apologise for the poorer quality of the sound this week. You can also listen to this podcast on iTunes, and subscribe to receive our weekly interviews.

The relationship between Theology and Religious Studies  is not a simple one. David Ford writes that at its broadest, theology is thinking about questions raised by and about religions (2000:3). These questions are largely directed towards notions of transcendence (typically gods), incorporate doctrinal issues and are “essentially a second-order activity arising from ‘faith’ and interpreting faith” (Whaling, 1999:228-229). Essentially, theology is thinking about religion from within religion – although when most people refer to “Theology”, what they mean is “Christian Theology”.

It is generally accepted – at least as far as most academics are concerned – that there is a distinct difference between religious studies and theology. This is succinctly summarised by Ninian Smart’s statement that “historical and structural enquiries, such as sociology, phenomenology, etc., […] are the proper province of [the study of] Religion, and the use of such materials for Expressive ends […is] the doing of Theology” (in Wiebe, 1999:55).

As you shall see from this interview, however, things are much more complicated, and Professor Wiebe is particularly qualified to present his own take on the relationship between these two distinct disciplines. His primary areas of research interest are philosophy of the social sciences, epistemology, philosophy of religion, the history of the academic and scientific study of religion, and method and theory in the study of religion. He is the author of a number of books, including Religion and Truth: Towards and Alternative Paradigm for the Study of Religion (1981), The Irony of Theology and the Nature of Religious Thought (1991), and, of particular relevance to this interview, The Politics of Religious Studies: The Continuing Conflict with Theology in the Academy (1999). In 1985 Professor Wiebe, with Luther H. Martin and E. Thomas Lawson, founded the North American Association for the Study of Religion, which became affiliated to the IAHR in 1990; he twice served as President of that Association (1986-87, 1991-92).

This interview was recorded at the European Association for the Study of Religions‘ Annual Conference in Budapest in September 2011, where Professor Wiebe also presented a particularly relevant paper with his colleague Luther H. Martin, entitled “Religious Studies as a Scientific Discipline: The Persistence of a Delusion”. Out of necessity it was not recorded on our normal equipment, and we apologise for the poorer quality of the sound this week.

Jonathan Z Smith: “[R]eligion is an inextricably human phenomenon. […] Religious studies are [therefore] most appropriately described in relation to the Humanities and the Human Sciences, in relation to Anthropology rather than Theology. What we study when we study religion is one mode of constructing worlds of meaning, worlds within which men find themselves and in which they choose to dwell.” (1978, Map is Not Territory, 290)

References:

Ford, David F., 2000 [1999]. Theology: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Whaling, Frank, 1999. “Theological Approaches” in Peter Connoly (ed.), Approaches to the Study of Religion. London: Cassell, pp. 226-274.

Wiebe, Donald, 1999. The Politics of Religious Studies: The Continuing Conflict with Theology in the Academy. New York: St Martin’s Press.