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Comedy, Comedians, and Church: The Interplay between Religion and Humor

mosehair-450x548Beyond the irony of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the Tony-Award winning musical, the Book of Mormon, or the use of a funny meme or two in the classroom, religion and humour are perhaps not two concepts one often considers together. However, the interplay between religion and humour comes in many forms; comedy films, stand-up comedy, musicals, satire, and kitsch products are just a few platforms in which religion and humor come together. In this RSP interview from our friends in Australia, Dr Elisha McIntyre discusses her research into religion and humour, particularly looking at comedic work The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints as well as a broad range of evangelical comedians. McIntyre discusses the use of religious comedy as a point of entertainment as well as an identity solidifier, evangelical tool, and preaching format within Christianity.

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Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – 13 December 2016

Dear subscriber,

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

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

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

Calls for papers

Conference: EASR 2017: Communicating Religion

September 18–21, 2017

University of Leuven, Belgium

Deadline: December 31, 2016

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

June 6–7, 2017

Rome, Italy

Deadline: December 30, 2016

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Conference: Religion & Power

March 23–24, 2017

UNC Charlotte, USA

Deadline: January 7, 2017

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Conference: The Cognition of Belief

June 2, 2017

Georgetown University, USA

Deadline: February 17, 2017

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Conference: Háskóli Íslands Student Conference on the Medieval North

April 7–8, 2017

University of Iceland, Iceland

Deadline: January 5, 2017

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

June 12–13, 2017

Åbo Akademi University, Finland

Deadline: December 31, 2017

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Journal: The Graduate Journal of Harvard Divinity School

2017 issue

Deadline: January 10, 2017

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Special issue: Peoples Temple and Jonestown

Deadline: February 28, 2017

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

April 6, 2017

Chicago, USA

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Grants

Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism, USA

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

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University of Erfurt, Germany

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Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – 29 November 2016

Dear subscriber,

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

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

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

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

Calls for papers

Anthology: Religion and Ethics in Contemporary Speculative Fiction

Deadline: January 1, 2017

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Conference: Old Norse Myth and Völkisch Ideology

September 6–8, 2017

Basel, Switzerland

Deadline: January 31, 2017

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Conference: Apocalypse and Authenticity

July 11–13, 2017

University of Hull, UK

Deadline: December 1, 2016

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

July 12–14, 2017

University of Leeds, UK

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Conference: British Association for Islamic Studies

April 11–13, 2017

University of Chester, UK

Deadline: November 30, 2016

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Conference: SISR/ISSR: Religion, Cooperation, and Conflict in Diverse Societies

4–7 July 2017

Lausanne, Switzerland

Deadline: January 10, 2017

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Journal: American Psychological Association

Special issue: American Atheism, Agnosticism, and Non-Religious Worldviews: Theoretical Models and Psychological Measurement

Deadline: March 31, 2017

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Journal: Religion, State & Society

Special issue: Religion and the Rise of Populism: Migration, Radicalism and New Nationalisms

Deadline: August 15, 2017

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Journal: Religions

Special issue: Religion and Genocide

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Summer School: Prophétologies musulmanes: discours et représentations

June 29 – July 5, 2017

Aix en Provence, France

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Symposium: 500 years: The Reformation and Its Resonations

September 14–15, 2017

Bedford, UK

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June 29–30, 2017

Bedford, UK

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Bedford, UK

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Conference: Communicative Figurations

December 7–9, 2016

Universität Bremen, Germany

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December 1, 2016, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m.

London, UK

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SSNB Roundtable: Who cares about unbelief?

December 2, 2016, 4 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.

London, UK

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December 2, 2016, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m.

London, UK

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December 7, 2016, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m.

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University of Virginia, USA

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Is Secularism a World Religion?

Regular listeners to the Religious Studies Project will know that we are not the biggest fans of the World Religions Paradigm. Indeed, it was James Cox’s excellent introduction to the topic back in February 2013, and the accompanying response that asked what Religious Studies should do “After the World Religions Paradigm…?” that prompted David and Chris, with some encouragement from Steve Sutcliffe, Russell McCutcheon and Craig Martin, to co-edit the volume “published in February 2016 with Routledge. Listeners will also be relatively familiar with the concept of “secularism”, “the secular” and so on – particularly from our podcasts with Joseph Blankholm on “Permutations of the Secular” and with Phil Zuckerman and John Shook on “Understanding the Secular“. Today we thought it would be an interesting exercise to weave these two strands together and rhetorically ask “Is Secularism a World Religion?” Discussion starts with the entanglement of the concepts ‘religion’ and ‘secularism’, a brief discussion of the problems associated with the World Religions Paradigm, and then moves to the pedagogical merits and challenges of teaching ‘secularism/s’ within a World Religions model. We hope you enjoy this experiment!


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


(pssst…check out these podcasts below too!)

Is Religion Special? A Critical Look at Religion, Wellbeing, and Prosociality with Luke Galen

Is religion ‘sui generis,? with Russell McCutcheon

Secular Humanism with Tom Flynn

The Secularisation Thesis with Linda Woodhead

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


Podcast with Donovan Schaefer (28th November 2016)

Interviewed by Christopher R. Cotter

Transcribed by Catrin J. Sawford

Audio and transcript available at: https://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/podcast/is-secularism-a-world-religion/

Christopher R. Cotter (CC): Regular listeners to the Religious Studies Project will know that we’re not the biggest fans of the “World religions” paradigm. Indeed, it was James Cox’s excellent introduction to the topic back in February 2013 and the accompanying response that asked what religious studies should do after the world religions paradigm that prompted David and I, with some encouragement from Steve Sutcliffe, Russell McCutcheon, and Craig Martin, to co-edit the volume ‘After World religions’, published in February 2016.  Listeners will also be relatively familiar with concepts of Secularism, the secular, and so on, particularly from podcasts with Joe Blankholm on Permutations of the Secular and with Phil Zuckerman and John Shook on Understanding the Secular.  Today we thought it would be an interesting exercise to weave these two strands together and rhetorically ask, ‘is Secularism a world religion?’ So I’m joined today to discuss this question by Donovan Schaefer at the British Association for the Study of Religion’s annual conference at the University of Wolverhampton. Dr Schaefer is departmental lecturer in science and religion, in the Faculty of Theology and Religion at Oxford University and his first book ‘Religious Affects, Animality, Evolution, and Power’ was published in November 2015 by Duke, and has current projects on the relationship between emotion, science, and Secularism. So Donovan, first off welcome to The Religious Studies Project.

Donovan Schaefer (DS): Thanks a lot Chris, thanks for having me.

(CC): It’s a pleasure. So first of all, in the spirit of rhetorically asking, why are we even asking this question? I mean, Secularism is surely as far removed from the category of world religions as we can get, I mean…why are you asking it?

(DS): Yeah, definitely. A lot of recent research has actually challenged that seemingly common-sensical argument that Secularism is the opposite of religion. This has come from a lot of different directions, historical analysis, cultural studies, even a lot of work in philosophy of religion has started to challenge this idea that there is a clear line between the secular and the religious.

(CC): Mm. And, because they’re so intertwined as concepts even if you were to accept they’re-

(DS): -Right.

(CC): opposites, you’ve always got the study…the opposites within…you know, you can’t know what religion is without studying it’s supposed opposite anyway.

(DS): Yeah, absolutely.

(CC): So, perhaps it would be best to start, I mean, we’ve covered the Secularisation Thesis and a lot of these topics in other podcasts but we should start with that, so let’s paint the context in which this question is being asked then.

(DS): Sure, so the Secularisation Thesis really gets off the ground in the 19th Century and it comes from a variety of different quarters in the sort of, early movements in sociology, some of the early conversations that are being asked in science and religion, late 20th Century, sorry, late 19th Century, philosophy of religion, all of these different conversations start to thematise this idea that religion is a specific thing in the world that is gradually going away.

(CC): Mmm.

(DS): Now, in the 20th century you have thinkers like Max Weber in sociology who formalise this, they make it, they make it even more of a kind of, article of social-scientific faith that religion is on a trajectory of decline. What happens though, is that, later in the 20th Century, you have these historical moments that start to challenge the Secularisation Thesis. So something like the rise of the religious right in the United States in the 1970s in reaction to things like the civil rights movement, or the (05:00) Roe V Wade Supreme Court ruling. The religious right by the mid to late 1970s has become an incredibly powerful force and of course in 1980 you have the election of Ronald Regan with a specifically Christian agenda backing him. Or even across the world, something like the Iranian revolution in 1978 to ’79 that creates a new Islamic Republic where previously there had been a secular state. Stuff like this, it’s just not supposed to happen according to the classical Secularisation narrative. There isn’t supposed to be a return of religion, religion is supposed to be evaporating. And that puts a, it puts pressure on the classical secularisation narrative. So scholars throughout the 1980s, 1990s and up to the present have started to ask questions about the secularisation narrative and have come up with a very robust dialogue about what went wrong with the classical secularisation paradigm and what will replace it.

(CC): Mmm. And that also sort of introduces an ideological element this sort of idea-

(DS): -Right.

 (CC): –that the notion of secularisation is itself a form of ideology, it’s a sort of…thinking of the way things should be-

(DS): Definitely, yeah.

(CC): -it’s not mirroring reality.

(DS): Right.

(CC): So we’ve already alluded to even if these things are dichotomous, obviously it’s studying them alongside each other so…many of us at Universities will be familiar with the standard introductory sort of  ‘here’s a survey of world religions’ like ‘Religion 101’ or something. So I think one of the questions you’re really asking is should… where’s the place of the secular in that sort of Religion 101 class?

(DS): Yeah, exactly.

(CC): Is it a World Religion, so if we’re going to segue into that, we’re going to need to talk about what is a world religion first of all, and then ask why we might want to try and fit the secular into that mould.

(DS): I mean I should really be asking you that but my take on it is that the idea of World religions again has its emergence in the 19th Century, it comes out of these 19th Century thinkers like Max Muller who are interested in making the study of religion into a science, they want to formalize the study of religion and turn it into something that moves away from the obviously supremacist classification scheme that had been used previously in Western Europe. That said though, Tomoko Masuzawa in her book ‘The Invention of World religions’ is actually…even though she spends a great deal of time sort of researching the archives, trying to find out where this paradigm comes from. Even she ultimately says she doesn’t know where it comes from. It emerges obviously through a sort of confluence of different conversations that are taking place throughout the 19th Century and early 20th century. Where precisely it comes from is…is a little bit opaque. Regardless, what we’re left with by the mid to late 20th Century is an understanding of religions as discrete objects that can be studied in the world that have particular histories, they’re often organised under a particular heading. Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism, and they’re very often structured around a specific text and a specific set of practices. And that structure is something that has become, at least at the level of the dissemination of religious studies in terms of undergraduate teaching, central.

(CC): Yes.

(DS): How did I do?

(CC): You did well, Sir, you did well. And it’s…Yes, so it’s sort of ubiquitous in undergraduate teaching and it’s ubiquitous in society, you know-

(DS): -Right

(CC): –we think about ‘what is your religion’ as a question that makes sense to people and then we have these certain silos-

(DS): -Right

(CC): -that we try and put that into. So yes, this has been…regardless of the origins of it this has been subjected to a number of critiques right so, it’s very Protestant, for example –

(DS): -Yeah.

(CC): –that idea of a text and it being about belief, you can only have one faith and all that sort of thing. This seemingly objective model sort of becomes Oh…that’s a little bit Protestant.

(DS): Definitely. And also something that I think we can see as being a by-product of (10:00) a particular idiom of 19th Century science. 19th Century science it’s the age of classification, it’s the age of grand theories, and that prison divides up the world in a particular way, and I think we can see the World religions paradigm as being a product of that particular way of thinking about the world.

(CC): Mmm. And that particular way of thinking about the world is deeply connected with Colonialism as well.

(DS): Definitely.

(CC): We were encountering others and then classifying them.

(DS): Absolutely.

(CC): ‘Classify and conquer’ was, I think was Max Muller’s term. And then of course it encourages this notion that there is a thing called religion that is made manifest in various forms.

(DS): Right.

(CC): So Russ McCutcheon would take great issue with that.

(DS): Yeah.

(CC): So given all that problem with the World religions paradigm why would we want to try and fit Secularism into that model. What would be the point, shouldn’t we just be jettisoning it?

(DS): Yeah, right. Well, I mean, I have a few thoughts on that. I am not…I’m not blanketly hostile to the World religions paradigm. I think that …I would give it about a six out of ten or a seven out of ten in terms of a pedagogical tool for explaining religion to undergraduates, especially if we start from the assumption that many undergraduates are only going to take one religious studies class. Is the World religions paradigm the best way of doing that? I’m not sure. But I don’t think that it necessarily is evil. However, I do think that it needs to be deconstructed from within. I think that precisely as we’re teaching students within this framework we need to be calling attention to the limitations of this framework. And part of the reason why I think it’s important to talk about Secularism within that context is because I think that it sets the stage for conversation about the World religions paradigm in and of itself.

(CC): Mmm. Yes, and the paradigm, you know, I think it was my colleague Kate Daley-Bailey described it as, you know, it’s a useful way of getting people from one side of the road to the other-

(DS): Absolutely.

(CC):– and if that’s what you need to do, you get them there. But you can also along the way be explaining to them why you chose that why of doing it if it wasn’t the best…

(DS): Exactly. Yeah, right.

(CC): Okay, so… let’s do this then. Let’s take the World religions model and let’s take the notion of Secularism. So how are we going to go about answering the question is it a world religion?

(DS): Definitely. So this is where I want to get a conversation started. I don’t have clear answers to this but what I sort of see us doing is shuffling the deck of Secularism studies into the deck of the World religions paradigm and just seeing what comes out on the other end. So I think that, in terms of a kind of structure, an overall architecture to this, there would be two ways of doing it. So Secularism studies scholars have roughly speaking two ways of talking about Secularism. One of the ways of talking about it is to say that Secularism is itself a particular iteration of Protestant Christianity, that we have the version of Secularism that we have because we are an offshoot of a cultural historical context that defined religion in a particular way. This goes back to something you were saying earlier about the inextricability of the category of religion from the category of the secular. It’s precisely because we see religion as something that is potentially private, individualised, and belief orientated that religion is something that can be relegated to the private sphere and therefore… and therefore secularised, according to the conventional definition.

(CC): Yeah. So we can see that there’s sort of like a Hegelian dialectic there even-

(DS): -Right.

(CC): -look to Feuerbach, and even… you know that we produce the… yeah the… As Christianity secularized… As Catholicism changed to Protestantism that started-

(DS): -Right.

(CC): -started a transition.

(DS): Yeah, absolutely. Or even like, one thing that historians and especially intellectual historians like Jonathan Z. Smith, Talal Asad, when he’s wearing that hat, or someone like Craig Calhoun, they really liked to emphasize the beginning of modernity and the immediate aftermath of the Protestant reformation.

(CC): Yeah.

(DS): So you could look at it theoretically in the way that religion gets defined as something that is personal rather than corporate. (15:00) You could look at it historically and the way that the resolution to the wars of religion that emerge in the aftermath of the reformation. The political…the political compromises that are made in that wake tend to make religion into something that is detachable, it’s something that is sort of, as Locke puts it, can be kept in the private sphere rather than the public sphere. All of these…all of these…all of these details of Protestantism, whether they’re sort of, part of the DNA of Protestantism or whether they’re sort of historical accidents that shoot off from Protestantism, they make up the coordinates of what would eventually become Secularism.

(CC): Okay.

(DS): So one of the ways that I could see us potentially integrating Secularism into the World religions classroom would be to talk about it as an offshoot from Christianity.

(CC): Mmhmm.

(DS): When we teach Christianity we teach Secularism as something that Christianity does in exactly the same way as you know, depending on how many days you have for teaching Christianity, you would give a sort of capsule history where you would talk about the great schisms, orthodoxy from Catholicism, Protestantism from Catholicism and then could also locate Secularism as, in a sense, another schism, as another permutation of Christianity that is part of the story of Christianity as a World Religion.

(CC): Mmm. And indeed, some of the annoyance that some proponents of Secularism feel with that approach to my mind indicates the very importance of taking that approach-

(DS): Exactly.

(CC): –because people don’t feel annoyance unless there’s some sort of deep connection to the category that you’re talking about.

(DS): I think that’s right and especially building on that if we’re talking about teaching students in a Western/Anglo/Euro/American context, we’re going to be teaching students who are going to be coming from a variety of faith positions some of whom will be coming from a non-faith position and probably see their status as mutual. They probably see the religions they’re looking at as in a sense, under glass, as something that is disconnected from where they are. And I think it’s important for those students to recognise that even the liberal Secular idiom that they might see themselves located within, has a history. That it, even it, the agenda of that is set by a particular set of Christian coordinates. Saba Mahmood has done some really excellent work on this, talking about the way that these sort of ostensibly secular legal codes throughout Europe actually privilege a kind of ghost of Christianity, that they are marshalled in the service of defending a sort of Christian heritage and they suppress other ways of being religious.

(CC): Yeah.

(DS): Even when they…they give Christianity a special sort of protection. A perfect example of this would be like the Burkini ban-

(CC): –Yes.

(DS): -that’s been happening in the summer of 2016 where Burkinis, this article of clothing that seems like it would be inoffensive enough has actually become offensive to French Secularism. Precisely because it is encoding a set of Christian presuppositions about ways that you are Secular and religious.

(CC): On that note I saw that, it was in the Guardian, they were quoting sort of, the ruling and it said it might offend the people’s (non) religious (non) convictions.

(DS): Exactly.

(CC): So your non-religious non-conviction might be offended by it, there’s something interesting going on there.

(DS): Exactly. I think that that’s exactly…I think that that’s a really important pedagogical manoeuvre  with students is showing them how even our own liberal democratic structures have a sort of conserved Christian genetic coding in them. That’s not to create an equivalence, that’s not to say that the difference aren’t meaningful, it’s just to say that we need to…we need to take a critical eye on our own intellectual inheritance rather than presupposing it’s neutral. So all of that would be one way that I would see Secularism entering the World religions paradigm… structure. I think there’s another way though, which would be equally interesting.

(CC): Mhhmm.

(DS): So one of the ways that scholars working in the mode of critical Secularism studies have approached Secularism is to say there is not just one Secularism.

(CC): Yeah.

(DS): There are in fact multiple Secularisms. This is the title of a book, an anthology (20:00) by Janet Jakobsen and Anne Pellegrini, ‘Secularisms’, and this, as I see it, is coming out of these two sort of, kind of, guiding lights of the critical Secularism studies field.  Talal Asad and Charles Taylor. So Talal Asad is very interested in this idea that the Secularism that we have is a result of a particular history and he says that rather than assuming that Secularism is going to be the same everywhere we anticipate a multiplicity of what he calls ‘formations of the Secular’.

(CC): Yeah.

(DS): There are different Secularisms that correspond to different historical moments, and they have different priorities, they have different coordinates, they have different outcomes precisely because their starting points, the sort of ingredients out of, the landscape out of which they secularise is different. So his sort of cardinal example of this is the difference between Christianity, especially Protestant Christianity and Islam. Protestant Christianity de-ritualises religion so its version of Secularism is a version of Secularism that doesn’t pay a lot of attention to ritual, doesn’t pay a lot of attention to practices. Asad will say, you know, when we have formations of the secular emerging out of Islamic contexts we need to be attentive to the way that they are…that they are…that they always keep an eye on practices. And the version, the formations of the Secular that emerge in these other contexts will have a different configuration. Charles Taylor calls this…he calls this ‘the myth of the subtraction story’. The myth of the subtraction story is this idea that once you get rid of religion, you’re left with a neutral landscape.

(CC): Yeah. Indeed, yeah, I’ve always thought of using a quotation from my supervisor Kim Knott who just says that there is no neutral point from which to observe religion-

(DS): -Right.

(CC): -we’re participants in that discourse. So would the logical outcome of that then be that if you were incorporating that Secularism(s) into the World religions classroom that you would sort of pair off-

(DS): -Yeah.

(CC):- you would teach Christianity and Christian Secularism, Islam and Islamic Secularism.

(DS): That’s what I’m thinking of. I’m, again, I’m presenting this conversationally, this isn’t something that I’m, I’m at a point where I could publish it but I think that we need to consider this possibility that the best way to teach Secularism within the context of the World religions classroom would be exactly this pairing, to say that Buddhist secularisms, Christian Secularisms, Jewish Secularisms, even we might want to get more specific than that, like Jewish Secularism in the United States, very different from Jewish Secularism in Israel. Islamic Secularism in Saudi Arabia is very different from Islamic Secularism in Iran. To thematise this I think would be a really productive way of getting Secularism into the conversation, but also raising this idea which I think is one of the challenges that you’ve, that you’ve sort of discussed very ably in your own work with Secularism, which is the way it creates a sort of silo model as you said it-

(CC):- Mhhmm.

(DS):- of these religions being sort of ahistorical, sort of fixed compilations of ideas and practices that can be very easily, sort of clinically diagnosed as you know-

(CC):- Mhhmm.

(DS): -you know like, okay, you’ve got, you’ve got your five pillars, you’ve got Islam. That’s not actually adequate, that’s never been adequate for teaching what religion is, but it’s particularly inadequate in the context of a situation, a global situation now, of accelerating mediatisation and globalisation where transactions between different traditions are becoming more and more…more and more rich. They’re just more and more…the dynamic between different traditions is becoming deeper and deeper. And I think that emphasising that localism of Secularism would be a way of raising that to the surface.

(CC): Mhhm. And this is exactly the sort of thing that we should be discussing at this conference, the theme being ‘religion beyond the textbook’.

(DS): Exactly.

(CC): So, conclusion then. So, are you going to do this?

(DS): Yeah, I think I will. I’m not in a situation right now where I teach world religions but as I think about, as I think about that syllabus next time that that portfolio falls into my lap it’s something that I’m actually quite excited to do, precisely because of the way that I think (25:00) it, it reciprocally calls attention to the limits of both the world religions paradigm, which I think is a useful, if limited, pedagogical tool, and the Secularisation narrative.

(CC): And how do we avoid…one of the main problems with subversively employing anything, so subversively employing the world religions category, is that your critical intent isn’t really communicated to the students, again as you say if they’ve come for a one semester course and then they’re gone, they’ve gone in and they’ve done the world religions course and they’ve come out. So say they’ve come to this course and they do a world religions and Secularisms thing and then they come out with this sort of very strict siloed model on Islamic Secularism is this, Christian Secularism is that, what, is there a danger there, going down that route, you could be sort of reifying the very distinction that we…

(DS): Yeah. I think all discourses have dangers. All discourses are going to be provisional ways of organising the abundance of information that is the world. And they’re always going to have certain limitations attached to them. I think that the best that we can do is inhabit those discourses with a sort of deconstructive eye. And my hope is that among other things I think that there are lots of ways of sort of reciprocally critiquing the world religions paradigm while teaching it. I’ve tried to do that in the past when I’ve taught world religions. I think that this method of introducing Secularism as a legitimate object of study within the architecture of the religions, world religions paradigm could be a way of amplifying that technique.

(CC): Yeah. And, you know, you can only resist the dominant expectations of your students so much before they stop coming to your classes and also I can see this being a really good exercise perhaps for higher level students, just to pose the question that we’ve asked-

(DS):- Right.

(CC): –is Secularism a world religion, set it as an essay topic or something, I can see some really excellent discussions happening there.

(DS): That would be fascinating. I mean, I think too, like, I absolutely agree with what you’re saying, that pedagogically that, I mean, there’s only so much we can do to sort of…there’s only so much we can do to sort of destabilise the way that students think, but I’m also…I’m also a firm believer in the pedagogical value of inhabiting something from the inside in order to destabilise it.

(CC): Mhhm.

(DS): Rather than standing so far outside of it that students can’t necessarily see what you’re doing.

(CC): Yeah.

(DS): And my hope is, and again I mean, this is just an optimism, it’s not something that I’ve actually put into play, and really I see it more of just a conversation starter in pedagogy circles than anything, and my hope is that this practice of introducing Secularism as an object of study within the context of the world religions paradigm would be a way of inhabiting that paradigm from the inside and leaving students with a very vivid impression of its own limitations.

(CC): That is a wonderful way to end. Bang on half an hour, so thanks so much Donovan.

(DS): Thanks so much Chris, this was wonderful.

(CC): Well, I very much enjoyed recording that interview with Donovan and we both were in the session where he presented that paper at the BASR.

David Robertson: Yeah I was going to mention that, there was an odd moment there. It wasn’t the best attended of sessions, I don’t think it got the audience it deserves let’s put it that way, but I think there was eight or nine people in the room of whom two, two of, were myself and Chris. And he immediately showed a picture of our book, ‘The RSP Volume’ you know, After World Religions, which you should read if you haven’t, and started attacking our argument, which was-

(CC): He didn’t attack our argument!

(DR): I thought it was wonderful, I loved every minute of it [laughs].

(CC): But yeah, it was one of those lovely moments that was sort of the first proper one in my “career” in quotation marks. And so hopefully the catchy title there will have dragged in some listeners, you might have thought ‘what, what, that’s ridiculous!’ But hearing Donovan talk about it as an interesting thought experiment, as a way of dismantling in a way the hegemony of the paradigm itself.

(DR): Indeed, and problematizing the term and its application and the rest of it, and Chris and I have talked about an After After World Religions, be it a journal or a second volume of the book, and Donovan is going to contribute to that (30:00) hopefully, if and when it happens.

(CC): You hear that Donovan? You’re under contract now.

(DR): He gave me a verbal agreement and in Scotland that’s legally binding. It was in Helsinki.

(CC): And in Wolverhampton. Same difference.

(DR): Was it?

(CC): Yes.

(DR): Oh. Either way, I’m Scottish so that’s binding.

[they laugh].

(DR): I think we may be showing too much of the man behind the curtain this week.


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

Religion, Youth, and Intergenerationality

When we think about ‘religion’ and ‘youth’ a number of images might come to mind. Young people rebelling against their parents. Young people as mere containers for the religiosity of their parents. Creative reinterpretation of stagnant traditions. Systemic abuse and lack of agency. And so on. In the context of the United Kingdom, where we are recording today, with its historically hegemonic Christianity, one scholar has written that

young_old

“It is no secret that Christian churches are struggling to attract and retain young people. The current generation of young people has largely abandoned the church or never known it as a significant part of their lives. The 2005 church census revealed that many churches have no young people at all in their congregations: around half have no 11- to 14-year-olds attending and well over half have no 15- to 19-year-olds (Brierley 2006).” (Stanton 2012, 385)

But of course, this misses much of what is going on. That scholar is Naomi Thompson (formerly Stanton) who joins us today on the Religious Studies Project to give us a more nuanced overview of the broad topic “Religion, Youth, and Intergenerationality.”

We begin this interview by asking what is ‘youth’? How do sociologists define it? What are some of the current trends in sociological research on youth? What, if anything, is distinctive about youth experience? Discussion then turns to ‘religion and youth’, focusing on why scholars might be interested in it, the current state of play, common assumptions, how we might go about researching it, before focusing on some of Dr Thompson’s own research. Towards the end of the interview, we focus on the ‘transmission model’ and the relationship between generations, before thinking to the future of this growing area of research.

This episode is the fourth in a series co-produced with Religion and Feminism‘ with Dawn Llewellyn, ‘Evangelicalism and Civic Space‘ with Anna Strhan, and ‘An Introduction to the Sociology of Religion‘ with Grace Davie.

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


References:

Stanton, Naomi. 2012. Christian youth work: teaching faith, filling churches or response to social need? Journal of Beliefs & Values, Vol. 33, No. 3, December 2012, 385–403

Difference or Diversity: Promoting Dialogue of Diversity as Religious Studies Professionals

Prof. Martin Stringer, now of Swansea University, once again lends his expertise in religious diversity to the Religious Studies Project. In this podcast, Prof. Stringer discusses the changes the discourse of religious diversity. After years of studying in different locations in the U.K. – Birmingham, London, Manchester – Stringer began noticing a pattern in the way people identify.  Prof. Stringer states it is important to recognize the significant changes to the discourse on diversity. No longer are people identifying based on countries of origin or their ethnicities, but people often proclaim their religious identity as their marker. This is much different from the conversations of the 1960s and 70s, where the conversation is based on the ethnicities migrating throughout Europe.

Stringer mentioned the work of Steven Vertovec, and his concept of “super-diversity.”  According to Vertovec, looking at diversity solely through the lens of ethnicity or country of origin is misleading and one-dimensional (2006, 1). Vertovec’s proposition of “super-diversity” acknowledges that there is a large array of variables that make up the diversity of an area. As researchers, we ought to look into the variables of age, immigration status, languages, gender, and as Stringer mentions, religion.

dividedTo expand upon Vertovec’s theory of super-diversity, Stringer emphasizes the importance for religious studies professionals to develop a language to use when discussing this type of diversity, and be in conversation with our elected officials. According to Stringer, the language used to discuss religion has been secularized so much so that it almost as if we are no longer discussing religion. Cultivating a proper lexicon to discuss religion in public sphere is where religious studies professionals come in. This vocabulary comes in particularly useful when discussing the current atmosphere surrounding immigration and the tension brought on by the refugee crisis. As we start recognizing the differences that make up super-diversity, religion is a key component.

As Stringer points out, discourse is divided along the lines of diversity and difference. When discourse focuses on difference, it divides the subjects along categorical boundaries. These categorical boundaries are socially constructed and further the narrative of “us vs. them”. However, when building discourse surrounding groups that are, yes, different, but focused on the commonalities, that is building a discourse on diversity. Those are the conversations we, as religious studies professionals, need to be having as outreach to the public and to our elected officials. Stringer points out that we must create this lexicon, promote, and make it accessible to the people that do not study religion as in-depth as us. In the case of immigrants and refugees, it is important that we recognize religious differences, and develop that language for the general public and elected officials to use. We can create a discourse of diversity, rather than allowing them to continue with the discourse of difference. If the conversation around migration changes, maybe the culture of suspicion and distrust towards migrants will change to one of welcome and empathy.

At first while listening to this podcast, I was having a difficult time figuring out what angle I wanted to write this response. All of the research Stringer mentions is centered on the U.K. As a student in the United States, I am not familiar with the neighborhoods he mentions nor the discourse he actually observes to draw his conclusions. However, I can relate what Stringer states to a very similar set of issues we are having in the U.S. We have the same issue of correct religious vocabulary to use while discussing religious diversity, the same lack of use of religious studies professionals in the political sphere, heated discussions of immigrants and refugees incited by the discourse of difference, and the division along categorical lines are exacerbated as these conversations persist.

As we have seen over the course of the last few years, the gap between the right and left has increased. Furthering the problematic discourse of difference that Stringer discusses. In agreement with Stringer, I fully believe that religious studies professionals must engage in civic matters more actively. It is not enough that we study the people that make our super-diverse communities. It is not enough that we understand the religious beliefs of the refugees fleeing Syria. In the United States, as in much of Europe, U.S. citizens are divided on whether we should accept more refugees from Syria or bar them and their religious beliefs. My own elected officials have introduced legislation to restrict the flow of refugees from areas with ISIS strongholds, in fear that Muslim radicals would be a part of the admitted refugees. What is my duty as somebody that studies human rights and religion? It is to bring these conversations to light, and lend my expertise to my elected officials. However, we cannot wait to have a seat at this table, but we must create it.

I don’t know if Prof. Stringer had this type of conversation in mind as he sat down with the Religious Studies Project, or throughout his research of super-diversity, but this is a conversation we must also have. We have seen violence increase after the Brexit vote, through a variety of news outlets and perspectives:

In the U.S. we see the vitriol and hate-filled rhetoric expounded by Donald Trump and the far right:

Many of the conversations centered in these situations are focused on the difference between us (citizens of our countries) or them (the migrants). I cannot speak to the discourse that is happening in the U.K., but I can speak to the discourse in the United States. It is one of division, fear, and hate, and one that religious studies professionals can lend their hand to, to calm the discussion and shift the conversation and culture from what makes us different to what our commonalities are to overcome those differences.

Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – 18 October 2016

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April 6–7, 2017

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May 19–21, 2017

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May 29–30, 2017

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Conference: Oral History Society: Remembering Beliefs

July 14–15, 2017

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Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – 20 September 2016

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

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Categorising “Religion”: From Case Studies to Methodology

The category of “religion” is often referred to as slippery or problematic. As such, scholars have sought to deconstruct the term in order to be free of its weight. But what happens after the deconstruction – where we go from there? How do we study particular cases? How are new groups officially recognised? What roles to scholars play in the application of the term to new groups? In this interview, Dr Teemu Taira discusses the role of marginal traditions in understanding the application of the term “religion” in differing context, in particular he discusses Karhun Kansa, the People of the Bear. This leads onto a methodological discussion on the use of the term and the role scholars play in this discourse.

Want to check out all of the great responses Taira’s podcast has prompted? Here’s a list: “The Deconstruction of Religion: So What?“; “Theoretical Veganism: Practicing Religious Studies without Religion“; “Whither the Study of Religion and Culture?“; “On deconstructing the deconstruction of the deconstruction of the category of religion“; “‘What happens after the deconstruction?’“; “The Blind Leading the Seeing“; “Shivers Up My Spine“; If you know of a response we may have missed, send us an email.

Religion and the Media, Studying Nonreligion in Religious Studies, and Religion in the UK 2011 Census. You can download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us. And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.com, or Amazon.ca links to support us at no additional cost when buying academic texts, door mats, LARPing gear, and more.


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


Categorising “Religion”: From Case Studies to Methodology

Podcast with Teemu Taira (19 September 2016).

Interviewed by Breann Fallon

Transcribed by Claire Berlinger.

Transcript available at: Taira – Categorising Religion 1.2

Breann Fallon (BF): The category of religion is often referred to as slippery or problematic. As such, scholars have sought to deconstruct the term in order to be free of its weight. But what happens after the deconstruction – where do we go from there? How do we study particular cases? How are new groups officially recognized? What roles do scholars play in the application of the term to new groups? To discuss his work on Karhun Kansa, the People of the Bear, the category of religion, and deconstruction methodologies, I have with me a long-time friend of the Religion Studies Project, Dr. Teemu Taira. Taira is a senior lecturer at the Department of the Study of Religions at the University of Helsinki, and Docent at the Department of Comparative Religion at the University of Turku. His recent publications include “Discourse on ‘Religion’ in Organizing Social Practices” in Making Religion and “Doing things with ‘Religion’: A Discursive Approach in Rethinking the World Religions Paradigm” in After World Religions. Thank you very much for joining us today.

Teemu Taira (TT): Thank you for inviting me.

BF: So, what we’re going to talk about today is part of a conference presentation that you presented at EASR 2016. If you just wanted to run through the idea of deconstructing the term “religion”it has a long history at the Religious Studies Project, it’s something we’ve talked about a lotbut the introduction you gave at the presentation was very useful, I think.

TT: I’ve been a big fan of scholars who have written critically about the category of “religion,” the fact that its history, its origins and emergents, and many of these scholars, such as Talal Asad, Daniel Dubuisson, Tim Fitzgerald, Russell McCutcheon, Brent Nongbri, J. Z. Smith , and many others have argued that religion is unhelpful and thoroughly problematic as a category. These scholars prefer in their understanding whether religion should be used at all in our analysis. Some say that it can be used for heuristic purposes in particular research, and some say that it’s better not to use it at all because the problems related to the category surpass the benefits of using it. This kind of work is largely understood to be deconstructive in a sense that these scholars have detected the history of the emergence of the modern category of religion and problematized its usefulness. And then, some scholars, actually quite many scholars, ask questions like, “Where do we go from here?” One particular example of this is an article by Kevin Schilbrack entitled “After We Deconstruct ‘Religion’: Then What?” that was published in 2013 in Method and Theory in the Study of Religion. My approach is in a way my answer to that question. (5:00)

BF: So, your answer to the questionwe might work through the case study of the People of the Bear. Would you like to tell us a little bit about the People of the Bear?

TT: Yeah. The People of the Bear, Karhun Kansa. We’re actually talking about a very small Finnish group. They have approximately 30 members, so it’s very small. It’s currently a registered religious community in Finland. They see themselves as part of Suomenusko, Finnish faith. There are other groups who see themselves as part of that same faith or religion, however they want to call it, but the People of the Bear is the only one that is registered as a religious community, and is the only one that has attempted to register as a religious community in Finland. The name “People of the Bear” comes from the idea that the bear is understood the mythical ancestor of mankind. This is actually quite an old idea that comes from Finnish pre-Christian mythology. In addition, they consider nature and its parts, places, certain stones, sacred. But they don’t define themselves as a pagan group, they never use the term in their application, but that’s how people often classify them. It has some affinities with other groups which as self-identifying as pagans. One thing that is quite important for the People of the Bear is that they consider Karhujuhla, a Finnish national epic, as inspiration for them, as well as all the things we know about Finnish pre-Christian worldviews and mythologies. That’s basically what Karhun Kansa is about.

BF: Why did they want to be recognized and how did that process go for them in becoming a “religion,” to use the term?

TT: Karhun Kansa applied for the status of religious community in 2012, and the case is very interesting because they first got their expert report from the committee, and that was negative. But in Finland, it is possible to revise the application, and then you have to adjust yourself to the demands of the committee. There are some formal requirements, but also some technical issues. You have to use certain terms and phrase your ideas in a certain way for you to be considered seriously to be registered as a religious community. Obviously, the revised application was much better than the first one, but what I think is very interesting in this particular case is that they also received a lot of media coverage after the first negative report. For me, personally, this is an interesting case because I was involved in that media debate. First, through my blog post, and then it was taken in by the mainstream media, and, in the end, I ended up having a media discussion with the Ministry of the Interior in Finland, who is responsible for naming the expert committee. We can’t really talk through the case today, about all the details regarding the media coverage and the nuances of the application, but, in any case, in December 2013, a new positive expert report was released, and soon after that the People of the Bear were registered as a religious community in Finland. One thing that is very interesting in the whole case is to ask why they wanted to become registered as a religious community. There are a couple of benefits you get if you are registered. You may get a license to conduct valid ceremonies like marriages, funerals, name-giving ceremonies, and so on, and you may become part of religious education in schools. (10:00) You are eligible to apply for financial support from the Ministry of Education. It’s not a lot of money, but it’s some. You get legal protection under the law concerning freedom of religion, and in general, you get recognition from the society and people in the same field as well. People usually then consider that you are not just a cult or devious group when you have something on paper, when you are a registered religious community. In the case of Karhun Kansa, a very interesting thing was the fact that they consider certain stones sacred. There was this case in 2010 already, in the city of Hämeenlinna, where the biggest cup stone from the Iron Age was removed in 2010 away from the expansion of a car sales company. In Finland there is this Antiquities Act that protects the stones, but it allows removal as long as the stones remain unbroken. In their application, the People of the Bear stated that they honor particular sacred places and bring gifts to them, and they used cup stones as an example. They emphasized that they consider cup stones as sacred in their original location because they are taught to be ancient sacrificial sites. In Finland, all registered religious communities are able to appeal to the law concerning the sanctity of religion under the law and religious freedom, and this was explicitly pronounced by the chairperson of the People of the Bear, Oskari Ratinen, that a successful registration process may help them to make a case that the locations of cup stones are sacred to them. Thus, their removal would count as a case against the sanctity of religion. You can see that there were obvious benefits to becoming a registered religious community for the People of the Bear.

BF: They definitely seem to be having much more of a voice when they’re registered, as opposed to an unregistered community, which wouldn’t have that weight behind the removal of the stones, so there’s definitely a big benefit there. Are there any other case studies that you think are relevant before we move on to the methodology side of the interview?

TT: There are plenty of case studies that are useful to compare with this case and others, and I’ll just mention some of the case studies that I’ve done, myself. I’ve studied Wiccans in Finland and their registration process. They failed in that, but that’s a very interesting case anyways, because in that process the expert committee was really trying to make up their mind whether Wiccans can be regarded as religious. I’ve also studied Jedis in Britain; I’ve done one case study concerning that. I’ve studied the Druid Network in Britain jointly with Suzanne Owen. We co-authored a chapter on the case where the Druid Network received charity-level status under the “religion” banner in England and Wales. Even though laws are different in different countries—and it doesn’t have to be about law, it can be about other institutions for example—many cases have clear connections, even when the law and the context is different.

BF: These case studieswhat do they teach us about methodology and using the term “religion?” Should we be outlining it in our articles? You know, “For the purpose of this work religion is going to be ‘this.'” Do you think that’s un-useful? Should we be using a term like “faith” or “tradition?” Where do we go from here with these case studies?

TT: I think overall these case studies show how people make use of the category of “religion,” (15:00) how they promote their own interests, but if we look from the other direction, they also show how we are governed by the category of “religion.” In studying these cases, I am highlighting quite strongly that I don’t define “religion” in these particular cases. I study those cases where other people negotiate what counts as religion, and why something counts as religion, and the consequences of those processes. It is quite clear that many people find it very tempting to ask, in these so-called “boundary cases,” whether in my definition this is really a religion, or if a group is really not a religion, and I try to emphasize that I’m not doing that at all. Even when I was a part of this media debate concerning the People of the Bear, I never suggested that the People of the Bear were a religion, or were not, and I never suggested that the group should be granted the status of a religious community. I was simply trying to highlight how a society operates by using that category. Still, it is quite common that people still ask you the question, “How do you define ‘religion’ then?” Then I have to say that within this setting I’m not. I’m not arguing that religion cannot be used or defined nominally for particular purposes, but I’m insisting that these cases, if they are studied without defining “religion,” are much more interesting, and I think the results are more interesting—at least, that’s my opinion. Of course, we can debate endlessly what counts as interesting and relevant, but that’s my approach, and I try to demonstrate by doing these case studies that other people can see if they find the analysis interesting.

BF: I think sometimes we get so hung up on, “is it a religion, is it not” that we miss what else the case can offer. I think in these examples, for example the People of the Bear, the idea that their sacred stones were being moved and that idea of legitimacy is, in my opinion, more interestingas you say, we could debate thatthan whether they were a religion or not. There’s so much more to these case studies than just yes or no, this sort of black-and-white thinking; I don’t know what you think about that. So, how do you think power plays into this whole matter of the term “religion” and naming different boundary groups?

TT: I tend to ask quite simple questions in these case studies, such as, “Who benefits off of being a religion?” or “Who benefits off of denying the religiosity of a group or a practice?” I can also ask, “How are we governed?” if I’m trying to look at the level of state or society more broadly, not just a particular group. I think it is quite clear that people achieve something by being a religion, but that happens within the governing structures of society, so by being a religion you gain some, but at the same time, you lose some. When you get some concrete benefits you are usually moulded in such a way that you have to adjust yourself to the criteria that is used in an institution, in law, or wherever. That is typically so that you have to represent your group as somehow reminiscent of Protestant Christianity. At the same time you are marginalized or domesticated in a way, some people say you are ‘depoliticized’ in a way. (20:00) The idea goes that being a religion definitely guarantees some privileges to selected groups, but at the same time it distances them from the so-called “secular centre” of society, that of political, so-called “secular” power. That’s one of the main—and very simple—example of how analysis of power is part of these cases.

BF: Are there any examples you can think of where a group really didn’t want to apply to be officially labelled a “religion” in legal terms?

TT: There are actually many cases, even in the cases I’ve analysed, for example, Wiccans in Finland and the Druid Network in England and Wales. There are definitely plenty of self-identifying Druids in Britain who didn’t want to be part of that Druid Network. They considered it something that domesticates Druidry, and that they lose some of the experience of the nature of Druidry, and maybe lose something about their radical nature or their self-image as being radical people or a radical group. In Finland, Wiccans were quite strongly divided. Some wanted to put in the application and become registered as a religious community, and some said that they weren’t a religious group at all, and that those who were applying were just a bunch of weirdos—that they weren’t proper Wiccans at all. Then there are examples like groups in Finland who don’t want to be classified as a religion because, even though they may qualify as a religion according to many—even most—scholarly definitions of religion. Some groups just don’t want to do it because that’s how they are able to attract people to their events—maybe not members, but people for events, because in Finland many people are officially members of the Lutheran Church. You get the question of exclusion, whether you accept that there are two religions or religious identities and things like that. Some groups consider it better not to go down that route or do that debate at all. People reflect and negotiate what is most useful for them.

BF: This discourse seems to be working on many levels. There’s an element of power, there’s an element of benefit, but also those who are kind of railing against that. I know in your presentation you had six big points to summarize the discourse. I don’t know if you just wanted to run through that to wrap up the interview?

TT: Yeah. We’ve been talking already about the two methodological points that I wanted to make first, that we don’t have to define religion in these cases, and second was highlighting that power ***. The third point is that I argue that discourse operates on many levels, it’s not simply by looking at the origin of the modern discourse on religion or the modern category of religion. There are many useful studies focusing on that, and they are very good, but they are mostly focusing on the 18th and 19th centuries. I think they don’t talk enough about the many functions of the category of religion. I think it’s a more situational and contextual issue, and that is why we need empirical case studies, and my small contribution has been to that scholarship. My fourth point was that I’m very interested in these boundary cases. That is how discourses operate: by exclusion, by negotiating in boundaries. I think it’s very interesting to study when we use Foucauldian terms, when simple utterances become seriously taken statements. When statements are taken seriously they become more effective, usually they need some institutional support, whether that’s in school, in law, in parliament, or somewhere else. (25:00) The point I want to highlight is that—because some people say, “Is it useful to study these small groups, these marginal groups?”—I’m not really studying these marginal groups. They are cases about how discourse on religion works and changes. In my presentation I even suggested that it seems to me that there is something like what I call a “reflexive moment” going on in the category* of religion. People have become more aware of the work that the category of religion can do. That is how all those debates are so topical at the moment. Religion becomes more discussed, contested, challenged, and so on. We can negotiate whether that is really going on, has it always been the case, and what is really the historical change in that, but I’m just putting it on the table so that people can develop or criticize. My sixth point was a self-reflective point about scholars who also produce discourse on religion. Scholars are not, and they cannot be, total outsiders in these debates. Sometimes scholars are directly involved by giving expert statements or commenting in the media, but even in cases where scholars are not directly involved, they are sometimes referred to. In that sense, you cannot be an outsider, and this is something that should be reflected on in the analysis. Analysing discourse is itself a discursive practice; although it’s a different kind of discursive practice, nonetheless, it’s part of the field. Especially this case about the People of the Bear is interesting for me personally because I was so strongly involved in the public debate. This is sort of my answer to Kevin Schilbrack’s question, “After we deconstruct religion, then what?” We can analyse these cases.

BF: Yeah. They’re definitely very useful, and, as you say, they give us so much to think about, not just in terms of, “Are they religion or are they not?” but the benefits and the power and everything that’s playing into it. Any concluding points to leave us with?

TT: I think there are methodological tools to be developed in studying these cases. I don’t think that we really need a step-by-step method on how to do these case studies. What we need is to test and develop a theoretical vocabulary, what kind of terms we use and how we think about what kind of data is appropriate for these kinds of case studies. I’m doing it myself and I hope that some others are inspired to do that too.

BF: Great. I think that this has definitely given us a lot to think about, particularly in not just looking at the big cases, the Scientology cases and things like that. These sort of, as you say, boundary cases are so important in our discussion and in learning where we stand as scholars. So, thank you very much for joining us, and we look forward to interviewing you next time.

TT: Thank you.


Citation Info: Taira, Teemu 2016. “Categorising ‘Religion’: From Case Studies to Methodology”, The Religious Studies Project (Podcast Transcript). 19 September 2016. Transcribed by Claire Berlinger. Version 1.1, 9 October 2017 Available at: https://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/podcast/categorising-religion-from-case-studies-to-methodology/

All transcriptions for THE RELIGIOUS STUDIES PROJECT 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.

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

Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – 13 September 2016

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Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – 6 September 2016

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RSP subscribers get a 30% discount on “Implicit Religion”!

Now published in collaboration with the Religious Studies Project, Implicit Religion was founded by Edward Bailey† in 1998 and formerly the Journal of the Centre for the Study of Implicit Religion and Contemporary Spirituality.

Subscribers to the RSP receive a 30% discount on subscriptions. Click here to access the journal’s subscription page and enter the code: DISCOUNT30

Exciting new directions for Implicit Religion:

This international journal offers a platform for scholarship that challenges the traditional boundary between religion and non-religion and the tacit assumptions underlying this distinction. It invites contributions from a critical perspective on various cultural formations that are usually excluded from religion by the gatekeeping practices of the general public, practitioners, the law, and even some scholars of religion. Taking a broad scope, Implicit Religion showcases analyses of material from the mundane to the extraordinary, but always with critical questions in mind such as: why is this data boundary-challenging? what do such marginal cases tell us about boundary management and category formation with respect to religion? and what interests are being served through acts of inclusion and exclusion?

Global(ized) religion and the study of religious tensions

This interview with global studies pioneer Mark Juergensmeyer takes on his keynote address at the 2016 Eastern International Meeting of the American Academy of Religion (EIR-AAR) at the University of Pittsburgh. Starting from a historical and comparative study of religion, Juergensmeyer advocates for a new approach to religion, as it exists today in a globalized framework. As such, in his most recent book, God in the Tumult of the Global Square (2015), he examines the ethical and moral dimensions brought on by environmental changes concerning religious people, spiritual, but not religious people, and the people who identify with none of those categories alike. He interrogates the intersections of different religions traditions, questions the world religion paradigm as taught in universities today, and examines new phenomena caused by decentralized localized antiauthoritarian characteristics of globalization.

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Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – 19 July 2016

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Conversion and Deconversion as Concepts in the Sociology of Religion

Religious conversion has traditionally been understood as the abandonment of one religious identity for another, or a switch from no religious identification to a newly religious one. Psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists, and others have viewed conversion as a sudden, singular event in one’s life. In the 1960s and 1970s, in the wake of new religious movements and the flowering of Asian religious traditions in the West, sociologists reformulated conversion as an active, gradual process of transformation.

Conversion, in these understandings, is not a changed subjective or ontological identity but rather a shift in one’s discursive universe, social relationships, and embodied practices, a new role learned through language, behavior, and interpersonal boundary maintenance. Similarly, deconversion and its scholarly synonyms (apostasy, alienation, disaffiliation, defection, exit, leaving) has many contexts, motivations, and processes, including loss of a specific religious experience, doubt or denial of beliefs, moral criticism, emotional suffering, and unlearning particular vocabularies and behaviors.

For this interview with Lynn Davidman, we focus on the concepts of conversion and deconversion*, illustrations of these processes in various contexts, what each term means and how each is experienced in someone’s life, the histories of these terms and their use in scholarship, and issues that arise from their conceptualization or use.

You can download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us. And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.com, or Amazon.ca links to support us at no additional cost when buying academic texts, jelly beans, the artist formally known as “Prince” memorial T-shirts, and more.

*Our interview took place during the Association for the Sociology of Religion annual meeting, held in Chicago. During our conversation, Davidman refers to comments made at an author-meets-critics panel about her new book which took place earlier that day.

*For more on conversion, see L. Rambo, Understanding Religious Conversion (1993) and L. Rambo and C. Farhadian, The Oxford Handbook of Religious Conversion (2014), as well as D. Snow and R. Machalek, “The Sociology of Conversion” (1984).

*For more on deconversion, see H. Streib et al, Deconversion (2009) and P. Zuckerman, Faith No More (2011).

Podcasts

Comedy, Comedians, and Church: The Interplay between Religion and Humor

mosehair-450x548Beyond the irony of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the Tony-Award winning musical, the Book of Mormon, or the use of a funny meme or two in the classroom, religion and humour are perhaps not two concepts one often considers together. However, the interplay between religion and humour comes in many forms; comedy films, stand-up comedy, musicals, satire, and kitsch products are just a few platforms in which religion and humor come together. In this RSP interview from our friends in Australia, Dr Elisha McIntyre discusses her research into religion and humour, particularly looking at comedic work The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints as well as a broad range of evangelical comedians. McIntyre discusses the use of religious comedy as a point of entertainment as well as an identity solidifier, evangelical tool, and preaching format within Christianity.

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Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – 13 December 2016

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Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – 29 November 2016

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Is Secularism a World Religion?

Regular listeners to the Religious Studies Project will know that we are not the biggest fans of the World Religions Paradigm. Indeed, it was James Cox’s excellent introduction to the topic back in February 2013, and the accompanying response that asked what Religious Studies should do “After the World Religions Paradigm…?” that prompted David and Chris, with some encouragement from Steve Sutcliffe, Russell McCutcheon and Craig Martin, to co-edit the volume “published in February 2016 with Routledge. Listeners will also be relatively familiar with the concept of “secularism”, “the secular” and so on – particularly from our podcasts with Joseph Blankholm on “Permutations of the Secular” and with Phil Zuckerman and John Shook on “Understanding the Secular“. Today we thought it would be an interesting exercise to weave these two strands together and rhetorically ask “Is Secularism a World Religion?” Discussion starts with the entanglement of the concepts ‘religion’ and ‘secularism’, a brief discussion of the problems associated with the World Religions Paradigm, and then moves to the pedagogical merits and challenges of teaching ‘secularism/s’ within a World Religions model. We hope you enjoy this experiment!


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


(pssst…check out these podcasts below too!)

Is Religion Special? A Critical Look at Religion, Wellbeing, and Prosociality with Luke Galen

Is religion ‘sui generis,? with Russell McCutcheon

Secular Humanism with Tom Flynn

The Secularisation Thesis with Linda Woodhead

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


Podcast with Donovan Schaefer (28th November 2016)

Interviewed by Christopher R. Cotter

Transcribed by Catrin J. Sawford

Audio and transcript available at: https://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/podcast/is-secularism-a-world-religion/

Christopher R. Cotter (CC): Regular listeners to the Religious Studies Project will know that we’re not the biggest fans of the “World religions” paradigm. Indeed, it was James Cox’s excellent introduction to the topic back in February 2013 and the accompanying response that asked what religious studies should do after the world religions paradigm that prompted David and I, with some encouragement from Steve Sutcliffe, Russell McCutcheon, and Craig Martin, to co-edit the volume ‘After World religions’, published in February 2016.  Listeners will also be relatively familiar with concepts of Secularism, the secular, and so on, particularly from podcasts with Joe Blankholm on Permutations of the Secular and with Phil Zuckerman and John Shook on Understanding the Secular.  Today we thought it would be an interesting exercise to weave these two strands together and rhetorically ask, ‘is Secularism a world religion?’ So I’m joined today to discuss this question by Donovan Schaefer at the British Association for the Study of Religion’s annual conference at the University of Wolverhampton. Dr Schaefer is departmental lecturer in science and religion, in the Faculty of Theology and Religion at Oxford University and his first book ‘Religious Affects, Animality, Evolution, and Power’ was published in November 2015 by Duke, and has current projects on the relationship between emotion, science, and Secularism. So Donovan, first off welcome to The Religious Studies Project.

Donovan Schaefer (DS): Thanks a lot Chris, thanks for having me.

(CC): It’s a pleasure. So first of all, in the spirit of rhetorically asking, why are we even asking this question? I mean, Secularism is surely as far removed from the category of world religions as we can get, I mean…why are you asking it?

(DS): Yeah, definitely. A lot of recent research has actually challenged that seemingly common-sensical argument that Secularism is the opposite of religion. This has come from a lot of different directions, historical analysis, cultural studies, even a lot of work in philosophy of religion has started to challenge this idea that there is a clear line between the secular and the religious.

(CC): Mm. And, because they’re so intertwined as concepts even if you were to accept they’re-

(DS): -Right.

(CC): opposites, you’ve always got the study…the opposites within…you know, you can’t know what religion is without studying it’s supposed opposite anyway.

(DS): Yeah, absolutely.

(CC): So, perhaps it would be best to start, I mean, we’ve covered the Secularisation Thesis and a lot of these topics in other podcasts but we should start with that, so let’s paint the context in which this question is being asked then.

(DS): Sure, so the Secularisation Thesis really gets off the ground in the 19th Century and it comes from a variety of different quarters in the sort of, early movements in sociology, some of the early conversations that are being asked in science and religion, late 20th Century, sorry, late 19th Century, philosophy of religion, all of these different conversations start to thematise this idea that religion is a specific thing in the world that is gradually going away.

(CC): Mmm.

(DS): Now, in the 20th century you have thinkers like Max Weber in sociology who formalise this, they make it, they make it even more of a kind of, article of social-scientific faith that religion is on a trajectory of decline. What happens though, is that, later in the 20th Century, you have these historical moments that start to challenge the Secularisation Thesis. So something like the rise of the religious right in the United States in the 1970s in reaction to things like the civil rights movement, or the (05:00) Roe V Wade Supreme Court ruling. The religious right by the mid to late 1970s has become an incredibly powerful force and of course in 1980 you have the election of Ronald Regan with a specifically Christian agenda backing him. Or even across the world, something like the Iranian revolution in 1978 to ’79 that creates a new Islamic Republic where previously there had been a secular state. Stuff like this, it’s just not supposed to happen according to the classical Secularisation narrative. There isn’t supposed to be a return of religion, religion is supposed to be evaporating. And that puts a, it puts pressure on the classical secularisation narrative. So scholars throughout the 1980s, 1990s and up to the present have started to ask questions about the secularisation narrative and have come up with a very robust dialogue about what went wrong with the classical secularisation paradigm and what will replace it.

(CC): Mmm. And that also sort of introduces an ideological element this sort of idea-

(DS): -Right.

 (CC): –that the notion of secularisation is itself a form of ideology, it’s a sort of…thinking of the way things should be-

(DS): Definitely, yeah.

(CC): -it’s not mirroring reality.

(DS): Right.

(CC): So we’ve already alluded to even if these things are dichotomous, obviously it’s studying them alongside each other so…many of us at Universities will be familiar with the standard introductory sort of  ‘here’s a survey of world religions’ like ‘Religion 101’ or something. So I think one of the questions you’re really asking is should… where’s the place of the secular in that sort of Religion 101 class?

(DS): Yeah, exactly.

(CC): Is it a World Religion, so if we’re going to segue into that, we’re going to need to talk about what is a world religion first of all, and then ask why we might want to try and fit the secular into that mould.

(DS): I mean I should really be asking you that but my take on it is that the idea of World religions again has its emergence in the 19th Century, it comes out of these 19th Century thinkers like Max Muller who are interested in making the study of religion into a science, they want to formalize the study of religion and turn it into something that moves away from the obviously supremacist classification scheme that had been used previously in Western Europe. That said though, Tomoko Masuzawa in her book ‘The Invention of World religions’ is actually…even though she spends a great deal of time sort of researching the archives, trying to find out where this paradigm comes from. Even she ultimately says she doesn’t know where it comes from. It emerges obviously through a sort of confluence of different conversations that are taking place throughout the 19th Century and early 20th century. Where precisely it comes from is…is a little bit opaque. Regardless, what we’re left with by the mid to late 20th Century is an understanding of religions as discrete objects that can be studied in the world that have particular histories, they’re often organised under a particular heading. Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism, and they’re very often structured around a specific text and a specific set of practices. And that structure is something that has become, at least at the level of the dissemination of religious studies in terms of undergraduate teaching, central.

(CC): Yes.

(DS): How did I do?

(CC): You did well, Sir, you did well. And it’s…Yes, so it’s sort of ubiquitous in undergraduate teaching and it’s ubiquitous in society, you know-

(DS): -Right

(CC): –we think about ‘what is your religion’ as a question that makes sense to people and then we have these certain silos-

(DS): -Right

(CC): -that we try and put that into. So yes, this has been…regardless of the origins of it this has been subjected to a number of critiques right so, it’s very Protestant, for example –

(DS): -Yeah.

(CC): –that idea of a text and it being about belief, you can only have one faith and all that sort of thing. This seemingly objective model sort of becomes Oh…that’s a little bit Protestant.

(DS): Definitely. And also something that I think we can see as being a by-product of (10:00) a particular idiom of 19th Century science. 19th Century science it’s the age of classification, it’s the age of grand theories, and that prison divides up the world in a particular way, and I think we can see the World religions paradigm as being a product of that particular way of thinking about the world.

(CC): Mmm. And that particular way of thinking about the world is deeply connected with Colonialism as well.

(DS): Definitely.

(CC): We were encountering others and then classifying them.

(DS): Absolutely.

(CC): ‘Classify and conquer’ was, I think was Max Muller’s term. And then of course it encourages this notion that there is a thing called religion that is made manifest in various forms.

(DS): Right.

(CC): So Russ McCutcheon would take great issue with that.

(DS): Yeah.

(CC): So given all that problem with the World religions paradigm why would we want to try and fit Secularism into that model. What would be the point, shouldn’t we just be jettisoning it?

(DS): Yeah, right. Well, I mean, I have a few thoughts on that. I am not…I’m not blanketly hostile to the World religions paradigm. I think that …I would give it about a six out of ten or a seven out of ten in terms of a pedagogical tool for explaining religion to undergraduates, especially if we start from the assumption that many undergraduates are only going to take one religious studies class. Is the World religions paradigm the best way of doing that? I’m not sure. But I don’t think that it necessarily is evil. However, I do think that it needs to be deconstructed from within. I think that precisely as we’re teaching students within this framework we need to be calling attention to the limitations of this framework. And part of the reason why I think it’s important to talk about Secularism within that context is because I think that it sets the stage for conversation about the World religions paradigm in and of itself.

(CC): Mmm. Yes, and the paradigm, you know, I think it was my colleague Kate Daley-Bailey described it as, you know, it’s a useful way of getting people from one side of the road to the other-

(DS): Absolutely.

(CC):– and if that’s what you need to do, you get them there. But you can also along the way be explaining to them why you chose that why of doing it if it wasn’t the best…

(DS): Exactly. Yeah, right.

(CC): Okay, so… let’s do this then. Let’s take the World religions model and let’s take the notion of Secularism. So how are we going to go about answering the question is it a world religion?

(DS): Definitely. So this is where I want to get a conversation started. I don’t have clear answers to this but what I sort of see us doing is shuffling the deck of Secularism studies into the deck of the World religions paradigm and just seeing what comes out on the other end. So I think that, in terms of a kind of structure, an overall architecture to this, there would be two ways of doing it. So Secularism studies scholars have roughly speaking two ways of talking about Secularism. One of the ways of talking about it is to say that Secularism is itself a particular iteration of Protestant Christianity, that we have the version of Secularism that we have because we are an offshoot of a cultural historical context that defined religion in a particular way. This goes back to something you were saying earlier about the inextricability of the category of religion from the category of the secular. It’s precisely because we see religion as something that is potentially private, individualised, and belief orientated that religion is something that can be relegated to the private sphere and therefore… and therefore secularised, according to the conventional definition.

(CC): Yeah. So we can see that there’s sort of like a Hegelian dialectic there even-

(DS): -Right.

(CC): -look to Feuerbach, and even… you know that we produce the… yeah the… As Christianity secularized… As Catholicism changed to Protestantism that started-

(DS): -Right.

(CC): -started a transition.

(DS): Yeah, absolutely. Or even like, one thing that historians and especially intellectual historians like Jonathan Z. Smith, Talal Asad, when he’s wearing that hat, or someone like Craig Calhoun, they really liked to emphasize the beginning of modernity and the immediate aftermath of the Protestant reformation.

(CC): Yeah.

(DS): So you could look at it theoretically in the way that religion gets defined as something that is personal rather than corporate. (15:00) You could look at it historically and the way that the resolution to the wars of religion that emerge in the aftermath of the reformation. The political…the political compromises that are made in that wake tend to make religion into something that is detachable, it’s something that is sort of, as Locke puts it, can be kept in the private sphere rather than the public sphere. All of these…all of these…all of these details of Protestantism, whether they’re sort of, part of the DNA of Protestantism or whether they’re sort of historical accidents that shoot off from Protestantism, they make up the coordinates of what would eventually become Secularism.

(CC): Okay.

(DS): So one of the ways that I could see us potentially integrating Secularism into the World religions classroom would be to talk about it as an offshoot from Christianity.

(CC): Mmhmm.

(DS): When we teach Christianity we teach Secularism as something that Christianity does in exactly the same way as you know, depending on how many days you have for teaching Christianity, you would give a sort of capsule history where you would talk about the great schisms, orthodoxy from Catholicism, Protestantism from Catholicism and then could also locate Secularism as, in a sense, another schism, as another permutation of Christianity that is part of the story of Christianity as a World Religion.

(CC): Mmm. And indeed, some of the annoyance that some proponents of Secularism feel with that approach to my mind indicates the very importance of taking that approach-

(DS): Exactly.

(CC): –because people don’t feel annoyance unless there’s some sort of deep connection to the category that you’re talking about.

(DS): I think that’s right and especially building on that if we’re talking about teaching students in a Western/Anglo/Euro/American context, we’re going to be teaching students who are going to be coming from a variety of faith positions some of whom will be coming from a non-faith position and probably see their status as mutual. They probably see the religions they’re looking at as in a sense, under glass, as something that is disconnected from where they are. And I think it’s important for those students to recognise that even the liberal Secular idiom that they might see themselves located within, has a history. That it, even it, the agenda of that is set by a particular set of Christian coordinates. Saba Mahmood has done some really excellent work on this, talking about the way that these sort of ostensibly secular legal codes throughout Europe actually privilege a kind of ghost of Christianity, that they are marshalled in the service of defending a sort of Christian heritage and they suppress other ways of being religious.

(CC): Yeah.

(DS): Even when they…they give Christianity a special sort of protection. A perfect example of this would be like the Burkini ban-

(CC): –Yes.

(DS): -that’s been happening in the summer of 2016 where Burkinis, this article of clothing that seems like it would be inoffensive enough has actually become offensive to French Secularism. Precisely because it is encoding a set of Christian presuppositions about ways that you are Secular and religious.

(CC): On that note I saw that, it was in the Guardian, they were quoting sort of, the ruling and it said it might offend the people’s (non) religious (non) convictions.

(DS): Exactly.

(CC): So your non-religious non-conviction might be offended by it, there’s something interesting going on there.

(DS): Exactly. I think that that’s exactly…I think that that’s a really important pedagogical manoeuvre  with students is showing them how even our own liberal democratic structures have a sort of conserved Christian genetic coding in them. That’s not to create an equivalence, that’s not to say that the difference aren’t meaningful, it’s just to say that we need to…we need to take a critical eye on our own intellectual inheritance rather than presupposing it’s neutral. So all of that would be one way that I would see Secularism entering the World religions paradigm… structure. I think there’s another way though, which would be equally interesting.

(CC): Mhhmm.

(DS): So one of the ways that scholars working in the mode of critical Secularism studies have approached Secularism is to say there is not just one Secularism.

(CC): Yeah.

(DS): There are in fact multiple Secularisms. This is the title of a book, an anthology (20:00) by Janet Jakobsen and Anne Pellegrini, ‘Secularisms’, and this, as I see it, is coming out of these two sort of, kind of, guiding lights of the critical Secularism studies field.  Talal Asad and Charles Taylor. So Talal Asad is very interested in this idea that the Secularism that we have is a result of a particular history and he says that rather than assuming that Secularism is going to be the same everywhere we anticipate a multiplicity of what he calls ‘formations of the Secular’.

(CC): Yeah.

(DS): There are different Secularisms that correspond to different historical moments, and they have different priorities, they have different coordinates, they have different outcomes precisely because their starting points, the sort of ingredients out of, the landscape out of which they secularise is different. So his sort of cardinal example of this is the difference between Christianity, especially Protestant Christianity and Islam. Protestant Christianity de-ritualises religion so its version of Secularism is a version of Secularism that doesn’t pay a lot of attention to ritual, doesn’t pay a lot of attention to practices. Asad will say, you know, when we have formations of the secular emerging out of Islamic contexts we need to be attentive to the way that they are…that they are…that they always keep an eye on practices. And the version, the formations of the Secular that emerge in these other contexts will have a different configuration. Charles Taylor calls this…he calls this ‘the myth of the subtraction story’. The myth of the subtraction story is this idea that once you get rid of religion, you’re left with a neutral landscape.

(CC): Yeah. Indeed, yeah, I’ve always thought of using a quotation from my supervisor Kim Knott who just says that there is no neutral point from which to observe religion-

(DS): -Right.

(CC): -we’re participants in that discourse. So would the logical outcome of that then be that if you were incorporating that Secularism(s) into the World religions classroom that you would sort of pair off-

(DS): -Yeah.

(CC):- you would teach Christianity and Christian Secularism, Islam and Islamic Secularism.

(DS): That’s what I’m thinking of. I’m, again, I’m presenting this conversationally, this isn’t something that I’m, I’m at a point where I could publish it but I think that we need to consider this possibility that the best way to teach Secularism within the context of the World religions classroom would be exactly this pairing, to say that Buddhist secularisms, Christian Secularisms, Jewish Secularisms, even we might want to get more specific than that, like Jewish Secularism in the United States, very different from Jewish Secularism in Israel. Islamic Secularism in Saudi Arabia is very different from Islamic Secularism in Iran. To thematise this I think would be a really productive way of getting Secularism into the conversation, but also raising this idea which I think is one of the challenges that you’ve, that you’ve sort of discussed very ably in your own work with Secularism, which is the way it creates a sort of silo model as you said it-

(CC):- Mhhmm.

(DS):- of these religions being sort of ahistorical, sort of fixed compilations of ideas and practices that can be very easily, sort of clinically diagnosed as you know-

(CC):- Mhhmm.

(DS): -you know like, okay, you’ve got, you’ve got your five pillars, you’ve got Islam. That’s not actually adequate, that’s never been adequate for teaching what religion is, but it’s particularly inadequate in the context of a situation, a global situation now, of accelerating mediatisation and globalisation where transactions between different traditions are becoming more and more…more and more rich. They’re just more and more…the dynamic between different traditions is becoming deeper and deeper. And I think that emphasising that localism of Secularism would be a way of raising that to the surface.

(CC): Mhhm. And this is exactly the sort of thing that we should be discussing at this conference, the theme being ‘religion beyond the textbook’.

(DS): Exactly.

(CC): So, conclusion then. So, are you going to do this?

(DS): Yeah, I think I will. I’m not in a situation right now where I teach world religions but as I think about, as I think about that syllabus next time that that portfolio falls into my lap it’s something that I’m actually quite excited to do, precisely because of the way that I think (25:00) it, it reciprocally calls attention to the limits of both the world religions paradigm, which I think is a useful, if limited, pedagogical tool, and the Secularisation narrative.

(CC): And how do we avoid…one of the main problems with subversively employing anything, so subversively employing the world religions category, is that your critical intent isn’t really communicated to the students, again as you say if they’ve come for a one semester course and then they’re gone, they’ve gone in and they’ve done the world religions course and they’ve come out. So say they’ve come to this course and they do a world religions and Secularisms thing and then they come out with this sort of very strict siloed model on Islamic Secularism is this, Christian Secularism is that, what, is there a danger there, going down that route, you could be sort of reifying the very distinction that we…

(DS): Yeah. I think all discourses have dangers. All discourses are going to be provisional ways of organising the abundance of information that is the world. And they’re always going to have certain limitations attached to them. I think that the best that we can do is inhabit those discourses with a sort of deconstructive eye. And my hope is that among other things I think that there are lots of ways of sort of reciprocally critiquing the world religions paradigm while teaching it. I’ve tried to do that in the past when I’ve taught world religions. I think that this method of introducing Secularism as a legitimate object of study within the architecture of the religions, world religions paradigm could be a way of amplifying that technique.

(CC): Yeah. And, you know, you can only resist the dominant expectations of your students so much before they stop coming to your classes and also I can see this being a really good exercise perhaps for higher level students, just to pose the question that we’ve asked-

(DS):- Right.

(CC): –is Secularism a world religion, set it as an essay topic or something, I can see some really excellent discussions happening there.

(DS): That would be fascinating. I mean, I think too, like, I absolutely agree with what you’re saying, that pedagogically that, I mean, there’s only so much we can do to sort of…there’s only so much we can do to sort of destabilise the way that students think, but I’m also…I’m also a firm believer in the pedagogical value of inhabiting something from the inside in order to destabilise it.

(CC): Mhhm.

(DS): Rather than standing so far outside of it that students can’t necessarily see what you’re doing.

(CC): Yeah.

(DS): And my hope is, and again I mean, this is just an optimism, it’s not something that I’ve actually put into play, and really I see it more of just a conversation starter in pedagogy circles than anything, and my hope is that this practice of introducing Secularism as an object of study within the context of the world religions paradigm would be a way of inhabiting that paradigm from the inside and leaving students with a very vivid impression of its own limitations.

(CC): That is a wonderful way to end. Bang on half an hour, so thanks so much Donovan.

(DS): Thanks so much Chris, this was wonderful.

(CC): Well, I very much enjoyed recording that interview with Donovan and we both were in the session where he presented that paper at the BASR.

David Robertson: Yeah I was going to mention that, there was an odd moment there. It wasn’t the best attended of sessions, I don’t think it got the audience it deserves let’s put it that way, but I think there was eight or nine people in the room of whom two, two of, were myself and Chris. And he immediately showed a picture of our book, ‘The RSP Volume’ you know, After World Religions, which you should read if you haven’t, and started attacking our argument, which was-

(CC): He didn’t attack our argument!

(DR): I thought it was wonderful, I loved every minute of it [laughs].

(CC): But yeah, it was one of those lovely moments that was sort of the first proper one in my “career” in quotation marks. And so hopefully the catchy title there will have dragged in some listeners, you might have thought ‘what, what, that’s ridiculous!’ But hearing Donovan talk about it as an interesting thought experiment, as a way of dismantling in a way the hegemony of the paradigm itself.

(DR): Indeed, and problematizing the term and its application and the rest of it, and Chris and I have talked about an After After World Religions, be it a journal or a second volume of the book, and Donovan is going to contribute to that (30:00) hopefully, if and when it happens.

(CC): You hear that Donovan? You’re under contract now.

(DR): He gave me a verbal agreement and in Scotland that’s legally binding. It was in Helsinki.

(CC): And in Wolverhampton. Same difference.

(DR): Was it?

(CC): Yes.

(DR): Oh. Either way, I’m Scottish so that’s binding.

[they laugh].

(DR): I think we may be showing too much of the man behind the curtain this week.


All transcriptions for THE RELIGIOUS STUDIES PROJECT 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.

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

Religion, Youth, and Intergenerationality

When we think about ‘religion’ and ‘youth’ a number of images might come to mind. Young people rebelling against their parents. Young people as mere containers for the religiosity of their parents. Creative reinterpretation of stagnant traditions. Systemic abuse and lack of agency. And so on. In the context of the United Kingdom, where we are recording today, with its historically hegemonic Christianity, one scholar has written that

young_old

“It is no secret that Christian churches are struggling to attract and retain young people. The current generation of young people has largely abandoned the church or never known it as a significant part of their lives. The 2005 church census revealed that many churches have no young people at all in their congregations: around half have no 11- to 14-year-olds attending and well over half have no 15- to 19-year-olds (Brierley 2006).” (Stanton 2012, 385)

But of course, this misses much of what is going on. That scholar is Naomi Thompson (formerly Stanton) who joins us today on the Religious Studies Project to give us a more nuanced overview of the broad topic “Religion, Youth, and Intergenerationality.”

We begin this interview by asking what is ‘youth’? How do sociologists define it? What are some of the current trends in sociological research on youth? What, if anything, is distinctive about youth experience? Discussion then turns to ‘religion and youth’, focusing on why scholars might be interested in it, the current state of play, common assumptions, how we might go about researching it, before focusing on some of Dr Thompson’s own research. Towards the end of the interview, we focus on the ‘transmission model’ and the relationship between generations, before thinking to the future of this growing area of research.

This episode is the fourth in a series co-produced with Religion and Feminism‘ with Dawn Llewellyn, ‘Evangelicalism and Civic Space‘ with Anna Strhan, and ‘An Introduction to the Sociology of Religion‘ with Grace Davie.

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


References:

Stanton, Naomi. 2012. Christian youth work: teaching faith, filling churches or response to social need? Journal of Beliefs & Values, Vol. 33, No. 3, December 2012, 385–403

Difference or Diversity: Promoting Dialogue of Diversity as Religious Studies Professionals

Prof. Martin Stringer, now of Swansea University, once again lends his expertise in religious diversity to the Religious Studies Project. In this podcast, Prof. Stringer discusses the changes the discourse of religious diversity. After years of studying in different locations in the U.K. – Birmingham, London, Manchester – Stringer began noticing a pattern in the way people identify.  Prof. Stringer states it is important to recognize the significant changes to the discourse on diversity. No longer are people identifying based on countries of origin or their ethnicities, but people often proclaim their religious identity as their marker. This is much different from the conversations of the 1960s and 70s, where the conversation is based on the ethnicities migrating throughout Europe.

Stringer mentioned the work of Steven Vertovec, and his concept of “super-diversity.”  According to Vertovec, looking at diversity solely through the lens of ethnicity or country of origin is misleading and one-dimensional (2006, 1). Vertovec’s proposition of “super-diversity” acknowledges that there is a large array of variables that make up the diversity of an area. As researchers, we ought to look into the variables of age, immigration status, languages, gender, and as Stringer mentions, religion.

dividedTo expand upon Vertovec’s theory of super-diversity, Stringer emphasizes the importance for religious studies professionals to develop a language to use when discussing this type of diversity, and be in conversation with our elected officials. According to Stringer, the language used to discuss religion has been secularized so much so that it almost as if we are no longer discussing religion. Cultivating a proper lexicon to discuss religion in public sphere is where religious studies professionals come in. This vocabulary comes in particularly useful when discussing the current atmosphere surrounding immigration and the tension brought on by the refugee crisis. As we start recognizing the differences that make up super-diversity, religion is a key component.

As Stringer points out, discourse is divided along the lines of diversity and difference. When discourse focuses on difference, it divides the subjects along categorical boundaries. These categorical boundaries are socially constructed and further the narrative of “us vs. them”. However, when building discourse surrounding groups that are, yes, different, but focused on the commonalities, that is building a discourse on diversity. Those are the conversations we, as religious studies professionals, need to be having as outreach to the public and to our elected officials. Stringer points out that we must create this lexicon, promote, and make it accessible to the people that do not study religion as in-depth as us. In the case of immigrants and refugees, it is important that we recognize religious differences, and develop that language for the general public and elected officials to use. We can create a discourse of diversity, rather than allowing them to continue with the discourse of difference. If the conversation around migration changes, maybe the culture of suspicion and distrust towards migrants will change to one of welcome and empathy.

At first while listening to this podcast, I was having a difficult time figuring out what angle I wanted to write this response. All of the research Stringer mentions is centered on the U.K. As a student in the United States, I am not familiar with the neighborhoods he mentions nor the discourse he actually observes to draw his conclusions. However, I can relate what Stringer states to a very similar set of issues we are having in the U.S. We have the same issue of correct religious vocabulary to use while discussing religious diversity, the same lack of use of religious studies professionals in the political sphere, heated discussions of immigrants and refugees incited by the discourse of difference, and the division along categorical lines are exacerbated as these conversations persist.

As we have seen over the course of the last few years, the gap between the right and left has increased. Furthering the problematic discourse of difference that Stringer discusses. In agreement with Stringer, I fully believe that religious studies professionals must engage in civic matters more actively. It is not enough that we study the people that make our super-diverse communities. It is not enough that we understand the religious beliefs of the refugees fleeing Syria. In the United States, as in much of Europe, U.S. citizens are divided on whether we should accept more refugees from Syria or bar them and their religious beliefs. My own elected officials have introduced legislation to restrict the flow of refugees from areas with ISIS strongholds, in fear that Muslim radicals would be a part of the admitted refugees. What is my duty as somebody that studies human rights and religion? It is to bring these conversations to light, and lend my expertise to my elected officials. However, we cannot wait to have a seat at this table, but we must create it.

I don’t know if Prof. Stringer had this type of conversation in mind as he sat down with the Religious Studies Project, or throughout his research of super-diversity, but this is a conversation we must also have. We have seen violence increase after the Brexit vote, through a variety of news outlets and perspectives:

In the U.S. we see the vitriol and hate-filled rhetoric expounded by Donald Trump and the far right:

Many of the conversations centered in these situations are focused on the difference between us (citizens of our countries) or them (the migrants). I cannot speak to the discourse that is happening in the U.K., but I can speak to the discourse in the United States. It is one of division, fear, and hate, and one that religious studies professionals can lend their hand to, to calm the discussion and shift the conversation and culture from what makes us different to what our commonalities are to overcome those differences.

Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – 18 October 2016

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Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – 20 September 2016

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Categorising “Religion”: From Case Studies to Methodology

The category of “religion” is often referred to as slippery or problematic. As such, scholars have sought to deconstruct the term in order to be free of its weight. But what happens after the deconstruction – where we go from there? How do we study particular cases? How are new groups officially recognised? What roles to scholars play in the application of the term to new groups? In this interview, Dr Teemu Taira discusses the role of marginal traditions in understanding the application of the term “religion” in differing context, in particular he discusses Karhun Kansa, the People of the Bear. This leads onto a methodological discussion on the use of the term and the role scholars play in this discourse.

Want to check out all of the great responses Taira’s podcast has prompted? Here’s a list: “The Deconstruction of Religion: So What?“; “Theoretical Veganism: Practicing Religious Studies without Religion“; “Whither the Study of Religion and Culture?“; “On deconstructing the deconstruction of the deconstruction of the category of religion“; “‘What happens after the deconstruction?’“; “The Blind Leading the Seeing“; “Shivers Up My Spine“; If you know of a response we may have missed, send us an email.

Religion and the Media, Studying Nonreligion in Religious Studies, and Religion in the UK 2011 Census. You can download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us. And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.com, or Amazon.ca links to support us at no additional cost when buying academic texts, door mats, LARPing gear, and more.


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


Categorising “Religion”: From Case Studies to Methodology

Podcast with Teemu Taira (19 September 2016).

Interviewed by Breann Fallon

Transcribed by Claire Berlinger.

Transcript available at: Taira – Categorising Religion 1.2

Breann Fallon (BF): The category of religion is often referred to as slippery or problematic. As such, scholars have sought to deconstruct the term in order to be free of its weight. But what happens after the deconstruction – where do we go from there? How do we study particular cases? How are new groups officially recognized? What roles do scholars play in the application of the term to new groups? To discuss his work on Karhun Kansa, the People of the Bear, the category of religion, and deconstruction methodologies, I have with me a long-time friend of the Religion Studies Project, Dr. Teemu Taira. Taira is a senior lecturer at the Department of the Study of Religions at the University of Helsinki, and Docent at the Department of Comparative Religion at the University of Turku. His recent publications include “Discourse on ‘Religion’ in Organizing Social Practices” in Making Religion and “Doing things with ‘Religion’: A Discursive Approach in Rethinking the World Religions Paradigm” in After World Religions. Thank you very much for joining us today.

Teemu Taira (TT): Thank you for inviting me.

BF: So, what we’re going to talk about today is part of a conference presentation that you presented at EASR 2016. If you just wanted to run through the idea of deconstructing the term “religion”it has a long history at the Religious Studies Project, it’s something we’ve talked about a lotbut the introduction you gave at the presentation was very useful, I think.

TT: I’ve been a big fan of scholars who have written critically about the category of “religion,” the fact that its history, its origins and emergents, and many of these scholars, such as Talal Asad, Daniel Dubuisson, Tim Fitzgerald, Russell McCutcheon, Brent Nongbri, J. Z. Smith , and many others have argued that religion is unhelpful and thoroughly problematic as a category. These scholars prefer in their understanding whether religion should be used at all in our analysis. Some say that it can be used for heuristic purposes in particular research, and some say that it’s better not to use it at all because the problems related to the category surpass the benefits of using it. This kind of work is largely understood to be deconstructive in a sense that these scholars have detected the history of the emergence of the modern category of religion and problematized its usefulness. And then, some scholars, actually quite many scholars, ask questions like, “Where do we go from here?” One particular example of this is an article by Kevin Schilbrack entitled “After We Deconstruct ‘Religion’: Then What?” that was published in 2013 in Method and Theory in the Study of Religion. My approach is in a way my answer to that question. (5:00)

BF: So, your answer to the questionwe might work through the case study of the People of the Bear. Would you like to tell us a little bit about the People of the Bear?

TT: Yeah. The People of the Bear, Karhun Kansa. We’re actually talking about a very small Finnish group. They have approximately 30 members, so it’s very small. It’s currently a registered religious community in Finland. They see themselves as part of Suomenusko, Finnish faith. There are other groups who see themselves as part of that same faith or religion, however they want to call it, but the People of the Bear is the only one that is registered as a religious community, and is the only one that has attempted to register as a religious community in Finland. The name “People of the Bear” comes from the idea that the bear is understood the mythical ancestor of mankind. This is actually quite an old idea that comes from Finnish pre-Christian mythology. In addition, they consider nature and its parts, places, certain stones, sacred. But they don’t define themselves as a pagan group, they never use the term in their application, but that’s how people often classify them. It has some affinities with other groups which as self-identifying as pagans. One thing that is quite important for the People of the Bear is that they consider Karhujuhla, a Finnish national epic, as inspiration for them, as well as all the things we know about Finnish pre-Christian worldviews and mythologies. That’s basically what Karhun Kansa is about.

BF: Why did they want to be recognized and how did that process go for them in becoming a “religion,” to use the term?

TT: Karhun Kansa applied for the status of religious community in 2012, and the case is very interesting because they first got their expert report from the committee, and that was negative. But in Finland, it is possible to revise the application, and then you have to adjust yourself to the demands of the committee. There are some formal requirements, but also some technical issues. You have to use certain terms and phrase your ideas in a certain way for you to be considered seriously to be registered as a religious community. Obviously, the revised application was much better than the first one, but what I think is very interesting in this particular case is that they also received a lot of media coverage after the first negative report. For me, personally, this is an interesting case because I was involved in that media debate. First, through my blog post, and then it was taken in by the mainstream media, and, in the end, I ended up having a media discussion with the Ministry of the Interior in Finland, who is responsible for naming the expert committee. We can’t really talk through the case today, about all the details regarding the media coverage and the nuances of the application, but, in any case, in December 2013, a new positive expert report was released, and soon after that the People of the Bear were registered as a religious community in Finland. One thing that is very interesting in the whole case is to ask why they wanted to become registered as a religious community. There are a couple of benefits you get if you are registered. You may get a license to conduct valid ceremonies like marriages, funerals, name-giving ceremonies, and so on, and you may become part of religious education in schools. (10:00) You are eligible to apply for financial support from the Ministry of Education. It’s not a lot of money, but it’s some. You get legal protection under the law concerning freedom of religion, and in general, you get recognition from the society and people in the same field as well. People usually then consider that you are not just a cult or devious group when you have something on paper, when you are a registered religious community. In the case of Karhun Kansa, a very interesting thing was the fact that they consider certain stones sacred. There was this case in 2010 already, in the city of Hämeenlinna, where the biggest cup stone from the Iron Age was removed in 2010 away from the expansion of a car sales company. In Finland there is this Antiquities Act that protects the stones, but it allows removal as long as the stones remain unbroken. In their application, the People of the Bear stated that they honor particular sacred places and bring gifts to them, and they used cup stones as an example. They emphasized that they consider cup stones as sacred in their original location because they are taught to be ancient sacrificial sites. In Finland, all registered religious communities are able to appeal to the law concerning the sanctity of religion under the law and religious freedom, and this was explicitly pronounced by the chairperson of the People of the Bear, Oskari Ratinen, that a successful registration process may help them to make a case that the locations of cup stones are sacred to them. Thus, their removal would count as a case against the sanctity of religion. You can see that there were obvious benefits to becoming a registered religious community for the People of the Bear.

BF: They definitely seem to be having much more of a voice when they’re registered, as opposed to an unregistered community, which wouldn’t have that weight behind the removal of the stones, so there’s definitely a big benefit there. Are there any other case studies that you think are relevant before we move on to the methodology side of the interview?

TT: There are plenty of case studies that are useful to compare with this case and others, and I’ll just mention some of the case studies that I’ve done, myself. I’ve studied Wiccans in Finland and their registration process. They failed in that, but that’s a very interesting case anyways, because in that process the expert committee was really trying to make up their mind whether Wiccans can be regarded as religious. I’ve also studied Jedis in Britain; I’ve done one case study concerning that. I’ve studied the Druid Network in Britain jointly with Suzanne Owen. We co-authored a chapter on the case where the Druid Network received charity-level status under the “religion” banner in England and Wales. Even though laws are different in different countries—and it doesn’t have to be about law, it can be about other institutions for example—many cases have clear connections, even when the law and the context is different.

BF: These case studieswhat do they teach us about methodology and using the term “religion?” Should we be outlining it in our articles? You know, “For the purpose of this work religion is going to be ‘this.'” Do you think that’s un-useful? Should we be using a term like “faith” or “tradition?” Where do we go from here with these case studies?

TT: I think overall these case studies show how people make use of the category of “religion,” (15:00) how they promote their own interests, but if we look from the other direction, they also show how we are governed by the category of “religion.” In studying these cases, I am highlighting quite strongly that I don’t define “religion” in these particular cases. I study those cases where other people negotiate what counts as religion, and why something counts as religion, and the consequences of those processes. It is quite clear that many people find it very tempting to ask, in these so-called “boundary cases,” whether in my definition this is really a religion, or if a group is really not a religion, and I try to emphasize that I’m not doing that at all. Even when I was a part of this media debate concerning the People of the Bear, I never suggested that the People of the Bear were a religion, or were not, and I never suggested that the group should be granted the status of a religious community. I was simply trying to highlight how a society operates by using that category. Still, it is quite common that people still ask you the question, “How do you define ‘religion’ then?” Then I have to say that within this setting I’m not. I’m not arguing that religion cannot be used or defined nominally for particular purposes, but I’m insisting that these cases, if they are studied without defining “religion,” are much more interesting, and I think the results are more interesting—at least, that’s my opinion. Of course, we can debate endlessly what counts as interesting and relevant, but that’s my approach, and I try to demonstrate by doing these case studies that other people can see if they find the analysis interesting.

BF: I think sometimes we get so hung up on, “is it a religion, is it not” that we miss what else the case can offer. I think in these examples, for example the People of the Bear, the idea that their sacred stones were being moved and that idea of legitimacy is, in my opinion, more interestingas you say, we could debate thatthan whether they were a religion or not. There’s so much more to these case studies than just yes or no, this sort of black-and-white thinking; I don’t know what you think about that. So, how do you think power plays into this whole matter of the term “religion” and naming different boundary groups?

TT: I tend to ask quite simple questions in these case studies, such as, “Who benefits off of being a religion?” or “Who benefits off of denying the religiosity of a group or a practice?” I can also ask, “How are we governed?” if I’m trying to look at the level of state or society more broadly, not just a particular group. I think it is quite clear that people achieve something by being a religion, but that happens within the governing structures of society, so by being a religion you gain some, but at the same time, you lose some. When you get some concrete benefits you are usually moulded in such a way that you have to adjust yourself to the criteria that is used in an institution, in law, or wherever. That is typically so that you have to represent your group as somehow reminiscent of Protestant Christianity. At the same time you are marginalized or domesticated in a way, some people say you are ‘depoliticized’ in a way. (20:00) The idea goes that being a religion definitely guarantees some privileges to selected groups, but at the same time it distances them from the so-called “secular centre” of society, that of political, so-called “secular” power. That’s one of the main—and very simple—example of how analysis of power is part of these cases.

BF: Are there any examples you can think of where a group really didn’t want to apply to be officially labelled a “religion” in legal terms?

TT: There are actually many cases, even in the cases I’ve analysed, for example, Wiccans in Finland and the Druid Network in England and Wales. There are definitely plenty of self-identifying Druids in Britain who didn’t want to be part of that Druid Network. They considered it something that domesticates Druidry, and that they lose some of the experience of the nature of Druidry, and maybe lose something about their radical nature or their self-image as being radical people or a radical group. In Finland, Wiccans were quite strongly divided. Some wanted to put in the application and become registered as a religious community, and some said that they weren’t a religious group at all, and that those who were applying were just a bunch of weirdos—that they weren’t proper Wiccans at all. Then there are examples like groups in Finland who don’t want to be classified as a religion because, even though they may qualify as a religion according to many—even most—scholarly definitions of religion. Some groups just don’t want to do it because that’s how they are able to attract people to their events—maybe not members, but people for events, because in Finland many people are officially members of the Lutheran Church. You get the question of exclusion, whether you accept that there are two religions or religious identities and things like that. Some groups consider it better not to go down that route or do that debate at all. People reflect and negotiate what is most useful for them.

BF: This discourse seems to be working on many levels. There’s an element of power, there’s an element of benefit, but also those who are kind of railing against that. I know in your presentation you had six big points to summarize the discourse. I don’t know if you just wanted to run through that to wrap up the interview?

TT: Yeah. We’ve been talking already about the two methodological points that I wanted to make first, that we don’t have to define religion in these cases, and second was highlighting that power ***. The third point is that I argue that discourse operates on many levels, it’s not simply by looking at the origin of the modern discourse on religion or the modern category of religion. There are many useful studies focusing on that, and they are very good, but they are mostly focusing on the 18th and 19th centuries. I think they don’t talk enough about the many functions of the category of religion. I think it’s a more situational and contextual issue, and that is why we need empirical case studies, and my small contribution has been to that scholarship. My fourth point was that I’m very interested in these boundary cases. That is how discourses operate: by exclusion, by negotiating in boundaries. I think it’s very interesting to study when we use Foucauldian terms, when simple utterances become seriously taken statements. When statements are taken seriously they become more effective, usually they need some institutional support, whether that’s in school, in law, in parliament, or somewhere else. (25:00) The point I want to highlight is that—because some people say, “Is it useful to study these small groups, these marginal groups?”—I’m not really studying these marginal groups. They are cases about how discourse on religion works and changes. In my presentation I even suggested that it seems to me that there is something like what I call a “reflexive moment” going on in the category* of religion. People have become more aware of the work that the category of religion can do. That is how all those debates are so topical at the moment. Religion becomes more discussed, contested, challenged, and so on. We can negotiate whether that is really going on, has it always been the case, and what is really the historical change in that, but I’m just putting it on the table so that people can develop or criticize. My sixth point was a self-reflective point about scholars who also produce discourse on religion. Scholars are not, and they cannot be, total outsiders in these debates. Sometimes scholars are directly involved by giving expert statements or commenting in the media, but even in cases where scholars are not directly involved, they are sometimes referred to. In that sense, you cannot be an outsider, and this is something that should be reflected on in the analysis. Analysing discourse is itself a discursive practice; although it’s a different kind of discursive practice, nonetheless, it’s part of the field. Especially this case about the People of the Bear is interesting for me personally because I was so strongly involved in the public debate. This is sort of my answer to Kevin Schilbrack’s question, “After we deconstruct religion, then what?” We can analyse these cases.

BF: Yeah. They’re definitely very useful, and, as you say, they give us so much to think about, not just in terms of, “Are they religion or are they not?” but the benefits and the power and everything that’s playing into it. Any concluding points to leave us with?

TT: I think there are methodological tools to be developed in studying these cases. I don’t think that we really need a step-by-step method on how to do these case studies. What we need is to test and develop a theoretical vocabulary, what kind of terms we use and how we think about what kind of data is appropriate for these kinds of case studies. I’m doing it myself and I hope that some others are inspired to do that too.

BF: Great. I think that this has definitely given us a lot to think about, particularly in not just looking at the big cases, the Scientology cases and things like that. These sort of, as you say, boundary cases are so important in our discussion and in learning where we stand as scholars. So, thank you very much for joining us, and we look forward to interviewing you next time.

TT: Thank you.


Citation Info: Taira, Teemu 2016. “Categorising ‘Religion’: From Case Studies to Methodology”, The Religious Studies Project (Podcast Transcript). 19 September 2016. Transcribed by Claire Berlinger. Version 1.1, 9 October 2017 Available at: https://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/podcast/categorising-religion-from-case-studies-to-methodology/

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Global(ized) religion and the study of religious tensions

This interview with global studies pioneer Mark Juergensmeyer takes on his keynote address at the 2016 Eastern International Meeting of the American Academy of Religion (EIR-AAR) at the University of Pittsburgh. Starting from a historical and comparative study of religion, Juergensmeyer advocates for a new approach to religion, as it exists today in a globalized framework. As such, in his most recent book, God in the Tumult of the Global Square (2015), he examines the ethical and moral dimensions brought on by environmental changes concerning religious people, spiritual, but not religious people, and the people who identify with none of those categories alike. He interrogates the intersections of different religions traditions, questions the world religion paradigm as taught in universities today, and examines new phenomena caused by decentralized localized antiauthoritarian characteristics of globalization.

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Conversion and Deconversion as Concepts in the Sociology of Religion

Religious conversion has traditionally been understood as the abandonment of one religious identity for another, or a switch from no religious identification to a newly religious one. Psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists, and others have viewed conversion as a sudden, singular event in one’s life. In the 1960s and 1970s, in the wake of new religious movements and the flowering of Asian religious traditions in the West, sociologists reformulated conversion as an active, gradual process of transformation.

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*Our interview took place during the Association for the Sociology of Religion annual meeting, held in Chicago. During our conversation, Davidman refers to comments made at an author-meets-critics panel about her new book which took place earlier that day.

*For more on conversion, see L. Rambo, Understanding Religious Conversion (1993) and L. Rambo and C. Farhadian, The Oxford Handbook of Religious Conversion (2014), as well as D. Snow and R. Machalek, “The Sociology of Conversion” (1984).

*For more on deconversion, see H. Streib et al, Deconversion (2009) and P. Zuckerman, Faith No More (2011).