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Unbelief as a Nuanced Phenomenon: The Sociality of Nonreligion across Europe

Unbelief has often been defined as either ignorance or rejection of religious systems, but this week’s guests David Herbert and Josh Bullock see far more diversity in the ways one can be nonreligious. Sharing lessons from their project “Reaching for a new sense of connection? Towards a deeper understanding of the sociality of generation y non-believers in northern and Central Europe,” we hear about a more nuanced phenomenon of unbelief, where a diverse array of positions are constantly anchored, defined, and recreated in social settings. Collected from nationwide surveys, social media, and interview data, the project presents the tendencies of nonreligious young adults in the UK, Netherlands, Norway, Germany, Poland, and Romania.

One of the takeaways from this podcast is that unbelief has widespread national differences as reflected in analysis of social media, but regional similarities from historical contexts show the effects of wider geo-political alignments. For example, in the Netherlands, Norway, and Eastern Germany non-religious people are more likely to express no interest in religious matters, while in Poland and Romania people vocally expressed their unbelief in politicized ways. For more perspectives on Hebert and Bullock’s project, visit https://newsenseofconnection.blog/

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Unbelief as a Nuanced Phenomenon:

The Sociality of Nonreligion across Europe

 

Podcast with David Herbert and Josh Bullock (2 December 2019).

Interviewed by Sidney Castillo

Transcribed by Helen Bradstock.

Transcript available at:

https://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/podcast/unbelief-as-a-nuanced-phenomena-the-sociality-of-nonreligion-across-europe/

 

Sidney Castillo (SC): Hello! I’m here now with Josh Bullock and David Herbert. We are at the EASR Conference 2019 in Tartu, Estonia, and we are happy to be gathered here. We are going to talk about understanding unbelief and the way that they are working on it: Reaching for a New Sense of Connection: the sociality of nonrelgion in Europe. Welcome to both of you, professors.

David Herbert (DH): Thank you.

SC: I think if you could introduce yourselves, it would be great for our Listeners.

Josh Bullock (JB): Sure. So I am doing a post-doctoral research on the Understanding Unbelief project at Kingston University. My background’s in the Sociology of Religion but primarily nonreligion – so if it could just be “Sociology of Nonreligion” that would be fine with me. And my PhD was on looking at the Sunday Assembly, the secular congregation.

DH: Hi, I’m David Herbert. I’m Professor of Sociology at Kingston University, London. And I work on religion, and now nonreligion. And also on migration and integration issues across Europe.

SC: Thank you, and welcome again to the Religious Studies Project. So let’s just dive right into the questions. And since you’re working on the Understanding Unbelief project I would like to ask, firstly, what makes unbelief an analytical category different from others such as nonreligion, horizontal transcendence, secular worldviews and so on?

DH: Yes, so the way the whole Understanding Unbelief project was set up, they gave us a lot of scope to define our own terms. So the term that we’ve used is nonreligion, because that’s kind-of easy to define – in terms of people who say they have “no religion” when you ask them. And what we found interesting, looking at the survey data, was that people who say they have no religion – when you ask “what most closely fits with your point of view?” when you give them a choice of “personal God”, “life force” or “spirit” – then many of them say, actually, life force or spirit rather than, “there is definitely no God”. So there’s kind-of an area of nonreligious which includes both people who believe in supernatural-type stuff and kind-of what we’d call “harder” atheists – so, a softer agnosticism and a harder atheism.

JB: I think that’s summed it up perfectly for my way of using nonrelgion rather than unbelief. Also, when we were trying to find participants for the study, I think nonreligion is more of a category that people are likely to relate to – at least, saying that they have no religion rather than defining themselves as being an “unbeliever” or having “unbelief”. So it was more of a relational category which people could . . . .

DH: We also found when we looked at our data that clearly many of the people who we interviewed who very definitely said that they had no religion, also said they had beliefs. So they believed in fate, luck, some of them even use horoscopes – even if a kind-of half-ironic way. So there was actually a lot of belief going on. So, again, we saw nonreligion as better. Because they’re not identifying with religion, whatever they mean by that, but they do have some beliefs.

SC: So that seems more nuanced than unbelief.

DH: Yes.

SC: Sure. Excellent. And the next question I think you place an emphasis on a particular age group. Why does the project focus on Generation Y or the Millennials? How does this group differentiate from other age groups?

JB: Yes. So we know that Generation Y – so those born between around the 1980s to late ’90s – they were around nineteen to thirty-seven, our participants were, when we interviewed them. And we know, based on ESS and EVS data, that they’re going to be much less religious than their parents’ generation and even more so than their grandparents’ generation. And this indicates for pretty much all of the countries, apart from Slovenia, across the European social studies data set.

DH: Yes, I think across twenty-six countries there’s like one where there are fewer nonreligious in that age group than in older age groups. But everywhere else it’s a growing phenomenon.

JB: So that was our primary reason – because we thought the pool would be bigger. And it also gives us some scope, then, for longitudinal studies: we can follow this generation as their beliefs perhaps change over time. And then also, part of our project was looking at the kind-of sense of connection they take and their sociality. So we were interested in the social media side of it, and how they connect with others – whether it be on forums or, yeah, social media, Twitter, Facebook.

DH: Yes. We thought, as the most intensive social media users, they would be a really good sample for getting a sense of what’s happening at the cutting edge of . . . because within nonreligion there are some kind-of older institutions, like the Humanist Society and so on, but not so much. And so we thought “Ok, so do people fulfil a need to sort-of get together in being nonreligious in whatever way?” And we thought, “OK, social media is a good way in. These are high users. We should find something.”

SC: So even though they don’t relate to religion in this way, they still want to gather and get together – find like-minded people?

JB: Well, that was the kind-of question we set out with at the beginning of the project. Because it was off the back of my research on the Sunday Assembly, which is where nonreligious people are gathering to try to find community and belonging in the UK, Netherlands and US. And we were wondering if other kinds of institutions or organisations were happening elsewhere in Europe, and in what contexts? And what did they look like? Because we didn’t expect to find the Sunday Assembly in places like Poland and Romania but we were interested in what kinds of other groups might exist.

DH: Yes. And particularly in the question of where religion is playing a more active – maybe intrusive – role in public life, if that produces a kind-of counter-reaction; a kind-of organisation against the encroachment of religion, by kind-of secular societies, but maybe by people organising in new ways.

JB: Yes. So like a “resistance identity” over just a “need for congregational belonging”.

SC: Yes excellent. Because indeed I can see that there can be a contrast between these countries where they have a more prominent religious life, like Romania which is highly Catholic and (another context) with all the religious denominations. And that’s actually the next question: in contextualising nonbelief you focus on countries with post-Soviet populations, such as Poland, Romania and regions of former East Germany. How are percentages of religion and belief shaped by these experiences, compared to experiences of Northern Europe?

DH: Yes. So we had fifty/fifty samples – sort-of fifty Western European and fifty Eastern European – and half each, three in each. And we wanted to see what the differences were. And also there were big differences between those countries in terms of the number of nonreligious. So in Romania it was very low, maybe around the kind-of five percent mark. Maybe a little bit more in Poland.

JB: Yes about six or seven percent in Poland.

DH: And larger, much larger in East Germany. So what difference does being in a minority make to whether people feel the need to get together? And also, how politicised religion is – what difference does that make? When it comes to the post-Communist situation, of course, religion was treated in somewhat different ways in Communist countries. There were always political restrictions on it as a kind-of alternative source of loyalty to the Communist state. And so we expected that there may be effects in terms of the legacy on that. Whether it’s in terms of, say, in Poland – where the Church was very strong, resisted Communism, strongly attached to national identity – but playing a different role maybe in Eastern Germany, where it was much less a kind-of force for national unity. So if religion has been a source of national identity, as it was in Poland for resistance to Communism, then maybe the people who were not religious . . . . And particularly if the communist regime . . . the Soviet Communist regime was associated with atheism, then there’s likely to be more negative views to being nonreligious and especially atheist. So if that affected how people then felt similarly, in Romania? But we expected less of that in the German context, because religion was less politicised. So, yeah. And we saw some kind-of legacies of that in terms of how people relate now. There was much more, for example, political organisation of nonreligion in Poland than we found in the other contexts.

SC: And even though a lot of the countries share a Soviet background, there is a big difference between each one of them?

JB: Hugely so, yes.

DH: Yes, they have very different histories. And also history has taken a different turn. So in Poland, for example – where religion has become a force for populism, and used by various groups in society and the law and justice and government to support various kinds of controversial policies – we found the nonreligious very active in terms of organising, for example, for women’s right to choose.

JB: Yes, supporting LGBTQ rights as well, and also other kind-of causes for equality – within Poland, at least.

DH: Yes. So a strong voice for a kind-of resisting religion coming into public space, and a strong voice for kind-of pro-choice options on a range of levels.

SC: Right. And how can you lift these national contexts, the age group, and also the intersectionality of, like, race, gender, class? Is there also any kind of correspondence for the same age group that share differences in some way?

DH: Yes. We had some racial and religious background diversity in our sample. And actually one of the areas where that aspect of diversity came out was we found that amongst people from Hindu and Muslim backgrounds, in Western European contexts, that they were more inclined to express beliefs in the supernatural and have less reservations about doing so. So they’ll talk about, for example, “karma”, and “meaningful coincidences” in a way that was quite common in Eastern Europe, but much less so in Western Europe. So that was perhaps one source of diversity.

JB: Just following on from that. So we found these beliefs in about thirty-four percent of our participants. So just over a third. So I think it was twenty-three of them in total, and nine came out of Poland. Eight came out of Romania. The other six were from Western or Northern Europe. But their backgrounds were from Eastern Europe or Northern Africa. So really this was kind-of like an Eastern Europe phenomenon, having these karmic or cosmic beliefs.

DH: Beliefs in a range of kind-of meaningful connections and a sense that, as human beings, we’re somehow connected to the broader universe – that kind-of spiritual belief I guess you could call it. I think many of them would own that term. They saw that as being compatible with being nonreligious. It was something different from religion. But it was much more common in Eastern European and people of Eastern European heritage – as well as North African heritage, in one case.

SC: Also you are using this concept of yours of politicisation of religion. So how is this concept articulated in the data you’ve looked at so far?

DH: Yeah. So we were interested in investigating how the public role of religion makes a difference to how the nonreligious react. And religion is publicly prominent for different reasons in the different countries. So because of its politicisation in Poland, and in support of a kind-of folk nationalism and in relation to immigration issues, especially Muslim immigration, in Western Europe. So it’s a more controversial . . . . It’s controversial for different reasons.

SC: Right.

DH: And so, yeah, we wanted to look at the effects of that.

SC: Also I was wondering . . . I think you’ve given a very good macro overview. Because you devised your study on three levels: macro, meso and micro. What else have you identified on the micro level and the meso level?

JB: So, on the micro level I think one of our biggest findings is coming back to the diversity of the beliefs that the nonreligious hold. So this was coming back to these paranormal, supernatural, magical, superstitious beliefs. And despite them saying that they are nonreligious – in the sense that they don’t identify with an institutional religion – they still share a wide range of diverse beliefs and often these are paranormal, supernatural, magical beliefs. So that was on the micro level.

DH: Yes and those supernatural beliefs often seemed to serve to connect people to other people, whether it’s friends and family that they’re close to, or to give some sense of moral orientation in the universe. So quite a few of the stories, the meaningful coincidences were about being rewarded for some kind-of good behaviour. So, you do someone a good turn and then something good happens. So that almost sort-of golden rule projected onto the cosmos. And the kind-of sense that there’s some kind-of moral order. That was quite a strong theme that came through, as well as a connection to other people: a kind-of sense that there’s human significance . . . .

JB: Yeah. But often these beliefs were a kind-of source of tension during the interviews, or at least when we were reading back over them. So they would try to kind-of explain what had happened – these kind-of meaningful coincidences – in a scientific way, even thought there was no – at least to them – logical explanation for what had happened. So for things like . . . we had an example from a young Romanian woman who was living in London, who had lived within two hundred metres of the same person all her life – and ended up being best friends with this person – but had moved six times across different countries and still lived within two hundred metres of this person. They’d just kind-of followed the same route! So, for her, this was more than just a coincidence. And she . . . to quote her term, “It was meant to be.” So there’s kind-of this sense that there’s an “order of things”. But for others trying to explain these events, which seemingly are irrational – like books flying off shelves, or affinities with numbers, or knowing . . . or having a strange feeling when a family member is about to die – so trying to explain these rationally was often like a source of discomfort or tension. Maybe that was kind-of like an artefact of . . . because we were creating this tension by asking them to explain how they understand the event. It came out quite strongly, that sense of tension, when people were referring to superstitious beliefs that still affected them, but which at a rational level they challenge. So for example one guy talked about black cats and how he would avoid black cats. And he had a sense that it would give him bad luck even though he didn’t believe, rationally, that there was any kind-of causal process involved. And he actually said he found it really annoying. He said he found it really stressful, as well. Really annoying and really stressful. Because he didn’t believe it, but he would still actively avoid them.

SC: Right.

JB: I think his starting sentence was: “I’m not superstitious, but I don’t like black cats.” So there’s often contradictory statements which can co-exist, I guess, between the analytic and the intuitive, right?

DH: Yes. So we theorised that in terms of a distinction that’s made in the developmental psychology literature, between analytical modes of thinking – which develop from age kind-of four up to . . . well it keeps going through our lives I guess – and earlier intuitive beliefs, where agency – so, the ability to move and change things and to want things – is attributed to inanimate objects. And gradually, that kind-of moves out of daily use. But the theory is that we can code-switch between those two things. So that actually the intuitive stays alongside the analytic, and that maybe at moments of stress or something we don’t know how to deal with . . .

JB: It’s like we’re gaining control over the situation, isn’t it?

DH: It comes out to reinforce, like, a sense of control. So what we think may have been going on, and why people make . . . . Most of the people who reported the experiences didn’t feel a tension about it all the time. They just kind-of did it. But then, when we asked them to reflect on it, then they felt the tension. Some of them felt it in their daily life as well.

SC: I wanted to ask about, specifically . . . you mentioned that you have been studying self-reported individuals who they say that they are nonbelievers. But in which way did you carry out your interviews? I wondered if for some of them it was the first time that (they had been asked to consider these questions in a rational way). So, to build a growing narrative about their own non-belief. So did you have those cases where: “Oh. You didn’t ask me. I wasn’t warned about that.”?

DH: Yes, I mean, for lots of cases this was probably the first time they’d had to articulate their beliefs or put them onto paper, I guess. Some of them were part of discussions on social media and had relationships with the Rationalist Society. So they may have been used to thinking about those kind of things. But many of them, not. So I think we had a kind-of mixture in terms of how reflective they were. But because it was quite a wide-ranging interview, probably – well, hopefully – there was something new for everybody.

SC: Any concluding remarks you want to give about your results?

JB: I mean, just returning back to the micro, meso, macro: so if we go back to the medium level stuff, there are some examples which we found in Europe. For example, in Frankfurt in Germany they have a meet up group called Drinking and Socialising with Atheists. So you can go for a pint down the pub and talk existential questions, and big life politics, and religion. But it’s quite small. So we didn’t really come across very many meso groups. We have a medium-level group. But in terms of macro there were a few. So the Norwegian Humanists played quite a big role in providing ritual instruction for nonreligious.

DH: And that’s an unusual case, because it’s state-funded like the churches. So it has much more resources to draw on. So there’s a kind-of national structure with people working full-time for them. Whereas in other cases it’s kind-of self-start up networks, mostly. But we also found quite a lot of innovation in terms of practices. So, for example, the Polish, big, Atheist of the Year awards ceremony, goes with that.

JB: The KLF, the Kazimierz Lyszczynski Foundation – apologies for the pronunciation! Every year they hold like an annual march and they have atheist picnics throughout the summer. So there’s a kind-of sense of community and belonging building there – a bit similar to the Sunday Assembly. But primarily, it’s more to do with campaigning, as we mentioned earlier, for equal rights and women’s rights. But there’s some innovation there, in terms of atheist ceremonies to reward the biggest atheist of the year in terms of their contribution. Yeah.

DH: I guess our headline finding is that there is diversity: that the nonreligious category doesn’t mean that there aren’t some kind-of supernatural beliefs going on. Those might not be the most important things for those people but they definitely feature – at least for a sizeable minority. And also, I guess, that there did seem to be a kind-of an interaction with the broader society in terms of how active people are. So that where people are feeling that their nonreligious identity is under threat, then they kind-of get together to organise, particularly in the Polish case. Whereas, I guess, it’s more a sort-of looser network-type affiliation which you can see from looking at the social media data, quite a lot of them. Because most of our cohort, I guess, were bilingual – not maybe completely bilingual, but certainly use English as a functional language. And that’s pretty common amongst Millennials. And that enables them to follow people that they like in the UK or in other European countries, where there’s also English as a working language being used. So there’s a kind-of a nonreligious Eurosphere developing.

SC: That’s very interesting. I think we are going to wrap it up now. Thank you, again, for being on the Religious Studies Project, and we hope to have you again.

JB: Thank you very much.

DH: Thank you.

 

 

 

 

 

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Doctors and Stigmatics in the 19th and 20th centuries

Stigmata are a special kind of miraculous event. They involve the physical manifestation of Jesus’ wounds as depicted in the Bible Gospels. Though many people in history have claimed to bear these marks, they have also been used as proof of the existence of God or to build legitimacy for a religious community. Those who have studied stigmata include investigators from the Catholic Church, religious skeptics, and medical professionals.

This week’s podcast with Gabor Klaniczay focuses on the final group, doctors. In his research on stigmata during the 19th and 20th century in Europe, Klaniczay analyzes how the medical discourse has tried to establish authenticity for stigmata cases. Discourses differed based on religious affiliation with Catholic doctors were more prone to credit them as proof of the supernatural, while Protestants ones were more skeptical, often trying to attribute them to hysteria, self-suggestion, or plain forgery.

Throughout the interview, Klaniczay refers to the social context in which stigmata occurred, as in the cases of Louise Lateau in 19th century Belgium and France, and Padre Pio in 20th century Italy. The first corresponded with a time of intense social change and secularization during the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune, while the second found correspondences with World War I and major processes in Italian politics. In this way, Klaniczay’s approach reflects Jesuit historian Michel de Certeau’s  research on the 17th century Loudun Possessions: miraculous or mystical events are the language in which the symptoms of social change take form.

This podcast was recorded and produced in the context of the 17th Annual Conference of the European Association for the Study of Religions (EASR), “Religion – Continuations and Disruptions” held in Tartu, June 25 to June 29, 2019. We kindly thank the EASR Committee and the University of Tartu scientific committee, organising team, and volunteers for the support provided during this process.

 

 

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, sardines, popcorn, and more.


Doctors and Stigmatics in the 19th and 20th Centuries

 

Podcast with Gábor Klaniczay (18 November 2019).

Interviewed by Sidney Castillo

Transcribed by Helen Bradstock.

Audio and transcript available at:

Download a PDF of this transcript here.

Sidney Castillo (SC): Well, here we are again at the Religious Studies Project Podcast. It’s the fifth and last day of the EASR conference 2019, in Tartu Estonia. And now I am here with Gábor Klaniczay from Central European University. Gábor – it’s very nice to have you here.

Gábor Klaniczay (GK): I’m pleased to be here, too. Thank you for interviewing me.

SC: Thank you for joining us. Would you be so kind as to introduce yourself, please?

GK: OK. So I’m a university professor at the Central European University in the department of Medieval Studies. I’m dealing mostly with medieval religious history, late medieval Christianity. That’s my field of expertise. Within that, the problem of the cult of saints, popular religion, witchcraft, beliefs. And also another aspect of my research is, a little bit, to situate central European religious culture in the whole European or even broader context.

SC: Excellent. Now your talk in the conference, at the EASR, has been about miraculous stigmata in the 19th and 20th century. Could you speak a little bit about that, please?

GK: Yes, well that shows that I’m not only dealing with a medieval things! Actually, I’m also very much in favour of historians dealing with the results of neighbouring disciplines. And there is interdisciplinary research, where I’m actually dealing with history but also anthropology, religious studies, psychology. A lot of these things are necessary for understanding phenomena like miracles or stigmata or something – the relationship to the supernatural. There is also one other type of inter-disciplinarity which is not very much practised, and that is that medievalists should know the results of modernists and vice-versa. So, on the one hand, one says that history is, of course a long train of traditions and one should know about this. But everybody specialised in one’s own age and says “Oh that’s modern. That’s no more my field of expertise.” And I think this is wrong – especially if one deals with phenomena which are basically very similar. So an individual’s relationship to miracle and to the supernatural experience, that has something very common and it’s not by chance that modern people are reaching back to the prophets or the Bible or ancient church fathers. So one cannot, of course, put an equality sign to the experiences. One has to know its historical context and one should not be anachronistic. On the other hand, religious history has to deal with the longue durée. So this is how I started to deal with medieval miracle belief and, within that, a special type of miracle: the stigmata. The stigmata which is a bodily miracle, the most famous initial miracle. Not the first one. But actually the start of the cult of stigmata was with St Francis of Assisi, the thirteenth century saint – a major medieval saint and founder of the Franciscan order – who had a vision in 1227, and got stigmatised . . . at least this is what we got to know after his death in 1227. Actually it happened before his death – two years before his death, as his legend writer, Thomas of Celano, says – during a vision where a seraph, a crucified man, appeared to him in the air, when he was in hermitage. And after this experience the result was that the wounds of stigmata, Christ’s wounds, appeared on his body. And this was discovered after his death. Now this is stigmata. And many Franciscans maintain that this is the only unique example where a human being becomes like Christ. St Francis was venerated like another Christ, an alter Christus, and the stigmata were actually signs of his being so important and working as much for the redemption of humanity as Christ – or almost as much – in the middle ages (5:00). Now other saintly persons, or other religious persons, men and women – mostly women, by the way – were also claiming to have stigmata, like St Francis. And this was a very long-term history, which started in the middle ages. In the middle ages there was another very famous stigmatic woman, Catherine of Siena, who belonged to the Dominican Order. And her stigmata appeared also during a vision, but did not appear visibly on her body because she wanted them to be invisible; not to pretend that she had that high honour. She wanted only the pain. She wanted the experience. And then there were up-to-the-present stigmatics. And my paper here was about 19th and 20th century stigmatics. And the topic that I was dealing with was actually how medical experts, physicians, related to this miracle.

SC: Right.

GK: Because this miracle was very special, in the sense that the stigmatics have these wounds in their bodies, sometimes for year, sometimes for decades. These wounds bleed periodically. These wounds do not get infected. So this is very special type of bodily miracle. And the religious people – mostly Catholics, because this is a Catholic type miracle – are taking it as a very important proof for the existence of God: that such a God can work such wonders in the human body on earth, which cannot be explained rationally, by scientific or medical or other thought. And of course, doctors were challenged, and wanted to examine, and there was a lot of criticism and disbelief, and there were very interesting cases, debates. And I was presenting some of these cases.

SC: That’s really interesting. And I think you gave a very broad description of how stigmatics happen from the middle ages towards modernity. Just thinking about what Michel de Certeau said about how mystical phenomena corresponds to the social contexts – what is happening in those centuries – and particularly the 16th and 17th century were very prominent for many, many mystics. I don’t about stigmata?

GK: There were also stigmata. But some of these mystics have stigmata.

SC: How can we understand the social contexts of the 19th/20th century to explain the stigmata?

GK: Well, one very important social context is that the 19th and 20th centuries are centuries of secularisation. Also after the French Revolution, Napoleon for example, dissolved many religious orders. And there was- against the Enlightenment, and against the rational thinking which wanted to sort-of make the disenchantment of the world, as Max Weber said, happen – well, there was a re-enchantment. In the 19th century there was a Catholic revival. Chateaubriand, the Génie, The Genius of Christianity, and many other movements. And the church, and certain popes, were very strongly fighting against the separation of Church and state. And also there were certain social classes which were in support for that. In France there was a royalist movement. But also the churches’ positions in Italy, for example, which was a place where many of these prophets and stigmatics came. . . . Italy was living, at that moment, the unification, or Risorgimento (10:00). And at the same time there were a lot of resistances of local vested interests of churches, and a lot of contrast also between Rome and the Vatican, and the southern region or northern region. So each time there was a conflict situation. And in some conflict situations the church had its own policies. And one of the policies was indeed to bring proofs for the existence of God, with very spectacular miracles. The most spectacular miracles were visions like La Salette in the 19th century- or Lourdes. These were the appearances of the Virgin Mary – Marian miracles. But there were other miracles also related to the Sacred Heart the Sacré Coeur. And besides these visionaries there were these living saints, the stigmatics, who had new revelations. So one of the stigmatics, for example, that I was speaking about was living in Northern Germany. Now, Northern Germany was a place were already big contrasts were there between the Protestants and Catholics. Catholics were in the minority in Northern Germany, in Westphalia. But they were there. And now secularisation brought another thing in. So there was an Augustinian nun, called Anna Katharina Emmerick, who had these bleeding wounds, these stigmata and also the crown of thorns. At least, she had the vision where Jesus was placing the crown of thorns on her head. And they were regularly bleeding, the place of the crown of thorns. And later, bleeding wounds also appeared on her hands and also a cross on the chest. And then a debate started. And this was an interesting case. Because it belonged to Prussia. Prussia was a secularised and Protestant monarchy with a lot of important scientists, among them medical scientists. And they formed a commission to examine these things. Some were saying, “Oh, this was just self-inflicted wounds.” Others said that the spiritual advisors were using her as a kind of medium, were telling her that her headache was actually from the crown of thorns, and were influencing her. And indeed that was a 19th century thing, this medium related to Mesmer, and mesmerism, and magnetism. Now all kinds of explanations came up, but at the same time there was also a very famous romantic poet, Clemens Brentano, listening to her and writing down her visions as new revelations. And these visionaries were telling an alternative history of what happened to Jesus, and the Bible, or details. And the collected works of Clemens Brentano are the visions of Anna Katharina Emmerick. He didn’t even . . . he couldn’t even publish the whole thing during his life. He died and his brother continued to publish it. So, this is the social context and the role of religion in 19th century. And of course we can go on. Let me just switch to the end of the 19th century, to the 1870s. It was the moment of the French commune, it was the French and German War, the defeat of France. And in France and in Belgium there were a lot of prophets. So first prophesying the death of Napoleon III – he did indeed die! But such prophesies are not very difficult, to say that somebody will die at some point. But also they wanted to bring back, after the commune, monarchy to France. There was a candidate, Chambord. So these were actually the questions. And there was a stigmatic called Louise Lateau in France, and also another stigmatic, Palma Mattarelli in Italy(15:00). And these stigmatics were also related to an Ecclesiastic kind of . . . . There was an informal network within the Church, which still exists today, that there is the official Church and then there is a grassroots level contact among the charismatics, who are cultivating supernatural phenomena. Today it is Medjugorje, and all these things. In the 19th century the stigmatics were there. And there were some doctors . . . there was a doctor that I was talking about. He was from Clermont-Ferrand. He was a royalist, a doctor, a professional, called Antoine Amber Gourbert. But he went to the stigmatics to explain that these phenomena are indeed unexplainable. And he, as a doctor, says, “I know about everything about dermatology, everything about all kinds of illnesses, speaking about it as a rational explanation. But it is wrong! These explanations are unfounded.” And actually, he was publishing books just to support the stigmatics. So that’s the interesting thing. That besides the doctors who wanted to have doubts in the stigmatics, there was a group of believer doctors who wanted to defend the stigmatics with the argument that these phenomena are actually beyond our capacities of explanation. This is why it is coming from God. And it is true that many phenomena are impossible to explain. So today the TV shows X Files, for example. Today’s supernatural beliefs are related to UFOs or other things. But the riddles of nature are indeed a good point where belief, and belief in the supernatural, starts. And stigmata is a long tradition, and this is also a riddle. So in many cases, in the first place, what I want to say is that these persons are truly religious persons. And persons who really concentrate on the suffering of Christ, and want to understand with great compassion the suffering of Christ. And even acting on . . . . So most of the stigmata appear in Holy Week, when Christ is . . . so before Easter. And on Holy Friday, mostly. And many of these stigmatics are acting out, on Holy Fridays, the crucifixion. So just like a mystery play. And their wounds start to bleed on Fridays. That’s a very particular thing, just in memory of Christ. And at the same time, they think that they are suffering the same way as Christ for redeeming humanity from its sins. So helping humanity. So it is a kind-of psychological disposition which is also becoming a bodily disposition. So many things are psychosomatic, certainly. And in some cases it’s clear that there is fraud in it, and they are . . . but in other cases it is difficult to say. And these persons are also having very sincere mystical texts and dimensions. So it’s a very complicated thing. You mentioned Michel de Certeau, for example.

SC: I was going to ask you about that, yes the Loudun possessions.

GK: Yes. Well there is a stigmata… not stigmata but actually Jeanne des Anges also had some wounds, which were actually stigmata from the devil. She was showing it in the royal court and it was there. She had also a very complicated personality. So Michel de Certeau could analyse that this is a very strange and very complex psychological phenomenon when one lives religious experience to that point.

SC: He would say, “These eyes have seen. These hands have touched” . . .

GK: Yes.

SC: Kind-of providing a factual experience towards the stigmata (20:00). One of the things I wanted to ask as well is . . . and you mentioned this in your presentation, that there was Catholic doctors that were giving confirmation that it was in fact a miraculous event and therefore it cannot be explained. But you also mentioned that there were Protestant doctors that were more incisive towards desecrating this phenomenon. So will you elaborate more on that divide within the same medical discourse: how this was different?

GK: Yes. Well basically, yes, as you said, it’s not by chance that Protestant doctors . . . . One Protestant doctor was, for example, one of the critics of this 19th-century stigmatic, Louise Lateau. Louise Lateau, who lived in the second half of the 19th century in a small Belgian village, and got stigmata at the age of eighteen. And a big medical debate started. And while the Catholic doctors were describing her stigmata and then a very famous authority, Rudolf Virchow – from Germany, from Berlin, a Protestant doctor – was writing a long study, Uber Wunder, On the Miracle. And the Protestants were . . . they did not deny a miracle absolutely. But they denied this type of massive production of miracles that the Catholics have been relating to the saints and to the stigmatics. So they were more for a rational explanation of these phenomena, saying that if one does not have the explanation yet, one should not immediately say it is a miracle. But one can sort-of explore it further. So there was a Protestant discourse which was more rationalistic. But that does not mean that they were refusing miracles on the whole. So they were reaching back to St Augustine, who also said that, actually, the small miracles are just to convince the disbelievers. But the only two big miracles are the creation of the world and the resurrection of Christ. And these are actually the big miracles. And the rest is just . . . it can be explained rationally, just as well. Also the Protestants . . . the 19th century polemics on miracles were a good field for continuing this debate. But actually the debate started already in Luther’s time. And the Protestantism refused a lot of the things in Catholic beliefs, among them the cult of the saints, and the cult of the relics, as something which they labelled superstition. And there was a long set of debates related to that. So one good authority who examined this in England, for example, was Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic. A big monograph, where he pointed out how Protestantism was kind-of refusing what they considered to be the magic of the medieval church, and wanted to bring in more rational arguments.

SC: Excellent. Well we are almost out of time, but if you could give us some further remarks about your presentation, I think that will be a good way to wrap it up.

GK: Yes. So I told many things already which were in my presentation. One thing I haven’t mentioned yet, that I added, was the famous 20th century stigmatic Padre Pio. Padre Pio, who was a Capuchin friar in South Italy, who was stigmatised in 1918. That was also a typical historical moment – a moment of the First World War, with a lot of horrible experiences that European people and Italians also went through (25:00). And the stigmata was also interestingly related to the South Italian situation and history. There were strong clashes between a triumphant Socialist movement and the Catholic Church. Padre Pio himself was also an interesting individual. He was an ailing person with a lot of illnesses. That’s why he was exempt, he was drafted as a soldier but was exempt from military service because of his illnesses. And he became a friar in a very remote Capuchin convent in San Giovanni Rotondo– a place where a lot of miracles happened because it was just behind the Monte Gargano where the famous miracles of Saint Michael the archangel came. So Italy, in general, was very favourable to miracles. And the old places where miracles used to happen made it kind-of common knowledge that miracles do happen. And this is how the stigmata came out from Padre Pio. And the story itself is a very interesting story. Because from the point of view of medical debates, his stigmata were very debated. They were debated. Because a pharmacist denounced him, saying that he had some iodine tinctures to disinfect his wounds. And some doctors accused him that this was actually to perpetuate the wounds which could have happened out of illness or other reasons. Because, for stigmata, it’s very important that the stigmata should happen by divine intervention, not by self-infliction. That can also have devotional background, but it is not a miracle. So stigmata should be miraculous. And then the debate started and there was a long inquisition, an examination of Padre Pio with all the witnesses and everything. And there was a very important Catholic person, a Franciscan friar, Agostino Gemelli, who later was the founder of the Milan University, the Catholic University, and he was very . . . he had many doubts. He was also not only a Franciscan friar, but also a psychiatrist and a doctor. And he thought that Padre Pio was doing a fraud. But other supporters of Padre Pio were defending him. And there was a long, long debate. He was sentenced to isolation for ten years and also that he should not have – because he was also a pre-consecrated priest, Padre Pio – but he should not confess and give public sermons. He gave the public sermons with stigmatic hands, like Christ, so that was very impressive. But some others said that this is just a fraud. But then in the 1930s he was a pardoned. And then his cult was starting in his life. And actually, he lived with those stigmata for fifty years. And he had some very poplar actions. He built a huge hospital in San Giovanni Rotondo, in a very, very background region, where he was really bringing a lot of good things to his surroundings. And he was later on very much venerated by some popes like Pope Giovanni, John Paul II – the Polish Pope, who was doing pilgrimage to him already, from Poland, from the 1940s. And when he became Pope, one of his aims was to canonise Padre Pio – which he did, actually. So he started the veneration of Padre Pio. And now, Padre Pio is the most popular saint. He is a kind-of saint of the people (30:00). And the notion was also that the people wanted him to become a saint, and the Church – the high priests – resisted for a while. But then they gave in, and now they have canonised him.

SC: Now he is part of the institutionality.

GK: Yes. But there are some others still have doubts. So in any case, he’s one of the most remarkable saints of the twentieth century. And all his life course is related to 20th century Italian history. And there are very good books on him. There is one good Italian historian Sergio Luzzatto who wrote a wonderful monograph on him, where he’s portrayed Padre Pio really as somebody who represents 20th century Italian history – with all its contradictions.

SC: Very, very interesting. I think it’s like all the mystical phenomena are related to society, in one way or the other.

GK: Yes, certainly.

SC: I think that’s a very good take-away for our interview. We thank you once again, Professor Klaniczay, for being here on the Religious Studies Project and we hope you’ll come here again, soon.

GK: Yes OK. Thank you very much.

SC: Thank you very much.

 

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The Therwil Affair: Handshakes in Swiss Schools

In this podcast, taking place on the last day of the Annual EASR Conference in Bern, Dr Philipp Hetmanczyk and Martin Bürgin of Zurich University talk to Thomas White about the Therwil Affair, a controversy that emerged in 2016 after two Swiss Muslim schoolboys declined to shake hands with their female teacher.

The seemingly rather local, minor incident of two boys declining a handshake in a school just outside of Basel escalated into a major national debate, and was reported in news media across the world. As the issue moved from one of school governance, to public values, to law and later immigration, the Therwil Affair became a focal point for national discussions on religious freedom, gender equality, civic duties, multi-ethnic integration and cultural identity in Switzerland.

As the podcast delves into Swiss political history, Philipp and Martin elaborate on both the conservative and liberal cultural narratives which sought to situate the Muslim schoolboys’ refusal to shake hands. They comment that it is not without some irony that amongst the voices who decried the gender inequality implied in the schoolboys’ actions were the same conservative men who had previously argued against women acquiring the national vote: a policy that did not enter law on a national level until as late as 1971 – and in a specific canton as recently as 1990!

Following an explanation of the historical backdrop to contemporary Swiss ‘culture wars’ that the Therwil Affair spoke so clearly to, the discussion moves to how Swiss educational law has shifted subsequent to the Therwil Affair, with schools now expected to report to Swiss Immigration similar instances of supposed integration failure. With schools being understood not merely as centres for education but also as sites for the teaching and reproduction of standardised norms and values, in countries of religious, ethnic and cultural diversity, the tricky question emerges as to what these norms and values are? Perhaps what may be better, as Philipp suggests, is for schools to resist expectations that they should be cultivating a cultural homogeneity, but focus instead on preparing pupils for moments of cultural difference.

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


The Therwil Affair: Handshakes in Swiss Schools

Podcast with Philipp Hetmancyzk and Martin Bürgin (17 December 2018).

Interviewed by Thomas White.

Transcribed by Helen Bradstock.

Audio and transcript available at: Hetmancyzk and Burgin – The Therwil Affair 1.1

 

Thomas White (TW): Hello there! I’m here in Bern, Switzerland, at the EASR. We’re on the final day. And I’m joined here by two Swiss early-career researchers, Dr Philipp Hetmancyzk and Martin Bürgin, both from the University of Zurich. And because it’s based in Switzerland, this conference, and we need to really get to grips with issues that are affecting Swiss understandings of religion – and politics and religion – in the public space, we are going to be talking about the Therwil Affair. This, as far as I remember from reading in the international press a couple of years ago, was a big issue, carried on the winds of international press as often sensational religious controversies do. But I suspect I’m not the best person to introduce this to our Listeners. So, Philipp and Martin, what was the Therwil Affair? Can you please explain this for us?

Philipp Hetmancyzk (PH): So, what we now call the Therwil Affair is named, first of all, after the place, Therwil. Therwil is a little town close to the city of Basel, which probably might be better known. In Therwil there was a secondary school. And two Muslim students of that school decided not to shake hands due to religious reasons, as they claim, with the female teacher. And this very local incident kind of became a nationwide affair, a case where the media was involved and reported extensively. Politicians debated about the case, brought it up to the cantonal parliament. And even international media reported about that. So, in the end, it became just a huge thing.

TW: Wow. Well this is unusual and perhaps even rather hard to understand – the importance of handshakes. Are handshakes that important in Switzerland?

PH: And just to correct your introduction – Martin is the Swiss guy here. I came to Switzerland for doing my PhD.

TW: Oh, I beg your pardon!

PH: Just to put that straight. No problem at all. But I think that question Martin definitely has to answer – because I never experienced schooling in Switzerland.

Martin Bürgin (MB): Well, of course. I can answer the question from a very personal level. I mean, I grew up in Switzerland and went to school in Switzerland. And I have to say, I don’t remember that shaking hands was a ritual, a common ritual, at school. Maybe at kindergarten, but definitely not at high school. And if we look to that from a historical perspective and we can go one generation back, it was very common that students were sitting behind their desks when teachers came in. And they had to stand up and say, “Hello” and that was it. So there was for sure, no handshake at all. Whether it is, maybe, on the very personal level . . . ? As a scholar in the study of religions – maybe we can discuss this afterwards – but I would say it’s very interesting to see the handshake as a symbol within a cultural symbol system. If we remember Stuart Hall it is the participants in a culture who give meaning to people, objects and practices. And we can interpret this handshake, or the denial of a handshake as a cultural practice.

TW: Right. So the handshake is symbolic of a far bigger conversation and far bigger issues than just simply, you know, classroom management. But let’s try and get to grips with the actual case study before we try and explore the really big conceptual issues, which will be a fascinating aspect to this topic. Now as I understand it, the school did try to reconcile this issue on its own terms quite early. Is that correct?

MB: Before the refused handshake was discussed on the national and international level, the local school management had already reached a compromise with the students and parents. And, basically, it was agreed that the students should be allowed to acknowledge their teacher with another appropriate, respectful form of greeting rather than being obliged to shake hands with them. So this compromise temporarily exempted the two students from their obligation to shake hands with their female teachers, but at the same time it also forbade them to shake hands with their male teachers.

TW: Right. So . . .

PH: Can I add to that?

TW: Yes, of course. Please do. (5:00)

PH: I think what was at stake here – and it’s kind of the important point also of the whole affair – the whole stressing of the gender dimension of this thing. Since they refused to shake hands with the female teacher, teachers in the school feared that now they will go against the principle of gender equality if they would allow for that, just like that. So they forced the pupils, or convinced them also, “If you don’t want to shake hands with the female teachers, you don’t shake hands with your male teachers either.” Just to stick to the principle of gender equality. It was made a big issue, in this case.

TW: Excellent. So there was an effort to both respect the religious freedom of the Muslim students whilst not transgressing on strong principals of gender neutrality.

PH: Exactly.

TW: But then the issue got a lot larger, didn’t it? The media got hold of it. It ballooned into this national conversation. How was it framed in the media, and how did it kind-of create such a controversy?

MB: It exploded when the Arena, I would say the most influential political TV programme in Switzerland, addressed the subject in two specials, under the lurid titles “Fear of Islam” and “Switzerland without God”. Then a barrage of reports and comments in the media as well. As the demand of concrete political measures, postulated by the politicians of influence on the national level, put pressure on the cantonal authorities and politicians in Basel-Country.

PH: I think we have to add to that, also, that the solution found by the school was just meant as a short time-span compromise. The school wanted to have it fixed on legal terms, so they asked for legal expertise to check into the case. Because the school wanted sort-of defined standards to which they could refer in case something like that would happen again. And so they drew it to a legal level, and this made the whole thing public and raised the media attention. So we have, then, two systems kicking in, both with their own interests: the lawyers, the lawmakers, checking on this issue of gender equality, freedom of religion, educational law; and parallel to that the media echo, of course, trying to make the thing a hot topic.

TW: Were the media discussing it within a legal frame? Were they using legal terminology? Or were they using more populist ways of engaging with the issue?

MB: Yes, definitely. It was about, as we said, the equality of women and men; it was about Islam, and Islam as a thing which has to be feared; it was about Christian culture; it was about liberal culture. And so the whole discussion was not really about the . . . it exploded away from this very local issue.

PH: But that was also possible because the media could connect to other hot topics and hot debates, like building mosques in the public sphere, wearing the burqa and other debates which are currently . . . which already existed before. And the Therwil case was just another piece in that sort-of chain of discussions. But again, this then put it in line with “Swiss Culture versus Muslim immigrant culture”.

TW: Right, so we’ve got this discussion of a kind of culture war taking place – or certainly that framing of the issue. For our listeners who might not perhaps be experts in Swiss culture, or the history of Swiss national identity, what are the key tropes or key narratives that can help us understand the forces behind this conversation, this national debate?

MB: Different narratives here, but I would say one of the most important topics is that of the equality of women and men. For that one has to know that in Switzerland women claimed their right to vote not until 1971, on a national level. And in one specific canton, called Appenzell Innerrhoden, as recently as 1991. (10:00)

TW: Wow!

MB: Following a decision by the Federal Supreme Court – so, not on the basis of the democratic level. But now it’s very interesting to see how the same conservative parties and sometimes also the very same politicians – now a little bit older – which opposed the right to vote for women a few decades ago, act now as the spokesmen for an equality of women and men against – from their point of view –archaic forces which menace Swiss women.

TW: So, those who were strongly opposed to . . . or were at least quite sceptical of women’s rights are now using it as a rhetorical means with which to push against Muslims within Switzerland.

PH: It was sort of instrumentalised, I think. I mean, maybe adding to that from a sort-of outsider perspective on Swiss cultural narratives – which are kind of complex, I would also say, which is fascinating . . . . Because you have this narrative of Swiss history and culture as being very liberal, with kind-of a lot of referendums, having a very strong sense for democratic procedures. But on the other hand you have still strong institutions like the army, with sort-of an idolised “male warrior culture”. And also, the national hero figure as the guy with the strong bow, shooting the apple, right? Wilhelm Tell.

TW: We know the music, yes.

PH: And there’s also a strong sense that it is not . . . The army is part of the wider population. Every male guy has to go to the army, takes the weapon home. So whenever there is need to defend the country, they are ready. And this thing is still kind-of going strong, I have the impression. Maybe not as much, of course, as 30-40 years ago. But if I compare it to Britain and Germany, for example, I think it makes a difference here, where you still have that argument as . . .

TW: So are we perhaps looking at a machismo which is defending women from insults, as opposed to really seeking to enforce gender equality.

PH: I would not go that far.

TW: That’s too far.

PH: But the Therwil case definitely kind of was instrumentalised to push the argument forward, “Look at the Muslim minorities. They have an issue with women’s rights.” But we don’t look at our own shortcomings. Because we are very liberal – although you can put many question marks behind that.

MB: The narrative I described before, that was more like the conservative narrative. And of course you have another narrative which I would describe as a liberal narrative. So the liberals in their motion, when the whole this was discussed in the local cantonal parliament, they described a refused handshake as a symbol – I could cite that I guess – for a fundamentalist and militant ideology – so you hear that in their own words – which contradicts our state and social order which is built on personal freedom, legal equality and the equality of men and women. And that’s a different thing. As the conservatives would propose. So for the liberals these are the three pillars of society. And now from the perspective of a history of concepts, maybe it’s interesting to see that if we replace the equality of women and men with the rather old-fashioned term of brotherhood – of course, produced in times of pure male hegemony – we get the very familiar trio of liberté, égalité et fraternité. And that’s the slogan of the French Revolution which is essential for the self-conception of the Swiss Liberals, that they wanted to defend.

TW: So on the one hand, we’ve got the liberal narrative of equality and Enlightenment values, (15:00) and then on the other hand we got the conservative . . .

MB: defending of Swiss women.

TW: And so we’ve kind-of got this strange confluence of cultural narratives being allied to push against migrant and specifically Muslim identities and interests. It’s fascinating. Moving away from perhaps the cultural discussion to more the legal issue – because it did become a legal discussion as well – how was that framed, and what were the arguments on either side?

PH: I think at least one power play that played an important role here was “civic duties versus religious freedoms”. And some politicians brought it forward that civic duties should be given primacy over religious freedoms. And this whole trope, or this logic, has a history in itself. And probably Martin can say a little bit more about that, because it goes also back to this culture war.

MB: Yes that’s true. The concept of primacy of civic duty is also connected with a narrative, with a political narrative. It comes from the Federal Constitution of 1874. It was the first revision of the first constitution of the modern Swiss State, which came from 1848. And both constitutions were products of conflict situations between the Catholic conservative camp and the liberal camp. The constitution of 1874 and the so-called primacy of civic duty – that is a product of pure culture-war politics. This constitution, as well as the first constitution, served as a warrantor of the – at the time – liberal radical majority and was directed against the Catholic conservative minority. So they served as a dispositive of power.

TW: So how does this fit? Is this more kind-of ensuring the loyalty of the Catholic community to the Swiss State, as opposed to Rome? Or the civic duty – it has some very strong policy implications even today, doesn’t it? But . . .

MB: Yes, that was expelled from the Constitution. So it’s not any more in the Constitution, at the national level. So they want to reintroduce that, or wanted to introduce that on a cantonal level, after the so-called Therwil incident. Yes the constitution – as you said – of 1874: that was a political instrument to weaken the Catholic conservative camp. I mean, it included things like the suppression and ban of the Society of Jesus, and the prohibition of the establishment and re-establishment of monasteries in Switzerland, the removal of the right to be elected as members of the National Council for Roman Catholic priests – so not very democratic for Roman Catholic priests – and restrictions against the formation of new Roman Catholic Dioceses in Switzerland. That was a pure culture war product.

TW: And this narrative of civic duties was being mobilised to push against the religious freedom arguments.

PH: It was brought up again, yes, interestingly. Although it has this kind of history package. But in the end they had to drop it again. They did not . . . . Although it was brought up in the discussion, if it should be included in the constitution again – in the cantonal constitution – you have to say. But it was dropped, because of course it was a lot of legal question marks behind if that was still possible. Anyway, to your question about the legal framing – because that’s not it – what they still introduced is that cases like Therwil have now to be reported to the bureau of immigration affairs by the teachers. This is now part of educational law. And since you asked how this changed the perspective since the Therwil case . . . . Because it is clear, now, that you can now bring it up to the Bureau of Immigration Affairs, then the whole issue of religious diversity in the classroom is now being reduced to an issue of immigration questions.

TW: So we’ve got an incident that takes place in the classroom now being an issue of immigration. Is there more to the story, there? (20:00) I mean, were the two Muslim school children, were they recent immigrants, or were they citizens, or . . .? It seems strange to have . . .

PH: I think it was second generation kids. But probably not citizens, yet.

MB: I think from Syria, yes.

TW: Oh, wow. Ok. So we’re starting to almost get integration issues starting to be . . . integration at the national policy level being focused on what’s taking place in the classroom.

MB: I think that was why politicians took the whole issue on the national level: to speak about questions of migration and immigration – and maybe not that much about handshakes.

TW: Yes. So carrying over into broader anxieties and concerns about immigration to Switzerland. Is that how it relates to other controversies? We were suggesting, earlier, that there are other points of conflict, perhaps, between the national narrative of culture and immigrant communities.

PH: Yes. And actually, talking about immigration, I think there’s . . . we already mentioned like the burqa, the mosques, the minarets. But I think what we forgot so far is also the debate about immigration as such – because that’s big topic, too. This is about the integration of Switzerland in wider Europe. Because Switzerland kind-of experienced a huge influx of foreign workers from all around Europe. And this led also to an intensive debate about immigration, local culture, fears of local customs and Swiss culture sort of dying out. And I think this was just another issue to which the Therwil thing could be associated.

TW: Yes, so the site of the school being very much a focus of identity politics. And through the conference we’ve been hearing kind-of papers that have explored the idea that schools are not simply places where people learn, but almost centres of ideological production; where children are inculcated with certain values and certain behaviours and certain perspectives. What do you think are the implications for education, as such, when it gets drawn into these kind of national controversies of culture, citizenship, and diversity?

PH: To answer the first part of your question, I think it’s still the case and schools, of course, are places where you learn about mathematics, where you learn about literature, but also from a Religious Studies perspective, school is definitely still a place which is imagined by wider society as a place where its norms and values are being taught and reproduced. So I think this has not gone. But the question is definitely: what norms and values do you want to teach in school? And I mean, this was also debated in the Therwil case. Because it was said, “Yes – all schools should be a place where they learn to cope with difference; where they should learn about diversity; individual peculiarities; tolerance; respect and so on. But then, what actually happened was that they used this argument to basically out-rule religious diversity in the form of two Muslim guys rejecting the handshake. So there was then, rather: “OK, the school should be a place where norms and values are practised, but these norms and values are not in accord with what these two guys, what the two boys did.” So that put a very strong vision of what schools should be and what norms and values should be practised in school, and what does not fit in to the school.

MB: But of course we don’t have any definition of what these values and customs should be. I mean the cantonal government spoke of, “considering the increasing migration of people with various ethnic and religious backgrounds, it is essential that those people respect our laws our values and our customs.” The cantonal government, you can hear it, doesn’t give us a definition of what these values and customs should be. But clearly we can see a constructed dichotomy of a “we” and “the others”; a construction of identity through alterity. (25:00)

TW: Fascinating.

PH: There was a second part of your question which has stayed unanswered so far. And that was how this kind of national debate about school . . . and what would be the impact on school being connected to citizenship, and what would be an alternative way to deal with such national issues in terms of education? And I think what would definitely help, in such cases like we have in Therwil, is that students and pupils are kind-of equipped with the competence for religious questions. That means also not from a religiously normative perspective, but just having knowledge and competence about religion. So they can basically critically evaluate such debates by themselves, and also kind-of learn to understand what is at stake here. And that then brings me again back to the study of religion as a discipline. Because I think implementing contents from the study of religion in school curriculum would help a lot. For example, to equip students to kind-of get an opinion on such things, by themselves.

TW: Yes. So the handshake isn’t so much a moment for discipline or enforcing national homogeneity or cultural integration but a pedagogic opportunity, perhaps: where the kids in the classroom can actually think about where people come from in different perspectives, regarding the religious values that cause them to physically interact with people in different ways. I suppose the question I want to conclude with is, what is the policy position now? Where are we regarding handshakes in Swiss schools?

PH: That’s a very good question actually. The media attention has gone by now, because the debates are all through. The media is now already onto the next event. And to the next stuff. So what kept almost unnoticed is that the debates in the parliament went through, with the respective change of law as we described earlier. So the civic duties over religious freedoms has not become part of the Constitution, but teachers have to report to the immigration office such incidents. What is done now is kind-of out of the media attention. And the case now, with this, is more or less settled. But with the respective political outcomes which you can see as . . . . Yes, it will have an influence on further cases. Because there’s now a kind of pre-structure for the way of how to handle such cases. This is what the politicians wanted, but which is also kind-of giving away the chance to probably have a more thorough debate on religious diversity in school. This chance is now, somehow, out.

TW: Yes. Well thank you very much Martin and Philipp. This was an extremely stimulating conversation. Any final comments before we sign off and say farewell to our Listeners?

MB: (Laughs).

TW: I think we’re all keen to enjoy a beer, now, at the end of the conference!

MB: And the next media scandalisation in Switzerland will come, for sure! (Laughs).

PH: Definitely! (Laughs).

TW: Wonderful! Thank you very much for that.

PH and MB: Thank you.


Citation Info: Hetmancyzk, Philipp, Martin Bürgin and Thomas White. 2018. “The Therwil Affair: Handshakes in Swiss Schools”, The Religious Studies Project (Podcast Transcript). 17 December 2018. Transcribed by Helen Bradstock. Version 1.1, 14 December 2018. Available at: https://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/podcast/the-therwil-affair-handshakes-in-swiss-schools/

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 the Religious Studies Project archive, or know of any sources of funding for the broader transcription project, please get in touch. Thanks for reading.

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Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – 28 March 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!

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Calls for papers

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

July 12–14, 2017

University of Leeds, UK

Deadline: April 28, 2017

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Conference: Verbal Charms and Narrative Genres

December 8–10, 2017

Budapest, Hungary

Deadline: May 1, 2017

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Conference: ISASR: Religion, Myth and Migration

June 16, 2017

Waterford Institute of Technology, Ireland

Deadline: April 10, 2017

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Conference: Sacred Journeys: Pilgrimage and Religious Tourism

October 26–27, 2017

Beijing, China

Deadline: June 1, 2017

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New journal: The Journal of Festive Studies

First issue

Deadline: November 1, 2017

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Events

Workshop: New perspectives on the secularization of funerary culture in 19th-and 20th-century Europe

June 15, 2017

Ghent, Belgium

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Workshop: Irish Network for the Study of Esotericism and Paganism

March 31, 2017

University College Cork, UK

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Journal: Anthropology & Materialism

Special issue: Walter Benjamin and philosophy

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Jobs and funding

Postdoctoral Research Fellows: Religion, science, atheism

University of Queensland, Australia

Deadline: April 16, 2017

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Postdoctoral Research Fellow: Racialization of Islam

Yale University, USA

Deadline: April 21, 2017

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Postdoctoral Research Fellow: East Asian Buddhism

University of British Columbia, Canada

Deadline: May 1, 2017 (closing date says May 2, but announcement says May 1)

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Tenure-Track Faculty Position: Hassenfeld Chair in Islamic Studies

Brandeis University, USA

Deadline: June 21, 2017

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Professorship: History of Religion and the Religious in Europe

University of Konstanz, Germany

Deadline: April 13, 2017 (closing date says April 15, but announcement says April 13)

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University Lecturer: Religion in International Relations

Leiden University, The Netherlands

Deadline: April 17, 2017

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Deadline: May 18, 2017

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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… :)).

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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

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

July, 2017 (date TBA)

St Mary’s University, UK

Deadline: April 14, 2017

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

July 1–2, 2017

Bath, UK

Deadline: January 15, 2017

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Conference: The Place of Religion in Film

March 30–April 1, 2017

Syracuse University, USA

Deadline (extended): January 15, 2017

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Conference: Egyptian and Eastern Cults in the Roman Empire

June 15–18, 2017

Szombathely/Savaria, Hungary

Deadline: March 1, 2017

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Conference panel: SISR/ISSR: Global Pentecostal Charismatic Christianities

July 4–7, 2017

Lausanne, Switzerland

Deadline: January 10, 2017

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

August 29–September 1, 2017

Deadline: February 1, 2017

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Journal: Open Theology

Special issue: Phenomenology of Religious Experience

Deadline: June 1, 2017

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Workshop: Ritual ‘Litter’ Redressed

May 5, 2017

University of Hertfordshire, UK

Deadline: January 15, 2017

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Journal: Journal for the Study of Religious Experience

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

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Interviewers and audio interns

Religious Studies Project

Deadline: January 23, 2017

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Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – 13 December 2016

Dear subscriber,

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

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Calls for papers

Conference: EASR 2017: Communicating Religion

September 18–21, 2017

University of Leuven, Belgium

Deadline: December 31, 2016

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Conference: North Atlantic Catholic Communities in Rome, 1622–1939

June 6–7, 2017

Rome, Italy

Deadline: December 30, 2016

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Conference: Religion & Power

March 23–24, 2017

UNC Charlotte, USA

Deadline: January 7, 2017

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Conference: The Cognition of Belief

June 2, 2017

Georgetown University, USA

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Conference: Háskóli Íslands Student Conference on the Medieval North

April 7–8, 2017

University of Iceland, Iceland

Deadline: January 5, 2017

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Conference: The Religious and Ethnic Future of Europe: An International Conference

June 12–13, 2017

Åbo Akademi University, Finland

Deadline: December 31, 2017

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Journal: The Graduate Journal of Harvard Divinity School

2017 issue

Deadline: January 10, 2017

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Journal: Nova Religio

Special issue: Peoples Temple and Jonestown

Deadline: February 28, 2017

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Events

Conference: “Too Small a World”: Catholics Sisters as Global Missionaries

April 6, 2017

Chicago, USA

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Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism, USA

Deadlines: December 31, 2016; April 1, 2017; October 1, 2017

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University of Aberdeen, UK

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University of Erfurt, Germany

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University of Erfurt, Germany

Deadline: December 18, 2016

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Death, Music, and Ritual: Contemporary Requiems in the Commemoration of Death and Violence

Apparently, the only two certain things in life are death and taxes. In terms of the former, the requiem has held its grip up until contemporary times. While popular requiems, such as those composed by Mozart and Rutter are still performed, newly composed requiems, or requiem-like pieces are growing in popularity in the Netherlands and other parts of Europe. These requiems make use of previously employed lyrics and composition techniques, but some also rework these elements or leaving them behind entirely. From Mozart, to hip-hop, to haiku, contemporary music for the commemoration of death is variegated in its composition. In this interview, Breann Fallon discusses contemporary requiems with Associate Professor M.J.M. Hoondert of Tilburg University while at the 2016 European Association for the Study of Religions conference in Helsinki. Hoondert highlights the variety of contemporary requiems, noting their different styles, imagery, and convergences, but also the intended affect of the works. In particular, Hoondert discusses the step away from the liturgy associated with requiems as way for today’s individual to deal with death or violence in their own way. Still, it is clear that the ritual elements of the requiem remains, hence where this contemporary music fits into the sacral landscape is up for debate.

Also, be sure to check out DEATH, Religion, and Terror Management Theory with Jonathan Jong

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, coffins, Jennifer Lopez CD’s, and more.

Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – 18 October 2016

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

Calls for papers

Conference: Climate and Apocalypse

June 29–30, 2017

Bedford, UK

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Conference: 500 years: The Reformation and its Resonations

September 14–15, 2017

Bedford, UK

Deadline: April 30, 2017

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Conference: Violence and Millenarian Movements

April 6–7, 2017

Bedford, UK

Deadline: December 31, 2016

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Conference: Implicit Religion: Materiality and Immateriality

May 19–21, 2017

Deadline: March 1, 2017

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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

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Conference: Oral History Society: Remembering Beliefs

July 14–15, 2017

Leeds Trinity University, UK

Deadline: December 16, 2016

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Conference: The Religious and Ethnic Future of Europe

June 12–13, 2017

Åbo Akademi University, Finland

Deadline: December 31, 2016

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Events

Conference: La magia nel mondo antico: Nuove prospettive

October 27–29, 2016

Merano, Italy

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Program

Conference: Women, Religion and Gender Relations

November 9–11, 2016

University of Turin, Italy

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Jobs

Research assistant: Religious Life Vitality

Margaret Beaufort Institute in Cambridge, UK

Deadline: October 28, 2016

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Professor of Religion, Law and Human Rights

University of Groningen, The Netherlands

Deadline: January 4, 2017

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Bricolage

BRICOLAGE: construction (as of a sculpture or a structure of ideas) achieved by using whatever comes to hand; also : something constructed in this way

“Bricolage.” Merriam-Webster.com.

Claude Lévi-Strauss in the 1960s and has undergone a complex genealogy of modifications within the sociologies of culture and religion. As Véronique Altglas writes in a forthcoming article, ‘originally a metaphor, “bricolage'” became an anthropological concept to understand cultural and religious creativity, with an emphasis on what organizes it, despite its contingent nature. Transposed in the study of contemporary European societies, bricolage became about what individuals do in relation to cultural practices and lifestyles’ (Altglas Forthcoming).

In this interview with Chris, Altglas – the author of the recent OUP monograph From Yoga to Kabbalah: Religious Exoticism and the Logics of Bricolage – discusses this complex genealogy, tracing a movement from forms of cultural warfare to ‘playful, postmodern bricoleurs’ – what many might be tempted to dub ‘pick and mix spirituality’. However, as Altglas goes on to demonstrate, with a particular empirical focus upon Hindu-based Yoga centres and the Kabbalah centre, far from a carefree process of shopping at the ‘spiritual supermarket’, ‘the original meanings and otherness of elements used in this religious bricolage matter, and in fact limits, the popularization of “exotic” religions’ (Forthcoming).

IMG_20141112_114757This broad-ranging interview provides a fascinating overview of an important concept that is not only relevant for the study of contemporary ‘religion’ and ‘spirituality’, but also speaks to cultural appropriation and construction in general, utilizing a number of stimulating contextual examples along the way. Chris enjoyed the interview so much, he immediately went out and bout Véronique’s book… and he suggests you do too!

This interview was recorded at the European Sociological Association’s Sociology of Religion Research Network Conference in Belfast in September 2014. You can also download this podcast, 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 – particularly in the run up to Christmas!

Picture-41

Thanks to Culture on the Edge for posting this passage. http://edge.ua.edu/monica-miller/the-myth-of-origins/

References

  • Forthcoming 2015. ‘Bricolage’: Reclaiming a Conceptual Tool. Culture & Religion. 2015. 4.

Science and Religion in Europe: A Historical Perspective

The idea of long-running clash between the domains of “science” and “religion” has not only been central to western discourses on modernity, but has increasingly become a central supposition in the history of science itself – informing not just the rhetoric of the New Atheists, but also the broader public understanding of the issue.  But is this historically accurate?

In this interview, Professor Peter Harrison (formerly Idreos Professor of Science and Religion at Oxford) outlines the flaws in this supposition by providing a historical perspective on the categories “science” and “religion” and the way that they were formerly considered separate virtues (scientia and religio) instead of incompatible domains of knowledge.  Far from the current narrative being correct – often focusing on episodes such as the Church’s response to the Galileo controversy – Professor Harrison explains that religious institutions were originally (and for a long time) key supporters of scientific activity, which was considered broadly as a theological attempt to unlock The Book of Nature.   The middle section of the interview looks at the complex relationship between theological commitment and scientific activity from Newton to Darwin, and in the final section discusses continuing complexities of the relationship in the post-Darwinan western world, right down to problematic assumptions at play in contemporary New Atheism as well as debates about Islamic militancy.

This interview was recorded at the meeting of the Australian Religious History Association in July 2014.  For those interested in the themes of the interview, the keynote talk of the RHA meeting was delivered by one of Professor Harrison’s key collaborators, Ronald Numbers (on a similar topic, focusing especially on the Galileo episode).   A number of related talks and interviews can be found on the CHED website.

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.

Mormons demographics on the other side of the big puddle

In Europe, Mormons are new religious movement par excellence – they are new to the area, their numbers are very small, they have no social respectability, their doctrines are considered strange and exotic […], and all of these characteristics place them on the same level as other small groups that are trying to settle in the European area

Mormons demographics on the other side of the big puddle

By Pavol Kosnac, Oxford University

Published by the Religious Studies Project, on 30 January 2013 in response to the Religious Studies Project Interview with Ryan Cragun on Mormonism, Growth and Decline (28 January 2013).

As Professor Cragun suggests in his interview with the Religious Studies Project, Mormonism in USA has, from the viewpoint of sociology, undergone a process of socialization. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints are generally on the edge, and probably even within,  wider public acceptance. They are considered to be a truly American religion; they have been there for some 180 years, which is longer than many Christian evangelical groups, which nowadays consist  largely of Pentecostals (the youngest members of the evangelical family), and they are considered to be conservative, defenders of family values, and an important part of the Republican voting base. However, the same factors that may have granted Mormons respectability in USA, may prevent them from gaining it elsewhere any time soon. I will focus on Europe, since this is area in which I have most practical experience in general, and particularly with Latter-Day Saints.

In Europe, LDS members are still mostly well known for one characteristic, which has not been a valid stereotype for about 120 years – that is, that they engage in polygamy. People, especially in non-English speaking countries, do not yet recognise their typical uniform – white shirt, dark trousers, name badge –  and often mix them up with Jehovah´s Witnesses, mostly because they, same as Mormon missionaries, always move in pairs and want to talk about Jesus, and partially – especially in areas east  of Germany – because Jehovah´s Witnesses are generally the only contextually well-known religious movement that does this kind of mission (stopping people on street, house to house mission). This small mistake can damage their cause before they even speak to someone. Besides some anti-American sentiment in parts of European society, I would agree with some of the missionaries I have talked to, who said that the America-centric nature of their message is somehow damaging for their mission on several levels. Many people, who would possibly be interested in a new version of the Christian message, when told that Jesus will come to Salt Lake City, or that Lehi’s family (from the biblical tribe of  Manasseh) floated to America to build the true Christianity there, consider these details too much to bear, break contact and stop coming to the meetings.

The problem with applying terms like ‘new religious movements’ to movements that are approaching 200 years of existence is obvious, even if the term is not only descriptive of age. Yet, however disputable this may be in the Americas, it is not in Europe. In Europe, Mormons are new religious movement par excellence – they are new to the area, their numbers are very small, they have no social respectability, their doctrines are considered strange and exotic (for other Christians absolutely heretical), and all of these characteristics place them on the same level as other small groups that are trying to settle in the European area – from their American Pentecostal compatriots to new and ‘westernized’ types of far-east inspired spiritual groups

I would agree with Professor Cragun that most people in Europe, as in the US, who start to become more interested in Mormonism and consider entering it, are of lower socio-economic standing, especially in new Mormon mission areas. My personal experiences relate to Prague and Bratislava, where this is true for at least 70% of new members. Another constituency of members that you can meet at regular Sunday gatherings are students and foreigners, a large number of whom do not speak language of their country of residence very well and/or do not have another community there. In these cases, the Mormon community – traditionally very welcoming – may attract them as a friendly (if small) social group, where they can belong.

To disagree with Professor Cragun, however,  I would question some of the reasons which he considers important factors influencing the low membership retention rate: namely,  sexual conservatism, such as opposing pre-marital sex, cohabitation, and restricting pornography and practiced homosexuality. Mormons are not particularly special in these requirements; the same rules can be found in the most conservative of Protestant or Catholic groups, many of whom have very high retention rates.  If there is not another specific which makes conservative sexual ethics somehow more problematic for members of the LDS church, I would be quite sceptical of the influence of this factor upon membership retention.

On the other hand, I would certainly agree with the problems surrounding counting new members  by baptism. During my field research in Bratislava, it appear to me that becoming a member is not a very complicated process, with much less involved than I would have expected after having the official church regulations for membership explained to me by several ex-members. It seemed to me to be possible to be interested in the idea of converting, or to only enjoy the very nice and welcoming social atmosphere, yet leave after several months, having been baptised during that time. If what Professor Cragun said is true, which I have no reason to doubt, that “once a Mormon, until the age of 110 a Mormon“, then their membership numbers may be very highly inflated, and not only in USA, but also in Europe, where Mormon groups seem to have very small numbers indeed.

Success of LDS missionaries in converting Europeans is generally very small. The only large official numbers are in the United Kingdom – where, according to an LDS webpage, it has 188 000 members. Problems with these number will probably be same as problems with US numbers. Other states in Western Europe have several tens of thousands, in other parts of Europe it is from several thousand to several hundred. In some western European countries,  Mormon missionaries have been active for more than 150 years (in Britain, for example, they have been since1837). In terms of mere numbers, in comparison to younger groups who come from the USA, like Jehovah´s Witnesses or Assemblies of God, this has not been a  very successful mission.

Finally, there may be also other local specifics that inflate the numbers, for example, in Slovak case, the “phantom Mormons“. The phenomenon which I call ”phantom membership“ happened in Slovakia´s last national census in 2011, where 972 people identified themselves as Mormons. This was an unbelievable number, since I know the situation of Mormons in Slovakia very well. I have never seen more than 50 practicing Mormons in their biggest Slovak group, and when I talked to several Slovak missionaries and representatives, their estimates of the number of Mormons in Slovakia were never higher than 300, and they also suggested that the results from census were very surprising for them also. I think that a possible explanation might be that, because Mormons are little known in Slovak environment, and their official name is generally unknown, when they were listed in the census options (for first time in Slovak history), many non-denominational Christians who were not sure what box to tick, and may not have wanted to tick the “Other“ box, saw “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints“ and ticked the box with ”Church of Jesus Christ“, filtering out the rest of the name since they had no idea what it meant means, but it sounded about right (no other registered church in Slovakia has “Jesus Christ” in its name). It is possible that this hypothesis is incorrect, but if not it would explain those almost 700 invisible Mormons, which even the most optimistic church officials never knew they “had”.

In summary, we can conclude, that official LDS estimates of Mormon demography are strongly inflated in Europe , just as in the Americas. Many of the advantages that Mormons have in the USA because of their unique “American-ness” may become more of a burden in Europe, and because of this their retention rate may be worse in Europe than in the USA. One way or another, it is difficult to imagine how LDS Church officials could consider the Mormon mission to Europe a success.

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:

Pavol Kosnac completed his B.A. and M.A. in Religious Studies at Comenius University in Bratislava, and studies of political philosophy, jurisprudence and ethics at Collegium of Anton Neuwirth. He is currently studying for a MSt. In the Study of Religion at Oxford University and applying for DPhil studies. His focus is mainly on the study of new religiosity, new religious movements and non-religiosity in (but not exclusively) central and eastern Europe, and the methodology of research in these categories in general.

 

References:

LDS official membership information by country:

http://www.ldschurchnews.com/almanac/1/Almanac.html, accessed 12.1.2013

Information on Slovak national poll from Slovak statistical Institute:

http://portal.statistics.sk/files/tab-14.pdf

Tariq Modood on the Crisis of European Secularism

Secularism – the separation of religion and state – has been a central narrative in the European political sphere since the Enlightenment. But with renewed calls in some countries to affirm a Christian identity, and problems in accommodating some Muslim communities, is Western secularism under threat?

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

Tariq Modood is Professor of Sociology, Politics and Public Policy at the University of Bristol. He is founding Director of the University Research Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship, and co-founding editor of the international journal, Ethnicities. As a regular contributor to the media and policy debates in Britain, he was awarded a MBE for services to social sciences and ethnic relations in 2001 and elected a member of the Academy of Social Sciences in 2004. He also served on the Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain, the IPPR Commission on National Security and on the National Equality Panel, which reported to the UK Deputy Prime Minister in 2010.

His recent publications include Multicultural Politics: Racism, Ethnicity and Muslims in Britain (Edinburgh University Press, 2005), Multiculturalism: A Civic Idea (Polity, 2007) and Still Not Easy Being British: Struggles for a Multicultural Citizenship (Trentham Books, 2010); and as co-editor, Secularism, Religion and Multicultural Citizenship (Cambridge University Press, 2009).

Is There a Crisis of Secularism in Western Europe?, which expands considerably upon the issues in this interview, is now available at http://www.bris.ac.uk/ethnicity/news/2012/36.html.

Readers and listeners might also be interested in Linda Woodhead’s podcast on the Secularisation Thesis, and Bjoern Mastiaux’s essay on the same topic.

Podcasts

Unbelief as a Nuanced Phenomenon: The Sociality of Nonreligion across Europe

Unbelief has often been defined as either ignorance or rejection of religious systems, but this week’s guests David Herbert and Josh Bullock see far more diversity in the ways one can be nonreligious. Sharing lessons from their project “Reaching for a new sense of connection? Towards a deeper understanding of the sociality of generation y non-believers in northern and Central Europe,” we hear about a more nuanced phenomenon of unbelief, where a diverse array of positions are constantly anchored, defined, and recreated in social settings. Collected from nationwide surveys, social media, and interview data, the project presents the tendencies of nonreligious young adults in the UK, Netherlands, Norway, Germany, Poland, and Romania.

One of the takeaways from this podcast is that unbelief has widespread national differences as reflected in analysis of social media, but regional similarities from historical contexts show the effects of wider geo-political alignments. For example, in the Netherlands, Norway, and Eastern Germany non-religious people are more likely to express no interest in religious matters, while in Poland and Romania people vocally expressed their unbelief in politicized ways. For more perspectives on Hebert and Bullock’s project, visit https://newsenseofconnection.blog/

[Powerpress]

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, sardines, popcorn, and more.


Unbelief as a Nuanced Phenomenon:

The Sociality of Nonreligion across Europe

 

Podcast with David Herbert and Josh Bullock (2 December 2019).

Interviewed by Sidney Castillo

Transcribed by Helen Bradstock.

Transcript available at:

https://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/podcast/unbelief-as-a-nuanced-phenomena-the-sociality-of-nonreligion-across-europe/

 

Sidney Castillo (SC): Hello! I’m here now with Josh Bullock and David Herbert. We are at the EASR Conference 2019 in Tartu, Estonia, and we are happy to be gathered here. We are going to talk about understanding unbelief and the way that they are working on it: Reaching for a New Sense of Connection: the sociality of nonrelgion in Europe. Welcome to both of you, professors.

David Herbert (DH): Thank you.

SC: I think if you could introduce yourselves, it would be great for our Listeners.

Josh Bullock (JB): Sure. So I am doing a post-doctoral research on the Understanding Unbelief project at Kingston University. My background’s in the Sociology of Religion but primarily nonreligion – so if it could just be “Sociology of Nonreligion” that would be fine with me. And my PhD was on looking at the Sunday Assembly, the secular congregation.

DH: Hi, I’m David Herbert. I’m Professor of Sociology at Kingston University, London. And I work on religion, and now nonreligion. And also on migration and integration issues across Europe.

SC: Thank you, and welcome again to the Religious Studies Project. So let’s just dive right into the questions. And since you’re working on the Understanding Unbelief project I would like to ask, firstly, what makes unbelief an analytical category different from others such as nonreligion, horizontal transcendence, secular worldviews and so on?

DH: Yes, so the way the whole Understanding Unbelief project was set up, they gave us a lot of scope to define our own terms. So the term that we’ve used is nonreligion, because that’s kind-of easy to define – in terms of people who say they have “no religion” when you ask them. And what we found interesting, looking at the survey data, was that people who say they have no religion – when you ask “what most closely fits with your point of view?” when you give them a choice of “personal God”, “life force” or “spirit” – then many of them say, actually, life force or spirit rather than, “there is definitely no God”. So there’s kind-of an area of nonreligious which includes both people who believe in supernatural-type stuff and kind-of what we’d call “harder” atheists – so, a softer agnosticism and a harder atheism.

JB: I think that’s summed it up perfectly for my way of using nonrelgion rather than unbelief. Also, when we were trying to find participants for the study, I think nonreligion is more of a category that people are likely to relate to – at least, saying that they have no religion rather than defining themselves as being an “unbeliever” or having “unbelief”. So it was more of a relational category which people could . . . .

DH: We also found when we looked at our data that clearly many of the people who we interviewed who very definitely said that they had no religion, also said they had beliefs. So they believed in fate, luck, some of them even use horoscopes – even if a kind-of half-ironic way. So there was actually a lot of belief going on. So, again, we saw nonreligion as better. Because they’re not identifying with religion, whatever they mean by that, but they do have some beliefs.

SC: So that seems more nuanced than unbelief.

DH: Yes.

SC: Sure. Excellent. And the next question I think you place an emphasis on a particular age group. Why does the project focus on Generation Y or the Millennials? How does this group differentiate from other age groups?

JB: Yes. So we know that Generation Y – so those born between around the 1980s to late ’90s – they were around nineteen to thirty-seven, our participants were, when we interviewed them. And we know, based on ESS and EVS data, that they’re going to be much less religious than their parents’ generation and even more so than their grandparents’ generation. And this indicates for pretty much all of the countries, apart from Slovenia, across the European social studies data set.

DH: Yes, I think across twenty-six countries there’s like one where there are fewer nonreligious in that age group than in older age groups. But everywhere else it’s a growing phenomenon.

JB: So that was our primary reason – because we thought the pool would be bigger. And it also gives us some scope, then, for longitudinal studies: we can follow this generation as their beliefs perhaps change over time. And then also, part of our project was looking at the kind-of sense of connection they take and their sociality. So we were interested in the social media side of it, and how they connect with others – whether it be on forums or, yeah, social media, Twitter, Facebook.

DH: Yes. We thought, as the most intensive social media users, they would be a really good sample for getting a sense of what’s happening at the cutting edge of . . . because within nonreligion there are some kind-of older institutions, like the Humanist Society and so on, but not so much. And so we thought “Ok, so do people fulfil a need to sort-of get together in being nonreligious in whatever way?” And we thought, “OK, social media is a good way in. These are high users. We should find something.”

SC: So even though they don’t relate to religion in this way, they still want to gather and get together – find like-minded people?

JB: Well, that was the kind-of question we set out with at the beginning of the project. Because it was off the back of my research on the Sunday Assembly, which is where nonreligious people are gathering to try to find community and belonging in the UK, Netherlands and US. And we were wondering if other kinds of institutions or organisations were happening elsewhere in Europe, and in what contexts? And what did they look like? Because we didn’t expect to find the Sunday Assembly in places like Poland and Romania but we were interested in what kinds of other groups might exist.

DH: Yes. And particularly in the question of where religion is playing a more active – maybe intrusive – role in public life, if that produces a kind-of counter-reaction; a kind-of organisation against the encroachment of religion, by kind-of secular societies, but maybe by people organising in new ways.

JB: Yes. So like a “resistance identity” over just a “need for congregational belonging”.

SC: Yes excellent. Because indeed I can see that there can be a contrast between these countries where they have a more prominent religious life, like Romania which is highly Catholic and (another context) with all the religious denominations. And that’s actually the next question: in contextualising nonbelief you focus on countries with post-Soviet populations, such as Poland, Romania and regions of former East Germany. How are percentages of religion and belief shaped by these experiences, compared to experiences of Northern Europe?

DH: Yes. So we had fifty/fifty samples – sort-of fifty Western European and fifty Eastern European – and half each, three in each. And we wanted to see what the differences were. And also there were big differences between those countries in terms of the number of nonreligious. So in Romania it was very low, maybe around the kind-of five percent mark. Maybe a little bit more in Poland.

JB: Yes about six or seven percent in Poland.

DH: And larger, much larger in East Germany. So what difference does being in a minority make to whether people feel the need to get together? And also, how politicised religion is – what difference does that make? When it comes to the post-Communist situation, of course, religion was treated in somewhat different ways in Communist countries. There were always political restrictions on it as a kind-of alternative source of loyalty to the Communist state. And so we expected that there may be effects in terms of the legacy on that. Whether it’s in terms of, say, in Poland – where the Church was very strong, resisted Communism, strongly attached to national identity – but playing a different role maybe in Eastern Germany, where it was much less a kind-of force for national unity. So if religion has been a source of national identity, as it was in Poland for resistance to Communism, then maybe the people who were not religious . . . . And particularly if the communist regime . . . the Soviet Communist regime was associated with atheism, then there’s likely to be more negative views to being nonreligious and especially atheist. So if that affected how people then felt similarly, in Romania? But we expected less of that in the German context, because religion was less politicised. So, yeah. And we saw some kind-of legacies of that in terms of how people relate now. There was much more, for example, political organisation of nonreligion in Poland than we found in the other contexts.

SC: And even though a lot of the countries share a Soviet background, there is a big difference between each one of them?

JB: Hugely so, yes.

DH: Yes, they have very different histories. And also history has taken a different turn. So in Poland, for example – where religion has become a force for populism, and used by various groups in society and the law and justice and government to support various kinds of controversial policies – we found the nonreligious very active in terms of organising, for example, for women’s right to choose.

JB: Yes, supporting LGBTQ rights as well, and also other kind-of causes for equality – within Poland, at least.

DH: Yes. So a strong voice for a kind-of resisting religion coming into public space, and a strong voice for kind-of pro-choice options on a range of levels.

SC: Right. And how can you lift these national contexts, the age group, and also the intersectionality of, like, race, gender, class? Is there also any kind of correspondence for the same age group that share differences in some way?

DH: Yes. We had some racial and religious background diversity in our sample. And actually one of the areas where that aspect of diversity came out was we found that amongst people from Hindu and Muslim backgrounds, in Western European contexts, that they were more inclined to express beliefs in the supernatural and have less reservations about doing so. So they’ll talk about, for example, “karma”, and “meaningful coincidences” in a way that was quite common in Eastern Europe, but much less so in Western Europe. So that was perhaps one source of diversity.

JB: Just following on from that. So we found these beliefs in about thirty-four percent of our participants. So just over a third. So I think it was twenty-three of them in total, and nine came out of Poland. Eight came out of Romania. The other six were from Western or Northern Europe. But their backgrounds were from Eastern Europe or Northern Africa. So really this was kind-of like an Eastern Europe phenomenon, having these karmic or cosmic beliefs.

DH: Beliefs in a range of kind-of meaningful connections and a sense that, as human beings, we’re somehow connected to the broader universe – that kind-of spiritual belief I guess you could call it. I think many of them would own that term. They saw that as being compatible with being nonreligious. It was something different from religion. But it was much more common in Eastern European and people of Eastern European heritage – as well as North African heritage, in one case.

SC: Also you are using this concept of yours of politicisation of religion. So how is this concept articulated in the data you’ve looked at so far?

DH: Yeah. So we were interested in investigating how the public role of religion makes a difference to how the nonreligious react. And religion is publicly prominent for different reasons in the different countries. So because of its politicisation in Poland, and in support of a kind-of folk nationalism and in relation to immigration issues, especially Muslim immigration, in Western Europe. So it’s a more controversial . . . . It’s controversial for different reasons.

SC: Right.

DH: And so, yeah, we wanted to look at the effects of that.

SC: Also I was wondering . . . I think you’ve given a very good macro overview. Because you devised your study on three levels: macro, meso and micro. What else have you identified on the micro level and the meso level?

JB: So, on the micro level I think one of our biggest findings is coming back to the diversity of the beliefs that the nonreligious hold. So this was coming back to these paranormal, supernatural, magical, superstitious beliefs. And despite them saying that they are nonreligious – in the sense that they don’t identify with an institutional religion – they still share a wide range of diverse beliefs and often these are paranormal, supernatural, magical beliefs. So that was on the micro level.

DH: Yes and those supernatural beliefs often seemed to serve to connect people to other people, whether it’s friends and family that they’re close to, or to give some sense of moral orientation in the universe. So quite a few of the stories, the meaningful coincidences were about being rewarded for some kind-of good behaviour. So, you do someone a good turn and then something good happens. So that almost sort-of golden rule projected onto the cosmos. And the kind-of sense that there’s some kind-of moral order. That was quite a strong theme that came through, as well as a connection to other people: a kind-of sense that there’s human significance . . . .

JB: Yeah. But often these beliefs were a kind-of source of tension during the interviews, or at least when we were reading back over them. So they would try to kind-of explain what had happened – these kind-of meaningful coincidences – in a scientific way, even thought there was no – at least to them – logical explanation for what had happened. So for things like . . . we had an example from a young Romanian woman who was living in London, who had lived within two hundred metres of the same person all her life – and ended up being best friends with this person – but had moved six times across different countries and still lived within two hundred metres of this person. They’d just kind-of followed the same route! So, for her, this was more than just a coincidence. And she . . . to quote her term, “It was meant to be.” So there’s kind-of this sense that there’s an “order of things”. But for others trying to explain these events, which seemingly are irrational – like books flying off shelves, or affinities with numbers, or knowing . . . or having a strange feeling when a family member is about to die – so trying to explain these rationally was often like a source of discomfort or tension. Maybe that was kind-of like an artefact of . . . because we were creating this tension by asking them to explain how they understand the event. It came out quite strongly, that sense of tension, when people were referring to superstitious beliefs that still affected them, but which at a rational level they challenge. So for example one guy talked about black cats and how he would avoid black cats. And he had a sense that it would give him bad luck even though he didn’t believe, rationally, that there was any kind-of causal process involved. And he actually said he found it really annoying. He said he found it really stressful, as well. Really annoying and really stressful. Because he didn’t believe it, but he would still actively avoid them.

SC: Right.

JB: I think his starting sentence was: “I’m not superstitious, but I don’t like black cats.” So there’s often contradictory statements which can co-exist, I guess, between the analytic and the intuitive, right?

DH: Yes. So we theorised that in terms of a distinction that’s made in the developmental psychology literature, between analytical modes of thinking – which develop from age kind-of four up to . . . well it keeps going through our lives I guess – and earlier intuitive beliefs, where agency – so, the ability to move and change things and to want things – is attributed to inanimate objects. And gradually, that kind-of moves out of daily use. But the theory is that we can code-switch between those two things. So that actually the intuitive stays alongside the analytic, and that maybe at moments of stress or something we don’t know how to deal with . . .

JB: It’s like we’re gaining control over the situation, isn’t it?

DH: It comes out to reinforce, like, a sense of control. So what we think may have been going on, and why people make . . . . Most of the people who reported the experiences didn’t feel a tension about it all the time. They just kind-of did it. But then, when we asked them to reflect on it, then they felt the tension. Some of them felt it in their daily life as well.

SC: I wanted to ask about, specifically . . . you mentioned that you have been studying self-reported individuals who they say that they are nonbelievers. But in which way did you carry out your interviews? I wondered if for some of them it was the first time that (they had been asked to consider these questions in a rational way). So, to build a growing narrative about their own non-belief. So did you have those cases where: “Oh. You didn’t ask me. I wasn’t warned about that.”?

DH: Yes, I mean, for lots of cases this was probably the first time they’d had to articulate their beliefs or put them onto paper, I guess. Some of them were part of discussions on social media and had relationships with the Rationalist Society. So they may have been used to thinking about those kind of things. But many of them, not. So I think we had a kind-of mixture in terms of how reflective they were. But because it was quite a wide-ranging interview, probably – well, hopefully – there was something new for everybody.

SC: Any concluding remarks you want to give about your results?

JB: I mean, just returning back to the micro, meso, macro: so if we go back to the medium level stuff, there are some examples which we found in Europe. For example, in Frankfurt in Germany they have a meet up group called Drinking and Socialising with Atheists. So you can go for a pint down the pub and talk existential questions, and big life politics, and religion. But it’s quite small. So we didn’t really come across very many meso groups. We have a medium-level group. But in terms of macro there were a few. So the Norwegian Humanists played quite a big role in providing ritual instruction for nonreligious.

DH: And that’s an unusual case, because it’s state-funded like the churches. So it has much more resources to draw on. So there’s a kind-of national structure with people working full-time for them. Whereas in other cases it’s kind-of self-start up networks, mostly. But we also found quite a lot of innovation in terms of practices. So, for example, the Polish, big, Atheist of the Year awards ceremony, goes with that.

JB: The KLF, the Kazimierz Lyszczynski Foundation – apologies for the pronunciation! Every year they hold like an annual march and they have atheist picnics throughout the summer. So there’s a kind-of sense of community and belonging building there – a bit similar to the Sunday Assembly. But primarily, it’s more to do with campaigning, as we mentioned earlier, for equal rights and women’s rights. But there’s some innovation there, in terms of atheist ceremonies to reward the biggest atheist of the year in terms of their contribution. Yeah.

DH: I guess our headline finding is that there is diversity: that the nonreligious category doesn’t mean that there aren’t some kind-of supernatural beliefs going on. Those might not be the most important things for those people but they definitely feature – at least for a sizeable minority. And also, I guess, that there did seem to be a kind-of an interaction with the broader society in terms of how active people are. So that where people are feeling that their nonreligious identity is under threat, then they kind-of get together to organise, particularly in the Polish case. Whereas, I guess, it’s more a sort-of looser network-type affiliation which you can see from looking at the social media data, quite a lot of them. Because most of our cohort, I guess, were bilingual – not maybe completely bilingual, but certainly use English as a functional language. And that’s pretty common amongst Millennials. And that enables them to follow people that they like in the UK or in other European countries, where there’s also English as a working language being used. So there’s a kind-of a nonreligious Eurosphere developing.

SC: That’s very interesting. I think we are going to wrap it up now. Thank you, again, for being on the Religious Studies Project, and we hope to have you again.

JB: Thank you very much.

DH: Thank you.

 

 

 

 

 

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Doctors and Stigmatics in the 19th and 20th centuries

Stigmata are a special kind of miraculous event. They involve the physical manifestation of Jesus’ wounds as depicted in the Bible Gospels. Though many people in history have claimed to bear these marks, they have also been used as proof of the existence of God or to build legitimacy for a religious community. Those who have studied stigmata include investigators from the Catholic Church, religious skeptics, and medical professionals.

This week’s podcast with Gabor Klaniczay focuses on the final group, doctors. In his research on stigmata during the 19th and 20th century in Europe, Klaniczay analyzes how the medical discourse has tried to establish authenticity for stigmata cases. Discourses differed based on religious affiliation with Catholic doctors were more prone to credit them as proof of the supernatural, while Protestants ones were more skeptical, often trying to attribute them to hysteria, self-suggestion, or plain forgery.

Throughout the interview, Klaniczay refers to the social context in which stigmata occurred, as in the cases of Louise Lateau in 19th century Belgium and France, and Padre Pio in 20th century Italy. The first corresponded with a time of intense social change and secularization during the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune, while the second found correspondences with World War I and major processes in Italian politics. In this way, Klaniczay’s approach reflects Jesuit historian Michel de Certeau’s  research on the 17th century Loudun Possessions: miraculous or mystical events are the language in which the symptoms of social change take form.

This podcast was recorded and produced in the context of the 17th Annual Conference of the European Association for the Study of Religions (EASR), “Religion – Continuations and Disruptions” held in Tartu, June 25 to June 29, 2019. We kindly thank the EASR Committee and the University of Tartu scientific committee, organising team, and volunteers for the support provided during this process.

 

 

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Doctors and Stigmatics in the 19th and 20th Centuries

 

Podcast with Gábor Klaniczay (18 November 2019).

Interviewed by Sidney Castillo

Transcribed by Helen Bradstock.

Audio and transcript available at:

Download a PDF of this transcript here.

Sidney Castillo (SC): Well, here we are again at the Religious Studies Project Podcast. It’s the fifth and last day of the EASR conference 2019, in Tartu Estonia. And now I am here with Gábor Klaniczay from Central European University. Gábor – it’s very nice to have you here.

Gábor Klaniczay (GK): I’m pleased to be here, too. Thank you for interviewing me.

SC: Thank you for joining us. Would you be so kind as to introduce yourself, please?

GK: OK. So I’m a university professor at the Central European University in the department of Medieval Studies. I’m dealing mostly with medieval religious history, late medieval Christianity. That’s my field of expertise. Within that, the problem of the cult of saints, popular religion, witchcraft, beliefs. And also another aspect of my research is, a little bit, to situate central European religious culture in the whole European or even broader context.

SC: Excellent. Now your talk in the conference, at the EASR, has been about miraculous stigmata in the 19th and 20th century. Could you speak a little bit about that, please?

GK: Yes, well that shows that I’m not only dealing with a medieval things! Actually, I’m also very much in favour of historians dealing with the results of neighbouring disciplines. And there is interdisciplinary research, where I’m actually dealing with history but also anthropology, religious studies, psychology. A lot of these things are necessary for understanding phenomena like miracles or stigmata or something – the relationship to the supernatural. There is also one other type of inter-disciplinarity which is not very much practised, and that is that medievalists should know the results of modernists and vice-versa. So, on the one hand, one says that history is, of course a long train of traditions and one should know about this. But everybody specialised in one’s own age and says “Oh that’s modern. That’s no more my field of expertise.” And I think this is wrong – especially if one deals with phenomena which are basically very similar. So an individual’s relationship to miracle and to the supernatural experience, that has something very common and it’s not by chance that modern people are reaching back to the prophets or the Bible or ancient church fathers. So one cannot, of course, put an equality sign to the experiences. One has to know its historical context and one should not be anachronistic. On the other hand, religious history has to deal with the longue durée. So this is how I started to deal with medieval miracle belief and, within that, a special type of miracle: the stigmata. The stigmata which is a bodily miracle, the most famous initial miracle. Not the first one. But actually the start of the cult of stigmata was with St Francis of Assisi, the thirteenth century saint – a major medieval saint and founder of the Franciscan order – who had a vision in 1227, and got stigmatised . . . at least this is what we got to know after his death in 1227. Actually it happened before his death – two years before his death, as his legend writer, Thomas of Celano, says – during a vision where a seraph, a crucified man, appeared to him in the air, when he was in hermitage. And after this experience the result was that the wounds of stigmata, Christ’s wounds, appeared on his body. And this was discovered after his death. Now this is stigmata. And many Franciscans maintain that this is the only unique example where a human being becomes like Christ. St Francis was venerated like another Christ, an alter Christus, and the stigmata were actually signs of his being so important and working as much for the redemption of humanity as Christ – or almost as much – in the middle ages (5:00). Now other saintly persons, or other religious persons, men and women – mostly women, by the way – were also claiming to have stigmata, like St Francis. And this was a very long-term history, which started in the middle ages. In the middle ages there was another very famous stigmatic woman, Catherine of Siena, who belonged to the Dominican Order. And her stigmata appeared also during a vision, but did not appear visibly on her body because she wanted them to be invisible; not to pretend that she had that high honour. She wanted only the pain. She wanted the experience. And then there were up-to-the-present stigmatics. And my paper here was about 19th and 20th century stigmatics. And the topic that I was dealing with was actually how medical experts, physicians, related to this miracle.

SC: Right.

GK: Because this miracle was very special, in the sense that the stigmatics have these wounds in their bodies, sometimes for year, sometimes for decades. These wounds bleed periodically. These wounds do not get infected. So this is very special type of bodily miracle. And the religious people – mostly Catholics, because this is a Catholic type miracle – are taking it as a very important proof for the existence of God: that such a God can work such wonders in the human body on earth, which cannot be explained rationally, by scientific or medical or other thought. And of course, doctors were challenged, and wanted to examine, and there was a lot of criticism and disbelief, and there were very interesting cases, debates. And I was presenting some of these cases.

SC: That’s really interesting. And I think you gave a very broad description of how stigmatics happen from the middle ages towards modernity. Just thinking about what Michel de Certeau said about how mystical phenomena corresponds to the social contexts – what is happening in those centuries – and particularly the 16th and 17th century were very prominent for many, many mystics. I don’t about stigmata?

GK: There were also stigmata. But some of these mystics have stigmata.

SC: How can we understand the social contexts of the 19th/20th century to explain the stigmata?

GK: Well, one very important social context is that the 19th and 20th centuries are centuries of secularisation. Also after the French Revolution, Napoleon for example, dissolved many religious orders. And there was- against the Enlightenment, and against the rational thinking which wanted to sort-of make the disenchantment of the world, as Max Weber said, happen – well, there was a re-enchantment. In the 19th century there was a Catholic revival. Chateaubriand, the Génie, The Genius of Christianity, and many other movements. And the church, and certain popes, were very strongly fighting against the separation of Church and state. And also there were certain social classes which were in support for that. In France there was a royalist movement. But also the churches’ positions in Italy, for example, which was a place where many of these prophets and stigmatics came. . . . Italy was living, at that moment, the unification, or Risorgimento (10:00). And at the same time there were a lot of resistances of local vested interests of churches, and a lot of contrast also between Rome and the Vatican, and the southern region or northern region. So each time there was a conflict situation. And in some conflict situations the church had its own policies. And one of the policies was indeed to bring proofs for the existence of God, with very spectacular miracles. The most spectacular miracles were visions like La Salette in the 19th century- or Lourdes. These were the appearances of the Virgin Mary – Marian miracles. But there were other miracles also related to the Sacred Heart the Sacré Coeur. And besides these visionaries there were these living saints, the stigmatics, who had new revelations. So one of the stigmatics, for example, that I was speaking about was living in Northern Germany. Now, Northern Germany was a place were already big contrasts were there between the Protestants and Catholics. Catholics were in the minority in Northern Germany, in Westphalia. But they were there. And now secularisation brought another thing in. So there was an Augustinian nun, called Anna Katharina Emmerick, who had these bleeding wounds, these stigmata and also the crown of thorns. At least, she had the vision where Jesus was placing the crown of thorns on her head. And they were regularly bleeding, the place of the crown of thorns. And later, bleeding wounds also appeared on her hands and also a cross on the chest. And then a debate started. And this was an interesting case. Because it belonged to Prussia. Prussia was a secularised and Protestant monarchy with a lot of important scientists, among them medical scientists. And they formed a commission to examine these things. Some were saying, “Oh, this was just self-inflicted wounds.” Others said that the spiritual advisors were using her as a kind of medium, were telling her that her headache was actually from the crown of thorns, and were influencing her. And indeed that was a 19th century thing, this medium related to Mesmer, and mesmerism, and magnetism. Now all kinds of explanations came up, but at the same time there was also a very famous romantic poet, Clemens Brentano, listening to her and writing down her visions as new revelations. And these visionaries were telling an alternative history of what happened to Jesus, and the Bible, or details. And the collected works of Clemens Brentano are the visions of Anna Katharina Emmerick. He didn’t even . . . he couldn’t even publish the whole thing during his life. He died and his brother continued to publish it. So, this is the social context and the role of religion in 19th century. And of course we can go on. Let me just switch to the end of the 19th century, to the 1870s. It was the moment of the French commune, it was the French and German War, the defeat of France. And in France and in Belgium there were a lot of prophets. So first prophesying the death of Napoleon III – he did indeed die! But such prophesies are not very difficult, to say that somebody will die at some point. But also they wanted to bring back, after the commune, monarchy to France. There was a candidate, Chambord. So these were actually the questions. And there was a stigmatic called Louise Lateau in France, and also another stigmatic, Palma Mattarelli in Italy(15:00). And these stigmatics were also related to an Ecclesiastic kind of . . . . There was an informal network within the Church, which still exists today, that there is the official Church and then there is a grassroots level contact among the charismatics, who are cultivating supernatural phenomena. Today it is Medjugorje, and all these things. In the 19th century the stigmatics were there. And there were some doctors . . . there was a doctor that I was talking about. He was from Clermont-Ferrand. He was a royalist, a doctor, a professional, called Antoine Amber Gourbert. But he went to the stigmatics to explain that these phenomena are indeed unexplainable. And he, as a doctor, says, “I know about everything about dermatology, everything about all kinds of illnesses, speaking about it as a rational explanation. But it is wrong! These explanations are unfounded.” And actually, he was publishing books just to support the stigmatics. So that’s the interesting thing. That besides the doctors who wanted to have doubts in the stigmatics, there was a group of believer doctors who wanted to defend the stigmatics with the argument that these phenomena are actually beyond our capacities of explanation. This is why it is coming from God. And it is true that many phenomena are impossible to explain. So today the TV shows X Files, for example. Today’s supernatural beliefs are related to UFOs or other things. But the riddles of nature are indeed a good point where belief, and belief in the supernatural, starts. And stigmata is a long tradition, and this is also a riddle. So in many cases, in the first place, what I want to say is that these persons are truly religious persons. And persons who really concentrate on the suffering of Christ, and want to understand with great compassion the suffering of Christ. And even acting on . . . . So most of the stigmata appear in Holy Week, when Christ is . . . so before Easter. And on Holy Friday, mostly. And many of these stigmatics are acting out, on Holy Fridays, the crucifixion. So just like a mystery play. And their wounds start to bleed on Fridays. That’s a very particular thing, just in memory of Christ. And at the same time, they think that they are suffering the same way as Christ for redeeming humanity from its sins. So helping humanity. So it is a kind-of psychological disposition which is also becoming a bodily disposition. So many things are psychosomatic, certainly. And in some cases it’s clear that there is fraud in it, and they are . . . but in other cases it is difficult to say. And these persons are also having very sincere mystical texts and dimensions. So it’s a very complicated thing. You mentioned Michel de Certeau, for example.

SC: I was going to ask you about that, yes the Loudun possessions.

GK: Yes. Well there is a stigmata… not stigmata but actually Jeanne des Anges also had some wounds, which were actually stigmata from the devil. She was showing it in the royal court and it was there. She had also a very complicated personality. So Michel de Certeau could analyse that this is a very strange and very complex psychological phenomenon when one lives religious experience to that point.

SC: He would say, “These eyes have seen. These hands have touched” . . .

GK: Yes.

SC: Kind-of providing a factual experience towards the stigmata (20:00). One of the things I wanted to ask as well is . . . and you mentioned this in your presentation, that there was Catholic doctors that were giving confirmation that it was in fact a miraculous event and therefore it cannot be explained. But you also mentioned that there were Protestant doctors that were more incisive towards desecrating this phenomenon. So will you elaborate more on that divide within the same medical discourse: how this was different?

GK: Yes. Well basically, yes, as you said, it’s not by chance that Protestant doctors . . . . One Protestant doctor was, for example, one of the critics of this 19th-century stigmatic, Louise Lateau. Louise Lateau, who lived in the second half of the 19th century in a small Belgian village, and got stigmata at the age of eighteen. And a big medical debate started. And while the Catholic doctors were describing her stigmata and then a very famous authority, Rudolf Virchow – from Germany, from Berlin, a Protestant doctor – was writing a long study, Uber Wunder, On the Miracle. And the Protestants were . . . they did not deny a miracle absolutely. But they denied this type of massive production of miracles that the Catholics have been relating to the saints and to the stigmatics. So they were more for a rational explanation of these phenomena, saying that if one does not have the explanation yet, one should not immediately say it is a miracle. But one can sort-of explore it further. So there was a Protestant discourse which was more rationalistic. But that does not mean that they were refusing miracles on the whole. So they were reaching back to St Augustine, who also said that, actually, the small miracles are just to convince the disbelievers. But the only two big miracles are the creation of the world and the resurrection of Christ. And these are actually the big miracles. And the rest is just . . . it can be explained rationally, just as well. Also the Protestants . . . the 19th century polemics on miracles were a good field for continuing this debate. But actually the debate started already in Luther’s time. And the Protestantism refused a lot of the things in Catholic beliefs, among them the cult of the saints, and the cult of the relics, as something which they labelled superstition. And there was a long set of debates related to that. So one good authority who examined this in England, for example, was Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic. A big monograph, where he pointed out how Protestantism was kind-of refusing what they considered to be the magic of the medieval church, and wanted to bring in more rational arguments.

SC: Excellent. Well we are almost out of time, but if you could give us some further remarks about your presentation, I think that will be a good way to wrap it up.

GK: Yes. So I told many things already which were in my presentation. One thing I haven’t mentioned yet, that I added, was the famous 20th century stigmatic Padre Pio. Padre Pio, who was a Capuchin friar in South Italy, who was stigmatised in 1918. That was also a typical historical moment – a moment of the First World War, with a lot of horrible experiences that European people and Italians also went through (25:00). And the stigmata was also interestingly related to the South Italian situation and history. There were strong clashes between a triumphant Socialist movement and the Catholic Church. Padre Pio himself was also an interesting individual. He was an ailing person with a lot of illnesses. That’s why he was exempt, he was drafted as a soldier but was exempt from military service because of his illnesses. And he became a friar in a very remote Capuchin convent in San Giovanni Rotondo– a place where a lot of miracles happened because it was just behind the Monte Gargano where the famous miracles of Saint Michael the archangel came. So Italy, in general, was very favourable to miracles. And the old places where miracles used to happen made it kind-of common knowledge that miracles do happen. And this is how the stigmata came out from Padre Pio. And the story itself is a very interesting story. Because from the point of view of medical debates, his stigmata were very debated. They were debated. Because a pharmacist denounced him, saying that he had some iodine tinctures to disinfect his wounds. And some doctors accused him that this was actually to perpetuate the wounds which could have happened out of illness or other reasons. Because, for stigmata, it’s very important that the stigmata should happen by divine intervention, not by self-infliction. That can also have devotional background, but it is not a miracle. So stigmata should be miraculous. And then the debate started and there was a long inquisition, an examination of Padre Pio with all the witnesses and everything. And there was a very important Catholic person, a Franciscan friar, Agostino Gemelli, who later was the founder of the Milan University, the Catholic University, and he was very . . . he had many doubts. He was also not only a Franciscan friar, but also a psychiatrist and a doctor. And he thought that Padre Pio was doing a fraud. But other supporters of Padre Pio were defending him. And there was a long, long debate. He was sentenced to isolation for ten years and also that he should not have – because he was also a pre-consecrated priest, Padre Pio – but he should not confess and give public sermons. He gave the public sermons with stigmatic hands, like Christ, so that was very impressive. But some others said that this is just a fraud. But then in the 1930s he was a pardoned. And then his cult was starting in his life. And actually, he lived with those stigmata for fifty years. And he had some very poplar actions. He built a huge hospital in San Giovanni Rotondo, in a very, very background region, where he was really bringing a lot of good things to his surroundings. And he was later on very much venerated by some popes like Pope Giovanni, John Paul II – the Polish Pope, who was doing pilgrimage to him already, from Poland, from the 1940s. And when he became Pope, one of his aims was to canonise Padre Pio – which he did, actually. So he started the veneration of Padre Pio. And now, Padre Pio is the most popular saint. He is a kind-of saint of the people (30:00). And the notion was also that the people wanted him to become a saint, and the Church – the high priests – resisted for a while. But then they gave in, and now they have canonised him.

SC: Now he is part of the institutionality.

GK: Yes. But there are some others still have doubts. So in any case, he’s one of the most remarkable saints of the twentieth century. And all his life course is related to 20th century Italian history. And there are very good books on him. There is one good Italian historian Sergio Luzzatto who wrote a wonderful monograph on him, where he’s portrayed Padre Pio really as somebody who represents 20th century Italian history – with all its contradictions.

SC: Very, very interesting. I think it’s like all the mystical phenomena are related to society, in one way or the other.

GK: Yes, certainly.

SC: I think that’s a very good take-away for our interview. We thank you once again, Professor Klaniczay, for being here on the Religious Studies Project and we hope you’ll come here again, soon.

GK: Yes OK. Thank you very much.

SC: Thank you very much.

 

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The Therwil Affair: Handshakes in Swiss Schools

In this podcast, taking place on the last day of the Annual EASR Conference in Bern, Dr Philipp Hetmanczyk and Martin Bürgin of Zurich University talk to Thomas White about the Therwil Affair, a controversy that emerged in 2016 after two Swiss Muslim schoolboys declined to shake hands with their female teacher.

The seemingly rather local, minor incident of two boys declining a handshake in a school just outside of Basel escalated into a major national debate, and was reported in news media across the world. As the issue moved from one of school governance, to public values, to law and later immigration, the Therwil Affair became a focal point for national discussions on religious freedom, gender equality, civic duties, multi-ethnic integration and cultural identity in Switzerland.

As the podcast delves into Swiss political history, Philipp and Martin elaborate on both the conservative and liberal cultural narratives which sought to situate the Muslim schoolboys’ refusal to shake hands. They comment that it is not without some irony that amongst the voices who decried the gender inequality implied in the schoolboys’ actions were the same conservative men who had previously argued against women acquiring the national vote: a policy that did not enter law on a national level until as late as 1971 – and in a specific canton as recently as 1990!

Following an explanation of the historical backdrop to contemporary Swiss ‘culture wars’ that the Therwil Affair spoke so clearly to, the discussion moves to how Swiss educational law has shifted subsequent to the Therwil Affair, with schools now expected to report to Swiss Immigration similar instances of supposed integration failure. With schools being understood not merely as centres for education but also as sites for the teaching and reproduction of standardised norms and values, in countries of religious, ethnic and cultural diversity, the tricky question emerges as to what these norms and values are? Perhaps what may be better, as Philipp suggests, is for schools to resist expectations that they should be cultivating a cultural homogeneity, but focus instead on preparing pupils for moments of cultural difference.

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


The Therwil Affair: Handshakes in Swiss Schools

Podcast with Philipp Hetmancyzk and Martin Bürgin (17 December 2018).

Interviewed by Thomas White.

Transcribed by Helen Bradstock.

Audio and transcript available at: Hetmancyzk and Burgin – The Therwil Affair 1.1

 

Thomas White (TW): Hello there! I’m here in Bern, Switzerland, at the EASR. We’re on the final day. And I’m joined here by two Swiss early-career researchers, Dr Philipp Hetmancyzk and Martin Bürgin, both from the University of Zurich. And because it’s based in Switzerland, this conference, and we need to really get to grips with issues that are affecting Swiss understandings of religion – and politics and religion – in the public space, we are going to be talking about the Therwil Affair. This, as far as I remember from reading in the international press a couple of years ago, was a big issue, carried on the winds of international press as often sensational religious controversies do. But I suspect I’m not the best person to introduce this to our Listeners. So, Philipp and Martin, what was the Therwil Affair? Can you please explain this for us?

Philipp Hetmancyzk (PH): So, what we now call the Therwil Affair is named, first of all, after the place, Therwil. Therwil is a little town close to the city of Basel, which probably might be better known. In Therwil there was a secondary school. And two Muslim students of that school decided not to shake hands due to religious reasons, as they claim, with the female teacher. And this very local incident kind of became a nationwide affair, a case where the media was involved and reported extensively. Politicians debated about the case, brought it up to the cantonal parliament. And even international media reported about that. So, in the end, it became just a huge thing.

TW: Wow. Well this is unusual and perhaps even rather hard to understand – the importance of handshakes. Are handshakes that important in Switzerland?

PH: And just to correct your introduction – Martin is the Swiss guy here. I came to Switzerland for doing my PhD.

TW: Oh, I beg your pardon!

PH: Just to put that straight. No problem at all. But I think that question Martin definitely has to answer – because I never experienced schooling in Switzerland.

Martin Bürgin (MB): Well, of course. I can answer the question from a very personal level. I mean, I grew up in Switzerland and went to school in Switzerland. And I have to say, I don’t remember that shaking hands was a ritual, a common ritual, at school. Maybe at kindergarten, but definitely not at high school. And if we look to that from a historical perspective and we can go one generation back, it was very common that students were sitting behind their desks when teachers came in. And they had to stand up and say, “Hello” and that was it. So there was for sure, no handshake at all. Whether it is, maybe, on the very personal level . . . ? As a scholar in the study of religions – maybe we can discuss this afterwards – but I would say it’s very interesting to see the handshake as a symbol within a cultural symbol system. If we remember Stuart Hall it is the participants in a culture who give meaning to people, objects and practices. And we can interpret this handshake, or the denial of a handshake as a cultural practice.

TW: Right. So the handshake is symbolic of a far bigger conversation and far bigger issues than just simply, you know, classroom management. But let’s try and get to grips with the actual case study before we try and explore the really big conceptual issues, which will be a fascinating aspect to this topic. Now as I understand it, the school did try to reconcile this issue on its own terms quite early. Is that correct?

MB: Before the refused handshake was discussed on the national and international level, the local school management had already reached a compromise with the students and parents. And, basically, it was agreed that the students should be allowed to acknowledge their teacher with another appropriate, respectful form of greeting rather than being obliged to shake hands with them. So this compromise temporarily exempted the two students from their obligation to shake hands with their female teachers, but at the same time it also forbade them to shake hands with their male teachers.

TW: Right. So . . .

PH: Can I add to that?

TW: Yes, of course. Please do. (5:00)

PH: I think what was at stake here – and it’s kind of the important point also of the whole affair – the whole stressing of the gender dimension of this thing. Since they refused to shake hands with the female teacher, teachers in the school feared that now they will go against the principle of gender equality if they would allow for that, just like that. So they forced the pupils, or convinced them also, “If you don’t want to shake hands with the female teachers, you don’t shake hands with your male teachers either.” Just to stick to the principle of gender equality. It was made a big issue, in this case.

TW: Excellent. So there was an effort to both respect the religious freedom of the Muslim students whilst not transgressing on strong principals of gender neutrality.

PH: Exactly.

TW: But then the issue got a lot larger, didn’t it? The media got hold of it. It ballooned into this national conversation. How was it framed in the media, and how did it kind-of create such a controversy?

MB: It exploded when the Arena, I would say the most influential political TV programme in Switzerland, addressed the subject in two specials, under the lurid titles “Fear of Islam” and “Switzerland without God”. Then a barrage of reports and comments in the media as well. As the demand of concrete political measures, postulated by the politicians of influence on the national level, put pressure on the cantonal authorities and politicians in Basel-Country.

PH: I think we have to add to that, also, that the solution found by the school was just meant as a short time-span compromise. The school wanted to have it fixed on legal terms, so they asked for legal expertise to check into the case. Because the school wanted sort-of defined standards to which they could refer in case something like that would happen again. And so they drew it to a legal level, and this made the whole thing public and raised the media attention. So we have, then, two systems kicking in, both with their own interests: the lawyers, the lawmakers, checking on this issue of gender equality, freedom of religion, educational law; and parallel to that the media echo, of course, trying to make the thing a hot topic.

TW: Were the media discussing it within a legal frame? Were they using legal terminology? Or were they using more populist ways of engaging with the issue?

MB: Yes, definitely. It was about, as we said, the equality of women and men; it was about Islam, and Islam as a thing which has to be feared; it was about Christian culture; it was about liberal culture. And so the whole discussion was not really about the . . . it exploded away from this very local issue.

PH: But that was also possible because the media could connect to other hot topics and hot debates, like building mosques in the public sphere, wearing the burqa and other debates which are currently . . . which already existed before. And the Therwil case was just another piece in that sort-of chain of discussions. But again, this then put it in line with “Swiss Culture versus Muslim immigrant culture”.

TW: Right, so we’ve got this discussion of a kind of culture war taking place – or certainly that framing of the issue. For our listeners who might not perhaps be experts in Swiss culture, or the history of Swiss national identity, what are the key tropes or key narratives that can help us understand the forces behind this conversation, this national debate?

MB: Different narratives here, but I would say one of the most important topics is that of the equality of women and men. For that one has to know that in Switzerland women claimed their right to vote not until 1971, on a national level. And in one specific canton, called Appenzell Innerrhoden, as recently as 1991. (10:00)

TW: Wow!

MB: Following a decision by the Federal Supreme Court – so, not on the basis of the democratic level. But now it’s very interesting to see how the same conservative parties and sometimes also the very same politicians – now a little bit older – which opposed the right to vote for women a few decades ago, act now as the spokesmen for an equality of women and men against – from their point of view –archaic forces which menace Swiss women.

TW: So, those who were strongly opposed to . . . or were at least quite sceptical of women’s rights are now using it as a rhetorical means with which to push against Muslims within Switzerland.

PH: It was sort of instrumentalised, I think. I mean, maybe adding to that from a sort-of outsider perspective on Swiss cultural narratives – which are kind of complex, I would also say, which is fascinating . . . . Because you have this narrative of Swiss history and culture as being very liberal, with kind-of a lot of referendums, having a very strong sense for democratic procedures. But on the other hand you have still strong institutions like the army, with sort-of an idolised “male warrior culture”. And also, the national hero figure as the guy with the strong bow, shooting the apple, right? Wilhelm Tell.

TW: We know the music, yes.

PH: And there’s also a strong sense that it is not . . . The army is part of the wider population. Every male guy has to go to the army, takes the weapon home. So whenever there is need to defend the country, they are ready. And this thing is still kind-of going strong, I have the impression. Maybe not as much, of course, as 30-40 years ago. But if I compare it to Britain and Germany, for example, I think it makes a difference here, where you still have that argument as . . .

TW: So are we perhaps looking at a machismo which is defending women from insults, as opposed to really seeking to enforce gender equality.

PH: I would not go that far.

TW: That’s too far.

PH: But the Therwil case definitely kind of was instrumentalised to push the argument forward, “Look at the Muslim minorities. They have an issue with women’s rights.” But we don’t look at our own shortcomings. Because we are very liberal – although you can put many question marks behind that.

MB: The narrative I described before, that was more like the conservative narrative. And of course you have another narrative which I would describe as a liberal narrative. So the liberals in their motion, when the whole this was discussed in the local cantonal parliament, they described a refused handshake as a symbol – I could cite that I guess – for a fundamentalist and militant ideology – so you hear that in their own words – which contradicts our state and social order which is built on personal freedom, legal equality and the equality of men and women. And that’s a different thing. As the conservatives would propose. So for the liberals these are the three pillars of society. And now from the perspective of a history of concepts, maybe it’s interesting to see that if we replace the equality of women and men with the rather old-fashioned term of brotherhood – of course, produced in times of pure male hegemony – we get the very familiar trio of liberté, égalité et fraternité. And that’s the slogan of the French Revolution which is essential for the self-conception of the Swiss Liberals, that they wanted to defend.

TW: So on the one hand, we’ve got the liberal narrative of equality and Enlightenment values, (15:00) and then on the other hand we got the conservative . . .

MB: defending of Swiss women.

TW: And so we’ve kind-of got this strange confluence of cultural narratives being allied to push against migrant and specifically Muslim identities and interests. It’s fascinating. Moving away from perhaps the cultural discussion to more the legal issue – because it did become a legal discussion as well – how was that framed, and what were the arguments on either side?

PH: I think at least one power play that played an important role here was “civic duties versus religious freedoms”. And some politicians brought it forward that civic duties should be given primacy over religious freedoms. And this whole trope, or this logic, has a history in itself. And probably Martin can say a little bit more about that, because it goes also back to this culture war.

MB: Yes that’s true. The concept of primacy of civic duty is also connected with a narrative, with a political narrative. It comes from the Federal Constitution of 1874. It was the first revision of the first constitution of the modern Swiss State, which came from 1848. And both constitutions were products of conflict situations between the Catholic conservative camp and the liberal camp. The constitution of 1874 and the so-called primacy of civic duty – that is a product of pure culture-war politics. This constitution, as well as the first constitution, served as a warrantor of the – at the time – liberal radical majority and was directed against the Catholic conservative minority. So they served as a dispositive of power.

TW: So how does this fit? Is this more kind-of ensuring the loyalty of the Catholic community to the Swiss State, as opposed to Rome? Or the civic duty – it has some very strong policy implications even today, doesn’t it? But . . .

MB: Yes, that was expelled from the Constitution. So it’s not any more in the Constitution, at the national level. So they want to reintroduce that, or wanted to introduce that on a cantonal level, after the so-called Therwil incident. Yes the constitution – as you said – of 1874: that was a political instrument to weaken the Catholic conservative camp. I mean, it included things like the suppression and ban of the Society of Jesus, and the prohibition of the establishment and re-establishment of monasteries in Switzerland, the removal of the right to be elected as members of the National Council for Roman Catholic priests – so not very democratic for Roman Catholic priests – and restrictions against the formation of new Roman Catholic Dioceses in Switzerland. That was a pure culture war product.

TW: And this narrative of civic duties was being mobilised to push against the religious freedom arguments.

PH: It was brought up again, yes, interestingly. Although it has this kind of history package. But in the end they had to drop it again. They did not . . . . Although it was brought up in the discussion, if it should be included in the constitution again – in the cantonal constitution – you have to say. But it was dropped, because of course it was a lot of legal question marks behind if that was still possible. Anyway, to your question about the legal framing – because that’s not it – what they still introduced is that cases like Therwil have now to be reported to the bureau of immigration affairs by the teachers. This is now part of educational law. And since you asked how this changed the perspective since the Therwil case . . . . Because it is clear, now, that you can now bring it up to the Bureau of Immigration Affairs, then the whole issue of religious diversity in the classroom is now being reduced to an issue of immigration questions.

TW: So we’ve got an incident that takes place in the classroom now being an issue of immigration. Is there more to the story, there? (20:00) I mean, were the two Muslim school children, were they recent immigrants, or were they citizens, or . . .? It seems strange to have . . .

PH: I think it was second generation kids. But probably not citizens, yet.

MB: I think from Syria, yes.

TW: Oh, wow. Ok. So we’re starting to almost get integration issues starting to be . . . integration at the national policy level being focused on what’s taking place in the classroom.

MB: I think that was why politicians took the whole issue on the national level: to speak about questions of migration and immigration – and maybe not that much about handshakes.

TW: Yes. So carrying over into broader anxieties and concerns about immigration to Switzerland. Is that how it relates to other controversies? We were suggesting, earlier, that there are other points of conflict, perhaps, between the national narrative of culture and immigrant communities.

PH: Yes. And actually, talking about immigration, I think there’s . . . we already mentioned like the burqa, the mosques, the minarets. But I think what we forgot so far is also the debate about immigration as such – because that’s big topic, too. This is about the integration of Switzerland in wider Europe. Because Switzerland kind-of experienced a huge influx of foreign workers from all around Europe. And this led also to an intensive debate about immigration, local culture, fears of local customs and Swiss culture sort of dying out. And I think this was just another issue to which the Therwil thing could be associated.

TW: Yes, so the site of the school being very much a focus of identity politics. And through the conference we’ve been hearing kind-of papers that have explored the idea that schools are not simply places where people learn, but almost centres of ideological production; where children are inculcated with certain values and certain behaviours and certain perspectives. What do you think are the implications for education, as such, when it gets drawn into these kind of national controversies of culture, citizenship, and diversity?

PH: To answer the first part of your question, I think it’s still the case and schools, of course, are places where you learn about mathematics, where you learn about literature, but also from a Religious Studies perspective, school is definitely still a place which is imagined by wider society as a place where its norms and values are being taught and reproduced. So I think this has not gone. But the question is definitely: what norms and values do you want to teach in school? And I mean, this was also debated in the Therwil case. Because it was said, “Yes – all schools should be a place where they learn to cope with difference; where they should learn about diversity; individual peculiarities; tolerance; respect and so on. But then, what actually happened was that they used this argument to basically out-rule religious diversity in the form of two Muslim guys rejecting the handshake. So there was then, rather: “OK, the school should be a place where norms and values are practised, but these norms and values are not in accord with what these two guys, what the two boys did.” So that put a very strong vision of what schools should be and what norms and values should be practised in school, and what does not fit in to the school.

MB: But of course we don’t have any definition of what these values and customs should be. I mean the cantonal government spoke of, “considering the increasing migration of people with various ethnic and religious backgrounds, it is essential that those people respect our laws our values and our customs.” The cantonal government, you can hear it, doesn’t give us a definition of what these values and customs should be. But clearly we can see a constructed dichotomy of a “we” and “the others”; a construction of identity through alterity. (25:00)

TW: Fascinating.

PH: There was a second part of your question which has stayed unanswered so far. And that was how this kind of national debate about school . . . and what would be the impact on school being connected to citizenship, and what would be an alternative way to deal with such national issues in terms of education? And I think what would definitely help, in such cases like we have in Therwil, is that students and pupils are kind-of equipped with the competence for religious questions. That means also not from a religiously normative perspective, but just having knowledge and competence about religion. So they can basically critically evaluate such debates by themselves, and also kind-of learn to understand what is at stake here. And that then brings me again back to the study of religion as a discipline. Because I think implementing contents from the study of religion in school curriculum would help a lot. For example, to equip students to kind-of get an opinion on such things, by themselves.

TW: Yes. So the handshake isn’t so much a moment for discipline or enforcing national homogeneity or cultural integration but a pedagogic opportunity, perhaps: where the kids in the classroom can actually think about where people come from in different perspectives, regarding the religious values that cause them to physically interact with people in different ways. I suppose the question I want to conclude with is, what is the policy position now? Where are we regarding handshakes in Swiss schools?

PH: That’s a very good question actually. The media attention has gone by now, because the debates are all through. The media is now already onto the next event. And to the next stuff. So what kept almost unnoticed is that the debates in the parliament went through, with the respective change of law as we described earlier. So the civic duties over religious freedoms has not become part of the Constitution, but teachers have to report to the immigration office such incidents. What is done now is kind-of out of the media attention. And the case now, with this, is more or less settled. But with the respective political outcomes which you can see as . . . . Yes, it will have an influence on further cases. Because there’s now a kind of pre-structure for the way of how to handle such cases. This is what the politicians wanted, but which is also kind-of giving away the chance to probably have a more thorough debate on religious diversity in school. This chance is now, somehow, out.

TW: Yes. Well thank you very much Martin and Philipp. This was an extremely stimulating conversation. Any final comments before we sign off and say farewell to our Listeners?

MB: (Laughs).

TW: I think we’re all keen to enjoy a beer, now, at the end of the conference!

MB: And the next media scandalisation in Switzerland will come, for sure! (Laughs).

PH: Definitely! (Laughs).

TW: Wonderful! Thank you very much for that.

PH and MB: Thank you.


Citation Info: Hetmancyzk, Philipp, Martin Bürgin and Thomas White. 2018. “The Therwil Affair: Handshakes in Swiss Schools”, The Religious Studies Project (Podcast Transcript). 17 December 2018. Transcribed by Helen Bradstock. Version 1.1, 14 December 2018. Available at: https://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/podcast/the-therwil-affair-handshakes-in-swiss-schools/

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 the Religious Studies Project archive, or know of any sources of funding for the broader transcription project, please get in touch. Thanks for reading.

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Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – 28 March 2017

Exciting news!

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

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

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Calls for papers

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

July 12–14, 2017

University of Leeds, UK

Deadline: April 28, 2017

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Conference: Verbal Charms and Narrative Genres

December 8–10, 2017

Budapest, Hungary

Deadline: May 1, 2017

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Conference: ISASR: Religion, Myth and Migration

June 16, 2017

Waterford Institute of Technology, Ireland

Deadline: April 10, 2017

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Conference: Sacred Journeys: Pilgrimage and Religious Tourism

October 26–27, 2017

Beijing, China

Deadline: June 1, 2017

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New journal: The Journal of Festive Studies

First issue

Deadline: November 1, 2017

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Events

Workshop: New perspectives on the secularization of funerary culture in 19th-and 20th-century Europe

June 15, 2017

Ghent, Belgium

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Workshop: Irish Network for the Study of Esotericism and Paganism

March 31, 2017

University College Cork, UK

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Open access

Journal: Anthropology & Materialism

Special issue: Walter Benjamin and philosophy

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Jobs and funding

Postdoctoral Research Fellows: Religion, science, atheism

University of Queensland, Australia

Deadline: April 16, 2017

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Postdoctoral Research Fellow: Racialization of Islam

Yale University, USA

Deadline: April 21, 2017

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Postdoctoral Research Fellow: East Asian Buddhism

University of British Columbia, Canada

Deadline: May 1, 2017 (closing date says May 2, but announcement says May 1)

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Tenure-Track Faculty Position: Hassenfeld Chair in Islamic Studies

Brandeis University, USA

Deadline: June 21, 2017

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Professorship: History of Religion and the Religious in Europe

University of Konstanz, Germany

Deadline: April 13, 2017 (closing date says April 15, but announcement says April 13)

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University Lecturer: Religion in International Relations

Leiden University, The Netherlands

Deadline: April 17, 2017

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EASR 2017 Bursaries

Deadline: May 18, 2017

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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… :)).

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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

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

July, 2017 (date TBA)

St Mary’s University, UK

Deadline: April 14, 2017

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

July 1–2, 2017

Bath, UK

Deadline: January 15, 2017

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Conference: The Place of Religion in Film

March 30–April 1, 2017

Syracuse University, USA

Deadline (extended): January 15, 2017

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Conference: Egyptian and Eastern Cults in the Roman Empire

June 15–18, 2017

Szombathely/Savaria, Hungary

Deadline: March 1, 2017

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Conference panel: SISR/ISSR: Global Pentecostal Charismatic Christianities

July 4–7, 2017

Lausanne, Switzerland

Deadline: January 10, 2017

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

August 29–September 1, 2017

Deadline: February 1, 2017

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Journal: Open Theology

Special issue: Phenomenology of Religious Experience

Deadline: June 1, 2017

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Workshop: Ritual ‘Litter’ Redressed

May 5, 2017

University of Hertfordshire, UK

Deadline: January 15, 2017

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Open access

Journal: Journal for the Study of Religious Experience

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

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Jobs

Interviewers and audio interns

Religious Studies Project

Deadline: January 23, 2017

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Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – 13 December 2016

Dear subscriber,

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

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

Calls for papers

Conference: EASR 2017: Communicating Religion

September 18–21, 2017

University of Leuven, Belgium

Deadline: December 31, 2016

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Conference: North Atlantic Catholic Communities in Rome, 1622–1939

June 6–7, 2017

Rome, Italy

Deadline: December 30, 2016

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Conference: Religion & Power

March 23–24, 2017

UNC Charlotte, USA

Deadline: January 7, 2017

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Conference: The Cognition of Belief

June 2, 2017

Georgetown University, USA

Deadline: February 17, 2017

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Conference: Háskóli Íslands Student Conference on the Medieval North

April 7–8, 2017

University of Iceland, Iceland

Deadline: January 5, 2017

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Conference: The Religious and Ethnic Future of Europe: An International Conference

June 12–13, 2017

Åbo Akademi University, Finland

Deadline: December 31, 2017

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Journal: The Graduate Journal of Harvard Divinity School

2017 issue

Deadline: January 10, 2017

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Journal: Nova Religio

Special issue: Peoples Temple and Jonestown

Deadline: February 28, 2017

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Events

Conference: “Too Small a World”: Catholics Sisters as Global Missionaries

April 6, 2017

Chicago, USA

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Grants

Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism, USA

Deadlines: December 31, 2016; April 1, 2017; October 1, 2017

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Part-time Teaching Fellow in Religious Studies

University of Aberdeen, UK

Deadline: December 18, 2016

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PhD positions

Coventry University, UK

Deadline: February 17, 2017

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Research fellowships

University of Leeds, UK

Deadline: February 1, 2017

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Scholarships: Guest Doctoral Students

University of Erfurt, Germany

Deadline: December 18, 2016

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Scholarships: Female Junior Scholars

University of Erfurt, Germany

Deadline: December 18, 2016

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Death, Music, and Ritual: Contemporary Requiems in the Commemoration of Death and Violence

Apparently, the only two certain things in life are death and taxes. In terms of the former, the requiem has held its grip up until contemporary times. While popular requiems, such as those composed by Mozart and Rutter are still performed, newly composed requiems, or requiem-like pieces are growing in popularity in the Netherlands and other parts of Europe. These requiems make use of previously employed lyrics and composition techniques, but some also rework these elements or leaving them behind entirely. From Mozart, to hip-hop, to haiku, contemporary music for the commemoration of death is variegated in its composition. In this interview, Breann Fallon discusses contemporary requiems with Associate Professor M.J.M. Hoondert of Tilburg University while at the 2016 European Association for the Study of Religions conference in Helsinki. Hoondert highlights the variety of contemporary requiems, noting their different styles, imagery, and convergences, but also the intended affect of the works. In particular, Hoondert discusses the step away from the liturgy associated with requiems as way for today’s individual to deal with death or violence in their own way. Still, it is clear that the ritual elements of the requiem remains, hence where this contemporary music fits into the sacral landscape is up for debate.

Also, be sure to check out DEATH, Religion, and Terror Management Theory with Jonathan Jong

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, coffins, Jennifer Lopez CD’s, and more.

Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – 18 October 2016

Dear subscriber,

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

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The backup address will still be working (oppsdigest@gmail.com), but it is preferable to employ the original address.

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

Calls for papers

Conference: Climate and Apocalypse

June 29–30, 2017

Bedford, UK

Deadline: February 28, 2017

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Conference: 500 years: The Reformation and its Resonations

September 14–15, 2017

Bedford, UK

Deadline: April 30, 2017

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Conference: Violence and Millenarian Movements

April 6–7, 2017

Bedford, UK

Deadline: December 31, 2016

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Conference: Implicit Religion: Materiality and Immateriality

May 19–21, 2017

Deadline: March 1, 2017

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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

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Conference: Oral History Society: Remembering Beliefs

July 14–15, 2017

Leeds Trinity University, UK

Deadline: December 16, 2016

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Conference: The Religious and Ethnic Future of Europe

June 12–13, 2017

Åbo Akademi University, Finland

Deadline: December 31, 2016

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Events

Conference: La magia nel mondo antico: Nuove prospettive

October 27–29, 2016

Merano, Italy

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Program

Conference: Women, Religion and Gender Relations

November 9–11, 2016

University of Turin, Italy

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Jobs

Research assistant: Religious Life Vitality

Margaret Beaufort Institute in Cambridge, UK

Deadline: October 28, 2016

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Professor of Religion, Law and Human Rights

University of Groningen, The Netherlands

Deadline: January 4, 2017

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Bricolage

BRICOLAGE: construction (as of a sculpture or a structure of ideas) achieved by using whatever comes to hand; also : something constructed in this way

“Bricolage.” Merriam-Webster.com.

Claude Lévi-Strauss in the 1960s and has undergone a complex genealogy of modifications within the sociologies of culture and religion. As Véronique Altglas writes in a forthcoming article, ‘originally a metaphor, “bricolage'” became an anthropological concept to understand cultural and religious creativity, with an emphasis on what organizes it, despite its contingent nature. Transposed in the study of contemporary European societies, bricolage became about what individuals do in relation to cultural practices and lifestyles’ (Altglas Forthcoming).

In this interview with Chris, Altglas – the author of the recent OUP monograph From Yoga to Kabbalah: Religious Exoticism and the Logics of Bricolage – discusses this complex genealogy, tracing a movement from forms of cultural warfare to ‘playful, postmodern bricoleurs’ – what many might be tempted to dub ‘pick and mix spirituality’. However, as Altglas goes on to demonstrate, with a particular empirical focus upon Hindu-based Yoga centres and the Kabbalah centre, far from a carefree process of shopping at the ‘spiritual supermarket’, ‘the original meanings and otherness of elements used in this religious bricolage matter, and in fact limits, the popularization of “exotic” religions’ (Forthcoming).

IMG_20141112_114757This broad-ranging interview provides a fascinating overview of an important concept that is not only relevant for the study of contemporary ‘religion’ and ‘spirituality’, but also speaks to cultural appropriation and construction in general, utilizing a number of stimulating contextual examples along the way. Chris enjoyed the interview so much, he immediately went out and bout Véronique’s book… and he suggests you do too!

This interview was recorded at the European Sociological Association’s Sociology of Religion Research Network Conference in Belfast in September 2014. You can also download this podcast, 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 – particularly in the run up to Christmas!

Picture-41

Thanks to Culture on the Edge for posting this passage. http://edge.ua.edu/monica-miller/the-myth-of-origins/

References

  • Forthcoming 2015. ‘Bricolage’: Reclaiming a Conceptual Tool. Culture & Religion. 2015. 4.

Science and Religion in Europe: A Historical Perspective

The idea of long-running clash between the domains of “science” and “religion” has not only been central to western discourses on modernity, but has increasingly become a central supposition in the history of science itself – informing not just the rhetoric of the New Atheists, but also the broader public understanding of the issue.  But is this historically accurate?

In this interview, Professor Peter Harrison (formerly Idreos Professor of Science and Religion at Oxford) outlines the flaws in this supposition by providing a historical perspective on the categories “science” and “religion” and the way that they were formerly considered separate virtues (scientia and religio) instead of incompatible domains of knowledge.  Far from the current narrative being correct – often focusing on episodes such as the Church’s response to the Galileo controversy – Professor Harrison explains that religious institutions were originally (and for a long time) key supporters of scientific activity, which was considered broadly as a theological attempt to unlock The Book of Nature.   The middle section of the interview looks at the complex relationship between theological commitment and scientific activity from Newton to Darwin, and in the final section discusses continuing complexities of the relationship in the post-Darwinan western world, right down to problematic assumptions at play in contemporary New Atheism as well as debates about Islamic militancy.

This interview was recorded at the meeting of the Australian Religious History Association in July 2014.  For those interested in the themes of the interview, the keynote talk of the RHA meeting was delivered by one of Professor Harrison’s key collaborators, Ronald Numbers (on a similar topic, focusing especially on the Galileo episode).   A number of related talks and interviews can be found on the CHED website.

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.

Mormons demographics on the other side of the big puddle

In Europe, Mormons are new religious movement par excellence – they are new to the area, their numbers are very small, they have no social respectability, their doctrines are considered strange and exotic […], and all of these characteristics place them on the same level as other small groups that are trying to settle in the European area

Mormons demographics on the other side of the big puddle

By Pavol Kosnac, Oxford University

Published by the Religious Studies Project, on 30 January 2013 in response to the Religious Studies Project Interview with Ryan Cragun on Mormonism, Growth and Decline (28 January 2013).

As Professor Cragun suggests in his interview with the Religious Studies Project, Mormonism in USA has, from the viewpoint of sociology, undergone a process of socialization. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints are generally on the edge, and probably even within,  wider public acceptance. They are considered to be a truly American religion; they have been there for some 180 years, which is longer than many Christian evangelical groups, which nowadays consist  largely of Pentecostals (the youngest members of the evangelical family), and they are considered to be conservative, defenders of family values, and an important part of the Republican voting base. However, the same factors that may have granted Mormons respectability in USA, may prevent them from gaining it elsewhere any time soon. I will focus on Europe, since this is area in which I have most practical experience in general, and particularly with Latter-Day Saints.

In Europe, LDS members are still mostly well known for one characteristic, which has not been a valid stereotype for about 120 years – that is, that they engage in polygamy. People, especially in non-English speaking countries, do not yet recognise their typical uniform – white shirt, dark trousers, name badge –  and often mix them up with Jehovah´s Witnesses, mostly because they, same as Mormon missionaries, always move in pairs and want to talk about Jesus, and partially – especially in areas east  of Germany – because Jehovah´s Witnesses are generally the only contextually well-known religious movement that does this kind of mission (stopping people on street, house to house mission). This small mistake can damage their cause before they even speak to someone. Besides some anti-American sentiment in parts of European society, I would agree with some of the missionaries I have talked to, who said that the America-centric nature of their message is somehow damaging for their mission on several levels. Many people, who would possibly be interested in a new version of the Christian message, when told that Jesus will come to Salt Lake City, or that Lehi’s family (from the biblical tribe of  Manasseh) floated to America to build the true Christianity there, consider these details too much to bear, break contact and stop coming to the meetings.

The problem with applying terms like ‘new religious movements’ to movements that are approaching 200 years of existence is obvious, even if the term is not only descriptive of age. Yet, however disputable this may be in the Americas, it is not in Europe. In Europe, Mormons are new religious movement par excellence – they are new to the area, their numbers are very small, they have no social respectability, their doctrines are considered strange and exotic (for other Christians absolutely heretical), and all of these characteristics place them on the same level as other small groups that are trying to settle in the European area – from their American Pentecostal compatriots to new and ‘westernized’ types of far-east inspired spiritual groups

I would agree with Professor Cragun that most people in Europe, as in the US, who start to become more interested in Mormonism and consider entering it, are of lower socio-economic standing, especially in new Mormon mission areas. My personal experiences relate to Prague and Bratislava, where this is true for at least 70% of new members. Another constituency of members that you can meet at regular Sunday gatherings are students and foreigners, a large number of whom do not speak language of their country of residence very well and/or do not have another community there. In these cases, the Mormon community – traditionally very welcoming – may attract them as a friendly (if small) social group, where they can belong.

To disagree with Professor Cragun, however,  I would question some of the reasons which he considers important factors influencing the low membership retention rate: namely,  sexual conservatism, such as opposing pre-marital sex, cohabitation, and restricting pornography and practiced homosexuality. Mormons are not particularly special in these requirements; the same rules can be found in the most conservative of Protestant or Catholic groups, many of whom have very high retention rates.  If there is not another specific which makes conservative sexual ethics somehow more problematic for members of the LDS church, I would be quite sceptical of the influence of this factor upon membership retention.

On the other hand, I would certainly agree with the problems surrounding counting new members  by baptism. During my field research in Bratislava, it appear to me that becoming a member is not a very complicated process, with much less involved than I would have expected after having the official church regulations for membership explained to me by several ex-members. It seemed to me to be possible to be interested in the idea of converting, or to only enjoy the very nice and welcoming social atmosphere, yet leave after several months, having been baptised during that time. If what Professor Cragun said is true, which I have no reason to doubt, that “once a Mormon, until the age of 110 a Mormon“, then their membership numbers may be very highly inflated, and not only in USA, but also in Europe, where Mormon groups seem to have very small numbers indeed.

Success of LDS missionaries in converting Europeans is generally very small. The only large official numbers are in the United Kingdom – where, according to an LDS webpage, it has 188 000 members. Problems with these number will probably be same as problems with US numbers. Other states in Western Europe have several tens of thousands, in other parts of Europe it is from several thousand to several hundred. In some western European countries,  Mormon missionaries have been active for more than 150 years (in Britain, for example, they have been since1837). In terms of mere numbers, in comparison to younger groups who come from the USA, like Jehovah´s Witnesses or Assemblies of God, this has not been a  very successful mission.

Finally, there may be also other local specifics that inflate the numbers, for example, in Slovak case, the “phantom Mormons“. The phenomenon which I call ”phantom membership“ happened in Slovakia´s last national census in 2011, where 972 people identified themselves as Mormons. This was an unbelievable number, since I know the situation of Mormons in Slovakia very well. I have never seen more than 50 practicing Mormons in their biggest Slovak group, and when I talked to several Slovak missionaries and representatives, their estimates of the number of Mormons in Slovakia were never higher than 300, and they also suggested that the results from census were very surprising for them also. I think that a possible explanation might be that, because Mormons are little known in Slovak environment, and their official name is generally unknown, when they were listed in the census options (for first time in Slovak history), many non-denominational Christians who were not sure what box to tick, and may not have wanted to tick the “Other“ box, saw “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints“ and ticked the box with ”Church of Jesus Christ“, filtering out the rest of the name since they had no idea what it meant means, but it sounded about right (no other registered church in Slovakia has “Jesus Christ” in its name). It is possible that this hypothesis is incorrect, but if not it would explain those almost 700 invisible Mormons, which even the most optimistic church officials never knew they “had”.

In summary, we can conclude, that official LDS estimates of Mormon demography are strongly inflated in Europe , just as in the Americas. Many of the advantages that Mormons have in the USA because of their unique “American-ness” may become more of a burden in Europe, and because of this their retention rate may be worse in Europe than in the USA. One way or another, it is difficult to imagine how LDS Church officials could consider the Mormon mission to Europe a success.

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:

Pavol Kosnac completed his B.A. and M.A. in Religious Studies at Comenius University in Bratislava, and studies of political philosophy, jurisprudence and ethics at Collegium of Anton Neuwirth. He is currently studying for a MSt. In the Study of Religion at Oxford University and applying for DPhil studies. His focus is mainly on the study of new religiosity, new religious movements and non-religiosity in (but not exclusively) central and eastern Europe, and the methodology of research in these categories in general.

 

References:

LDS official membership information by country:

http://www.ldschurchnews.com/almanac/1/Almanac.html, accessed 12.1.2013

Information on Slovak national poll from Slovak statistical Institute:

http://portal.statistics.sk/files/tab-14.pdf

Tariq Modood on the Crisis of European Secularism

Secularism – the separation of religion and state – has been a central narrative in the European political sphere since the Enlightenment. But with renewed calls in some countries to affirm a Christian identity, and problems in accommodating some Muslim communities, is Western secularism under threat?

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

Tariq Modood is Professor of Sociology, Politics and Public Policy at the University of Bristol. He is founding Director of the University Research Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship, and co-founding editor of the international journal, Ethnicities. As a regular contributor to the media and policy debates in Britain, he was awarded a MBE for services to social sciences and ethnic relations in 2001 and elected a member of the Academy of Social Sciences in 2004. He also served on the Commission on the Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain, the IPPR Commission on National Security and on the National Equality Panel, which reported to the UK Deputy Prime Minister in 2010.

His recent publications include Multicultural Politics: Racism, Ethnicity and Muslims in Britain (Edinburgh University Press, 2005), Multiculturalism: A Civic Idea (Polity, 2007) and Still Not Easy Being British: Struggles for a Multicultural Citizenship (Trentham Books, 2010); and as co-editor, Secularism, Religion and Multicultural Citizenship (Cambridge University Press, 2009).

Is There a Crisis of Secularism in Western Europe?, which expands considerably upon the issues in this interview, is now available at http://www.bris.ac.uk/ethnicity/news/2012/36.html.

Readers and listeners might also be interested in Linda Woodhead’s podcast on the Secularisation Thesis, and Bjoern Mastiaux’s essay on the same topic.