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Psychological Approaches to the Study of Religion

In practice, experimentation requires much effort, imagination, and resources. The subject of religion seems too complex and too ‘soft’ for the laboratory. It is filled with much fantasy and feelings, two topics which academic psychology finds hard to approach.

Beit-Hallahmi, Benjamin, and Michael Argyle. The Psychology of Religious Behaviour, Belief and Experience. London: Routledge, 1997, p. 47.

Psychology of religion involves the application of psychological methods and interpretive frameworks to religious institutions, as well as to individuals of all religious or noreligious persuasions. Last November, Chris had the pleasure of chatting to Professor Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi about the psychological approach, how one applies it to the study of religion, and the various challenges and advantages contained therein. This interview was recorded in the heart of New York City, and we can only hope that the ambient noise adds to the character of the interview.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes.

Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi studied clinical psychology in Israel and the U.S. and is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Haifa. He has published extensively in the critical theory of academic psychology with focus on the psychopathology of religion. His books include Despair and Deliverance: Private Salvation in Contemporary Israel (1992), Psychoanalytic Studies of Religion: A Critical Assessment (1996) and The psychology of religious behaviour, belief and experience (1997) with Michael Argyle. He is also author of The Israeli Connection (Pantheon 1987), concerning the Israeli armaments industry, and Original Sins: Reflections on the History of Zionism and Israel (Olive Branch 1993), a counter-mystification of the origins, accomplishments, contradictions, and betrayals of Zionism.

In answer to the question “what can science say about atheism?”, Professor Beit-Hallahmi published the article “Cognitive Approaches to the Study of Religion, and Erica Salomon’s response essay.

Divine Inspiration Revisited

 

When encountered for the first time, the idea of a fiction-based religion might seem quite ’far out’ and counter-intuitive. How is it possible to mix together religion (that, supposedly, deals with faith and so with a truth of some sort) and works of popular culture, which are clearly created by human imagination, and so are by definition not true?

And yet, this mixing does not seem to be a problem to the adherents of Jediism, Matrixism, and so forth. There are several groups that draw their inspiration from works of fiction, and yet declare religiosity. Apparently, fiction can offer inspiration to spiritual activities just as well as material traditionally regarded as spiritual and religious. What we seem to have at hand is a phenomenon that leaks out of our previous categories of religion, and in doing so poses a challenge to our understanding of religion and especially its connection to wider social and cultural phenomena.

The interview with Markus Davidsen explains comprehensively the basic ideas of a fiction-based religion. Davidsen defines a fiction-based religion as ”real religion in the real world, – which takes much of its inspiration from a fictional text”. Davidsen argues that these movements are more than fandom. For example, even though the adherents to Jediism do recognize the fact that Star Wars is fictional story, they still maintain that it refers to something that is real on some level. They might also argue, according to Davidsen, that all other religions are based on human invention as well, and so make the distinction between ‘real religion’ and their fiction-based religion less clear.

The aspect that interests me the most is the apparent diffusion of different ‘spheres’ of culture and society. In a fiction-based religion, an overlap of two categories is clearly present: religion and popular culture. But there are also other overlaps. For example, the argument that all religions are based on fiction seems like a very ’secular’ statement. So it seems that adherents to these new religious or spiritual endeavors have adopted certain ideas from a society in which traditional religions with their exclusive truth claims have largely lost their plausibility. As this introductory video to Pastafarianism puts it: ”(W)ith so many to choose from, how do we know which, if any, holds the truth?” But even adopting this view does not mean that religiosity would vanish altogether. Apparently, equally false can be inverted to equally true. Furthermore, it legitimizes the use of rather unconventional sources of spiritual inspiration. If all religions are ultimately based on human invention, what divides old prophecies and mythologies from the new ones?

Like many other forms of diffuse religiosity and spirituality of present day, fiction-based religions operate in an environment of open-ended systems, in which individuals are free to combine a view that suits their spiritual needs. Teemu Taira has called this type of religiosity ”liquid”, a term derived from Zygmunt Bauman’s work on liquid modernity. His work emphasizes the fact that we cannot handle religion as a distinct phenomenon separated from the broader societal and cultural context (Taira, 2006, 7-8). Coming closer to fiction-based religions, Carole M. Cusack has worked on what she calls ”invented religions”, which are new religions that openly declare their origin in human creativity. This term encompasses fiction-based religions as well as others, such as Discordianism and Church of the SubGenius, which are usually deemed as parody religions. Cusack also emphasizes the socio-cultural context of these religions, and her monograph Invented Religions. Imagination, Fiction and Faith shows how these forms of religiosity are a quite logical consequence of modern consumerism, individualism and appreciation for novelty. (Cusack, 2010 8-25.)

Taira describes liquid religiosity as being focused on the self. The experience of the individual is the most important religious authority. This is only logical in a liquid modern world, where great narratives have lost their plausibility, traditional identities are being deconstructed and external truths might prove fragile and change the next day (Taira 2006, 68-71,75). Consequently, what is ‘true’ for an individual is what matters to him or her individually. This is a very pragmatic sense of reality. If it works, it is true – at least true enough. This kind of view is naturally well suited for a highly pluralist situation, where increasing numbers of religious groups and identities exist next to each other. Taira also suggests that in liquid religiosity, there might be a shift in emphasis from intellectual content to the affective side of religiosity: meaningful feelings and experiences of empowerments it brings. (Taira 2006, 47-51.)

Fiction-based religions are a nice example of how different spheres of society and culture are actually tightly interntwined, and that they constantly affect and interfere with each others. Religion among other ‘spheres’ does not develop in a vaccuum. Also, as Davidsen concludes at the end of the interview, religion is ”something that happens in social interaction and negotiation”. Something is not religious per se, but it is made religious by people who claim it as such.

Religion does not disappear, even though some of its traditional forms might lose their value in the eyes of some people. But religion does change. Fiction-based religions are a good example of this change.

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.

 

References:

CUSACK, Carole M, 2010: Invented Religions. Imagination, Fiction and Faith. Surrey, England: Ashgate Publishing Limited.

TAIRA, Teemu, 2006: Notkea uskonto.  Published in the Eetos julkaisuja series. Turku: Eetos

Ethnographic Fieldwork: Falling in Love or Keeping your Distance?

Ethnographic Fieldwork: Falling in Love or Keeping your Distance?

By Dr Joseph Webster (Downing College, University of Cambridge)

Published by the Religious Studies Project, on 28 March 2012 in response to the Religious Studies Project Interview with Bettina Schmidt on Athropological Approaches to the Study of Religion (26 March 2012).

Of all the methodological approaches that the ‘social sciences’ have at their disposal, none is more messy – and arguably none more rewarding – than ethnographic fieldwork. It is this dual nature of participant observation that emerges as the primary theme in this insightful interview with Dr Bettina Schmidt of the University of Wales, Trinity Saint David.

An anthropologist who has conducted fieldwork in Puerto Rico and in New York, examining, among other things, the lived experiences of possession and trance and as found among practitioners of Santería, Spiritism and other Afro-Cuban religious movements, Schmidt is well equipped to discuss the reality of undertaking ethnographic fieldwork on the topic of religion. Her approach is unapologetically anthropological, and rightly so. “We have to respond to the people we speak with, and [respond] to the field”. This involves, she admits, reinventing research projects according to the conditions of that field. The idea of preparing for this by reading books (and perhaps also by listening to podcasts?) is not something with which many anthropologists would feel comfortable, and Schmidt is no exception. Learning by doing seems to be the order of the day. And of course, she is right.

The fact that this is far from a new approach in no way diminishes its importance. Fieldwork still exists as a right of passage for any anthropologist worth their salt, and is often prepared for by receiving (what seems like flippant) advice from those who have gone into the field before us. I think it was Evans-Pritchard who mused that the last piece of advice he was given before departing for Sudan was “get a good desk for writing, take two tablets of quinine a day, and keep off the local women”. The last advice I received was even more insightful: “treat your fieldwork like a romance: you have to fall in love with them and you have to make them fall in love with you”.

This process of falling in love with the world of one’s informants is something that comes across strongly in Schmidt’s interview, to the point, she admits, that others have (somewhat bizarrely) criticised her admission that she finds Afro-Cuban religion “fascinating”. It seems unlikely that such critique would come from an anthropologist, encapsulating, as her admission does, the ‘true spirit’ of the ethnographic endeavour.

Schmidt also speaks with frankness about various methodological ‘problems’, from the insider/outsider conundrum, to data analysis while in the field, to the use of photography and sound recording, to problems of interviewer bias, to the ethics of anonymity, to imposing anthropological theory upon the experiences of one’s informants. I must admit that, depending on how they are framed, such issues feel rather peripheral to the actual experience of the ‘doing’ of fieldwork. Yet this too comes across during the interview. How does one get access to the field? Through a community gatekeeper. What happens if no onene will speak to you about your research topic? Change topic. What if people don’t want you taking photographs? Take fieldnotes after the event instead. Its ‘bread and butter’ stuff, but worth bearing in mind nonetheless, especially for those listeners about to undergo their own ethnographic ‘right of passage’.

A highlight of the interview, easy to miss because of its own (again, rather second nature) importance is Schmidt’s strong advocacy for the practice of writing fieldnotes. The need for a camera and a dictaphone in the field almost totally disappears assuming one has access to pen and paper (and possibly a good desk). This is serious. I remember having a discussion with a documentary filmmaker who said that if he didn’t capture the moment on tape, it might as well not have happened. In a very real sense, the same applies to fieldwork. If I don’t force myself to make my fieldnotes, I will forget all those little details about any given encounter, and soon enough, the very fact that the encounter ever happened. Tim Ingold once said “fieldnotes are time machines”. He couldn’t be more correct. Fieldnotes transport you back to the event, back to the field, back to the ‘ethnographic moment’ in which, to echo Geertz, you finally worked out “what the hell is going on”. Such a magical act of re-remembering, it seems to me, is all the more crucial when dealing not just with a foreign culture, but also a foreign cosmology and foreign ontology – a fact that will be familiar to many students of religion.

Furthermore, participant observation always takes the perspective of the anthropologist Schmidt tells us: “it is always me who is speaking and hearing and smelling” (methodologically speaking, of course) making true objectivity impossible. All I would want to add here – given the fact that I took to heart the advice to treat fieldwork “like a romance” – is that objectivity is also highly undesirable. Indeed, fieldwork demands, at some level at least, that one falls in love. And aspiring to an ‘objective romance’ seems to be missing the point, both philosophically and ethnographically.

Yet the interview draws to close on a rather puzzling note. “With religion”, Schmidt continues, “I always try to keep my distance”. My own fieldwork experiences – among born-again Scottish fishermen and more recently among Ulster Orangemen – suggests that this “distance” also runs the risk of missing the point of participant observation. Remember that you also have to make them fall in love with you. It seems that this would be a tricky task indeed if I were determined to keep my distance. One solution might be to return to our fieldnotes, seeing them not only as a time machine, but also as a wad of love letters, which, if the works of Jane Austin have anything to tell us, are very often written while sitting at a good desk.

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

Dr. Joseph Webster is the Isaac Newton – Graham Robertson Research Fellow in Social Anthropology and Sociology at Downing College, Cambridge. His doctoral research (Social Anthropology, University of Edinburgh) focused upon the folk-theologies of salvation and eschatology among Scottish fishermen in Gamrie, a small Aberdeenshire fishing village of 700 people and six Protestant churches. Ethnographically, he examined the connections between religion and fishing to show how words and language became charged with the power to enchant the world through a uniquely Protestant socio-spiritual experience of personhood, worship and time. The thesis, among other things, developed a new reading of Max Weber’s theory of enchantment, primarily by rethinking the relationship between immanence and transcendence.

As well as currently preparing his doctoral thesis for publication as a monograph, his Research Fellowship at Cambridge will be spent undertaking new fieldwork among Orangemen on the religion and politics of Unionism in Northern Ireland.

Weekly Opportunities Digest (March 23 2012) – Journals, Papers, Jobs, Fellowships and more…

Opportunities Digest – 20 March 2012

We have moved opportunities digests until Fridays, largely to promote more discussion related to the reponse essays and podcasts, and also to give readers the chance to think about the opportunities over the weekend. We have linked each heading below to the appropriate section so you can (hopefully) jump to whatever you are interested in. We are not responsible for any content contained herein, but have simply copied and pasted from a variety of sources.

Contained below:


Advanced Notice – Journals


Jobs


University of Oslo, Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages – Associate

Professor, Religion in Modern China

A position of Associate Professor in Religion in Modern China is available at the Department

of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages from 1 January 2013.

Application deadline: 11 April 2012

Information and application: http://uio.easycruit.com/vacancy/663417/62042?iso=no


Michigan State University – Muslim Studies Program (Director)

Michigan State University (MSU), the nation’s premier land-grant university, seeks

applications for the position of Director of the Muslim Studies Program (MSP)who provides

leadership in shaping and implementing innovative initiatives to advance strategic

international research and engagement relating to the Muslim world. This search is

conducted in collaboration between MSU’s Office of International Studies and Programs

(ISP) and James Madison College (JMC), MSU’s undergraduate college of public affairs.

We seek candidates for appointment at the Associate Professor or Professor level to direct

MSU’s Muslim Studies Program and to teach and conduct research on the Muslim world,

with likely appointment in JMC’s International Relations or Comparative Cultures and Politics

programs.

Responsibilities: The MSP Director will provide intellectual and programmatic leadership to

advance and promote excellence in MSU’s diverse research, teaching, and outreach

activities relating to Muslim studies. This includes coordinating the Program’s activities and

representing MSP at MSU, across the nation, and around the world. As coordinator of MSP,

the Director develops and sustains strategic partnerships with higher education and other

institutions around the world to advance collaborative research, teaching, and engagement

activities relating to the Muslim world. that positively impact critical global issues and

transform the lives of people. The Director will have particular responsibility for overseeing

current and new partnership development initiatives in the Greater Middle East and Central,

South and Southeast Asia. The Director will facilitate and catalyze collaborative, multi-

disciplinary and cross-college faculty research with emphasis on priority research themes;

will build collaboration among social science/arts/humanities and STEM/health disciplines;

develop proposals for external funding for such research; and secure external funds for MSP

activities. Additional duties include advancing knowledge of Muslim studies; enhancing

instruction of relevant languages and course offerings with Muslim studies content;

overseeing the Muslim Studies undergraduate specialization program; and building and

strengthening relationships with diverse constituent and stakeholder groups such as faculty,

administrators, students, academic programs, K-12 institutions, local Muslim communities,

government and policy organizations, alumni, and others in the United States and in key

countries. In fulfillment of these duties, the Director will be required to periodically travel

internationally to develop and enhance MSU’s strategic partnerships and advocate for MSU

with relevant institutions in the Muslim world and elsewhere.The Director’s appointment will

be at least 50%, and up to 75% in MSP, with the exact percentages there and in an

academic department, the tenure home, to be mutually agreed among the successful

candidate, the Dean of ISP, and the Dean of MSU’s James Madison College. The

appointment will be on an annual (12-month) basis for a five-year period with renewal

possible. Salary and rank are commensurate with experience.

The Muslim Studies Program (MSP) is a cross-regional program that coordinates a large

and diverse set of educational offerings. Unlike Middle East Studies programs, MSP is

distinguished by the breadth of its geographical focus in the design of its curricula, foci of

faculty research, and scope of outreach activities.

In addition to research, MSP reflects the university’s overall commitment to

internationalization. The increase in international attention to the Muslim world and interest

from MSU students and faculty, and business and government in Michigan and the Midwest

have led to the development of a Muslim Studies curriculum aimed at meeting new needs

and advancing the genuinely multicultural quality of MSU. MSP also conducts extensive

outreach programs for K-16 educators, non-governmental organizations, governments, the

media, and business communities.

MSP is a unit of International Studies and Programs (ISP), and its Director reports to the ISP

Dean. ISP incorporates MSU’s extensive study abroad programs and international student

and scholar services. To pursue trans-regional and interdisciplinary strategic initiatives the

MSP actively partners with other ISP centers including: African Studies; Asian Studies;

Canadian Studies; Center for the Advanced Study of International Development; Center

for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies; Center for Gender in Global Context; Center

for International Business Education and Research; Center for Language Education and

Research; and Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies. Other campus partners

include the Department of Linguistics and Germanic, Slavic, Asian, and African Languages

and the Institutes of International Agriculture, International Health, and International Studies

in Education, and International Business. MSP has more than 20 affiliated faculty members

in the humanities, social and natural sciences, agriculture, business, law, and other

professional programs who carry on research, and undergraduate and graduate teaching

related to the Muslim world. More information about MSP and its activities can be found at:

http://muslimstudies.isp.msu.edu/.

James Madison College offers a large and diverse program of international studies that

spans several undergraduate majors. Applicants should demonstrate excellence in

undergraduate teaching and a substantial record of scholarship. The successful candidate

will have great familiarity with Muslim issues worldwide with special expertise on the

Greater Middle East. The successful candidate may come from a wide variety of academic

disciplines consistent with the mission of the college, including political science, sociology,

anthropology, history, economics, area studies, international relations, and others, and will

specialize in one or more of the following areas: ethnic or religious conflict, political Islam,

culture and development, migration, and comparative and international politics of the Muslim

world. Expertise on the Greater Middle East is highly desirable.

James Madison College provides a liberal education in public affairs, combining the ethos

of a small liberal arts college with the advantages of a large, diverse university. The faculty’s

primary mission is excellence in undergraduate teaching, and the College is noted for its

rigorous academic standards and attention to the analytical, writing and speaking skills

of its students. In addition to the Muslim Studies specialization, the College is home to

specializations in Western European Studies, Political Economy, and Science, Technology,

the Environment and Public Policy. Through its faculty, the College has close working

relationships with Michigan State’s many international teaching and research centers. For

more information on the College, visit the JMC website at www.jmc.msu.edu.

Qualifications:

Candidates from all relevant academic disciplines will be considered, and are expected

to have an outstanding record of research and scholarship related to the Muslim world.

Experience working in, and expertise about, the Greater Middle East is desirable.

Candidates must have an earned Ph.D. or equivalent terminal degree and must meet

the standards for appointment to the rank of associate or full professor (with tenure) in

James Madison College. Candidates are expected to have demonstrated leadership

and administrative skills, and abilities to secure external funding from diverse sources;

establish and sustain strategic partnerships with universities and other institutions in

key countries around the world; facilitate and catalyze programs of collaborative, multi-

disciplinary research on priority research topics; build collaboration among social science/

arts/humanities and STEM/health disciplines; and actively contribute to the ISP leadership

team. The position requires policy development and implementation capabilities, with the

ability to work collaboratively with faculty, administrators of academic units, and area studies

and international thematic centers in promoting international research, education, outreach,

and service programs. In addition, the ideal candidate will possess proficiency in at least one

language relevant to predominantly Muslim countries.

Candidates should go to www.jobs.msu.edu to apply for posting number 5949 in the Faculty/

Academic Staff postings. Submit a letter of application addressing your interest and how

your research and teaching interests would contribute to a college curriculum focused on

public affairs. The letter also should discuss your qualifications relevant to the position

description, and your vision for the position. Supporting materials should include a vita, three

references, evidence of quality teaching experience and commitment to undergraduate

teaching (including at least one syllabus), and a sample of scholarship (e.g., book chapter,

article, conference paper). For additional information about the University and its extensive

international commitments seewww.msu.edu, and www.msu.edu/international, and

www.isp.msu.edu. MSU is an affirmative action-equal opportunity employer.

Apply Here: http://www.Click2Apply.net/dmx34zq. The deadline for applications is March

25, 2012. Late applications will be accepted until filled.


The Department of Asian Languages and Civilizations (ALC), to be inaugurated at Seoul National University in March 2012, invites applications for a professorship (open rank) in Near and Middle Eastern studies from specialists in humanities (literature, history, or religion).  The candidate is expected to have an excellent command of Arabic and/or Persian and will be required to teach courses related to his/her research interests as well as advanced courses in reading texts in Arabic and/or Persian at both undergraduate and graduate levels.  Rank and salary will be commensurate with research and teaching credentials.  Only those who already have a PhD at the time of submission of application will be considered.  Send cover letter, curriculum vitae, graduate transcript, statement of research, statement of teaching philosophy (including description of courses that the applicant can teach), and three letters of recommendation (directly from the referees) as well as any inquiry to:

Professor Juhyung Rhi

Chair, ALC Search Committee

Associate Dean for Academic Affairs

College of Humanities

Seoul National University

Seoul 151-745

S. Korea

Email: jhrhi@snu.ac.kr (Email submission is allowed.)

Review of applications will begin immediately and continue until the position is filled. For full consideration, complete applications should be received by April 1, 2012. Early submission of CV will be appreciated.


Lecturer in the Study of Religion

Department of Theology and Religion, Durham University

Salary: £30,122 to £44,166 per annum dependent upon experience

Grade: Grade 7/8

Contract: Non fixed-term, full-time

Hours: Nominally 35 hours per week

Details: Full details of the post are available on the university website at www.durham.ac.uk/jobs/

Deadline for applications: 2nd April 2012 (midnight)

The Department of Theology and Religion at Durham University has a long-standing tradition of outstanding research and is widely recognized as one of the leading departments in its field. In the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise it was ranked first in the UK, while its teaching quality is shown in its consistently obtaining exceptionally high rankings in both National Student Surveys and independent league tables. Its strengths range across Biblical Studies (Old Testament, New Testament, ancient Judaism, and Biblical languages), Christian theology (Greek and Latin patristics, the history and theology of late antiquity and the early middle ages, the Reformation, doctrinal and philosophical theology, and theological ethics), and the Study of Religion (the anthropology, sociology and psychology of religion). It also has Centres in Catholic Studies and in Death and Life Studies, and research projects in Spirituality, Theology and Health, and Faith and Globalization. The Department has a welcoming and collegial atmosphere, and is beautifully sited between the Cathedral and the Castle on the World Heritage Site in the centre of the city of Durham.

This new post welcomes applicants from those with research expertise in any area of the social scientific study of religion, a developing field flourishing within the Department. Current teachers in this area include Professor Douglas Davies, specializing in the anthropology of religion, particularly Mormonism, Death Studies, Ritual-Symbolism, Emotion and Embodiment, and the contemporary Anglican church; Dr Mathew Guest, specializing in the sociology of religion, particularly evangelical Christianity, religion in universities and religion and generational change; and Dr Charlotte Hardman, specializing in the anthropology of religion, particularly shamanism. Staff in this area have a proven track record in externally funded research projects, including recent research into ‘Christianity and the University Experience’, ‘Cremation in Scotland’, ‘Woodland Burial’, ‘Religion, Identity and Emotion’ and ‘the Clergy and British Society’. Several other departmental staff have ongoing cross-disciplinary research interests that relate to the study of religion. There is a fortnightly research seminar in Religion and Society, at which papers are presented by leading scholars from the UK and abroad as well as by members of staff and research postgraduates. More information about the Department is available at http://www.dur.ac.uk/theology.religion/.

The successful applicant will be expected to teach and collaborate in modules in the Study of Religion at undergraduate and taught postgraduate levels, to supervise postgraduate research, to undertake outstanding research leading to publications of international significance, and to play a full part in the life of the department.

Job Description

The postholder will be responsible to the Head of Department, currently Dr Robert Song.

Job Summary and Purpose:

The main features of the job will be:

a) to conduct outstanding research leading to publications of international significance in the field of the Study of Religion;

b) to teach at all undergraduate levels and at Masters level in the field of the Study of Religion;

c) to attract and supervise research students (MA and PhD) in the Study of Religion;

d) to submit applications for externally-funded research grants;

e) to undertake administrative tasks in the Department of Theology and Religion, as agreed with the Head of Department.

Key Responsibilities:

The key responsibilities of the job will be in teaching (lecturing, seminar leading, course organisation, marking, and dissertation supervision) at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels, research (writing and publication), and administration, within the team of staff constituting the Department of Theology and Religion.

For appointment at Grade 8, candidates will need to provide evidence of relevant teaching and supervising experience at university level and a significant record of publications at international level.

Contact

Dr Robert Song, Head of Department, +44 (0)191 334 3959, robert.song@durham.ac.uk.


Calls For Papers


Call for Papers| 4-6 July 2012, Goldsmiths, University of London

Nonreligion and the Secular: New Horizons for Multidisciplinary Research

Sponsored by the Nonreligion and Secularity Research Network (NSRN)

Conveners: Lois Lee (ll317@cam.ac.uk), Stacey Gutkowski (stacey.gutkowski@kcl.ac.uk), and Stephen Bullivant (stephen.bullivant@smuc.ac.uk)

Conference Coordinator: Katie Aston (k.aston@gold.ac.uk)

Following decades of neglect, the academic study of nonreligion has grown rapidly in the past five years.  The primary aim of this conference is to bring together scholars across a range of academic disciplines (sociology, anthropology, theology, political science, psychology, history, international relations, area studies) to begin to untangle the confused and individually contested concepts of nonreligion and the secular. Is nonreligion a subcategory of the secular or vice versa? How do the two terms structure one another? What are the practical and theoretical implications of the concepts, such as they are and/or in alternative formulations? The aim of this international conference is to contribute to addressing this lacuna. . While discussions of nonreligion and the secular have been running largely in parallel, they are potentially mutually enriching topics with significant bearing outside of the academy. This conference will consolidate the achievements already made over the past five years by nonreligion scholars and forge new, multidisciplinary dialogue between these researchers and those primarily working with the concept of the secular. This conference will bring together a range of internationally renowned scholars, including keynote speakers Gracie Davie (Exeter), Callum Brown (Dundee), Monika Wohlrab-Sahr (Leipzig), and Humeira Iqtidar (King’s College London).

The conference engages with a historical moment in which forms of religion and nonreligion have increasingly asserted themselves in the public sphere, in non-Western as well as Western settings. In the case of radical Islamism and New Atheism, such assertions have had powerful, sometimes inflammatory and divisive affect. This urgent wider social and political context demonstrates the urgency of a reasoned, global, scholarly contribution, aimed at further theorising and conceptualising nonreligion and the secular, individually and in relation to each other.

This conference will interrogate three dimensions and welcomes both empirically- and theoretically-based paper contributions which address the following:

1) Nonreligion as a concept in its own right

What is meant by the term “nonreligion”? How does it manifest itself in the lives of individuals and in collective social activity and identity? Is it the most appropriate term to encompass a range of phenomena and where may its parameters lie? What is the relationship between nonreligion and modernity? Is nonreligion a resonant category outside of Western contexts?

2) The nonreligious in relation to notions of the secular

How do nonreligion and the secular mutually constitute one another? Under what historical social and political conditions did the rise of secularism and secularity facilitate the appearance of the nonreligious? Does the emergence of the nonreligious indicate a new phase of modernity?

3) The implications of nonreligion research for pressing social and political issues associated with discussions of the secular

What bearing does nonreligiosity have on social, political and legal questions about social cohesion and multiculturalism? To what extent do the “harder” forms on nonreligion breed intolerance and fundamentalism? What are the implications of nonreligion for the possibility of democratic consensus and governance? To what extent do secular political landscapes outside of the West involve or even require the presence of nonreligious phenomena?

Publication Outcome: We are planning to publish a selection of the papers presented at the conference in an edited volume.

The deadline for abstract submission (250 words max) is 27 April 2012. Please send your abstract together with a short biographical note to Katie Aston at k.aston@gold.ac.uk


SAAG (South Asia Anthropologists Group) 2012

This year SAAG will be held in Edinburgh on 4th, 5th and 6th September (4th 5th and 6th half

day).

As usual, we welcome paper proposals from those at any stages of their academic careers,

from first year PhD students onwards. In order to be able to cover our food costs, lunch on

the 5th and 6th, and tea and coffee, there will be a fee of £15 for the whole workshop. We

also hope to cover the costs of a conference dinner on one evening.

If you are interested to attend, submit a paper, or act as a discussant for SAAG 2012, please

contact one of the organising committee members Stewart Allen, Supurna Banerjee, Feyza

Bhatti or Ruth Marsden) at 2012saag@gmail.com. If you would like to offer a paper for

discussion, please send a title and brief abstract by April 30th 2012.


Transformations of the Sacred in Europe and Beyond

ESA Mid-term Conference: Research Network 34 – Sociology of Religion

University of Potsdam, Germany, 3-5 September 2012

in cooperation with the German Section for the Sociology of Religonin the DGS

You will find the registration form on: http://www.esareligion.org/bi-annual-conference/


The International Society for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture (http://www.religionandnature.com/society/) (ISSRNC) is pleased to announce

its next conference in Malibu, California at Pepperdine University on August

8-11, 2012. The conference theme will be “Nature and the Popular

Imagination.”

For generations, the interconnections between religion and nature have been

expressed, promoted, and contested through the incubator of popular culture,

including films produced in nearby Hollywood. As a global and symbolic center

that reflects and invents nature/religion representations, Malibu and its environs

provide a fantastic venue for critical reflection on the religion/nature nexus in the

popular imagination. Along with keynote addresses and other scholarly sessions,

a number of special events and excursions are in the works, including a scholar-

led tour of The Getty Villa in Malibu and opportunities to enjoy the beautiful and

famous Malibu coast. Some of these may be offered before or after the official

conference period. Affordable on-campus housing will be available to conference

participants.

We invite proposals about nature and religion in diverse expressions of popular

culture, including films, television, comics, fiction, music, sports, graffiti,

clothing, and festivals. As always, while we encourage proposals focused on

the conference’s theme, we welcome proposals from all areas (regional and

historical) and from all disciplinary perspectives that explore the complex

relationships between religious beliefs and practices (however defined and

understood), cultural traditions and productions, and the earth’s diverse

ecological systems. We encourage proposals that include theoretical frameworks

and analyses, emphasize dialogue and discussion, promote collaborative

research, and are unusual in terms of format and structure.

Proposals for individual paper presentations, sessions, panels, and posters should

be submitted directly to Sarah Pike at spike@csuchico.edu. It is not necessary

to be an ISSRNC member to submit a proposal. Individual paper proposals

should include, in a single, attached word or rich text document, the name and

email of the presenter(s), title, a 250-300 word abstract, and a brief, 150 word

biography (including highest degree earned and current institutional affiliation,

if any). Proposals for entire sessions must include a title and abstract for

the session as a whole as well as for each individual paper. Proposers should also

provide information about ideal and acceptable lengths for proposed sessions,

and whether any technology, such as data projectors, are desired. Most paper

presentations will be scheduled at 15-20 minutes and a premium will be placed

on discussion in all sessions. Proposals will be evaluated anonymously by the

Scientific Committee, but conference directors will be aware of proposers’

identities in order to select for diversity in terms of geographical area and career

stage. Student proposals are particularly welcome.

The deadline for proposals is 1 May 2012.

For more information and updates, please go to: http://www.religionandnature.com/society/conferences.htm#malibu


Exploring the Extraordinary 4th Conference, 22nd-23rd September, 2012

Holiday Inn, York

Since its inception in 2007, members of Exploring the Extraordinary have organised three successful academic conferences that have brought together researchers from a variety of different disciplines and backgrounds. The purpose of these events has been to encourage a wider dissemination of knowledge and research, and an interdisciplinary discussion of extraordinary phenomena and experience. By ‘extraordinary’ we refer to phenomena and experiences that are considered to be beyond the mundane, referring to those that have been called supernatural, paranormal, mystical, transcendent, exceptional, spiritual, magical and/or religious, as well as the relevance of such for human culture.

We are looking for submissions for our fourth conference, and would like to invite presentation proposals on topics related to the above. Please submit a 300-500 word paper abstract to Dr Madeleine Castro and Dr Hannah Gilbert (ete.network@gmail.com) by the 6th April 2012. Accepted papers should be on powerpoint, no longer than 20 minutes in length, and intended for an interdisciplinary audience. Please include contact information and a brief biographical note.

For more information, and to see past conference schedules, please visit http://etenetwork.weebly.com


Regarding the Other in Modern Jewish Thought. A CJCR Colloquium – 27 June 2012

The Centre for the Study of Jewish-Christian Relations (Woolf Institute, Cambridge) is delighted to announce that it is hosting a colloquium, Regarding the Other in Modern Jewish Thought. The

colloquium will be held on Wednesday, 27 June 2012 and take place at Lucy Cavendish College (Cambridge).

Speakers:

  • CJCR Visiting Fellow, Aaron Rosen (KCL)
  • Agata Bielik-Robson (Nottingham)
  • Melissa Raphael (Gloucestershire).

Full details of the colloquium, together with the registration form, can be found at

http://www.woolf.cam.ac.uk/events/details?year=2012&month=6&day=27#ID449.

Bursaries are available for graduate students.


Death in modern Scotland, 1855-1955: beliefs, attitudes and practices

New College, University of Edinburgh, Friday 1 February 2013 – Saturday 3 February, 2013.

‘There remains a huge agenda for death research, offering a unique vantage point for the study of Scottish history’ (Professor Elaine McFarland of Glasgow Metropolitan University, 2004). Since those words were written, there have been increasing signs of interest, research and publications in death studies in Scotland.

This conference invites those who are researching death from whatever disciplinary perspective to offer papers whose total range will illuminate one hundred years of death in modern Scotland. These hundred years began with the passing of the Registration Act and the Burial Grounds (Scotland) Act in 1855 and end with the opening of Daldowie Crematorium in 1955.

Plenary speakers include:

Professor Elaine McFarland, Dr Elizabeth Cumming and Professor Hilary J. Grainger.

Papers will be particularly welcome on the subjects of:

death, grief and mourning;

funeral rites and rituals; customs and costume;

demographic and statistical interpretations; registration of death;

public health and medicine;

death, poverty, gender and social class

death, urban and rural comparisons

burial and cremation;

the development of funeral directing services;

theology, liturgy and funeral ministry;

monuments and memorialisation;

issues of architecture and landscape design;

the folklore of death; ghost narratives and beliefs; spiritualism;

death in war-time;

death, grief, mourning;

death in literature and the arts;

death and Scottish law;

violent death; the death penalty;

disasters: air, rail, sea and industrial;

Established research and work-in-progress welcomed.

 

Abstracts of 200 words maximum may be sent to Peter C. Jupp, Braddan House, High Street, Duddington, Stamford, Lincs PE9 3QE email peterc.jupp@btinternet.com or peter.c.jupp@ed.ac.uk

A follow-up call for papers with full conference details and names of plenary speakers will be published soon.

Conference Committee: the Revd Dr Peter C. Jupp (Department of Divinity, University of Edinburgh, Chair); Dr Marion Bowman (Chair, Religion Department, Open University), Dr Susan Buckham (Independent Researcher; Kirkyard Consulting), Ms Nicola Davidson (Divinity Department, University of Edinburgh); Dr Ronnie Scott (Glasgow).


Gaia Gathering: Canadian National Pagan Conference, Toronto, May 18 – 21, 2012

Theme: Building the Mosaic

Gaia Gathering was founded in 2004 and had its first conference in 2005. Each year the conference is hosted over the Victoria Day long weekend in a different Canadian city through a bidding process similar to the Olympics. Past host cities include Edmonton, Halifax, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Vancouver and Montreal. Legally, we are incorporated federally as a non-profit

organization and operate with a national Board of Directors as well as a local host committee.

The conference is organized collaboratively by Canadian Pagans and includes four days of discussion and workshops about Canadian Paganisms. After seven years of traveling across the country, the conference this year will be held in Toronto, Ontario at the University of Toronto New College. The theme for 2012 will be “Building the Mosaic”. Individuals make up the whole of a community. By bringing together pieces of respective Pagan communities and local groups during the conference, a representation of the larger Canadian Pagan Mosaic emerges.

In keeping with the theme “Mosaic”, we have chosen to present a “Mosaic of Speakers” representing the rich diversity of Canadian Paganism: Andy Biggers (Simcoe County, ON) has been deeply involved in the North American pagan and heathen community for over 25 years.

Michel & Pamela Daw (Gatineau, QC) are modern Stoics, reviving the ancient philosophical and spiritual path. Tamara James (Toronto, ON) is a founding member of the Wiccan Church of

Canada, which was established in 1979, and was one of the first Pagan clergy to serve in a Canadian prison system. Sydney Lancaster (Edmonton, AB) is a visual artist, writer, musician, Artist in Residence at Harcourt House, and an OBOD ovate. Brian Walsh (Toronto, ON) is a permanent part-time Spiritual Care Provider at a major Toronto hospital and a part-time Clinical Fellow in Spiritual Care at another major Toronto hospital. Witchdoctor Utu (St. Catharines, ON) is the founder of the Niagara Voodoo Shrine, the world-renowned Dragon Ritual Drummers and is a member of the New Orleans Voodoo Spiritual Temple. The complete bios for our invited guests can be found on our website.

In addition to the speakers we will also feature workshops, panel discussions, academic presentations and evening entertainment throughout the weekend.

SUBMISSION CRITERIA

We invite papers and proposals for our academic stream from all faculties within the humanities who touch into the realm of alternate spirituality, Paganism, New Religious Movements and related subjects. Also, if you are a retired, solitary, armchair, or aspiring academic not affiliated with an institution then you may also submit by the same criteria and to the same locations. We hope to see everyone rise to the challenge and welcome them to this opportunity to present here in Montreal with like-minded individuals.

Submissions may be sent via mail or e-mail and are to be no more than one page. They must include a publication-ready, titled abstract of 150-200 words. The name, address, telephone numbers, e-mail address, college or university affiliation and level of study of the presenter(s) must also be included. Any special requests or needs for audio-visual equipment must also

be indicated. We will be accepting submissions for peer and academic review between February 2nd and March 20th (Ostara 2012). Abstracts and proposals (and thus presentations) may be in English or in French. All received submissions will be acknowledged, with notification of acceptance, by early April 2012.

Email to: bmyers@cegep-heritage.qc.ca

Or mail to:

Dr. Brendan Myers

C/O Cegep Heritage College

325 boul. Cite-des-Jeunes,

Gatineau Quebec

J8Y 6T3


Material Religion in Modern Britain and her Worlds

8-9 June 2012, University of Glamorgan, Cardiff

This two-day symposium will explore material cultures of religious belief and faith in modern Britain. As Birgit Meyer, David Morgan, Crispin Paine and S. Brent Plate have recently pointed out, studying material objects provides us with an alternative evidence base in the study of modern religious belief (Birgit Meyer et al; 2011). Yet few attempts have yet been made to do so. While many scholars now concede that Britain’s religious landscape is more varied and rich than the narrative of secularisation allows, a tendency remains in the historiography of religion to privilege written sources over material manifestations of religion. This means that all sorts of belief practices have been overlooked. Analysing the material past, we propose, will provide scholars with new and exciting ways of understanding the apparently fraught relationship between modernity and religion. As Jane Bennett points out, objects are culture constructions and lead active lives in our social and cultural landscape. Religious historians have too often been guilty of adopting an implicitly Protestant binary (set up in opposition to Catholicism) in which words are privileged over objects. Yet everyday cultures of Protestant belief in Britain relied on all kinds of material cultures which sustained religion in an age of uncertainty.

Despite Britain’s ‘official’ Protestant past, we are nonetheless keen to encourage papers which explore religious denominations or groups beyond the official cannon and which made up Britain’s multi-faith landscape in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Papers are welcome which consider either formal or informal aspects of religious materiality. We would especially like to encourage papers that consider ‘Britain’s worlds’, including investigations of religious objects in the Empire or commonwealth or geographical locations inhabited by British people.

 

We hope to encourage an interdisciplinary dialogue by bringing together scholars in history, religion, art/design history, architecture and sociology.

Keynote speakers to be annouced

 

Possible themes or topics include:

  • Religious objects

  • Religious ephemera

  • The materiality of religious and sacred texts
  • Sacred Dress and Clothing
  • Religious Architecture and the built environment
  • Construction of sacred space
  • Social identity/identities including class, gender and life stage
  • Ideas surrounding materiality and religion
  • Advertising and Consumption
  • Making of religious objects
  • Religious Interiors and the domestic display of material objects

  • Religious aestheticism
  • Iconography

Please send abstracts of 400 words either Lucinda Matthews-Jones [l.matthew-jones@ljmu.ac.uk] or Tim Jones [twjones@glam.ac.uk] by 31st March. The Conference will be hosted by the University of Glamorgan, Cardiff Campus. We plan a number of publication outputs from this conference. If you are unable to attend, but would like to express your interest for future events or outputs, please email Lucinda Matthews-Jones [l.matthew-jones@ljmu.ac.uk] with a brief description of your work and a short CV.


Calls for Chapters


Call for submissions to Handbook on African American Islam – Aminah Beverly

McCloud

According to the Gallup Poll (2009), African American Muslims comprise the largest ethnic

group of Muslims in the United States at 35%, as well as the oldest. There are communities

of African American Muslims across the United States, from large metropolitan areas such

as New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Atlanta, to small town communities in Kentucky

and Tennessee. There is a wide range of economic diversity as there is a wide range of

social class represented. Many families have produced three generations of Muslims who

cling to the religion while living in an increasingly secular America. They too, are weathering

the onslaught of Islamophobia and the pervasive fear and sometimes hate filled rhetoric of

newscasters and other media pundits. There will be several contributors writing chapters

devoted to their maturity as Muslims living in America, their contributions to their homeland’s

religious landscape and their interactions with other Muslim and non-Muslim American

communities.

The goal of this effort is to publish an accessible and authoritative source for students of

religious studies, American religions, African American religions, anthropology, Muslim

cultures, and Islam in America. It will investigate the ongoing phenomenon of African

American Islam as a religious culture in the American landscape. It will also provide case

studies for those interested in Muslim cultural history. This handbook will be a compilation

of various disciplinary approaches to the study of religion and religious communities. The

handbook will be handy history text in its characterization of African American Islam as a

long-term presence in the United States that had its beginnings in American chattel slavery.

With this in mind, I am soliciting chapters on:

  1. The various communities that claim Islam – Particular communities such as the NOI,

Moorish Science Temple, Nation of Islam, Sufi Communities, Darul Islam, communities of

Warithudeen Muhammad, Shia communities, etc. Articles can be historical but must include

current research.

  1. Identity. Almost all members of the African American Muslim community speak of themselves in ways most commonly referred to as ‘disapora.’ Whether seeing themselves

as ‘Muslims who live in America’ or Asiatics or Ethiopians; the notion of diaspora is

prevalent. How do African American Muslims imagine themselves? Are there competing

definitions of diaspora? What are the meanings of African and American in current Islamic

thinking? How do African American women negotiate their Muslimness?

  1. How have African American Muslim communities developed as Islamic communities?

What are the varieties of the Islamic experience? Who is Muslim and what defines an Islamic

experience? Is there an American Islam? Who represents Islam in America? What are

media representations of African American Muslim Communities?

  1. What are the relationships with other Muslim and non-Muslim religious communities?

What are the bases for these relationships? Are African American Muslims involved in

inter-faith dialogues and if so, on what terms? What is the status of engagement with the

immigrant Muslim community?

  1. Is there a “gender jihad” as expressed by Amina Wadud? Where does knowledge

lay among the women? Are there issues of knowledge and power in marriage and family

construction? What are women contributing to art, music, scholarship? Is there meaningful

participation in the masajid? How are women shaping the activities of the masjid or other

distinctly Muslim spaces?

  1. What is the African American Muslim agenda for the 21st century? Do they have the

same issues of Islamophobia, curtailment of civil liberties? How is American Islam going to

be reflective of African American Islamic perspectives?

This Handbook will be published by Oxford in 2014. Those agreeing to submit a chapter

will receive a contract with Oxford and a cash or book honorarium. Please send me your

inquiries and hopefully willingness to submit by March 15, 2012 at amccloud@depaul.edu .


Calls for participants


UCL’s Dr Myriam Hunter-Henin is pleased to announce a workshop to be held at UCL on

12th June 2012 on Negotiating Religion Workshop: Legal Framework – Schools and

Religious Freedom

This one day workshop, which is part of the Negotiating Religion Workshop Series, will look

at how and to what extent do legal frameworks – judicial reasoning and legal processes –

allow space for negotiating religious issues. The workshop will look at questions such as:

  • Does this negotiation take place with religious communities or directly with the individuals who claim that their religious freedoms have been infringed?
  • What are the main actors of the negotiating process?
  • Who benefits from it?
  • What are the risks of ‘negotiating’?
  • Is ‘negotiation’ the best way to reach a fair compromise between conflicting rights and claims?
  • Is negotiating with religious freedoms any different to negotiation in respect of other human rights?
  • What special features/dangers derive from the school context in which this negotiation takes place?
  • What does teaching in a secular institution imply?

These crucial questions will be addressed through analysis of topical case law and legal

scholarship under four headings:

  1. Religious symbols

  2. Religious education and teaching content

  3. Religion and staff

  4. Faith Schools

You can book online for this conference at: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/laws/religion

The cost to attend is:

£60 – standard ticket

£30 – academic ticket

£10 – student ticket


Complete information about the Religion in Pieces conference in Providence next month is now available on our website.  The main conference page  can be found at http://socamr.wikispaces.com/ReligioninPieces.  From there you can find the program, as well as registration and hotel information.  We have reserved a block of rooms at the Hampton Inn nearby with a reduced rate; the rate expires on April 18th, so make your reservations before then.

The conference will begin with a keynote address by Chris Faraone of the University of Chicago at 7 pm on Friday, April 27, and will continue with one and a half days of papers ranging from ancient Israel to Late Antiquity.


Faith in Research  conference will be held on Wednesday 9th May 2012 at The Mothers’ Union, 24 Tufton Street, London, SW1P 3RB in conjunction with the Research and Statistics department of the Archbishops’ Council and the Oxford Centre for Ecclesiology & Practise Theology.

The event is designed for those who explore current research in ministry and mission. Cost is £45 to include a buffet lunch (£20 for unsalaried postgraduate students.)

To see the programme and access a booking form click:

http://www.churchofengland.org/about-us/facts-stats/research-statistics.aspx


Black Church Activism and Contested Multiculturalism in Europe, North America, and Africa

Birkbeck, University of London, May 29-30, 2012

This conference, which is part of an annual Transatlantic Roundtable on Religion and Race, will bring together academics, church leaders, students, and community activists to explore the role that churches play in the construction of identities in societies where issues of race and ethnicity are played out in the public sphere.  Approximately fifty panelists from the U.K., France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Nigeria, South Africa, Canada, and the U.S. are scheduled to present papers on various topics related to the conference theme.

Keynote Speakers

Anthony G. Reddie, Carol B. Duncan, Allan Boesak

Venue: Room B36 main campus Malet Street, Bloomsbury London WC1E 7HX

       http://www.bbk.ac.uk/maps

Registration:  The general registration price of 70 GBP (110 USD) (and the student price of 35 GBP/55 USD) includes the conference program pack, as well as lunch and morning and afternoon refreshments both days. Registration can be completed at the following website: https://www2.bbk.ac.uk/bih/blackchurches.html.

Conference hotels include the Tavistock Hotel– http://www.imperialhotels.co.uk/ and YHA, Travel lodge Euston (and other options near the college, see here:  http://www.bbk.ac.uk/bih/lcts/accommodation

             Contacts:

William Ackah, w.ackah@bbk.ac.uk; R. Drew Smith, rsmith@morehouse.edu; Rothney Tshaka, tshakrs@unisa.ac.za


Fellowships


  1. 2013-2014 Fellowship Award Announcement: School of Social Science, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, NJ

Each year, the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton,

NJ, invites about twenty scholars to be in residence for the full academic year to pursue

their own research. The School welcomes applications in economics, political science,

law, psychology, sociology and anthropology. It encourages social scientific work with

an historical and humanistic bent and also entertains applications in history, philosophy,

literary criticism, literature and linguistics. Applicants must have a Ph.D. at time of

application. Each year there is a general thematic focus that provides common ground

for roughly half the scholars; for 2013-2014 the focus will be The Environmental Turn

and the Human Sciences. The application deadline is November 1, 2012. Applications

must be submitted through the Institute’s online application system, which can be found,

along with more information about the theme, at www.sss.ias.edu/applications


  1. UC Berkeley Institute of East Asian Studies Residential Faculty Research grants, 2012-13

The Institute of East Asian Studies (IEAS) at UC Berkeley is pleased to announce the

second year of the IEAS Residential Faculty Research program, funded by a multi-

year grant. This initiative creates a resident research community to engage in research

projects concerning East Asia. Five themes, broadly defined, have been identified for the

purpose of organizing research. Using these themes to set general emphasis, the IEAS

invites Berkeley and non-Berkeley faculty members and scholars in all stages of their

careers to submit research proposals grounded in any discipline in the humanities and

social sciences (see Eligibility below). These proposals should be of East Asian content or relevance. Successful applicants will receive support to pursue independent research

while in residence in Berkeley. They are expected to make at least one presentation

on individual research topic during the course of a semester and to attend discussion

meetings. These meetings may be open to visiting scholars, doctoral candidates and

graduate students at Berkeley. The objective of the program is to facilitate the creation

of clusters of researchers who engage in conversations with each other while actively

pursuing individual research. All projects funded under the program are expected to

result in publications in English.

Awards will range from $10,000 (for one semester) to $20,000 (for two semesters), to

$25,000 (for a full year) and may be used for any purpose that is consistent with UC

research policy. Funded activities may begin as early as July 1, 2012.

Full details including the themes, process, deadlines etc: http://ieas.berkeley.edu/

resources/residential_faculty_grants.html


Scholarships


PhD and MA Jameel Scholarships, Islam-UK Centre, Cardiff University

With the help of a very generous gift to the University, the PhD and MA Jameel Scholarships

have been established to enable the very best students to come to Cardiff – those who

have the intellect and determination to apply their knowledge for the benefit of Muslim

communities in the UK, and to promote better understanding of Islam in wider society.

Applications are invited for 3 fully-funded PhD Jameel Scholarships, and 4 fully-funded MA

Jameel Scholarships (available for the forthcoming academic year on the MA in Islam in

Contemporary Britain).

For eligibility criteria, and details about the Scholarship packages, please go to:

http://www.cardiff.ac.uk/share/research/centres/csi/scholarships/index.html


Two fully funded positions in medieval history are now available at the University of Amsterdam in connection with a project examining Jerusalem as a holy site for Christians by the medieval Franciscan Order:

http://www.uva.nl/vacatures/vacatures.cfm/54A2240A-8E46-42E5-91474806E5ED89C6

Ideal candidates may come from a medieval history background, but the fields of art history, religion, literature, and archaeology are equally germane so long as candidates are able to access Latin and other medieval texts.


New Masters Programme (Groningen)


Registration for the four new Master programs in the study of religion at the University of Groningen is now open. The deadline for application for EU students is 15 May 2012. I would be grateful if you could forward this information to students who might be interested in the program, either in its one-year version or in its two-years version (Research Master).

The University of Groningen offers the following programs in the study of religion, all of them newly designed:

1. Religion, Conflict and Globalisation

2. Concealed Knowledge: Gnosticism, Esotericism and Mysticism

3. Origins of Abrahamic Religions: Texts and Contexts

4. Religion and the Public Domain

Circular Academia: Navigating the Dangerous Waters of Term Re-Assignment

The South Fork Dam once stood high above the city of Johnstown Pennsylvania, erected to supply water to one of the many canal systems that made up the early American interstate trade route.  Purchased by the South Fork Hunting and Fishing club in 1881, the massive body of water behind the dam, Lake Conemaugh, was made part of an exclusive mountain resort for the wealthy from nearby Pittsburgh.  Over the next eight years frequent inspections found the South Fork Dam to have many foundational flaws, as well as a number of recurring surface cracks.  With gilded aesthetics in mind these cracks were mended by rudimentary patchwork, a temporary slathering of mud and straw.  On the rainy afternoon of May 31st, 1889 the dam melted under the pressure of the swelling lake, releasing a surging wall of water onto the city below.  By the time the water receded 2,209 people had perished in one of the worst “natural” disasters in US history.

As anecdotes go, this is a pretty good one.  The impudence of the South Fork Hunting and Fishing Club contributed to the idea that by solving surface issues with a little patchwork the real problem at the foundation would equally be resolved.  In the field of academia we come across this sort of logic quite regularly; more so, it seems, in the category of religious studies.

Sean Bean as Odysseus in the movie ‘Troy’

It seems fair to say that ours is a rather dangerous vocation, not dangerous in the way a dam keeper’s job might be dangerous on an afternoon of heavy rain, but dangerous in that we bravely tread the waters of humanity’s inner-most sacred beliefs and practices.  This is not a gentle sea by any means.  Tempests rise up unexpectedly, detouring our crossing with tangential distractions—much like those which plagued that long adrift Greek hero, Odysseus.  Like him, we too seem impassioned to return to something genuine and practical, longing to once again stand on familiar soil; and we are ever creative in our ways of doing so.

Recently, Professor Jay Demerath took up such a challenge, which formed the basis for his interview with Chris Cotter.  Promoting the replacement of the ambiguous term “religion” with the functional term “sacred,” Demerath’s novel approach at interpreting that which stands out against the profane or secular comes with two critical issues: definition and application.

Definition

Demerath originally proposed this turn from “religion” to “sacred” in his deliberately misquoted “Varieties of Sacred Experience,” nominally linking his amended term with the foundations of religious studies in William James’ “Varieties of Religious Experience.”  This calculated revision brings Demerath’s proposition into the context of debate between experience and belief as designated by the modern ambiguity of “religion” and his novelized sobriquet, “sacred.”  As he states, “religion is just one among many possible sources of the sacred,” (Demerath 2000) and that the ambiguity which anchors itself to the definition of religion can easily be weighed by defining it substantively, while interpreting its consequences, “the sacred,” functionally.  This is a methodological proposition which focuses not on the encompassing importance of “religion” but rather on what it is that individuals—or groups—take to be “sacred.”  By divesting religion and sacred between substantive and functionalist, assigning “religion” to the “category of activity” and seeing the “sacred” as a “statement of function” both terms seem to work in their application

This is further demonstrated in his polythetic method of deciphering that which individuals and social groups set apart as being “sacred.”  In the interview, when asked how sociologists navigate the ambiguity of what is sacred or not, he suggests a sort of polythetic taxonomy when it comes to deciphering what is sacred to the people under examination.  By developing a “kind of a checklist of behaviors that are associated with what might be a sacred commitment,” such as is found in certain categorical methodologies (Saler 1993, Smith 1996, Smart 1997), he believes we can properly decipher what “people do, what they don’t do, what they believe, what they don’t believe, what they observe and don’t observe.”  Furthermore, this alludes to a stipulation of terms, rather than a dependence on real definitions (Baird 1971).  Both techniques reveal a method which assists us in accessing the “priority” of the religious person’s “commitments, the commitments in their life, and the convictions in their life.” (Demerath 2012).

However, Demerath is also navigating very dangerous waters here, steering between narrow straights where on one side awaits the swirling temptress of a definition of religion, and on the other the horrifically multifaceted monster of misapplication.  For example, if removed from his sociological context, how does his term “sacred” differ from that of “religious?”  One of the advantages with stipulative definitions is that they must be anchored to a particular study, the borders of which Demerath’s proposition seems to push against.  Consider if we categorically formed a stipulative interpretation of the traditional term “religious” as pertaining to the consequences of the practitioner’s “religion,” would we not be able to equally balance out the ambiguity found in “religion?”  Would using a stipulated interpretation of “religious” as the function of a person acting under the substantive form of “religion” not be the same?  While Demerath responds to a similar question in the interview by legitimating his use of the “sacred” as something that does not need to transcend our world to some other-worldly deity, he is limiting himself to a “definition” of religion devoted to a transcendental relationship between man and deity.  This seems, again, a difference between “religion” and “religious” as equally as it pertains to the difference between “religion” and the “sacred.”  This is an issue of definition and application.  Where his turn from the sociology of religion to the sociology of the sacred succeeds and fails is within this issue.  By pushing against these borders his stipulation begins to sink into the periphery of real definition.  Fortunately he saves himself with the life-raft of an applicative example.

Application

Ethan

Ethan Quillen

The decision of United States vs. Seeger is about as close to a “definition” of religion the United States Supreme Court is legally allowed to make.  The disestablishment clause of the 1st Amendment—Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion—is a collection of ten words which make the United States exceptional to religiously established nations such as England and Scotland.  It also creates quite the conundrum when cases like these come to the Court’s attention.  The Seeger case did not occur ex nihilo, but was rather the result of the decisions in Everson vs. Board and Torcaso vs. Watkins, steps made by the court over twenty years of social and political change in a country seeking an umbrellic identity between the end of World War II and the turbulent second half of a decade that saw the assassination of John F. Kennedy at one end, and the resignation of Richard M. Nixon at the other.

This brief circumnavigation speaks directly to Demerath’s application of the term sacred.  When seen through the lens of American legal amendments, wherein the “belief in and devotion to goodness and virtue for their own sakes,” and a religious “faith in a purely ethical creed” amounts to a “a sincere and meaningful belief occupying in the life of its possessor a place parallel to that filled by God,” what is construed as “sacred,” the “ultimate concern” may seem counter to even the most liberal applications of “religion.” (U.S. vs. Seeger)  By amending the qualifications of article 6(j) of the Universal Military Training and Service Act to accommodate Daniel Seeger’s philosophical views, the function of Tillich’s substantive definition, as accepted by the Court as a standard by which to measure the religiousness of the individual, “religious” and “sacred” become stipulative suggestions, pliable by what might justify a sacred belief.  Thus, in a nation devoted to a sense of individual sacralization, the nation of Sheilaism (Bellah et al.), Demerath’s reassignment of transcendental “religion” with “sacred” seems justified.

Conclusion

While the legitimation of his using “sacred” rather than “religion” seems justified in the above sample, it still seems a patchwork fix rather than a foundational repair.  It should be said, though, that this is not so much a critique of Demerath’s thesis, but of the idea in promoting a new term as the replacement of an old one.  Perhaps this is due to the definitive style it seems to imply at the suggestion of “sacred studies” rather than “religious studies.”  New terms are not always the best way to fix a foundational issue such as the ambiguity of “religion” in a global context.  Instead, we would benefit far greater by digging up and unpacking what we mean by terms when studying the practitioners who make them sacred in specific contexts.  The stipulation of an established, utilitarian term like “religious” to mean the actions of individuals seeking what they deem foundationally sacred relieves the pressures of ambiguity just as equally as “sacred,” especially because of its relationship and differentiation from “religion.”  Perhaps a good argument against Demerath’s contextual use of “sacred” might be a change from the “sociology of religion” to the “sociology of the religious.”

Definitions of religion seem the ever-widening Charybdis in the field of religious studies—in all its forms.  In our contemporary world we tend to find ourselves more absent-mindedly sailing toward the yawning mouth of that swirling vortex known as “a definition of religion.”  We need to be cautious with the application of new terms.  We seem too often prone to kneejerk patchwork, slathering layer upon layer of temporary fixes, either impudent in our knowledge of foundational issues, or victims of deep denial.  We long to resolve ambiguity by applying more ambiguity, when we should just dig up the foundation and rebuild.  These waters are dangerous, and without precaution we appear more and more drawn into the riptide of circular academia where, once swallowed up, we run the risk of drowning in a sea of uncertainty.

References and Suggested Reading

  • Robert D. Baird.  Category Formations and the History of Religions.  Berlin: Walter de Gruyter & Co., 1991.
  • Robert N. Bellah.  Beyond Belief: Essays on Religion in a Post-Traditionalist World.  Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.
  • Robert N. Bellah, et al.  Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life.  Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.
  • James L. Cox.  “Afterword: Separating Religion from the ‘Sacred:’ Methodological Agnosticism and the Future of Religious Studies” in Steven J. Sutcliffe.  Religion: Empirical Studies.  Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004.
  • Jay Demerath.  “The Varieties of Sacred Experience: Finding the Sacred in a Secular Grove” in the Journal for theScientific Study of Religion, Vol. 39, No. 1, 2000.
  • ———.   “Defining Religion and Modifying Religious “Bodies:” Secularizing the Sacred and Sacralizing the Secular” in Phil Zuckerman, ed.  Atheism and Secularity: Volume 1: Issues, Concepts, and Definitions. Santa Barbara: Praeger, 2010.
  • ———. Religious Studies Project Interview with Jay Demerath on Substantive Religion and the Functionalist Sacred (12 March 2012).
  • David McCullough. The Johnstown Flood: The Incredible Story Behind One of the Most Devastating “Natural” Disasters America has Ever Known. NewYork: Touchstone, 1987.
  • Ethan Gjerset Quillen, 2011. Rejecting the Definitive: A Contextual Examination of Three Historical Stages of Atheism and the Legality of an American Freedom from Religion.  MA Thesis, Baylor University, Waco, Texas.
  • Bensor Saler.  Conceptualizing Religion: Immanent Anthropologists, Transcendent Natives, and Unbounded Categories.  New York: E.J. Brill, 1993.
  • Ninian Smart.  Dimensions of the Sacred: Anatomy of the World’s Beliefs.  New York: Fontana Press, 1997.
  • Jonathan Z. Smith  “A Matter of Class: Taxonomies of Religion” in The Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 89, No. 4, 1996.
  • Terence Thomas.  “‘The Sacred’ as a Viable Concept in the Contemporary Study of Religions” in Steven J. Sutcliffe.  Religion: Empirical Studies.  Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004.
  • Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1 (1947)
  • Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U.S. 488 (1961)
  • United States v. Seeger, 380 U.S. 163 (1965)
  • Welsh v. United States, 398 U.S. 333 (1970)

What to do with Davie’s ‘Vicarious Religion’?

 

Like with many of Grace Davie’s conceptualizations, the notion of “vicarious religion” is destined to garner much attention and debate. I must admit that when I first read about it, I rolled my eyes without really knowing why. Perhaps I predicted that the same puddle of ink would be spilt in debating the finer points of what was meant and what was actually meant by the new concept. The author would churn out countless articles explaining his or her new framework, which would invite responses from scholars pointing out missteps, which would in turn invite rejoinders from the author insisting that they had been misunderstood. This is how academia tends to work, and it may be why the general public is often vicariously exhausted by our efforts.

Academic self-deprecation aside, I was fascinated by the Religious Studies Project’s interview with Grace Davie. While many different topics are covered in the podcast, in the space I have available I want to focus particularly on her notion of vicarious religion, and examine some of the critique it has spawned, and explore the ways it has been useful for scholars in the sociology of religion.

Davie has in various places defined vicarious religion as “the notion of religion performed by an active minority but on behalf of a much larger number, who (implicitly at least) not only understand, but, quite clearly, approve of what the minority is doing” (Davie 2007, 22). In the podcast, she notes that while church structures are no longer able to “discipline the behavior and beliefs” of Europeans, there is still some support for their “public utility.” As she points out, although relatively few people are attending these churches, “there is still a certain expectation that they would do things on behalf of a wide number of people when the need arises…For example, if you or I approached the clergy for a funeral of a family member, and that funeral was denied, we would feel somehow that the church had not done what it was there to do.” It is in a similar light that some scholars have seen religion as an “institution of oughts” (Christiano et al. 2008, 43).

According to Davie (2006, 25) religion can operate vicariously in several ways, from church leaders performing rituals and believing on behalf of others to embodying moral codes and offering a space for public debate. Interestingly, if we take seriously Jose Casanova’s (1994) argument that the secularization thesis consists of three different propositions – religious decline, differentiation, and privatization – Davie’s notion of vicarious religion does not challenge any one of them. Indeed, vicarious religion seems to be a theory that takes the differentiation thesis for granted when attempting to explain how religion (at least in Great Britain and perhaps Europe) functions in society. Even individuals vicariously practicing religion are acknowledging, when practicing it in such a way, that society is differentiated and the sphere of religion may have “utility” only for certain purposes.

One of the main critiques of the vicarious religion thesis was put forth by Steve Bruce and David Voas (2010). As they (2010, 245) point out, “Vicarious religion clearly exists; our objection is that it seems to be the exception in the contemporary world, while Davie claims that it is the rule in Europe.” To be fair, Davie suggests nothing of the sort. In fact, she (2010) has been quite clear that “vicarious religion”, as well as “believing without belonging” before it, should be viewed as tools in the sociologist of religion’s toolbox. They cannot be used to extract every nail or tighten every screw, but will likely be useful for some projects. In his most recent book, Bruce (2011, vi) expresses annoyance at scholars who “present a small case study as a rebuttal of a story about large-scale social change.” However, in his disagreement with Davie, it is Bruce who has perceived a large-scale argument when what is presented is “one factor among many in the continuing re-adjustment of religious life in modern Europe” (Davie 2010, 264).

Another major point of disagreement inevitably seems to lie with their differing definitions of religion. While Bruce begins his most recent book by arguing that “social scientists spend far too much time quibbling over words” – a statement that I tend to agree with – it is precisely because Bruce and Davie have different starting points that disagreement immediately follows. For Bruce (2011, 1), functional definitions of religion, those examining “the purposes it serves or the needs it meets” tend to “assume what ought to be demonstrated.” However, Davie is very much working from a functional perspective. Bruce (2011, 1) settles instead for a substantive definition “as beliefs, actions, and institutions based on the existence of supernatural entities with powers of agency or impersonal processes possessed of moral purpose that set the conditions of, or intervene in, human affairs.” Indeed, problems arising from these differing perspectives have “been there continuously, without those who hold to a substantive – or substantial – definition (associated with the substance of belief) and those who favour a functional one (which takes account of the functions of religion in social life) being able to agree and so transcend or resolve the difficulty” (Hervieu-Leger 2000, 32).

In seeing how the vicarious religion thesis has recently been operationalized, let us spend some time on the work of Peter Hemming (2011). Hemming finds some use for the concept in his study of religion and spirituality in a community primary school and a voluntary aided Roman Catholic primary school in the north of England. Some of the parents he interviewed were reliant on their children’s schools to teach and talk about religion. As Hemming (2011, 1072) writes, “Many of the comments were linked to the legacy of past practices and parents’ own schooling memories and experiences.” This is in line with Davie’s argument that the “old residual expectations are implicitly if not explicitly there” as well as Hervieu-Leger’s (2000) view of religion as a “chain of memory.” Hemming (2011, 1073) notes that there was a desire on the part of some parents for schools to “do religion” on their behalf.

A similarly interesting case was presented by Peter Berger when discussing the church tax system in Germany. In Germany, Berger argues, there are no longer any state churches, but religious institutions continue to benefit from certain legal privileges. The “church tax” – which is about eight or nine percent of people’s income – is collected by the state and given to the churches. As Christina Sticht (2004) has noted, many citizens are leaving the church partly because they cannot afford or no longer want to pay this fairly hefty tax (see also Barker 2004). As Berger (2005, 116) quite surprisingly points out:

An individual who does not want to pay this tax can simply declare himself to be religiously unaffiliated (konfessionslos) and thus instantly save quite a bit of money. What is surprising is how many – indeed the majority at least in the western part of the country – have not done it. When asked why, they give different answers – because they might need the church at some point in their lives, because they want the church to give moral guidance for their children, because they see the church as important for the moral fabric of society. Davie has coined another apt term for this phenomenon – ‘vicarious religion’.

As is evident, then, the notion of vicarious religion can indeed be a useful conceptual tool for shedding light on some religious activities. Davie, however, suggests that this is likely not going to survive into the next generation. She imagines vicarious religion as a kind of religio-cultural residue that coats the consciousness of older generations. It is this coating that enables traditional cultural as well as religious structures to have their affective effect. According to Davie, subsequent generations whose cultural context is more varied may find less significance in their ancestral traditions and, in many ways, will continue what Roof (1999, 171) has called a process of “retraditionalizing” were new ways of being may be infused with significance and perhaps even timelessness. As these changes continue, newer and more precise tools will be required to adequately understand the contemporary religious landscape.

References

Barker, Christine. 2004. “Church and State: Lessons from Germany.” The Political Quarterly. (75.2): 168-176.

Berger, Peter L. 2005. “Religion and the West.” The National Interest. (Summer): 112-119.

Bruce, Steve. 2011. Secularization: In Defense of an Unfashionable Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Bruce, Steve and David Voas. 2010. “Vicarious Religion: An Examination and Critique. Journal of Contemporary Religion. (25.2): 243-259.

Casanova, Jose. 1994. Public Religions in the Modern World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Christiano, Kevin J., William H. Swatos Jr., and Peter Kivisto. 2008. Sociology of Religion: Contemporary Developments. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Davie, Grace. 2006. “Is Europe an Exceptional Case?” The Hedgehog Review (Spring and Summer): 23-34.

Davie, Grace. 2007. “Vicarious Religion: A Methodological Challenge.” In Nancy T. Ammerman, ed. Everyday Religion: Observing Modern Religious Lives, pp. 21-35. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Davie, Grace. 2010. “Vicarious Religion: A Response.” Journal of Contemporary Religion. (25.2): 261-266.

Hemming, Peter. 2011. “The Place of Religion in Public Life: School Ethos as a Lens on Society.” Sociology. (45.6): 1061-1077.

Hervieu-Leger, Daniele. 2000. Religion as a Chain of Memory. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Roof, Wade Clark. 1999. Spiritual Marketplace: Baby Boomers and the Remaking of American Religion. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Sticht, Christina. 2004. “The Role of the Churches in Germany.” May. Die Rolle Der Kirchen in Deutschland. Accessed February 18, 2012. Available at: http://www.goethe.de/ges/phi/dos/rkd/en2012816.htm

The Changing Nature of Religion

In her keynote address to the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion in Milwaukee last October, Grace Davie eruditely portrayed the changing perceptions of ‘religion’ over the last fifty years. In the 1960s, most sociologists consciously or unconsciously bought into idea of the ‘death of god’ – religion became effectively invisible to academia. Throughout the 1980s and 90s, a number of events – most notably the ‘Satanic Verses’ controversy – dramatically increased the ‘visibility’ of religion: it became a political problem. Now, in the 21st century, religion is increasingly being construed by politicians, educators, the media etc, as a useful resource to be exploited. These public perceptions are but one facet of the way in which ‘religion’ can be understood as ‘changing’.

In this interview with Chris, Professor Davie discusses the place of religion in modern Europe, paying particular attention to the place of the United Kingdom within the European context. In an effort to combat the caricatures that typify media accounts of religion in the contemporary world, Davie discusses the changing nature of religion, in academia and in the public square, and considers the impact of the arrival of new cultures into Europe, whilst reflecting on secular reactions to these.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. Three freely accessible articles by Prof. Davie which should be of interest to our listeners are “Thinking Sociologically about Religion: A Step Change in the Debate?“, published by The ARDA in 2011,  “Is Europe an Exceptional Case?” from The Hedgehog Review (2006), and “Working Comparatively” from the University of Kent’s Research Methods for the Study of Religion website.

This interview was recorded in October 2011 in Milwaukee, WI at the annual meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion.

Meeting at the crossroads of public and private: sexuality and religion

Meeting at the crossroads of public and private: sexuality and religion

By Jillian Scott.

Published by the Religious Studies Project, on 24 February 2012 in response to the Religious Studies Project Interview with Sarah Jane-Page on Youth, Sexuality and Religion (27 February 2012).

In a recent podcast on Youth, Sexuality and Religion, Dr Sarah-Jane Page discusses  research that she conducted along with several colleagues, that concerned young people, sexuality and religion. This is an immediately controversial subject and one that generates many questions. As this research focused on “lived religion”, that is how people experience religion in their everyday lives, the intertwining of these two topics is very interesting. She refers to the two as “uncomfortable bedfellows” within the daily experience of many religious young people. As a result, the study focuses on how young people  consolidate daily the vying values and morals presented to them through society, media and their faith. Although her presentation of the research is incredibly complex and thorough, I believe that there are some questions that she leaves unanswered in this interview.

Trying to get at the heart of how these people, aged 18 to 25, lived their faith and sexuality the questionnaires sought answers concerning idealistic aspects of the two subjects. These included gender roles, views about homosexuality, abortion, et cetera. The lived experiences of the participants became apparent through the use of video blogs because these turned into a diary for most of them. Here they detailed what books they were reading, the films they saw and so on. I cannot find fault in any of these research methods. However, Page’s presentation of her research questions and what she ultimately wants to discover about the relationship between sexuality and religion are left a little vague throughout the course of the interview.

In my personal studies concerning violence and religion, I have found that the contention between the public and private sectors of life create a tumultuous force behind many of the choices made by religious people. William Cavanaugh demonstrates that such competition jeopardizes the pure nature of the secular state and that nothing can be free of religion as it manifests within the public realm (2005). On a smaller level, personal religion crosses the dichotomy between public and private within the actions that people do or don’t do, such as not drinking or dancing in the moonlight. These are manifestations of religion within the public realm that also generate implications in the perception of others about their faith. Personal sexuality also suffers this same burden. Ann Pellegrini discusses the reality that when you talk about what you did on the weekend you are giving people a sense of your own sexuality (2004). Both of these elements of the human experience pivot on the fact that both religiosity and sexuality should be very private matters. Yet, they tend to be expressed within the public realm.

Therefore, I believe that the “uncomfortable bedfellows” nature of sexuality and religion comes from their frequent meeting at the intersection of public and private realms. Page understands that young people often face challenges to their values and ideas about what is private and public; particularly with sexuality and religion. She believes that the scholarly divide of private and public needs to be unpacked and reexamined. Yet this contention does not appear to be the motivation behind her research. Especially since she is working with young people I would have appreciated her mentioning what they felt about public and private particularly in the age of Facebook, Twitter and text messages. How do they express their faith and sexuality there? What platforms are private and which are public? This is an area that I think is vital to this study that has been omitted within her responses to Christopher Cotter’s questions.

Quite interestingly, this research does break some of the stereotypes about young people and religious faith and sex. Page and her colleagues found that many of the participants did not object to the controlling aspects of faith concerning sex. Many of them thought that they serve as an “anchor or security point”. However, others did voice their struggle in their attempt to match their religious ideals to their day to day life. Page takes pains to point out that those who are rule bound only represent a few. Others are still teasing out their faith in order to create their own trajectory. Those who are struggling represent a huge battle between sexuality and religion that Page does not address in the podcast.  Does this occur because of the public versus private conflict? Are these people making their own rules because of the religious dimension? Or the sexual? Does it happen because they do not have a strong role model within the church? Or does it occur because of the age group of the participants and how in flux their lives already are as 18 to 25 year-olds?

The age group of the people involved make this study all the more interesting because it makes it more complex. At this stage in their lives, it may not be possible for them be truly conscious of their negotiation of their faith and sexuality. Many are shifting in times and spaces that challenge what was the established norm. In their attempts to deal with this they must negotiate their own values and come to terms with their own identity. Perhaps Page does not address this because the young people could not point out the reasoning themselves. I agree with Page that the next phase of the study would be to ask the same questions of people aged 30 to 50. However, Page misses another crucial dimension of the study and further studies by completely eliminating the non-religious aspect. Particularly within the UK, many young people do not self-identify as religious. It would increase the complexity of the research and it would allow us to see what values young people have regardless of faith. It would also be valuable to learn if the views of the religious people clashed with their non-religious friends.

Ultimately, Page’s research is very interesting and pertinent to the field of religious studies. As this field continues to grow, my questions will be answered and new topics of debate will arise. At this time I would like to commend Page and her colleagues for striding out into the unknown and setting some foundations for the study of sexuality and religion.

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

Jillian Scott recently finished her Master’s degree in Religious Studies at the University of Edinburgh. Her dissertation was entitled “Ritualized Terrorism: Symbolic Religious Violence and the Secular State in a Globalized World”. Originally from San Francisco, California, Jillian lives in Edinburgh and continues to study the relationships between religion, violence and international relations.

 

 

 

References

Cavanaugh, W.T., 2005. The Liturgies of Church and State. Liturgy, 20(1), pp.25–30.

Jakobsen, J.R. & Pellegrini, A., 2004. Love the Sin: Sexual Regulation and the Limits of Religious Tolerance, Beacon Press.

Youth, Sexuality and Religion

The Religion, Youth and Sexuality: A Multi-faith Exploration project, based at the University of Nottingham, looked at 18 to 25 year-olds from a variety of faith backgrounds in order to understand attitudes and practices around sexuality and how this was negotiated in relation to religious traditions. Dr Sarah-Jane Page, one of the research fellows, talks to Chris about the project’s findings, which were sometimes surprising. Religion is found to be a significant influence, but one influence among a number of others. 

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes.

Dr Page completed her doctorate in 2009, in the School of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Nottingham, investigating motherhood and priesthood as well as the non-ordained spouses of women priests in the Church of England. More recently, she was Research Consultant for the European Commission funded project, Citizens in Diversity: A Four-nation Study of Homophobia and Human Rights (www.citidive.eu). The British case study, with which she was involved, focused on ascertaining types of homonegativity encountered in the UK context, in order to understand the complexities and nuances relating to contemporary attitudes to homosexuality. She is now based at Aston University.

A .pdf of the full findings of the Religion Youth and Sexuality project can be downloaded here, and a podcast about the research is also available. Dr Page has also co-authored a book (with A. K. T. Yip) based on the research which will be published by Ashgate during 2012, entitled Religious and Sexual Journeys: A Multi-faith Exploration of Young Believers.

Video: The Religious Studies Project – What We’re All About…

Today marks a special occasion in the life of The Religious Studies Project – we’re giving our first ‘talk’. As part of Innovative Learning Week at the School of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh, we’re presenting a session where students and staff can come and learn a bit more about the project and how it was put together, and offer some feedback on what they would like to see in the future.

Unfortunately, Chris will be arriving in London as the event itself starts, so we thought that a video posted on the website would be a way for him to participate from afar. The video is posted below, and isn’t focused specifically towards this one event, but provides a platform for David and Chris to discuss why they set up The Religious Studies Project, what they aim to do, what they DON’T aim to do, and how you can help out.

Let us know what you think…

A Plea from the Religious Studies Project: Publicity

We decided when we launched the Religious Studies Project that we wanted to have a reasonable amount of content available on the site before we started a major publicity push. Now that we have published our fifth podcast – David’s interview with Graham Harvey – we are ready to start publicity in earnest. Over the coming days the team shall be emailing their contacts and academic departments (mostly in the UK) to let them know about the Project. However, the success of this publicity drive will largely be down to help from those who have already started using the site. To that end, please do keep up the excellent work you have been doing so far with inviting people to view the site, and to check us out on iTunes, Twitter and Facebook.

In addition, we have also produced an A4 poster and A5 flyer which you can print off and display in your academic department, school, academic conferences, religious institution or wherever. The jpeg of the poster is below, and pdfs of the poster and flyer can be accessed via these links.

Your help with this is greatly appreciated!

Cognitive Approaches to the Study of Religion

The cognitive study of religion has quickly established itself as the paradigmatic methodology in the field today. It’s grounded in the concept that religiosity is natural because it is well adapted to the cognitive propensities developed during the evolution of our species. In this episode, Professor Armin Geertz tells Chris why it deserves its prominent profile, and how it is developing.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on available as a PDF, and has been pasted below. All transcriptions are currently produced by volunteers. If you spot any errors in this transcription, please let us know at editors@religiousstudiesproject.com. If you would be willing to help with these efforts, or know of any sources of funding for the broader transcription project, please get in touch. Thanks for reading.

What we’re learning from the cognitive study of religion.

This interview was recorded at the European Association for the Study of Religions‘ Annual Conference in Budapest in September 2011. Out of necessity it was not recorded on our normal equipment, and we apologise for the poorer quality of the sound this week.

Podcast Transcript

Podcast with Armin W. Geertz on Cognitive Approaches to the Study of Religion (23 January 2012). PDF.

Interviewed by Christopher R. CotterTranscribed by Travis W. Cooper.

 

 

Chris Cotter (CC): Today we are joined by Professor Armin Geertz of Aarhus University. He’s the head of the Religion and Cognition and Culture Research unit (or RCC) in the section for the study of religion. There’s a new book series coming out of this unit with Equinox, called Religion, Cognition, and Culture and Armin is the editor of the series. And volume one is called Religious Narrative: Cognition and Culture and due for publication next month. We’re going to be talking about cognitive approaches to the study of religion. Welcome, Armin.

Armin Geertz (AG): Thank you, Chris. I’m very happy to be here.

CC: Good. A lot of our listeners really won’t have any idea about what “cognitive approaches to the study of religion” are; I suppose the first thing we should start with is, what does this “cognitive” word mean—what is cognitive science at all?

AG: Yes, yes. Actually, it’s not a very clear area because there are many approaches to the cognitive—in the cognitive sciences. But basically the idea is that we have a… we have universal capacities of the mind, with universal constraints. We’re not born as blank slates. We’re born with certain attitudes and certain ways of understanding and dealing with the world, even as small babies. Babies are geared to get into—to plug into—a social group and to become attached to important figures and it’s the study of those processes, mechanisms, and constraints in our brains and in our minds that are perhaps the core of the cognitive sciences. One can say that the cognitive sciences became important for the cognitive study of religion around 1990 with the publication of a book by E. Thomas Lawson and Robert N. McCauley, called Stewart Guthrie who already introduced the cognitive theory of religion a long time ago, in the eighties. And he’s had also a decided influence on the cognitive study of religion, the cognitive science of religion, as it’s called. One of the things that is a problem in the cognitive approach to the study of religion is that we’re not completely in agreement about what cognition is.  

CC: Okay.

AG: And it’s not only us. It’s also cognitive scientists that are in disagreement. Some consider the mind to be a kind of advanced computer based on formal, logical procedures, getting information, getting data, and analyzing the data and turning it into useful information for us to get on in the world. Others, however, have been pointing out—and especially recently, and especially because of an interest in the mind by neurologists, by brain scientists—that the brain is not simply a computer and is not simply a machine that deals with information. The mind is in a body and it’s in a brain, which means that the functions of the brain in the body have a decided influence on our cognition and our minds. It’s our very foundation, and much of the way we look at the world is based on the way our bodies move in the world. It’s also considered to be situated in a sense that we are in a group—we are in a social group—and certain situations and our way of understanding the world is based on our relationship to the group. It’s also… there are also others who consider cognition to be extended. In other words, the way our minds work is put out into the world—exuded into the world. And we surround ourselves in the world with cognitive structures that help us think and help us survive in the world. Archaeologists are also very interested in improving the—our—understanding of cognition, where they are claiming, quite rightly that objects, material objects, are extremely important for our cognition. Not only to help us in the world but to influence our very way of thinking. You’ll notice small children, babies, already grabbing at things and trying to understand and manipulate with objects. And just that fact in itself is helping to develop the neural networks in the baby’s brain, and making the baby a socially competent and cognitively competent creature.

            So there are many understandings of what cognition is. And one can say that… because the focus is on the mind, scholars have the tendency to downplay cultural systems, cultural ideas, [and] cultural assumptions and values, as being secondary to our cognitive abilities. And this is where there are many who are doing—and we are as well, in our research unit, Religion, Cognition and Culture—that we need to reintroduce culture as an important causal factor in human cognition. In other words, that culture is not secondary. You can’t take culture away and just study what is left over; it’s impossible. Mainly because we are cultural creatures. And we are cultural creatures who have become cultural creatures long before homo sapiens even showed up on the scene. So earlier hominids were also deeply cultural. So it’s very difficult for us to design experiments where you can kind of ignore the cultural factor. What people claim are cognitive constraints, in other words, frameworks for understanding the world around us and also setting limits for how we think about the world—they could just as well be cultural constraints that have been so deeply embedded in our minds and in our bodies, of course, that they seem just as intuitive as cognitive procedures. This is something we’re still arguing about, but it’s a friendly argument. We agree that there are bottom-up procedures and there are top-down procedures and we need to take both into serious consideration if we want to understand the human mind and our human cognitive abilities.

            So what you can conclude is that the cognitive science of religion is based on the cognitive sciences, and on experimental psychology, with a specific interest in religious thought.

CC: Okay. Very stimulating introduction there…

AG: Thank you.

CC: You mentioned we and you mentioned anthropologists and archaeologists and then scholars of religion and then presumably we have neuroscientists, cognitive scientists, in there there as well. How does one juggle these different disciplines? I mean, presumably, you have scholars working with you who are mainly from the study of religion and how do they learn all this cognitive science and do you have to work with other people, and if you do, how does that dynamic work?

AG: Right, yes. We have a coalition at my university that’s called Mind Lab. And Mind Lab consists of scientists from the natural sciences, primarily the neurosciences and health sciences, people working with pain at the pain research center at Aarhus [University]. We have scholars from the psychiatric hospital, psychologists, physicists, statisticians, people studying music, and a whole array of people in the humanities. And of course, my particular group is focusing on religion. However, we have an extremely stimulating cooperation with our colleagues in the other sciences. The bearing idea—the founding idea—of Mind Lab is that we try to apply the natural sciences on age-old human problems, age-old philosophical and religious problems. By doing this it requires that we work in teams because if you’re going to, for example, perform an experiment with a brain scanner, you definitely have to work with people who understand a brain scanner and who also can handle all of the enormous data that comes out of the scanning. You need a statistician for that. And you need to talk with experimentalists who can help you interpret the data that’s come out of this brain scan. So you’ll find that a lot of the articles that we’ve been publishing in the major journals in the neurosciences, and psychology, and other journals… we have a whole list of authors, sometimes five or six authors. And the first person might be a scholar of religion—usually is—and then the one’s that follow will be the specialists who are part of the team in helping perform this experiment. Now, the trick is to get people in the natural sciences and the health sciences to become interested in what we’re doing. And fortunately, religion has been brought back on the agenda on world affairs so that many scientists are puzzled and neuroscientists are puzzled and they’re wondering, “What is it that moves people to do what they do in the name of religion?” The problem for them is that they don’t know very much about religion. If they do, it’s their own particular religion if they happen to have one. So therefore, it’s an ideal situation that we have specialists who know about religion, who know about the history of religions and are experts in particular religions, working together with neuroscientists who want to help us think experimentally. So it requires a lot of patience and graciousness on behalf of both the humanists and the natural scientists. And fortunately we have that situation at my university and the government has funded our coalition and important results are coming out of it.

CC: Thanks, very much. Anything which gets academics talking to each other is going to be a good thing.

AG: Yes, indeed. Yes.

CC: So you’ve spoken a bit there about why neuroscientists, etc., are interested in helping the study of religion. So I’m wondering—this is quite a big question—but what are the benefits to the study of religion, of using this, we’ll say more scientific—maybe I shouldn’t “more scientific”—but this more traditionally science-based approach?

AG: Alright, yeah. Well there are at least two advantages. The first advantage is that through this cooperation with the natural sciences we may be able to test theories and hypotheses that we’ve developed in the human approaches—the humanistic approaches to the study of religion—empirically. Of course, you can go out and do fieldwork, you can ask people, you can observe people, you can use questionnaires and so forth and get statistical data and all that. But sometimes there are assumptions, especially assumptions about the psychological capacities of religious human beings, where you need to test—you need to experiment—to gain empirical access indirectly, you might say. Of course, experiments are not—it’s not a natural situation. But they can open the possibility that you could find support for, or maybe not support for a particular hypothesis. So it’s hypothesis driven. And in that sense, it’s important for us in the humanities to try to think, to rethink, or to attempt to approach our subject in ways that we had not thought of before. So there’s the empirical aspect. That’s the one aspect, the one advantage, the experimentally empirical approach. The other one is the whole methodology involved, that it’s a new—it’s a supplement to our toolbox of methods, where we have the more traditional methods, which are still highly relevant: studies of texts, studies of archaeological sites, using various approaches such as iconography or semiotics or structural analyses or philological analyses of the expressive side of religion. And on the other hand we have a whole array of methods for studying human behavior: the social sciences, and ethnography, anthropology. And now the new ones that have shown up: the neurosciences, psychology (has of course always been interested in religion, at least for the past 150 years). And then the third toolbox, you might say, is theoretical reflection: philosophy, theory of—philosophy of—science, and theories of religion and religious behavior. So it’s a supplement to our toolboxes. However, it’s a very technical supplement, where you need to understand statistics and you need to understand how to use this new hardware that’s been showing up. I mean, a brain scanner is a big thing and it’s very expensive and you have to go to the hospital and perform your experiments there. So it requires some kind of insight. And there we need, of course, the help of our specialist colleagues. But there are those two advantages. The empirical advantage: Can we test some of our most cherished ideas and philosophies about religion? And the other is: Can we think in another way in relationship to our topic?

CC: Okay. Talking about empirically testing religious ideas, experience, etc., I’m sure our listeners would be interested if you had an example of just how you construct a scientific test of something religious.

AG: Right. One of the things that—the basic procedure is that you have a theory. You have a theory about, maybe, let’s take an example from one of the experiments that we’ve been working on: the topic of prayer. Prayer is a very simple procedure. It is not necessarily connected to a specific situation; you can pray anytime, anywhere, and this is an advantage if you want to put people into a brain scanner because they have to lay very still; they can’t move their heads. The machine is noisy so you have earplugs. You cannot talk; you have to think. You can be shown pictures, for example, and the machine will be recording where the blood is flowing in your brain as you look at these images, but in order to get something meaningful out of it you have to have some kind of a contrast. Because basically, what these kind of approaches involve is that you have a control and then you have the experimental aspect and you subtract from the two. And what’s left over gives an indication of what brain areas are active.

            So our hypothesis was that prayer, as simple as it is, is also very complicated. It’s not only the words that are being spoken, it’s not only the message that’s being sent or received; it’s also behavior, and it involves both the brain and the body. Emotions can be very much connected to prayerful behavior. So our hypothesis was that prayer, simple as it is, is very complicated, and we hypothesized that types of prayer will stimulate different areas of the brain. And the reason we’re doing this—the theory that’s behind it—is that we seriously doubt this claim that’s being spread around, assumed by several neuroscientists and others, that there are specific areas of the brain that are dedicated to religious experience. We’re not convinced by their experimental results, we’re not convinced by their experimental designs, and we do think that there are religious agendas that are behind it all. At least there are religious organizations that are financing these particular experiments. So what we’re claiming is that the brain is a multipurpose organ, where there are no specific—well, let’s say besides the senses and the body—there are no dedicated areas of the brain. So for sight, there is a dedicated area; for hearing, there is a dedicated area, and so forth. But for religious behavior and thought, there is no dedicated area. This is our claim. So, taking this simple, human action of praying to a divinity or to an ancestor or to a spirit, we claim that this is, as a matter of fact, quite complicated, and draws on areas of the brain that are used in other ways.

            And we designed the experiment so that as the participants lay in the scanner, they were asked to “think” a prayer. And we have four things, well actually, five things that they were asked to do. They have to think The Lord’s Prayer. We’re talking about Protestants—young Protestants—from conservative Protestant groups who believe in prayer, believe in the power of prayer, and believe that they indeed have contact with God when they pray. We ask them to think the Lord’s Prayer in a thirty-second slot. Or “slice,” as we call it, which fits the physics of a brain scan. And then the next slot, which, of course, depend on—it wouldn’t be a particular sequence, but at least four. The next one might be, “We would like you to think a personal prayer”. And then we would ask, “We would like you to think a nursery rhyme.” And the fourth would be that “We would like you to think up wishes to Santa Claus.” And the idea behind those four types is that we have different styles, okay. The Lord’s Prayer is more automatic, and more abstract; the personal prayer is more personal and there are two different kinds of activities. And we were then comparing them with similar activities that are not religious. So the nursery rhyme should stimulate the same areas of the brain as the Lord’s Prayer. And wishes to Santa Claus should, in principle, stimulate the same areas as personal prayer. (It turns out that these religious individuals don’t believe in Santa Claus so it was a little bit difficult for them to take it all seriously.)

            But anyway, the results came out, anyway—very interesting results and statistically significant results—that when our participants were asked to think the Lord’s Prayer, it was their more abstract areas of the brain, up in the prefrontal areas of the brain, that were being active. And the same with nursery rhymes. When they were asked to think personal prayer, the areas that were stimulated in the brain were those areas that are well known in brain sciences as the social cognition areas, in other words, when you are communicating with other human beings. So the conclusion would be that the Lord’s Prayer is abstract, not quite as personal. It might be due to the rhythm because we find the same areas stimulated by nursery rhymes. We also found that it might have to do with expectations of reward because it turns out that the particular area that’s being stimulated is an area that’s known for reward expectation. It’s known for the production of a particular brain chemical that’s called dopamine. It’s also an area that has been experimentally shown to be stimulated when you trust someone. So we’re thinking and concluding that perhaps it’s an expectation of a reward from God or from whatever being that they’re praying to, that’s being stimulated, or it might be simply because of the rhythm. We can’t decide. We can only go so far. The other one—the other result about social cognition—is very interesting because it shows that people are more moved in personal matters by a personal deity, probably conceived of as like a human-like creature, rather than this abstract, all-knowing, omnipresent creature that theology is reflecting on. And it also indicates that what defines us as being humans, as being social creatures, is at play when we are praying to a deity or to a greater creature.

CC: I’m just going to ask another couple of questions.

AG: Yes.

CC: Time is getting on.

AG: Okay.

CC: But what you were just saying there, that basically, what I understand is that as far as the brain’s concerned, when we’re talking to a deity—whether or not that deity exists, we’ll not comment on that—it’s like we’re talking to another person.

AG: Exactly.

CC: So in that sense, how do you find your research—this particular bit of research or cognitive sciences in general—are taken by religious individuals. You need them—you need people who are religious to participate in your experiments. So how do they react to your research?

AG: Yes, a very good question. It’s a very complicated situation to perform experiments with religious people because we of course must—we have respect for their religious beliefs. We’re not trying to disprove the existence of God or to disprove the effects that they claim that a religious behavior has. On the contrary, we want to try to find out what human, bodily, brain, and psychological mechanisms are involved in these… in their religious behavior. The press, however, has a completely different take on it, and they think that we’re proving or disproving. As a matter of fact, when we first published the experiment that I’ve just described to you, we got reactions from atheists who said, “Now you’ve proven that it’s just humans that are just thinking the way they usually do.” And we got supportive mails from religious people who were saying, “Now you’ve proven that God has given us the ability to communicate with him and it’s so much like being human that it’s quite natural.” And the fact is, we haven’t proven anything. What we’ve done is we’ve supported a particular hypothesis. Which can always—the part of doing science is that you present your results among your peers and they, then, if they think this is interesting, they might either move on, using some of the results that we have presented, or they might want to try to replicate what we’ve done. And if it’s conceivable that a team who would want to replicate our experiments would say, “Well, we couldn’t replicate your experiments so it doesn’t support your hypothesis.” So we always have to be open to the fact that our results are open to debate, and criticism, and negotiation.

            The people who participate, who are so kind and willing to help us in the experiments, of course have their own agendas. They’re not interested in our hypotheses and so forth. Although in some way, I think, it’s important for everyone, whether they’re religious or not, to understand what science is doing and understand what it can contribute to human life. But besides that, our religious participants, of course, are interested in showing that religious behavior helps. It helps in personal situations; it helps in social situations, and so forth. And they, of course, are also interested in finding out, how does that work, actually, physiologically. How does it work? So we share our results with them. We are very careful not to over-interpret our data, rather under-interpret rather than over-interpret, and making sure to deal with the press in a reticent manner so that there isn’t rampant claims about religious areas of the brain or religious activity or anything like that.

            Our young people, our team, consists of young scholars: Ph.D. students, post-docs, young established scholars who have done excellent fieldwork. Who understand reciprocity; who understand you have to give in order to receive. And they attend the religious services of the people that they ask to participate in their experiments and attend in other activities, social activities, and so forth. This is the way human beings deal with each other; you try and make a connection and you give and take. And they’ve done this; they’ve done it quite well. So we have people coming back to help us with our other experiments. So that’s the positive aspect. Of course there are people who are afraid and who maybe are afraid that we’re out to disprove something. But we’re always clear on that fact; we’re not trying to disprove anything.

CC: I’m afraid that we are out of time, so we we’ll have to call it a day, there. But thank you very much, Armin Geertz.

AG: You’re welcome. It’s my pleasure.

Citation Info: Geertz, Armin W. and Christopher R. Cotter. 2012. “Cognitive Approaches to the Study of Religion.” The Religious Studies Project (Podcast Transcript). 23 January 2012. Transcribed by Travis W. Cooper. Version 1.1, 25 September 2015. Available at: https://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/podcast/podcast-armin-geertz-on-cognitive-approaches-to-the-study-of-religion/

Podcasts

Psychological Approaches to the Study of Religion

In practice, experimentation requires much effort, imagination, and resources. The subject of religion seems too complex and too ‘soft’ for the laboratory. It is filled with much fantasy and feelings, two topics which academic psychology finds hard to approach.

Beit-Hallahmi, Benjamin, and Michael Argyle. The Psychology of Religious Behaviour, Belief and Experience. London: Routledge, 1997, p. 47.

Psychology of religion involves the application of psychological methods and interpretive frameworks to religious institutions, as well as to individuals of all religious or noreligious persuasions. Last November, Chris had the pleasure of chatting to Professor Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi about the psychological approach, how one applies it to the study of religion, and the various challenges and advantages contained therein. This interview was recorded in the heart of New York City, and we can only hope that the ambient noise adds to the character of the interview.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes.

Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi studied clinical psychology in Israel and the U.S. and is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Haifa. He has published extensively in the critical theory of academic psychology with focus on the psychopathology of religion. His books include Despair and Deliverance: Private Salvation in Contemporary Israel (1992), Psychoanalytic Studies of Religion: A Critical Assessment (1996) and The psychology of religious behaviour, belief and experience (1997) with Michael Argyle. He is also author of The Israeli Connection (Pantheon 1987), concerning the Israeli armaments industry, and Original Sins: Reflections on the History of Zionism and Israel (Olive Branch 1993), a counter-mystification of the origins, accomplishments, contradictions, and betrayals of Zionism.

In answer to the question “what can science say about atheism?”, Professor Beit-Hallahmi published the article “Cognitive Approaches to the Study of Religion, and Erica Salomon’s response essay.

Divine Inspiration Revisited

 

When encountered for the first time, the idea of a fiction-based religion might seem quite ’far out’ and counter-intuitive. How is it possible to mix together religion (that, supposedly, deals with faith and so with a truth of some sort) and works of popular culture, which are clearly created by human imagination, and so are by definition not true?

And yet, this mixing does not seem to be a problem to the adherents of Jediism, Matrixism, and so forth. There are several groups that draw their inspiration from works of fiction, and yet declare religiosity. Apparently, fiction can offer inspiration to spiritual activities just as well as material traditionally regarded as spiritual and religious. What we seem to have at hand is a phenomenon that leaks out of our previous categories of religion, and in doing so poses a challenge to our understanding of religion and especially its connection to wider social and cultural phenomena.

The interview with Markus Davidsen explains comprehensively the basic ideas of a fiction-based religion. Davidsen defines a fiction-based religion as ”real religion in the real world, – which takes much of its inspiration from a fictional text”. Davidsen argues that these movements are more than fandom. For example, even though the adherents to Jediism do recognize the fact that Star Wars is fictional story, they still maintain that it refers to something that is real on some level. They might also argue, according to Davidsen, that all other religions are based on human invention as well, and so make the distinction between ‘real religion’ and their fiction-based religion less clear.

The aspect that interests me the most is the apparent diffusion of different ‘spheres’ of culture and society. In a fiction-based religion, an overlap of two categories is clearly present: religion and popular culture. But there are also other overlaps. For example, the argument that all religions are based on fiction seems like a very ’secular’ statement. So it seems that adherents to these new religious or spiritual endeavors have adopted certain ideas from a society in which traditional religions with their exclusive truth claims have largely lost their plausibility. As this introductory video to Pastafarianism puts it: ”(W)ith so many to choose from, how do we know which, if any, holds the truth?” But even adopting this view does not mean that religiosity would vanish altogether. Apparently, equally false can be inverted to equally true. Furthermore, it legitimizes the use of rather unconventional sources of spiritual inspiration. If all religions are ultimately based on human invention, what divides old prophecies and mythologies from the new ones?

Like many other forms of diffuse religiosity and spirituality of present day, fiction-based religions operate in an environment of open-ended systems, in which individuals are free to combine a view that suits their spiritual needs. Teemu Taira has called this type of religiosity ”liquid”, a term derived from Zygmunt Bauman’s work on liquid modernity. His work emphasizes the fact that we cannot handle religion as a distinct phenomenon separated from the broader societal and cultural context (Taira, 2006, 7-8). Coming closer to fiction-based religions, Carole M. Cusack has worked on what she calls ”invented religions”, which are new religions that openly declare their origin in human creativity. This term encompasses fiction-based religions as well as others, such as Discordianism and Church of the SubGenius, which are usually deemed as parody religions. Cusack also emphasizes the socio-cultural context of these religions, and her monograph Invented Religions. Imagination, Fiction and Faith shows how these forms of religiosity are a quite logical consequence of modern consumerism, individualism and appreciation for novelty. (Cusack, 2010 8-25.)

Taira describes liquid religiosity as being focused on the self. The experience of the individual is the most important religious authority. This is only logical in a liquid modern world, where great narratives have lost their plausibility, traditional identities are being deconstructed and external truths might prove fragile and change the next day (Taira 2006, 68-71,75). Consequently, what is ‘true’ for an individual is what matters to him or her individually. This is a very pragmatic sense of reality. If it works, it is true – at least true enough. This kind of view is naturally well suited for a highly pluralist situation, where increasing numbers of religious groups and identities exist next to each other. Taira also suggests that in liquid religiosity, there might be a shift in emphasis from intellectual content to the affective side of religiosity: meaningful feelings and experiences of empowerments it brings. (Taira 2006, 47-51.)

Fiction-based religions are a nice example of how different spheres of society and culture are actually tightly interntwined, and that they constantly affect and interfere with each others. Religion among other ‘spheres’ does not develop in a vaccuum. Also, as Davidsen concludes at the end of the interview, religion is ”something that happens in social interaction and negotiation”. Something is not religious per se, but it is made religious by people who claim it as such.

Religion does not disappear, even though some of its traditional forms might lose their value in the eyes of some people. But religion does change. Fiction-based religions are a good example of this change.

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.

 

References:

CUSACK, Carole M, 2010: Invented Religions. Imagination, Fiction and Faith. Surrey, England: Ashgate Publishing Limited.

TAIRA, Teemu, 2006: Notkea uskonto.  Published in the Eetos julkaisuja series. Turku: Eetos

Ethnographic Fieldwork: Falling in Love or Keeping your Distance?

Ethnographic Fieldwork: Falling in Love or Keeping your Distance?

By Dr Joseph Webster (Downing College, University of Cambridge)

Published by the Religious Studies Project, on 28 March 2012 in response to the Religious Studies Project Interview with Bettina Schmidt on Athropological Approaches to the Study of Religion (26 March 2012).

Of all the methodological approaches that the ‘social sciences’ have at their disposal, none is more messy – and arguably none more rewarding – than ethnographic fieldwork. It is this dual nature of participant observation that emerges as the primary theme in this insightful interview with Dr Bettina Schmidt of the University of Wales, Trinity Saint David.

An anthropologist who has conducted fieldwork in Puerto Rico and in New York, examining, among other things, the lived experiences of possession and trance and as found among practitioners of Santería, Spiritism and other Afro-Cuban religious movements, Schmidt is well equipped to discuss the reality of undertaking ethnographic fieldwork on the topic of religion. Her approach is unapologetically anthropological, and rightly so. “We have to respond to the people we speak with, and [respond] to the field”. This involves, she admits, reinventing research projects according to the conditions of that field. The idea of preparing for this by reading books (and perhaps also by listening to podcasts?) is not something with which many anthropologists would feel comfortable, and Schmidt is no exception. Learning by doing seems to be the order of the day. And of course, she is right.

The fact that this is far from a new approach in no way diminishes its importance. Fieldwork still exists as a right of passage for any anthropologist worth their salt, and is often prepared for by receiving (what seems like flippant) advice from those who have gone into the field before us. I think it was Evans-Pritchard who mused that the last piece of advice he was given before departing for Sudan was “get a good desk for writing, take two tablets of quinine a day, and keep off the local women”. The last advice I received was even more insightful: “treat your fieldwork like a romance: you have to fall in love with them and you have to make them fall in love with you”.

This process of falling in love with the world of one’s informants is something that comes across strongly in Schmidt’s interview, to the point, she admits, that others have (somewhat bizarrely) criticised her admission that she finds Afro-Cuban religion “fascinating”. It seems unlikely that such critique would come from an anthropologist, encapsulating, as her admission does, the ‘true spirit’ of the ethnographic endeavour.

Schmidt also speaks with frankness about various methodological ‘problems’, from the insider/outsider conundrum, to data analysis while in the field, to the use of photography and sound recording, to problems of interviewer bias, to the ethics of anonymity, to imposing anthropological theory upon the experiences of one’s informants. I must admit that, depending on how they are framed, such issues feel rather peripheral to the actual experience of the ‘doing’ of fieldwork. Yet this too comes across during the interview. How does one get access to the field? Through a community gatekeeper. What happens if no onene will speak to you about your research topic? Change topic. What if people don’t want you taking photographs? Take fieldnotes after the event instead. Its ‘bread and butter’ stuff, but worth bearing in mind nonetheless, especially for those listeners about to undergo their own ethnographic ‘right of passage’.

A highlight of the interview, easy to miss because of its own (again, rather second nature) importance is Schmidt’s strong advocacy for the practice of writing fieldnotes. The need for a camera and a dictaphone in the field almost totally disappears assuming one has access to pen and paper (and possibly a good desk). This is serious. I remember having a discussion with a documentary filmmaker who said that if he didn’t capture the moment on tape, it might as well not have happened. In a very real sense, the same applies to fieldwork. If I don’t force myself to make my fieldnotes, I will forget all those little details about any given encounter, and soon enough, the very fact that the encounter ever happened. Tim Ingold once said “fieldnotes are time machines”. He couldn’t be more correct. Fieldnotes transport you back to the event, back to the field, back to the ‘ethnographic moment’ in which, to echo Geertz, you finally worked out “what the hell is going on”. Such a magical act of re-remembering, it seems to me, is all the more crucial when dealing not just with a foreign culture, but also a foreign cosmology and foreign ontology – a fact that will be familiar to many students of religion.

Furthermore, participant observation always takes the perspective of the anthropologist Schmidt tells us: “it is always me who is speaking and hearing and smelling” (methodologically speaking, of course) making true objectivity impossible. All I would want to add here – given the fact that I took to heart the advice to treat fieldwork “like a romance” – is that objectivity is also highly undesirable. Indeed, fieldwork demands, at some level at least, that one falls in love. And aspiring to an ‘objective romance’ seems to be missing the point, both philosophically and ethnographically.

Yet the interview draws to close on a rather puzzling note. “With religion”, Schmidt continues, “I always try to keep my distance”. My own fieldwork experiences – among born-again Scottish fishermen and more recently among Ulster Orangemen – suggests that this “distance” also runs the risk of missing the point of participant observation. Remember that you also have to make them fall in love with you. It seems that this would be a tricky task indeed if I were determined to keep my distance. One solution might be to return to our fieldnotes, seeing them not only as a time machine, but also as a wad of love letters, which, if the works of Jane Austin have anything to tell us, are very often written while sitting at a good desk.

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

Dr. Joseph Webster is the Isaac Newton – Graham Robertson Research Fellow in Social Anthropology and Sociology at Downing College, Cambridge. His doctoral research (Social Anthropology, University of Edinburgh) focused upon the folk-theologies of salvation and eschatology among Scottish fishermen in Gamrie, a small Aberdeenshire fishing village of 700 people and six Protestant churches. Ethnographically, he examined the connections between religion and fishing to show how words and language became charged with the power to enchant the world through a uniquely Protestant socio-spiritual experience of personhood, worship and time. The thesis, among other things, developed a new reading of Max Weber’s theory of enchantment, primarily by rethinking the relationship between immanence and transcendence.

As well as currently preparing his doctoral thesis for publication as a monograph, his Research Fellowship at Cambridge will be spent undertaking new fieldwork among Orangemen on the religion and politics of Unionism in Northern Ireland.

Weekly Opportunities Digest (March 23 2012) – Journals, Papers, Jobs, Fellowships and more…

Opportunities Digest – 20 March 2012

We have moved opportunities digests until Fridays, largely to promote more discussion related to the reponse essays and podcasts, and also to give readers the chance to think about the opportunities over the weekend. We have linked each heading below to the appropriate section so you can (hopefully) jump to whatever you are interested in. We are not responsible for any content contained herein, but have simply copied and pasted from a variety of sources.

Contained below:


Advanced Notice – Journals


Jobs


University of Oslo, Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages – Associate

Professor, Religion in Modern China

A position of Associate Professor in Religion in Modern China is available at the Department

of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages from 1 January 2013.

Application deadline: 11 April 2012

Information and application: http://uio.easycruit.com/vacancy/663417/62042?iso=no


Michigan State University – Muslim Studies Program (Director)

Michigan State University (MSU), the nation’s premier land-grant university, seeks

applications for the position of Director of the Muslim Studies Program (MSP)who provides

leadership in shaping and implementing innovative initiatives to advance strategic

international research and engagement relating to the Muslim world. This search is

conducted in collaboration between MSU’s Office of International Studies and Programs

(ISP) and James Madison College (JMC), MSU’s undergraduate college of public affairs.

We seek candidates for appointment at the Associate Professor or Professor level to direct

MSU’s Muslim Studies Program and to teach and conduct research on the Muslim world,

with likely appointment in JMC’s International Relations or Comparative Cultures and Politics

programs.

Responsibilities: The MSP Director will provide intellectual and programmatic leadership to

advance and promote excellence in MSU’s diverse research, teaching, and outreach

activities relating to Muslim studies. This includes coordinating the Program’s activities and

representing MSP at MSU, across the nation, and around the world. As coordinator of MSP,

the Director develops and sustains strategic partnerships with higher education and other

institutions around the world to advance collaborative research, teaching, and engagement

activities relating to the Muslim world. that positively impact critical global issues and

transform the lives of people. The Director will have particular responsibility for overseeing

current and new partnership development initiatives in the Greater Middle East and Central,

South and Southeast Asia. The Director will facilitate and catalyze collaborative, multi-

disciplinary and cross-college faculty research with emphasis on priority research themes;

will build collaboration among social science/arts/humanities and STEM/health disciplines;

develop proposals for external funding for such research; and secure external funds for MSP

activities. Additional duties include advancing knowledge of Muslim studies; enhancing

instruction of relevant languages and course offerings with Muslim studies content;

overseeing the Muslim Studies undergraduate specialization program; and building and

strengthening relationships with diverse constituent and stakeholder groups such as faculty,

administrators, students, academic programs, K-12 institutions, local Muslim communities,

government and policy organizations, alumni, and others in the United States and in key

countries. In fulfillment of these duties, the Director will be required to periodically travel

internationally to develop and enhance MSU’s strategic partnerships and advocate for MSU

with relevant institutions in the Muslim world and elsewhere.The Director’s appointment will

be at least 50%, and up to 75% in MSP, with the exact percentages there and in an

academic department, the tenure home, to be mutually agreed among the successful

candidate, the Dean of ISP, and the Dean of MSU’s James Madison College. The

appointment will be on an annual (12-month) basis for a five-year period with renewal

possible. Salary and rank are commensurate with experience.

The Muslim Studies Program (MSP) is a cross-regional program that coordinates a large

and diverse set of educational offerings. Unlike Middle East Studies programs, MSP is

distinguished by the breadth of its geographical focus in the design of its curricula, foci of

faculty research, and scope of outreach activities.

In addition to research, MSP reflects the university’s overall commitment to

internationalization. The increase in international attention to the Muslim world and interest

from MSU students and faculty, and business and government in Michigan and the Midwest

have led to the development of a Muslim Studies curriculum aimed at meeting new needs

and advancing the genuinely multicultural quality of MSU. MSP also conducts extensive

outreach programs for K-16 educators, non-governmental organizations, governments, the

media, and business communities.

MSP is a unit of International Studies and Programs (ISP), and its Director reports to the ISP

Dean. ISP incorporates MSU’s extensive study abroad programs and international student

and scholar services. To pursue trans-regional and interdisciplinary strategic initiatives the

MSP actively partners with other ISP centers including: African Studies; Asian Studies;

Canadian Studies; Center for the Advanced Study of International Development; Center

for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies; Center for Gender in Global Context; Center

for International Business Education and Research; Center for Language Education and

Research; and Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies. Other campus partners

include the Department of Linguistics and Germanic, Slavic, Asian, and African Languages

and the Institutes of International Agriculture, International Health, and International Studies

in Education, and International Business. MSP has more than 20 affiliated faculty members

in the humanities, social and natural sciences, agriculture, business, law, and other

professional programs who carry on research, and undergraduate and graduate teaching

related to the Muslim world. More information about MSP and its activities can be found at:

http://muslimstudies.isp.msu.edu/.

James Madison College offers a large and diverse program of international studies that

spans several undergraduate majors. Applicants should demonstrate excellence in

undergraduate teaching and a substantial record of scholarship. The successful candidate

will have great familiarity with Muslim issues worldwide with special expertise on the

Greater Middle East. The successful candidate may come from a wide variety of academic

disciplines consistent with the mission of the college, including political science, sociology,

anthropology, history, economics, area studies, international relations, and others, and will

specialize in one or more of the following areas: ethnic or religious conflict, political Islam,

culture and development, migration, and comparative and international politics of the Muslim

world. Expertise on the Greater Middle East is highly desirable.

James Madison College provides a liberal education in public affairs, combining the ethos

of a small liberal arts college with the advantages of a large, diverse university. The faculty’s

primary mission is excellence in undergraduate teaching, and the College is noted for its

rigorous academic standards and attention to the analytical, writing and speaking skills

of its students. In addition to the Muslim Studies specialization, the College is home to

specializations in Western European Studies, Political Economy, and Science, Technology,

the Environment and Public Policy. Through its faculty, the College has close working

relationships with Michigan State’s many international teaching and research centers. For

more information on the College, visit the JMC website at www.jmc.msu.edu.

Qualifications:

Candidates from all relevant academic disciplines will be considered, and are expected

to have an outstanding record of research and scholarship related to the Muslim world.

Experience working in, and expertise about, the Greater Middle East is desirable.

Candidates must have an earned Ph.D. or equivalent terminal degree and must meet

the standards for appointment to the rank of associate or full professor (with tenure) in

James Madison College. Candidates are expected to have demonstrated leadership

and administrative skills, and abilities to secure external funding from diverse sources;

establish and sustain strategic partnerships with universities and other institutions in

key countries around the world; facilitate and catalyze programs of collaborative, multi-

disciplinary research on priority research topics; build collaboration among social science/

arts/humanities and STEM/health disciplines; and actively contribute to the ISP leadership

team. The position requires policy development and implementation capabilities, with the

ability to work collaboratively with faculty, administrators of academic units, and area studies

and international thematic centers in promoting international research, education, outreach,

and service programs. In addition, the ideal candidate will possess proficiency in at least one

language relevant to predominantly Muslim countries.

Candidates should go to www.jobs.msu.edu to apply for posting number 5949 in the Faculty/

Academic Staff postings. Submit a letter of application addressing your interest and how

your research and teaching interests would contribute to a college curriculum focused on

public affairs. The letter also should discuss your qualifications relevant to the position

description, and your vision for the position. Supporting materials should include a vita, three

references, evidence of quality teaching experience and commitment to undergraduate

teaching (including at least one syllabus), and a sample of scholarship (e.g., book chapter,

article, conference paper). For additional information about the University and its extensive

international commitments seewww.msu.edu, and www.msu.edu/international, and

www.isp.msu.edu. MSU is an affirmative action-equal opportunity employer.

Apply Here: http://www.Click2Apply.net/dmx34zq. The deadline for applications is March

25, 2012. Late applications will be accepted until filled.


The Department of Asian Languages and Civilizations (ALC), to be inaugurated at Seoul National University in March 2012, invites applications for a professorship (open rank) in Near and Middle Eastern studies from specialists in humanities (literature, history, or religion).  The candidate is expected to have an excellent command of Arabic and/or Persian and will be required to teach courses related to his/her research interests as well as advanced courses in reading texts in Arabic and/or Persian at both undergraduate and graduate levels.  Rank and salary will be commensurate with research and teaching credentials.  Only those who already have a PhD at the time of submission of application will be considered.  Send cover letter, curriculum vitae, graduate transcript, statement of research, statement of teaching philosophy (including description of courses that the applicant can teach), and three letters of recommendation (directly from the referees) as well as any inquiry to:

Professor Juhyung Rhi

Chair, ALC Search Committee

Associate Dean for Academic Affairs

College of Humanities

Seoul National University

Seoul 151-745

S. Korea

Email: jhrhi@snu.ac.kr (Email submission is allowed.)

Review of applications will begin immediately and continue until the position is filled. For full consideration, complete applications should be received by April 1, 2012. Early submission of CV will be appreciated.


Lecturer in the Study of Religion

Department of Theology and Religion, Durham University

Salary: £30,122 to £44,166 per annum dependent upon experience

Grade: Grade 7/8

Contract: Non fixed-term, full-time

Hours: Nominally 35 hours per week

Details: Full details of the post are available on the university website at www.durham.ac.uk/jobs/

Deadline for applications: 2nd April 2012 (midnight)

The Department of Theology and Religion at Durham University has a long-standing tradition of outstanding research and is widely recognized as one of the leading departments in its field. In the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise it was ranked first in the UK, while its teaching quality is shown in its consistently obtaining exceptionally high rankings in both National Student Surveys and independent league tables. Its strengths range across Biblical Studies (Old Testament, New Testament, ancient Judaism, and Biblical languages), Christian theology (Greek and Latin patristics, the history and theology of late antiquity and the early middle ages, the Reformation, doctrinal and philosophical theology, and theological ethics), and the Study of Religion (the anthropology, sociology and psychology of religion). It also has Centres in Catholic Studies and in Death and Life Studies, and research projects in Spirituality, Theology and Health, and Faith and Globalization. The Department has a welcoming and collegial atmosphere, and is beautifully sited between the Cathedral and the Castle on the World Heritage Site in the centre of the city of Durham.

This new post welcomes applicants from those with research expertise in any area of the social scientific study of religion, a developing field flourishing within the Department. Current teachers in this area include Professor Douglas Davies, specializing in the anthropology of religion, particularly Mormonism, Death Studies, Ritual-Symbolism, Emotion and Embodiment, and the contemporary Anglican church; Dr Mathew Guest, specializing in the sociology of religion, particularly evangelical Christianity, religion in universities and religion and generational change; and Dr Charlotte Hardman, specializing in the anthropology of religion, particularly shamanism. Staff in this area have a proven track record in externally funded research projects, including recent research into ‘Christianity and the University Experience’, ‘Cremation in Scotland’, ‘Woodland Burial’, ‘Religion, Identity and Emotion’ and ‘the Clergy and British Society’. Several other departmental staff have ongoing cross-disciplinary research interests that relate to the study of religion. There is a fortnightly research seminar in Religion and Society, at which papers are presented by leading scholars from the UK and abroad as well as by members of staff and research postgraduates. More information about the Department is available at http://www.dur.ac.uk/theology.religion/.

The successful applicant will be expected to teach and collaborate in modules in the Study of Religion at undergraduate and taught postgraduate levels, to supervise postgraduate research, to undertake outstanding research leading to publications of international significance, and to play a full part in the life of the department.

Job Description

The postholder will be responsible to the Head of Department, currently Dr Robert Song.

Job Summary and Purpose:

The main features of the job will be:

a) to conduct outstanding research leading to publications of international significance in the field of the Study of Religion;

b) to teach at all undergraduate levels and at Masters level in the field of the Study of Religion;

c) to attract and supervise research students (MA and PhD) in the Study of Religion;

d) to submit applications for externally-funded research grants;

e) to undertake administrative tasks in the Department of Theology and Religion, as agreed with the Head of Department.

Key Responsibilities:

The key responsibilities of the job will be in teaching (lecturing, seminar leading, course organisation, marking, and dissertation supervision) at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels, research (writing and publication), and administration, within the team of staff constituting the Department of Theology and Religion.

For appointment at Grade 8, candidates will need to provide evidence of relevant teaching and supervising experience at university level and a significant record of publications at international level.

Contact

Dr Robert Song, Head of Department, +44 (0)191 334 3959, robert.song@durham.ac.uk.


Calls For Papers


Call for Papers| 4-6 July 2012, Goldsmiths, University of London

Nonreligion and the Secular: New Horizons for Multidisciplinary Research

Sponsored by the Nonreligion and Secularity Research Network (NSRN)

Conveners: Lois Lee (ll317@cam.ac.uk), Stacey Gutkowski (stacey.gutkowski@kcl.ac.uk), and Stephen Bullivant (stephen.bullivant@smuc.ac.uk)

Conference Coordinator: Katie Aston (k.aston@gold.ac.uk)

Following decades of neglect, the academic study of nonreligion has grown rapidly in the past five years.  The primary aim of this conference is to bring together scholars across a range of academic disciplines (sociology, anthropology, theology, political science, psychology, history, international relations, area studies) to begin to untangle the confused and individually contested concepts of nonreligion and the secular. Is nonreligion a subcategory of the secular or vice versa? How do the two terms structure one another? What are the practical and theoretical implications of the concepts, such as they are and/or in alternative formulations? The aim of this international conference is to contribute to addressing this lacuna. . While discussions of nonreligion and the secular have been running largely in parallel, they are potentially mutually enriching topics with significant bearing outside of the academy. This conference will consolidate the achievements already made over the past five years by nonreligion scholars and forge new, multidisciplinary dialogue between these researchers and those primarily working with the concept of the secular. This conference will bring together a range of internationally renowned scholars, including keynote speakers Gracie Davie (Exeter), Callum Brown (Dundee), Monika Wohlrab-Sahr (Leipzig), and Humeira Iqtidar (King’s College London).

The conference engages with a historical moment in which forms of religion and nonreligion have increasingly asserted themselves in the public sphere, in non-Western as well as Western settings. In the case of radical Islamism and New Atheism, such assertions have had powerful, sometimes inflammatory and divisive affect. This urgent wider social and political context demonstrates the urgency of a reasoned, global, scholarly contribution, aimed at further theorising and conceptualising nonreligion and the secular, individually and in relation to each other.

This conference will interrogate three dimensions and welcomes both empirically- and theoretically-based paper contributions which address the following:

1) Nonreligion as a concept in its own right

What is meant by the term “nonreligion”? How does it manifest itself in the lives of individuals and in collective social activity and identity? Is it the most appropriate term to encompass a range of phenomena and where may its parameters lie? What is the relationship between nonreligion and modernity? Is nonreligion a resonant category outside of Western contexts?

2) The nonreligious in relation to notions of the secular

How do nonreligion and the secular mutually constitute one another? Under what historical social and political conditions did the rise of secularism and secularity facilitate the appearance of the nonreligious? Does the emergence of the nonreligious indicate a new phase of modernity?

3) The implications of nonreligion research for pressing social and political issues associated with discussions of the secular

What bearing does nonreligiosity have on social, political and legal questions about social cohesion and multiculturalism? To what extent do the “harder” forms on nonreligion breed intolerance and fundamentalism? What are the implications of nonreligion for the possibility of democratic consensus and governance? To what extent do secular political landscapes outside of the West involve or even require the presence of nonreligious phenomena?

Publication Outcome: We are planning to publish a selection of the papers presented at the conference in an edited volume.

The deadline for abstract submission (250 words max) is 27 April 2012. Please send your abstract together with a short biographical note to Katie Aston at k.aston@gold.ac.uk


SAAG (South Asia Anthropologists Group) 2012

This year SAAG will be held in Edinburgh on 4th, 5th and 6th September (4th 5th and 6th half

day).

As usual, we welcome paper proposals from those at any stages of their academic careers,

from first year PhD students onwards. In order to be able to cover our food costs, lunch on

the 5th and 6th, and tea and coffee, there will be a fee of £15 for the whole workshop. We

also hope to cover the costs of a conference dinner on one evening.

If you are interested to attend, submit a paper, or act as a discussant for SAAG 2012, please

contact one of the organising committee members Stewart Allen, Supurna Banerjee, Feyza

Bhatti or Ruth Marsden) at 2012saag@gmail.com. If you would like to offer a paper for

discussion, please send a title and brief abstract by April 30th 2012.


Transformations of the Sacred in Europe and Beyond

ESA Mid-term Conference: Research Network 34 – Sociology of Religion

University of Potsdam, Germany, 3-5 September 2012

in cooperation with the German Section for the Sociology of Religonin the DGS

You will find the registration form on: http://www.esareligion.org/bi-annual-conference/


The International Society for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture (http://www.religionandnature.com/society/) (ISSRNC) is pleased to announce

its next conference in Malibu, California at Pepperdine University on August

8-11, 2012. The conference theme will be “Nature and the Popular

Imagination.”

For generations, the interconnections between religion and nature have been

expressed, promoted, and contested through the incubator of popular culture,

including films produced in nearby Hollywood. As a global and symbolic center

that reflects and invents nature/religion representations, Malibu and its environs

provide a fantastic venue for critical reflection on the religion/nature nexus in the

popular imagination. Along with keynote addresses and other scholarly sessions,

a number of special events and excursions are in the works, including a scholar-

led tour of The Getty Villa in Malibu and opportunities to enjoy the beautiful and

famous Malibu coast. Some of these may be offered before or after the official

conference period. Affordable on-campus housing will be available to conference

participants.

We invite proposals about nature and religion in diverse expressions of popular

culture, including films, television, comics, fiction, music, sports, graffiti,

clothing, and festivals. As always, while we encourage proposals focused on

the conference’s theme, we welcome proposals from all areas (regional and

historical) and from all disciplinary perspectives that explore the complex

relationships between religious beliefs and practices (however defined and

understood), cultural traditions and productions, and the earth’s diverse

ecological systems. We encourage proposals that include theoretical frameworks

and analyses, emphasize dialogue and discussion, promote collaborative

research, and are unusual in terms of format and structure.

Proposals for individual paper presentations, sessions, panels, and posters should

be submitted directly to Sarah Pike at spike@csuchico.edu. It is not necessary

to be an ISSRNC member to submit a proposal. Individual paper proposals

should include, in a single, attached word or rich text document, the name and

email of the presenter(s), title, a 250-300 word abstract, and a brief, 150 word

biography (including highest degree earned and current institutional affiliation,

if any). Proposals for entire sessions must include a title and abstract for

the session as a whole as well as for each individual paper. Proposers should also

provide information about ideal and acceptable lengths for proposed sessions,

and whether any technology, such as data projectors, are desired. Most paper

presentations will be scheduled at 15-20 minutes and a premium will be placed

on discussion in all sessions. Proposals will be evaluated anonymously by the

Scientific Committee, but conference directors will be aware of proposers’

identities in order to select for diversity in terms of geographical area and career

stage. Student proposals are particularly welcome.

The deadline for proposals is 1 May 2012.

For more information and updates, please go to: http://www.religionandnature.com/society/conferences.htm#malibu


Exploring the Extraordinary 4th Conference, 22nd-23rd September, 2012

Holiday Inn, York

Since its inception in 2007, members of Exploring the Extraordinary have organised three successful academic conferences that have brought together researchers from a variety of different disciplines and backgrounds. The purpose of these events has been to encourage a wider dissemination of knowledge and research, and an interdisciplinary discussion of extraordinary phenomena and experience. By ‘extraordinary’ we refer to phenomena and experiences that are considered to be beyond the mundane, referring to those that have been called supernatural, paranormal, mystical, transcendent, exceptional, spiritual, magical and/or religious, as well as the relevance of such for human culture.

We are looking for submissions for our fourth conference, and would like to invite presentation proposals on topics related to the above. Please submit a 300-500 word paper abstract to Dr Madeleine Castro and Dr Hannah Gilbert (ete.network@gmail.com) by the 6th April 2012. Accepted papers should be on powerpoint, no longer than 20 minutes in length, and intended for an interdisciplinary audience. Please include contact information and a brief biographical note.

For more information, and to see past conference schedules, please visit http://etenetwork.weebly.com


Regarding the Other in Modern Jewish Thought. A CJCR Colloquium – 27 June 2012

The Centre for the Study of Jewish-Christian Relations (Woolf Institute, Cambridge) is delighted to announce that it is hosting a colloquium, Regarding the Other in Modern Jewish Thought. The

colloquium will be held on Wednesday, 27 June 2012 and take place at Lucy Cavendish College (Cambridge).

Speakers:

  • CJCR Visiting Fellow, Aaron Rosen (KCL)
  • Agata Bielik-Robson (Nottingham)
  • Melissa Raphael (Gloucestershire).

Full details of the colloquium, together with the registration form, can be found at

http://www.woolf.cam.ac.uk/events/details?year=2012&month=6&day=27#ID449.

Bursaries are available for graduate students.


Death in modern Scotland, 1855-1955: beliefs, attitudes and practices

New College, University of Edinburgh, Friday 1 February 2013 – Saturday 3 February, 2013.

‘There remains a huge agenda for death research, offering a unique vantage point for the study of Scottish history’ (Professor Elaine McFarland of Glasgow Metropolitan University, 2004). Since those words were written, there have been increasing signs of interest, research and publications in death studies in Scotland.

This conference invites those who are researching death from whatever disciplinary perspective to offer papers whose total range will illuminate one hundred years of death in modern Scotland. These hundred years began with the passing of the Registration Act and the Burial Grounds (Scotland) Act in 1855 and end with the opening of Daldowie Crematorium in 1955.

Plenary speakers include:

Professor Elaine McFarland, Dr Elizabeth Cumming and Professor Hilary J. Grainger.

Papers will be particularly welcome on the subjects of:

death, grief and mourning;

funeral rites and rituals; customs and costume;

demographic and statistical interpretations; registration of death;

public health and medicine;

death, poverty, gender and social class

death, urban and rural comparisons

burial and cremation;

the development of funeral directing services;

theology, liturgy and funeral ministry;

monuments and memorialisation;

issues of architecture and landscape design;

the folklore of death; ghost narratives and beliefs; spiritualism;

death in war-time;

death, grief, mourning;

death in literature and the arts;

death and Scottish law;

violent death; the death penalty;

disasters: air, rail, sea and industrial;

Established research and work-in-progress welcomed.

 

Abstracts of 200 words maximum may be sent to Peter C. Jupp, Braddan House, High Street, Duddington, Stamford, Lincs PE9 3QE email peterc.jupp@btinternet.com or peter.c.jupp@ed.ac.uk

A follow-up call for papers with full conference details and names of plenary speakers will be published soon.

Conference Committee: the Revd Dr Peter C. Jupp (Department of Divinity, University of Edinburgh, Chair); Dr Marion Bowman (Chair, Religion Department, Open University), Dr Susan Buckham (Independent Researcher; Kirkyard Consulting), Ms Nicola Davidson (Divinity Department, University of Edinburgh); Dr Ronnie Scott (Glasgow).


Gaia Gathering: Canadian National Pagan Conference, Toronto, May 18 – 21, 2012

Theme: Building the Mosaic

Gaia Gathering was founded in 2004 and had its first conference in 2005. Each year the conference is hosted over the Victoria Day long weekend in a different Canadian city through a bidding process similar to the Olympics. Past host cities include Edmonton, Halifax, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Vancouver and Montreal. Legally, we are incorporated federally as a non-profit

organization and operate with a national Board of Directors as well as a local host committee.

The conference is organized collaboratively by Canadian Pagans and includes four days of discussion and workshops about Canadian Paganisms. After seven years of traveling across the country, the conference this year will be held in Toronto, Ontario at the University of Toronto New College. The theme for 2012 will be “Building the Mosaic”. Individuals make up the whole of a community. By bringing together pieces of respective Pagan communities and local groups during the conference, a representation of the larger Canadian Pagan Mosaic emerges.

In keeping with the theme “Mosaic”, we have chosen to present a “Mosaic of Speakers” representing the rich diversity of Canadian Paganism: Andy Biggers (Simcoe County, ON) has been deeply involved in the North American pagan and heathen community for over 25 years.

Michel & Pamela Daw (Gatineau, QC) are modern Stoics, reviving the ancient philosophical and spiritual path. Tamara James (Toronto, ON) is a founding member of the Wiccan Church of

Canada, which was established in 1979, and was one of the first Pagan clergy to serve in a Canadian prison system. Sydney Lancaster (Edmonton, AB) is a visual artist, writer, musician, Artist in Residence at Harcourt House, and an OBOD ovate. Brian Walsh (Toronto, ON) is a permanent part-time Spiritual Care Provider at a major Toronto hospital and a part-time Clinical Fellow in Spiritual Care at another major Toronto hospital. Witchdoctor Utu (St. Catharines, ON) is the founder of the Niagara Voodoo Shrine, the world-renowned Dragon Ritual Drummers and is a member of the New Orleans Voodoo Spiritual Temple. The complete bios for our invited guests can be found on our website.

In addition to the speakers we will also feature workshops, panel discussions, academic presentations and evening entertainment throughout the weekend.

SUBMISSION CRITERIA

We invite papers and proposals for our academic stream from all faculties within the humanities who touch into the realm of alternate spirituality, Paganism, New Religious Movements and related subjects. Also, if you are a retired, solitary, armchair, or aspiring academic not affiliated with an institution then you may also submit by the same criteria and to the same locations. We hope to see everyone rise to the challenge and welcome them to this opportunity to present here in Montreal with like-minded individuals.

Submissions may be sent via mail or e-mail and are to be no more than one page. They must include a publication-ready, titled abstract of 150-200 words. The name, address, telephone numbers, e-mail address, college or university affiliation and level of study of the presenter(s) must also be included. Any special requests or needs for audio-visual equipment must also

be indicated. We will be accepting submissions for peer and academic review between February 2nd and March 20th (Ostara 2012). Abstracts and proposals (and thus presentations) may be in English or in French. All received submissions will be acknowledged, with notification of acceptance, by early April 2012.

Email to: bmyers@cegep-heritage.qc.ca

Or mail to:

Dr. Brendan Myers

C/O Cegep Heritage College

325 boul. Cite-des-Jeunes,

Gatineau Quebec

J8Y 6T3


Material Religion in Modern Britain and her Worlds

8-9 June 2012, University of Glamorgan, Cardiff

This two-day symposium will explore material cultures of religious belief and faith in modern Britain. As Birgit Meyer, David Morgan, Crispin Paine and S. Brent Plate have recently pointed out, studying material objects provides us with an alternative evidence base in the study of modern religious belief (Birgit Meyer et al; 2011). Yet few attempts have yet been made to do so. While many scholars now concede that Britain’s religious landscape is more varied and rich than the narrative of secularisation allows, a tendency remains in the historiography of religion to privilege written sources over material manifestations of religion. This means that all sorts of belief practices have been overlooked. Analysing the material past, we propose, will provide scholars with new and exciting ways of understanding the apparently fraught relationship between modernity and religion. As Jane Bennett points out, objects are culture constructions and lead active lives in our social and cultural landscape. Religious historians have too often been guilty of adopting an implicitly Protestant binary (set up in opposition to Catholicism) in which words are privileged over objects. Yet everyday cultures of Protestant belief in Britain relied on all kinds of material cultures which sustained religion in an age of uncertainty.

Despite Britain’s ‘official’ Protestant past, we are nonetheless keen to encourage papers which explore religious denominations or groups beyond the official cannon and which made up Britain’s multi-faith landscape in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Papers are welcome which consider either formal or informal aspects of religious materiality. We would especially like to encourage papers that consider ‘Britain’s worlds’, including investigations of religious objects in the Empire or commonwealth or geographical locations inhabited by British people.

 

We hope to encourage an interdisciplinary dialogue by bringing together scholars in history, religion, art/design history, architecture and sociology.

Keynote speakers to be annouced

 

Possible themes or topics include:

  • Religious objects

  • Religious ephemera

  • The materiality of religious and sacred texts
  • Sacred Dress and Clothing
  • Religious Architecture and the built environment
  • Construction of sacred space
  • Social identity/identities including class, gender and life stage
  • Ideas surrounding materiality and religion
  • Advertising and Consumption
  • Making of religious objects
  • Religious Interiors and the domestic display of material objects

  • Religious aestheticism
  • Iconography

Please send abstracts of 400 words either Lucinda Matthews-Jones [l.matthew-jones@ljmu.ac.uk] or Tim Jones [twjones@glam.ac.uk] by 31st March. The Conference will be hosted by the University of Glamorgan, Cardiff Campus. We plan a number of publication outputs from this conference. If you are unable to attend, but would like to express your interest for future events or outputs, please email Lucinda Matthews-Jones [l.matthew-jones@ljmu.ac.uk] with a brief description of your work and a short CV.


Calls for Chapters


Call for submissions to Handbook on African American Islam – Aminah Beverly

McCloud

According to the Gallup Poll (2009), African American Muslims comprise the largest ethnic

group of Muslims in the United States at 35%, as well as the oldest. There are communities

of African American Muslims across the United States, from large metropolitan areas such

as New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Atlanta, to small town communities in Kentucky

and Tennessee. There is a wide range of economic diversity as there is a wide range of

social class represented. Many families have produced three generations of Muslims who

cling to the religion while living in an increasingly secular America. They too, are weathering

the onslaught of Islamophobia and the pervasive fear and sometimes hate filled rhetoric of

newscasters and other media pundits. There will be several contributors writing chapters

devoted to their maturity as Muslims living in America, their contributions to their homeland’s

religious landscape and their interactions with other Muslim and non-Muslim American

communities.

The goal of this effort is to publish an accessible and authoritative source for students of

religious studies, American religions, African American religions, anthropology, Muslim

cultures, and Islam in America. It will investigate the ongoing phenomenon of African

American Islam as a religious culture in the American landscape. It will also provide case

studies for those interested in Muslim cultural history. This handbook will be a compilation

of various disciplinary approaches to the study of religion and religious communities. The

handbook will be handy history text in its characterization of African American Islam as a

long-term presence in the United States that had its beginnings in American chattel slavery.

With this in mind, I am soliciting chapters on:

  1. The various communities that claim Islam – Particular communities such as the NOI,

Moorish Science Temple, Nation of Islam, Sufi Communities, Darul Islam, communities of

Warithudeen Muhammad, Shia communities, etc. Articles can be historical but must include

current research.

  1. Identity. Almost all members of the African American Muslim community speak of themselves in ways most commonly referred to as ‘disapora.’ Whether seeing themselves

as ‘Muslims who live in America’ or Asiatics or Ethiopians; the notion of diaspora is

prevalent. How do African American Muslims imagine themselves? Are there competing

definitions of diaspora? What are the meanings of African and American in current Islamic

thinking? How do African American women negotiate their Muslimness?

  1. How have African American Muslim communities developed as Islamic communities?

What are the varieties of the Islamic experience? Who is Muslim and what defines an Islamic

experience? Is there an American Islam? Who represents Islam in America? What are

media representations of African American Muslim Communities?

  1. What are the relationships with other Muslim and non-Muslim religious communities?

What are the bases for these relationships? Are African American Muslims involved in

inter-faith dialogues and if so, on what terms? What is the status of engagement with the

immigrant Muslim community?

  1. Is there a “gender jihad” as expressed by Amina Wadud? Where does knowledge

lay among the women? Are there issues of knowledge and power in marriage and family

construction? What are women contributing to art, music, scholarship? Is there meaningful

participation in the masajid? How are women shaping the activities of the masjid or other

distinctly Muslim spaces?

  1. What is the African American Muslim agenda for the 21st century? Do they have the

same issues of Islamophobia, curtailment of civil liberties? How is American Islam going to

be reflective of African American Islamic perspectives?

This Handbook will be published by Oxford in 2014. Those agreeing to submit a chapter

will receive a contract with Oxford and a cash or book honorarium. Please send me your

inquiries and hopefully willingness to submit by March 15, 2012 at amccloud@depaul.edu .


Calls for participants


UCL’s Dr Myriam Hunter-Henin is pleased to announce a workshop to be held at UCL on

12th June 2012 on Negotiating Religion Workshop: Legal Framework – Schools and

Religious Freedom

This one day workshop, which is part of the Negotiating Religion Workshop Series, will look

at how and to what extent do legal frameworks – judicial reasoning and legal processes –

allow space for negotiating religious issues. The workshop will look at questions such as:

  • Does this negotiation take place with religious communities or directly with the individuals who claim that their religious freedoms have been infringed?
  • What are the main actors of the negotiating process?
  • Who benefits from it?
  • What are the risks of ‘negotiating’?
  • Is ‘negotiation’ the best way to reach a fair compromise between conflicting rights and claims?
  • Is negotiating with religious freedoms any different to negotiation in respect of other human rights?
  • What special features/dangers derive from the school context in which this negotiation takes place?
  • What does teaching in a secular institution imply?

These crucial questions will be addressed through analysis of topical case law and legal

scholarship under four headings:

  1. Religious symbols

  2. Religious education and teaching content

  3. Religion and staff

  4. Faith Schools

You can book online for this conference at: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/laws/religion

The cost to attend is:

£60 – standard ticket

£30 – academic ticket

£10 – student ticket


Complete information about the Religion in Pieces conference in Providence next month is now available on our website.  The main conference page  can be found at http://socamr.wikispaces.com/ReligioninPieces.  From there you can find the program, as well as registration and hotel information.  We have reserved a block of rooms at the Hampton Inn nearby with a reduced rate; the rate expires on April 18th, so make your reservations before then.

The conference will begin with a keynote address by Chris Faraone of the University of Chicago at 7 pm on Friday, April 27, and will continue with one and a half days of papers ranging from ancient Israel to Late Antiquity.


Faith in Research  conference will be held on Wednesday 9th May 2012 at The Mothers’ Union, 24 Tufton Street, London, SW1P 3RB in conjunction with the Research and Statistics department of the Archbishops’ Council and the Oxford Centre for Ecclesiology & Practise Theology.

The event is designed for those who explore current research in ministry and mission. Cost is £45 to include a buffet lunch (£20 for unsalaried postgraduate students.)

To see the programme and access a booking form click:

http://www.churchofengland.org/about-us/facts-stats/research-statistics.aspx


Black Church Activism and Contested Multiculturalism in Europe, North America, and Africa

Birkbeck, University of London, May 29-30, 2012

This conference, which is part of an annual Transatlantic Roundtable on Religion and Race, will bring together academics, church leaders, students, and community activists to explore the role that churches play in the construction of identities in societies where issues of race and ethnicity are played out in the public sphere.  Approximately fifty panelists from the U.K., France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Nigeria, South Africa, Canada, and the U.S. are scheduled to present papers on various topics related to the conference theme.

Keynote Speakers

Anthony G. Reddie, Carol B. Duncan, Allan Boesak

Venue: Room B36 main campus Malet Street, Bloomsbury London WC1E 7HX

       http://www.bbk.ac.uk/maps

Registration:  The general registration price of 70 GBP (110 USD) (and the student price of 35 GBP/55 USD) includes the conference program pack, as well as lunch and morning and afternoon refreshments both days. Registration can be completed at the following website: https://www2.bbk.ac.uk/bih/blackchurches.html.

Conference hotels include the Tavistock Hotel– http://www.imperialhotels.co.uk/ and YHA, Travel lodge Euston (and other options near the college, see here:  http://www.bbk.ac.uk/bih/lcts/accommodation

             Contacts:

William Ackah, w.ackah@bbk.ac.uk; R. Drew Smith, rsmith@morehouse.edu; Rothney Tshaka, tshakrs@unisa.ac.za


Fellowships


  1. 2013-2014 Fellowship Award Announcement: School of Social Science, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, NJ

Each year, the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton,

NJ, invites about twenty scholars to be in residence for the full academic year to pursue

their own research. The School welcomes applications in economics, political science,

law, psychology, sociology and anthropology. It encourages social scientific work with

an historical and humanistic bent and also entertains applications in history, philosophy,

literary criticism, literature and linguistics. Applicants must have a Ph.D. at time of

application. Each year there is a general thematic focus that provides common ground

for roughly half the scholars; for 2013-2014 the focus will be The Environmental Turn

and the Human Sciences. The application deadline is November 1, 2012. Applications

must be submitted through the Institute’s online application system, which can be found,

along with more information about the theme, at www.sss.ias.edu/applications


  1. UC Berkeley Institute of East Asian Studies Residential Faculty Research grants, 2012-13

The Institute of East Asian Studies (IEAS) at UC Berkeley is pleased to announce the

second year of the IEAS Residential Faculty Research program, funded by a multi-

year grant. This initiative creates a resident research community to engage in research

projects concerning East Asia. Five themes, broadly defined, have been identified for the

purpose of organizing research. Using these themes to set general emphasis, the IEAS

invites Berkeley and non-Berkeley faculty members and scholars in all stages of their

careers to submit research proposals grounded in any discipline in the humanities and

social sciences (see Eligibility below). These proposals should be of East Asian content or relevance. Successful applicants will receive support to pursue independent research

while in residence in Berkeley. They are expected to make at least one presentation

on individual research topic during the course of a semester and to attend discussion

meetings. These meetings may be open to visiting scholars, doctoral candidates and

graduate students at Berkeley. The objective of the program is to facilitate the creation

of clusters of researchers who engage in conversations with each other while actively

pursuing individual research. All projects funded under the program are expected to

result in publications in English.

Awards will range from $10,000 (for one semester) to $20,000 (for two semesters), to

$25,000 (for a full year) and may be used for any purpose that is consistent with UC

research policy. Funded activities may begin as early as July 1, 2012.

Full details including the themes, process, deadlines etc: http://ieas.berkeley.edu/

resources/residential_faculty_grants.html


Scholarships


PhD and MA Jameel Scholarships, Islam-UK Centre, Cardiff University

With the help of a very generous gift to the University, the PhD and MA Jameel Scholarships

have been established to enable the very best students to come to Cardiff – those who

have the intellect and determination to apply their knowledge for the benefit of Muslim

communities in the UK, and to promote better understanding of Islam in wider society.

Applications are invited for 3 fully-funded PhD Jameel Scholarships, and 4 fully-funded MA

Jameel Scholarships (available for the forthcoming academic year on the MA in Islam in

Contemporary Britain).

For eligibility criteria, and details about the Scholarship packages, please go to:

http://www.cardiff.ac.uk/share/research/centres/csi/scholarships/index.html


Two fully funded positions in medieval history are now available at the University of Amsterdam in connection with a project examining Jerusalem as a holy site for Christians by the medieval Franciscan Order:

http://www.uva.nl/vacatures/vacatures.cfm/54A2240A-8E46-42E5-91474806E5ED89C6

Ideal candidates may come from a medieval history background, but the fields of art history, religion, literature, and archaeology are equally germane so long as candidates are able to access Latin and other medieval texts.


New Masters Programme (Groningen)


Registration for the four new Master programs in the study of religion at the University of Groningen is now open. The deadline for application for EU students is 15 May 2012. I would be grateful if you could forward this information to students who might be interested in the program, either in its one-year version or in its two-years version (Research Master).

The University of Groningen offers the following programs in the study of religion, all of them newly designed:

1. Religion, Conflict and Globalisation

2. Concealed Knowledge: Gnosticism, Esotericism and Mysticism

3. Origins of Abrahamic Religions: Texts and Contexts

4. Religion and the Public Domain

Circular Academia: Navigating the Dangerous Waters of Term Re-Assignment

The South Fork Dam once stood high above the city of Johnstown Pennsylvania, erected to supply water to one of the many canal systems that made up the early American interstate trade route.  Purchased by the South Fork Hunting and Fishing club in 1881, the massive body of water behind the dam, Lake Conemaugh, was made part of an exclusive mountain resort for the wealthy from nearby Pittsburgh.  Over the next eight years frequent inspections found the South Fork Dam to have many foundational flaws, as well as a number of recurring surface cracks.  With gilded aesthetics in mind these cracks were mended by rudimentary patchwork, a temporary slathering of mud and straw.  On the rainy afternoon of May 31st, 1889 the dam melted under the pressure of the swelling lake, releasing a surging wall of water onto the city below.  By the time the water receded 2,209 people had perished in one of the worst “natural” disasters in US history.

As anecdotes go, this is a pretty good one.  The impudence of the South Fork Hunting and Fishing Club contributed to the idea that by solving surface issues with a little patchwork the real problem at the foundation would equally be resolved.  In the field of academia we come across this sort of logic quite regularly; more so, it seems, in the category of religious studies.

Sean Bean as Odysseus in the movie ‘Troy’

It seems fair to say that ours is a rather dangerous vocation, not dangerous in the way a dam keeper’s job might be dangerous on an afternoon of heavy rain, but dangerous in that we bravely tread the waters of humanity’s inner-most sacred beliefs and practices.  This is not a gentle sea by any means.  Tempests rise up unexpectedly, detouring our crossing with tangential distractions—much like those which plagued that long adrift Greek hero, Odysseus.  Like him, we too seem impassioned to return to something genuine and practical, longing to once again stand on familiar soil; and we are ever creative in our ways of doing so.

Recently, Professor Jay Demerath took up such a challenge, which formed the basis for his interview with Chris Cotter.  Promoting the replacement of the ambiguous term “religion” with the functional term “sacred,” Demerath’s novel approach at interpreting that which stands out against the profane or secular comes with two critical issues: definition and application.

Definition

Demerath originally proposed this turn from “religion” to “sacred” in his deliberately misquoted “Varieties of Sacred Experience,” nominally linking his amended term with the foundations of religious studies in William James’ “Varieties of Religious Experience.”  This calculated revision brings Demerath’s proposition into the context of debate between experience and belief as designated by the modern ambiguity of “religion” and his novelized sobriquet, “sacred.”  As he states, “religion is just one among many possible sources of the sacred,” (Demerath 2000) and that the ambiguity which anchors itself to the definition of religion can easily be weighed by defining it substantively, while interpreting its consequences, “the sacred,” functionally.  This is a methodological proposition which focuses not on the encompassing importance of “religion” but rather on what it is that individuals—or groups—take to be “sacred.”  By divesting religion and sacred between substantive and functionalist, assigning “religion” to the “category of activity” and seeing the “sacred” as a “statement of function” both terms seem to work in their application

This is further demonstrated in his polythetic method of deciphering that which individuals and social groups set apart as being “sacred.”  In the interview, when asked how sociologists navigate the ambiguity of what is sacred or not, he suggests a sort of polythetic taxonomy when it comes to deciphering what is sacred to the people under examination.  By developing a “kind of a checklist of behaviors that are associated with what might be a sacred commitment,” such as is found in certain categorical methodologies (Saler 1993, Smith 1996, Smart 1997), he believes we can properly decipher what “people do, what they don’t do, what they believe, what they don’t believe, what they observe and don’t observe.”  Furthermore, this alludes to a stipulation of terms, rather than a dependence on real definitions (Baird 1971).  Both techniques reveal a method which assists us in accessing the “priority” of the religious person’s “commitments, the commitments in their life, and the convictions in their life.” (Demerath 2012).

However, Demerath is also navigating very dangerous waters here, steering between narrow straights where on one side awaits the swirling temptress of a definition of religion, and on the other the horrifically multifaceted monster of misapplication.  For example, if removed from his sociological context, how does his term “sacred” differ from that of “religious?”  One of the advantages with stipulative definitions is that they must be anchored to a particular study, the borders of which Demerath’s proposition seems to push against.  Consider if we categorically formed a stipulative interpretation of the traditional term “religious” as pertaining to the consequences of the practitioner’s “religion,” would we not be able to equally balance out the ambiguity found in “religion?”  Would using a stipulated interpretation of “religious” as the function of a person acting under the substantive form of “religion” not be the same?  While Demerath responds to a similar question in the interview by legitimating his use of the “sacred” as something that does not need to transcend our world to some other-worldly deity, he is limiting himself to a “definition” of religion devoted to a transcendental relationship between man and deity.  This seems, again, a difference between “religion” and “religious” as equally as it pertains to the difference between “religion” and the “sacred.”  This is an issue of definition and application.  Where his turn from the sociology of religion to the sociology of the sacred succeeds and fails is within this issue.  By pushing against these borders his stipulation begins to sink into the periphery of real definition.  Fortunately he saves himself with the life-raft of an applicative example.

Application

Ethan

Ethan Quillen

The decision of United States vs. Seeger is about as close to a “definition” of religion the United States Supreme Court is legally allowed to make.  The disestablishment clause of the 1st Amendment—Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion—is a collection of ten words which make the United States exceptional to religiously established nations such as England and Scotland.  It also creates quite the conundrum when cases like these come to the Court’s attention.  The Seeger case did not occur ex nihilo, but was rather the result of the decisions in Everson vs. Board and Torcaso vs. Watkins, steps made by the court over twenty years of social and political change in a country seeking an umbrellic identity between the end of World War II and the turbulent second half of a decade that saw the assassination of John F. Kennedy at one end, and the resignation of Richard M. Nixon at the other.

This brief circumnavigation speaks directly to Demerath’s application of the term sacred.  When seen through the lens of American legal amendments, wherein the “belief in and devotion to goodness and virtue for their own sakes,” and a religious “faith in a purely ethical creed” amounts to a “a sincere and meaningful belief occupying in the life of its possessor a place parallel to that filled by God,” what is construed as “sacred,” the “ultimate concern” may seem counter to even the most liberal applications of “religion.” (U.S. vs. Seeger)  By amending the qualifications of article 6(j) of the Universal Military Training and Service Act to accommodate Daniel Seeger’s philosophical views, the function of Tillich’s substantive definition, as accepted by the Court as a standard by which to measure the religiousness of the individual, “religious” and “sacred” become stipulative suggestions, pliable by what might justify a sacred belief.  Thus, in a nation devoted to a sense of individual sacralization, the nation of Sheilaism (Bellah et al.), Demerath’s reassignment of transcendental “religion” with “sacred” seems justified.

Conclusion

While the legitimation of his using “sacred” rather than “religion” seems justified in the above sample, it still seems a patchwork fix rather than a foundational repair.  It should be said, though, that this is not so much a critique of Demerath’s thesis, but of the idea in promoting a new term as the replacement of an old one.  Perhaps this is due to the definitive style it seems to imply at the suggestion of “sacred studies” rather than “religious studies.”  New terms are not always the best way to fix a foundational issue such as the ambiguity of “religion” in a global context.  Instead, we would benefit far greater by digging up and unpacking what we mean by terms when studying the practitioners who make them sacred in specific contexts.  The stipulation of an established, utilitarian term like “religious” to mean the actions of individuals seeking what they deem foundationally sacred relieves the pressures of ambiguity just as equally as “sacred,” especially because of its relationship and differentiation from “religion.”  Perhaps a good argument against Demerath’s contextual use of “sacred” might be a change from the “sociology of religion” to the “sociology of the religious.”

Definitions of religion seem the ever-widening Charybdis in the field of religious studies—in all its forms.  In our contemporary world we tend to find ourselves more absent-mindedly sailing toward the yawning mouth of that swirling vortex known as “a definition of religion.”  We need to be cautious with the application of new terms.  We seem too often prone to kneejerk patchwork, slathering layer upon layer of temporary fixes, either impudent in our knowledge of foundational issues, or victims of deep denial.  We long to resolve ambiguity by applying more ambiguity, when we should just dig up the foundation and rebuild.  These waters are dangerous, and without precaution we appear more and more drawn into the riptide of circular academia where, once swallowed up, we run the risk of drowning in a sea of uncertainty.

References and Suggested Reading

  • Robert D. Baird.  Category Formations and the History of Religions.  Berlin: Walter de Gruyter & Co., 1991.
  • Robert N. Bellah.  Beyond Belief: Essays on Religion in a Post-Traditionalist World.  Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.
  • Robert N. Bellah, et al.  Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life.  Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.
  • James L. Cox.  “Afterword: Separating Religion from the ‘Sacred:’ Methodological Agnosticism and the Future of Religious Studies” in Steven J. Sutcliffe.  Religion: Empirical Studies.  Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004.
  • Jay Demerath.  “The Varieties of Sacred Experience: Finding the Sacred in a Secular Grove” in the Journal for theScientific Study of Religion, Vol. 39, No. 1, 2000.
  • ———.   “Defining Religion and Modifying Religious “Bodies:” Secularizing the Sacred and Sacralizing the Secular” in Phil Zuckerman, ed.  Atheism and Secularity: Volume 1: Issues, Concepts, and Definitions. Santa Barbara: Praeger, 2010.
  • ———. Religious Studies Project Interview with Jay Demerath on Substantive Religion and the Functionalist Sacred (12 March 2012).
  • David McCullough. The Johnstown Flood: The Incredible Story Behind One of the Most Devastating “Natural” Disasters America has Ever Known. NewYork: Touchstone, 1987.
  • Ethan Gjerset Quillen, 2011. Rejecting the Definitive: A Contextual Examination of Three Historical Stages of Atheism and the Legality of an American Freedom from Religion.  MA Thesis, Baylor University, Waco, Texas.
  • Bensor Saler.  Conceptualizing Religion: Immanent Anthropologists, Transcendent Natives, and Unbounded Categories.  New York: E.J. Brill, 1993.
  • Ninian Smart.  Dimensions of the Sacred: Anatomy of the World’s Beliefs.  New York: Fontana Press, 1997.
  • Jonathan Z. Smith  “A Matter of Class: Taxonomies of Religion” in The Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 89, No. 4, 1996.
  • Terence Thomas.  “‘The Sacred’ as a Viable Concept in the Contemporary Study of Religions” in Steven J. Sutcliffe.  Religion: Empirical Studies.  Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004.
  • Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1 (1947)
  • Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U.S. 488 (1961)
  • United States v. Seeger, 380 U.S. 163 (1965)
  • Welsh v. United States, 398 U.S. 333 (1970)

What to do with Davie’s ‘Vicarious Religion’?

 

Like with many of Grace Davie’s conceptualizations, the notion of “vicarious religion” is destined to garner much attention and debate. I must admit that when I first read about it, I rolled my eyes without really knowing why. Perhaps I predicted that the same puddle of ink would be spilt in debating the finer points of what was meant and what was actually meant by the new concept. The author would churn out countless articles explaining his or her new framework, which would invite responses from scholars pointing out missteps, which would in turn invite rejoinders from the author insisting that they had been misunderstood. This is how academia tends to work, and it may be why the general public is often vicariously exhausted by our efforts.

Academic self-deprecation aside, I was fascinated by the Religious Studies Project’s interview with Grace Davie. While many different topics are covered in the podcast, in the space I have available I want to focus particularly on her notion of vicarious religion, and examine some of the critique it has spawned, and explore the ways it has been useful for scholars in the sociology of religion.

Davie has in various places defined vicarious religion as “the notion of religion performed by an active minority but on behalf of a much larger number, who (implicitly at least) not only understand, but, quite clearly, approve of what the minority is doing” (Davie 2007, 22). In the podcast, she notes that while church structures are no longer able to “discipline the behavior and beliefs” of Europeans, there is still some support for their “public utility.” As she points out, although relatively few people are attending these churches, “there is still a certain expectation that they would do things on behalf of a wide number of people when the need arises…For example, if you or I approached the clergy for a funeral of a family member, and that funeral was denied, we would feel somehow that the church had not done what it was there to do.” It is in a similar light that some scholars have seen religion as an “institution of oughts” (Christiano et al. 2008, 43).

According to Davie (2006, 25) religion can operate vicariously in several ways, from church leaders performing rituals and believing on behalf of others to embodying moral codes and offering a space for public debate. Interestingly, if we take seriously Jose Casanova’s (1994) argument that the secularization thesis consists of three different propositions – religious decline, differentiation, and privatization – Davie’s notion of vicarious religion does not challenge any one of them. Indeed, vicarious religion seems to be a theory that takes the differentiation thesis for granted when attempting to explain how religion (at least in Great Britain and perhaps Europe) functions in society. Even individuals vicariously practicing religion are acknowledging, when practicing it in such a way, that society is differentiated and the sphere of religion may have “utility” only for certain purposes.

One of the main critiques of the vicarious religion thesis was put forth by Steve Bruce and David Voas (2010). As they (2010, 245) point out, “Vicarious religion clearly exists; our objection is that it seems to be the exception in the contemporary world, while Davie claims that it is the rule in Europe.” To be fair, Davie suggests nothing of the sort. In fact, she (2010) has been quite clear that “vicarious religion”, as well as “believing without belonging” before it, should be viewed as tools in the sociologist of religion’s toolbox. They cannot be used to extract every nail or tighten every screw, but will likely be useful for some projects. In his most recent book, Bruce (2011, vi) expresses annoyance at scholars who “present a small case study as a rebuttal of a story about large-scale social change.” However, in his disagreement with Davie, it is Bruce who has perceived a large-scale argument when what is presented is “one factor among many in the continuing re-adjustment of religious life in modern Europe” (Davie 2010, 264).

Another major point of disagreement inevitably seems to lie with their differing definitions of religion. While Bruce begins his most recent book by arguing that “social scientists spend far too much time quibbling over words” – a statement that I tend to agree with – it is precisely because Bruce and Davie have different starting points that disagreement immediately follows. For Bruce (2011, 1), functional definitions of religion, those examining “the purposes it serves or the needs it meets” tend to “assume what ought to be demonstrated.” However, Davie is very much working from a functional perspective. Bruce (2011, 1) settles instead for a substantive definition “as beliefs, actions, and institutions based on the existence of supernatural entities with powers of agency or impersonal processes possessed of moral purpose that set the conditions of, or intervene in, human affairs.” Indeed, problems arising from these differing perspectives have “been there continuously, without those who hold to a substantive – or substantial – definition (associated with the substance of belief) and those who favour a functional one (which takes account of the functions of religion in social life) being able to agree and so transcend or resolve the difficulty” (Hervieu-Leger 2000, 32).

In seeing how the vicarious religion thesis has recently been operationalized, let us spend some time on the work of Peter Hemming (2011). Hemming finds some use for the concept in his study of religion and spirituality in a community primary school and a voluntary aided Roman Catholic primary school in the north of England. Some of the parents he interviewed were reliant on their children’s schools to teach and talk about religion. As Hemming (2011, 1072) writes, “Many of the comments were linked to the legacy of past practices and parents’ own schooling memories and experiences.” This is in line with Davie’s argument that the “old residual expectations are implicitly if not explicitly there” as well as Hervieu-Leger’s (2000) view of religion as a “chain of memory.” Hemming (2011, 1073) notes that there was a desire on the part of some parents for schools to “do religion” on their behalf.

A similarly interesting case was presented by Peter Berger when discussing the church tax system in Germany. In Germany, Berger argues, there are no longer any state churches, but religious institutions continue to benefit from certain legal privileges. The “church tax” – which is about eight or nine percent of people’s income – is collected by the state and given to the churches. As Christina Sticht (2004) has noted, many citizens are leaving the church partly because they cannot afford or no longer want to pay this fairly hefty tax (see also Barker 2004). As Berger (2005, 116) quite surprisingly points out:

An individual who does not want to pay this tax can simply declare himself to be religiously unaffiliated (konfessionslos) and thus instantly save quite a bit of money. What is surprising is how many – indeed the majority at least in the western part of the country – have not done it. When asked why, they give different answers – because they might need the church at some point in their lives, because they want the church to give moral guidance for their children, because they see the church as important for the moral fabric of society. Davie has coined another apt term for this phenomenon – ‘vicarious religion’.

As is evident, then, the notion of vicarious religion can indeed be a useful conceptual tool for shedding light on some religious activities. Davie, however, suggests that this is likely not going to survive into the next generation. She imagines vicarious religion as a kind of religio-cultural residue that coats the consciousness of older generations. It is this coating that enables traditional cultural as well as religious structures to have their affective effect. According to Davie, subsequent generations whose cultural context is more varied may find less significance in their ancestral traditions and, in many ways, will continue what Roof (1999, 171) has called a process of “retraditionalizing” were new ways of being may be infused with significance and perhaps even timelessness. As these changes continue, newer and more precise tools will be required to adequately understand the contemporary religious landscape.

References

Barker, Christine. 2004. “Church and State: Lessons from Germany.” The Political Quarterly. (75.2): 168-176.

Berger, Peter L. 2005. “Religion and the West.” The National Interest. (Summer): 112-119.

Bruce, Steve. 2011. Secularization: In Defense of an Unfashionable Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Bruce, Steve and David Voas. 2010. “Vicarious Religion: An Examination and Critique. Journal of Contemporary Religion. (25.2): 243-259.

Casanova, Jose. 1994. Public Religions in the Modern World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Christiano, Kevin J., William H. Swatos Jr., and Peter Kivisto. 2008. Sociology of Religion: Contemporary Developments. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Davie, Grace. 2006. “Is Europe an Exceptional Case?” The Hedgehog Review (Spring and Summer): 23-34.

Davie, Grace. 2007. “Vicarious Religion: A Methodological Challenge.” In Nancy T. Ammerman, ed. Everyday Religion: Observing Modern Religious Lives, pp. 21-35. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Davie, Grace. 2010. “Vicarious Religion: A Response.” Journal of Contemporary Religion. (25.2): 261-266.

Hemming, Peter. 2011. “The Place of Religion in Public Life: School Ethos as a Lens on Society.” Sociology. (45.6): 1061-1077.

Hervieu-Leger, Daniele. 2000. Religion as a Chain of Memory. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Roof, Wade Clark. 1999. Spiritual Marketplace: Baby Boomers and the Remaking of American Religion. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Sticht, Christina. 2004. “The Role of the Churches in Germany.” May. Die Rolle Der Kirchen in Deutschland. Accessed February 18, 2012. Available at: http://www.goethe.de/ges/phi/dos/rkd/en2012816.htm

The Changing Nature of Religion

In her keynote address to the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion in Milwaukee last October, Grace Davie eruditely portrayed the changing perceptions of ‘religion’ over the last fifty years. In the 1960s, most sociologists consciously or unconsciously bought into idea of the ‘death of god’ – religion became effectively invisible to academia. Throughout the 1980s and 90s, a number of events – most notably the ‘Satanic Verses’ controversy – dramatically increased the ‘visibility’ of religion: it became a political problem. Now, in the 21st century, religion is increasingly being construed by politicians, educators, the media etc, as a useful resource to be exploited. These public perceptions are but one facet of the way in which ‘religion’ can be understood as ‘changing’.

In this interview with Chris, Professor Davie discusses the place of religion in modern Europe, paying particular attention to the place of the United Kingdom within the European context. In an effort to combat the caricatures that typify media accounts of religion in the contemporary world, Davie discusses the changing nature of religion, in academia and in the public square, and considers the impact of the arrival of new cultures into Europe, whilst reflecting on secular reactions to these.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. Three freely accessible articles by Prof. Davie which should be of interest to our listeners are “Thinking Sociologically about Religion: A Step Change in the Debate?“, published by The ARDA in 2011,  “Is Europe an Exceptional Case?” from The Hedgehog Review (2006), and “Working Comparatively” from the University of Kent’s Research Methods for the Study of Religion website.

This interview was recorded in October 2011 in Milwaukee, WI at the annual meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion.

Meeting at the crossroads of public and private: sexuality and religion

Meeting at the crossroads of public and private: sexuality and religion

By Jillian Scott.

Published by the Religious Studies Project, on 24 February 2012 in response to the Religious Studies Project Interview with Sarah Jane-Page on Youth, Sexuality and Religion (27 February 2012).

In a recent podcast on Youth, Sexuality and Religion, Dr Sarah-Jane Page discusses  research that she conducted along with several colleagues, that concerned young people, sexuality and religion. This is an immediately controversial subject and one that generates many questions. As this research focused on “lived religion”, that is how people experience religion in their everyday lives, the intertwining of these two topics is very interesting. She refers to the two as “uncomfortable bedfellows” within the daily experience of many religious young people. As a result, the study focuses on how young people  consolidate daily the vying values and morals presented to them through society, media and their faith. Although her presentation of the research is incredibly complex and thorough, I believe that there are some questions that she leaves unanswered in this interview.

Trying to get at the heart of how these people, aged 18 to 25, lived their faith and sexuality the questionnaires sought answers concerning idealistic aspects of the two subjects. These included gender roles, views about homosexuality, abortion, et cetera. The lived experiences of the participants became apparent through the use of video blogs because these turned into a diary for most of them. Here they detailed what books they were reading, the films they saw and so on. I cannot find fault in any of these research methods. However, Page’s presentation of her research questions and what she ultimately wants to discover about the relationship between sexuality and religion are left a little vague throughout the course of the interview.

In my personal studies concerning violence and religion, I have found that the contention between the public and private sectors of life create a tumultuous force behind many of the choices made by religious people. William Cavanaugh demonstrates that such competition jeopardizes the pure nature of the secular state and that nothing can be free of religion as it manifests within the public realm (2005). On a smaller level, personal religion crosses the dichotomy between public and private within the actions that people do or don’t do, such as not drinking or dancing in the moonlight. These are manifestations of religion within the public realm that also generate implications in the perception of others about their faith. Personal sexuality also suffers this same burden. Ann Pellegrini discusses the reality that when you talk about what you did on the weekend you are giving people a sense of your own sexuality (2004). Both of these elements of the human experience pivot on the fact that both religiosity and sexuality should be very private matters. Yet, they tend to be expressed within the public realm.

Therefore, I believe that the “uncomfortable bedfellows” nature of sexuality and religion comes from their frequent meeting at the intersection of public and private realms. Page understands that young people often face challenges to their values and ideas about what is private and public; particularly with sexuality and religion. She believes that the scholarly divide of private and public needs to be unpacked and reexamined. Yet this contention does not appear to be the motivation behind her research. Especially since she is working with young people I would have appreciated her mentioning what they felt about public and private particularly in the age of Facebook, Twitter and text messages. How do they express their faith and sexuality there? What platforms are private and which are public? This is an area that I think is vital to this study that has been omitted within her responses to Christopher Cotter’s questions.

Quite interestingly, this research does break some of the stereotypes about young people and religious faith and sex. Page and her colleagues found that many of the participants did not object to the controlling aspects of faith concerning sex. Many of them thought that they serve as an “anchor or security point”. However, others did voice their struggle in their attempt to match their religious ideals to their day to day life. Page takes pains to point out that those who are rule bound only represent a few. Others are still teasing out their faith in order to create their own trajectory. Those who are struggling represent a huge battle between sexuality and religion that Page does not address in the podcast.  Does this occur because of the public versus private conflict? Are these people making their own rules because of the religious dimension? Or the sexual? Does it happen because they do not have a strong role model within the church? Or does it occur because of the age group of the participants and how in flux their lives already are as 18 to 25 year-olds?

The age group of the people involved make this study all the more interesting because it makes it more complex. At this stage in their lives, it may not be possible for them be truly conscious of their negotiation of their faith and sexuality. Many are shifting in times and spaces that challenge what was the established norm. In their attempts to deal with this they must negotiate their own values and come to terms with their own identity. Perhaps Page does not address this because the young people could not point out the reasoning themselves. I agree with Page that the next phase of the study would be to ask the same questions of people aged 30 to 50. However, Page misses another crucial dimension of the study and further studies by completely eliminating the non-religious aspect. Particularly within the UK, many young people do not self-identify as religious. It would increase the complexity of the research and it would allow us to see what values young people have regardless of faith. It would also be valuable to learn if the views of the religious people clashed with their non-religious friends.

Ultimately, Page’s research is very interesting and pertinent to the field of religious studies. As this field continues to grow, my questions will be answered and new topics of debate will arise. At this time I would like to commend Page and her colleagues for striding out into the unknown and setting some foundations for the study of sexuality and religion.

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

Jillian Scott recently finished her Master’s degree in Religious Studies at the University of Edinburgh. Her dissertation was entitled “Ritualized Terrorism: Symbolic Religious Violence and the Secular State in a Globalized World”. Originally from San Francisco, California, Jillian lives in Edinburgh and continues to study the relationships between religion, violence and international relations.

 

 

 

References

Cavanaugh, W.T., 2005. The Liturgies of Church and State. Liturgy, 20(1), pp.25–30.

Jakobsen, J.R. & Pellegrini, A., 2004. Love the Sin: Sexual Regulation and the Limits of Religious Tolerance, Beacon Press.

Youth, Sexuality and Religion

The Religion, Youth and Sexuality: A Multi-faith Exploration project, based at the University of Nottingham, looked at 18 to 25 year-olds from a variety of faith backgrounds in order to understand attitudes and practices around sexuality and how this was negotiated in relation to religious traditions. Dr Sarah-Jane Page, one of the research fellows, talks to Chris about the project’s findings, which were sometimes surprising. Religion is found to be a significant influence, but one influence among a number of others. 

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes.

Dr Page completed her doctorate in 2009, in the School of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Nottingham, investigating motherhood and priesthood as well as the non-ordained spouses of women priests in the Church of England. More recently, she was Research Consultant for the European Commission funded project, Citizens in Diversity: A Four-nation Study of Homophobia and Human Rights (www.citidive.eu). The British case study, with which she was involved, focused on ascertaining types of homonegativity encountered in the UK context, in order to understand the complexities and nuances relating to contemporary attitudes to homosexuality. She is now based at Aston University.

A .pdf of the full findings of the Religion Youth and Sexuality project can be downloaded here, and a podcast about the research is also available. Dr Page has also co-authored a book (with A. K. T. Yip) based on the research which will be published by Ashgate during 2012, entitled Religious and Sexual Journeys: A Multi-faith Exploration of Young Believers.

Video: The Religious Studies Project – What We’re All About…

Today marks a special occasion in the life of The Religious Studies Project – we’re giving our first ‘talk’. As part of Innovative Learning Week at the School of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh, we’re presenting a session where students and staff can come and learn a bit more about the project and how it was put together, and offer some feedback on what they would like to see in the future.

Unfortunately, Chris will be arriving in London as the event itself starts, so we thought that a video posted on the website would be a way for him to participate from afar. The video is posted below, and isn’t focused specifically towards this one event, but provides a platform for David and Chris to discuss why they set up The Religious Studies Project, what they aim to do, what they DON’T aim to do, and how you can help out.

Let us know what you think…

A Plea from the Religious Studies Project: Publicity

We decided when we launched the Religious Studies Project that we wanted to have a reasonable amount of content available on the site before we started a major publicity push. Now that we have published our fifth podcast – David’s interview with Graham Harvey – we are ready to start publicity in earnest. Over the coming days the team shall be emailing their contacts and academic departments (mostly in the UK) to let them know about the Project. However, the success of this publicity drive will largely be down to help from those who have already started using the site. To that end, please do keep up the excellent work you have been doing so far with inviting people to view the site, and to check us out on iTunes, Twitter and Facebook.

In addition, we have also produced an A4 poster and A5 flyer which you can print off and display in your academic department, school, academic conferences, religious institution or wherever. The jpeg of the poster is below, and pdfs of the poster and flyer can be accessed via these links.

Your help with this is greatly appreciated!

Cognitive Approaches to the Study of Religion

The cognitive study of religion has quickly established itself as the paradigmatic methodology in the field today. It’s grounded in the concept that religiosity is natural because it is well adapted to the cognitive propensities developed during the evolution of our species. In this episode, Professor Armin Geertz tells Chris why it deserves its prominent profile, and how it is developing.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on available as a PDF, and has been pasted below. All transcriptions are currently produced by volunteers. If you spot any errors in this transcription, please let us know at editors@religiousstudiesproject.com. If you would be willing to help with these efforts, or know of any sources of funding for the broader transcription project, please get in touch. Thanks for reading.

What we’re learning from the cognitive study of religion.

This interview was recorded at the European Association for the Study of Religions‘ Annual Conference in Budapest in September 2011. Out of necessity it was not recorded on our normal equipment, and we apologise for the poorer quality of the sound this week.

Podcast Transcript

Podcast with Armin W. Geertz on Cognitive Approaches to the Study of Religion (23 January 2012). PDF.

Interviewed by Christopher R. CotterTranscribed by Travis W. Cooper.

 

 

Chris Cotter (CC): Today we are joined by Professor Armin Geertz of Aarhus University. He’s the head of the Religion and Cognition and Culture Research unit (or RCC) in the section for the study of religion. There’s a new book series coming out of this unit with Equinox, called Religion, Cognition, and Culture and Armin is the editor of the series. And volume one is called Religious Narrative: Cognition and Culture and due for publication next month. We’re going to be talking about cognitive approaches to the study of religion. Welcome, Armin.

Armin Geertz (AG): Thank you, Chris. I’m very happy to be here.

CC: Good. A lot of our listeners really won’t have any idea about what “cognitive approaches to the study of religion” are; I suppose the first thing we should start with is, what does this “cognitive” word mean—what is cognitive science at all?

AG: Yes, yes. Actually, it’s not a very clear area because there are many approaches to the cognitive—in the cognitive sciences. But basically the idea is that we have a… we have universal capacities of the mind, with universal constraints. We’re not born as blank slates. We’re born with certain attitudes and certain ways of understanding and dealing with the world, even as small babies. Babies are geared to get into—to plug into—a social group and to become attached to important figures and it’s the study of those processes, mechanisms, and constraints in our brains and in our minds that are perhaps the core of the cognitive sciences. One can say that the cognitive sciences became important for the cognitive study of religion around 1990 with the publication of a book by E. Thomas Lawson and Robert N. McCauley, called Stewart Guthrie who already introduced the cognitive theory of religion a long time ago, in the eighties. And he’s had also a decided influence on the cognitive study of religion, the cognitive science of religion, as it’s called. One of the things that is a problem in the cognitive approach to the study of religion is that we’re not completely in agreement about what cognition is.  

CC: Okay.

AG: And it’s not only us. It’s also cognitive scientists that are in disagreement. Some consider the mind to be a kind of advanced computer based on formal, logical procedures, getting information, getting data, and analyzing the data and turning it into useful information for us to get on in the world. Others, however, have been pointing out—and especially recently, and especially because of an interest in the mind by neurologists, by brain scientists—that the brain is not simply a computer and is not simply a machine that deals with information. The mind is in a body and it’s in a brain, which means that the functions of the brain in the body have a decided influence on our cognition and our minds. It’s our very foundation, and much of the way we look at the world is based on the way our bodies move in the world. It’s also considered to be situated in a sense that we are in a group—we are in a social group—and certain situations and our way of understanding the world is based on our relationship to the group. It’s also… there are also others who consider cognition to be extended. In other words, the way our minds work is put out into the world—exuded into the world. And we surround ourselves in the world with cognitive structures that help us think and help us survive in the world. Archaeologists are also very interested in improving the—our—understanding of cognition, where they are claiming, quite rightly that objects, material objects, are extremely important for our cognition. Not only to help us in the world but to influence our very way of thinking. You’ll notice small children, babies, already grabbing at things and trying to understand and manipulate with objects. And just that fact in itself is helping to develop the neural networks in the baby’s brain, and making the baby a socially competent and cognitively competent creature.

            So there are many understandings of what cognition is. And one can say that… because the focus is on the mind, scholars have the tendency to downplay cultural systems, cultural ideas, [and] cultural assumptions and values, as being secondary to our cognitive abilities. And this is where there are many who are doing—and we are as well, in our research unit, Religion, Cognition and Culture—that we need to reintroduce culture as an important causal factor in human cognition. In other words, that culture is not secondary. You can’t take culture away and just study what is left over; it’s impossible. Mainly because we are cultural creatures. And we are cultural creatures who have become cultural creatures long before homo sapiens even showed up on the scene. So earlier hominids were also deeply cultural. So it’s very difficult for us to design experiments where you can kind of ignore the cultural factor. What people claim are cognitive constraints, in other words, frameworks for understanding the world around us and also setting limits for how we think about the world—they could just as well be cultural constraints that have been so deeply embedded in our minds and in our bodies, of course, that they seem just as intuitive as cognitive procedures. This is something we’re still arguing about, but it’s a friendly argument. We agree that there are bottom-up procedures and there are top-down procedures and we need to take both into serious consideration if we want to understand the human mind and our human cognitive abilities.

            So what you can conclude is that the cognitive science of religion is based on the cognitive sciences, and on experimental psychology, with a specific interest in religious thought.

CC: Okay. Very stimulating introduction there…

AG: Thank you.

CC: You mentioned we and you mentioned anthropologists and archaeologists and then scholars of religion and then presumably we have neuroscientists, cognitive scientists, in there there as well. How does one juggle these different disciplines? I mean, presumably, you have scholars working with you who are mainly from the study of religion and how do they learn all this cognitive science and do you have to work with other people, and if you do, how does that dynamic work?

AG: Right, yes. We have a coalition at my university that’s called Mind Lab. And Mind Lab consists of scientists from the natural sciences, primarily the neurosciences and health sciences, people working with pain at the pain research center at Aarhus [University]. We have scholars from the psychiatric hospital, psychologists, physicists, statisticians, people studying music, and a whole array of people in the humanities. And of course, my particular group is focusing on religion. However, we have an extremely stimulating cooperation with our colleagues in the other sciences. The bearing idea—the founding idea—of Mind Lab is that we try to apply the natural sciences on age-old human problems, age-old philosophical and religious problems. By doing this it requires that we work in teams because if you’re going to, for example, perform an experiment with a brain scanner, you definitely have to work with people who understand a brain scanner and who also can handle all of the enormous data that comes out of the scanning. You need a statistician for that. And you need to talk with experimentalists who can help you interpret the data that’s come out of this brain scan. So you’ll find that a lot of the articles that we’ve been publishing in the major journals in the neurosciences, and psychology, and other journals… we have a whole list of authors, sometimes five or six authors. And the first person might be a scholar of religion—usually is—and then the one’s that follow will be the specialists who are part of the team in helping perform this experiment. Now, the trick is to get people in the natural sciences and the health sciences to become interested in what we’re doing. And fortunately, religion has been brought back on the agenda on world affairs so that many scientists are puzzled and neuroscientists are puzzled and they’re wondering, “What is it that moves people to do what they do in the name of religion?” The problem for them is that they don’t know very much about religion. If they do, it’s their own particular religion if they happen to have one. So therefore, it’s an ideal situation that we have specialists who know about religion, who know about the history of religions and are experts in particular religions, working together with neuroscientists who want to help us think experimentally. So it requires a lot of patience and graciousness on behalf of both the humanists and the natural scientists. And fortunately we have that situation at my university and the government has funded our coalition and important results are coming out of it.

CC: Thanks, very much. Anything which gets academics talking to each other is going to be a good thing.

AG: Yes, indeed. Yes.

CC: So you’ve spoken a bit there about why neuroscientists, etc., are interested in helping the study of religion. So I’m wondering—this is quite a big question—but what are the benefits to the study of religion, of using this, we’ll say more scientific—maybe I shouldn’t “more scientific”—but this more traditionally science-based approach?

AG: Alright, yeah. Well there are at least two advantages. The first advantage is that through this cooperation with the natural sciences we may be able to test theories and hypotheses that we’ve developed in the human approaches—the humanistic approaches to the study of religion—empirically. Of course, you can go out and do fieldwork, you can ask people, you can observe people, you can use questionnaires and so forth and get statistical data and all that. But sometimes there are assumptions, especially assumptions about the psychological capacities of religious human beings, where you need to test—you need to experiment—to gain empirical access indirectly, you might say. Of course, experiments are not—it’s not a natural situation. But they can open the possibility that you could find support for, or maybe not support for a particular hypothesis. So it’s hypothesis driven. And in that sense, it’s important for us in the humanities to try to think, to rethink, or to attempt to approach our subject in ways that we had not thought of before. So there’s the empirical aspect. That’s the one aspect, the one advantage, the experimentally empirical approach. The other one is the whole methodology involved, that it’s a new—it’s a supplement to our toolbox of methods, where we have the more traditional methods, which are still highly relevant: studies of texts, studies of archaeological sites, using various approaches such as iconography or semiotics or structural analyses or philological analyses of the expressive side of religion. And on the other hand we have a whole array of methods for studying human behavior: the social sciences, and ethnography, anthropology. And now the new ones that have shown up: the neurosciences, psychology (has of course always been interested in religion, at least for the past 150 years). And then the third toolbox, you might say, is theoretical reflection: philosophy, theory of—philosophy of—science, and theories of religion and religious behavior. So it’s a supplement to our toolboxes. However, it’s a very technical supplement, where you need to understand statistics and you need to understand how to use this new hardware that’s been showing up. I mean, a brain scanner is a big thing and it’s very expensive and you have to go to the hospital and perform your experiments there. So it requires some kind of insight. And there we need, of course, the help of our specialist colleagues. But there are those two advantages. The empirical advantage: Can we test some of our most cherished ideas and philosophies about religion? And the other is: Can we think in another way in relationship to our topic?

CC: Okay. Talking about empirically testing religious ideas, experience, etc., I’m sure our listeners would be interested if you had an example of just how you construct a scientific test of something religious.

AG: Right. One of the things that—the basic procedure is that you have a theory. You have a theory about, maybe, let’s take an example from one of the experiments that we’ve been working on: the topic of prayer. Prayer is a very simple procedure. It is not necessarily connected to a specific situation; you can pray anytime, anywhere, and this is an advantage if you want to put people into a brain scanner because they have to lay very still; they can’t move their heads. The machine is noisy so you have earplugs. You cannot talk; you have to think. You can be shown pictures, for example, and the machine will be recording where the blood is flowing in your brain as you look at these images, but in order to get something meaningful out of it you have to have some kind of a contrast. Because basically, what these kind of approaches involve is that you have a control and then you have the experimental aspect and you subtract from the two. And what’s left over gives an indication of what brain areas are active.

            So our hypothesis was that prayer, as simple as it is, is also very complicated. It’s not only the words that are being spoken, it’s not only the message that’s being sent or received; it’s also behavior, and it involves both the brain and the body. Emotions can be very much connected to prayerful behavior. So our hypothesis was that prayer, simple as it is, is very complicated, and we hypothesized that types of prayer will stimulate different areas of the brain. And the reason we’re doing this—the theory that’s behind it—is that we seriously doubt this claim that’s being spread around, assumed by several neuroscientists and others, that there are specific areas of the brain that are dedicated to religious experience. We’re not convinced by their experimental results, we’re not convinced by their experimental designs, and we do think that there are religious agendas that are behind it all. At least there are religious organizations that are financing these particular experiments. So what we’re claiming is that the brain is a multipurpose organ, where there are no specific—well, let’s say besides the senses and the body—there are no dedicated areas of the brain. So for sight, there is a dedicated area; for hearing, there is a dedicated area, and so forth. But for religious behavior and thought, there is no dedicated area. This is our claim. So, taking this simple, human action of praying to a divinity or to an ancestor or to a spirit, we claim that this is, as a matter of fact, quite complicated, and draws on areas of the brain that are used in other ways.

            And we designed the experiment so that as the participants lay in the scanner, they were asked to “think” a prayer. And we have four things, well actually, five things that they were asked to do. They have to think The Lord’s Prayer. We’re talking about Protestants—young Protestants—from conservative Protestant groups who believe in prayer, believe in the power of prayer, and believe that they indeed have contact with God when they pray. We ask them to think the Lord’s Prayer in a thirty-second slot. Or “slice,” as we call it, which fits the physics of a brain scan. And then the next slot, which, of course, depend on—it wouldn’t be a particular sequence, but at least four. The next one might be, “We would like you to think a personal prayer”. And then we would ask, “We would like you to think a nursery rhyme.” And the fourth would be that “We would like you to think up wishes to Santa Claus.” And the idea behind those four types is that we have different styles, okay. The Lord’s Prayer is more automatic, and more abstract; the personal prayer is more personal and there are two different kinds of activities. And we were then comparing them with similar activities that are not religious. So the nursery rhyme should stimulate the same areas of the brain as the Lord’s Prayer. And wishes to Santa Claus should, in principle, stimulate the same areas as personal prayer. (It turns out that these religious individuals don’t believe in Santa Claus so it was a little bit difficult for them to take it all seriously.)

            But anyway, the results came out, anyway—very interesting results and statistically significant results—that when our participants were asked to think the Lord’s Prayer, it was their more abstract areas of the brain, up in the prefrontal areas of the brain, that were being active. And the same with nursery rhymes. When they were asked to think personal prayer, the areas that were stimulated in the brain were those areas that are well known in brain sciences as the social cognition areas, in other words, when you are communicating with other human beings. So the conclusion would be that the Lord’s Prayer is abstract, not quite as personal. It might be due to the rhythm because we find the same areas stimulated by nursery rhymes. We also found that it might have to do with expectations of reward because it turns out that the particular area that’s being stimulated is an area that’s known for reward expectation. It’s known for the production of a particular brain chemical that’s called dopamine. It’s also an area that has been experimentally shown to be stimulated when you trust someone. So we’re thinking and concluding that perhaps it’s an expectation of a reward from God or from whatever being that they’re praying to, that’s being stimulated, or it might be simply because of the rhythm. We can’t decide. We can only go so far. The other one—the other result about social cognition—is very interesting because it shows that people are more moved in personal matters by a personal deity, probably conceived of as like a human-like creature, rather than this abstract, all-knowing, omnipresent creature that theology is reflecting on. And it also indicates that what defines us as being humans, as being social creatures, is at play when we are praying to a deity or to a greater creature.

CC: I’m just going to ask another couple of questions.

AG: Yes.

CC: Time is getting on.

AG: Okay.

CC: But what you were just saying there, that basically, what I understand is that as far as the brain’s concerned, when we’re talking to a deity—whether or not that deity exists, we’ll not comment on that—it’s like we’re talking to another person.

AG: Exactly.

CC: So in that sense, how do you find your research—this particular bit of research or cognitive sciences in general—are taken by religious individuals. You need them—you need people who are religious to participate in your experiments. So how do they react to your research?

AG: Yes, a very good question. It’s a very complicated situation to perform experiments with religious people because we of course must—we have respect for their religious beliefs. We’re not trying to disprove the existence of God or to disprove the effects that they claim that a religious behavior has. On the contrary, we want to try to find out what human, bodily, brain, and psychological mechanisms are involved in these… in their religious behavior. The press, however, has a completely different take on it, and they think that we’re proving or disproving. As a matter of fact, when we first published the experiment that I’ve just described to you, we got reactions from atheists who said, “Now you’ve proven that it’s just humans that are just thinking the way they usually do.” And we got supportive mails from religious people who were saying, “Now you’ve proven that God has given us the ability to communicate with him and it’s so much like being human that it’s quite natural.” And the fact is, we haven’t proven anything. What we’ve done is we’ve supported a particular hypothesis. Which can always—the part of doing science is that you present your results among your peers and they, then, if they think this is interesting, they might either move on, using some of the results that we have presented, or they might want to try to replicate what we’ve done. And if it’s conceivable that a team who would want to replicate our experiments would say, “Well, we couldn’t replicate your experiments so it doesn’t support your hypothesis.” So we always have to be open to the fact that our results are open to debate, and criticism, and negotiation.

            The people who participate, who are so kind and willing to help us in the experiments, of course have their own agendas. They’re not interested in our hypotheses and so forth. Although in some way, I think, it’s important for everyone, whether they’re religious or not, to understand what science is doing and understand what it can contribute to human life. But besides that, our religious participants, of course, are interested in showing that religious behavior helps. It helps in personal situations; it helps in social situations, and so forth. And they, of course, are also interested in finding out, how does that work, actually, physiologically. How does it work? So we share our results with them. We are very careful not to over-interpret our data, rather under-interpret rather than over-interpret, and making sure to deal with the press in a reticent manner so that there isn’t rampant claims about religious areas of the brain or religious activity or anything like that.

            Our young people, our team, consists of young scholars: Ph.D. students, post-docs, young established scholars who have done excellent fieldwork. Who understand reciprocity; who understand you have to give in order to receive. And they attend the religious services of the people that they ask to participate in their experiments and attend in other activities, social activities, and so forth. This is the way human beings deal with each other; you try and make a connection and you give and take. And they’ve done this; they’ve done it quite well. So we have people coming back to help us with our other experiments. So that’s the positive aspect. Of course there are people who are afraid and who maybe are afraid that we’re out to disprove something. But we’re always clear on that fact; we’re not trying to disprove anything.

CC: I’m afraid that we are out of time, so we we’ll have to call it a day, there. But thank you very much, Armin Geertz.

AG: You’re welcome. It’s my pleasure.

Citation Info: Geertz, Armin W. and Christopher R. Cotter. 2012. “Cognitive Approaches to the Study of Religion.” The Religious Studies Project (Podcast Transcript). 23 January 2012. Transcribed by Travis W. Cooper. Version 1.1, 25 September 2015. Available at: https://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/podcast/podcast-armin-geertz-on-cognitive-approaches-to-the-study-of-religion/