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Sociology of Religion – and Religious Studies?

“You got your sociology of religion in my religious studies!” “You got religious studies in my sociology of religion!” – DELICIOUS

What makes the sociology of religion and Religious Studies distinct from each other – if anything? Paul-Francois Tremlett, Titus Hjelm and David Robertson discuss what the two approaches have in common, and how they differ. Importantly, they consider how they might learn from each other. Does the sociology of religion over-rely on surveys, or could RS benefit from such large-scale data? Is Religious Studies overly-concerned with theory and definitions, or could sociology benefit from a more critically-nuanced approach? Why is it that sociologists seem to have the ear of policy-makers when RS scholars do not?

This episode is the sixth in a series of seven entitled “New Directions in the Sociology of Religion”, co-produced with SOCREL to celebrate their 40th anniversary.

Be sure to check out the other podcasts in this series, such as ‘Religion and Feminism‘ with Dawn Llewellyn, ‘Evangelicalism and Civic Space‘ with Anna Strhan,  ‘An Introduction to the Sociology of Religion‘ with Grace Davie, ‘Researching Radicalisation‘ with Matthew Francis, and ‘Religion, youth, and Intergenerationality‘ with Naomi Thompson.

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, Wu Tang Clan gear, Cornish sea salt, and more.

 

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!

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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

More information

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

More information

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

July 12–14, 2017

University of Leeds, UK

Deadline: December 9, 2016

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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

Deadline: March 15, 2017

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Summer School: Prophétologies musulmanes: discours et représentations

June 29 – July 5, 2017

Aix en Provence, France

Deadline: January 4, 2017

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Symposium: 500 years: The Reformation and Its Resonations

September 14–15, 2017

Bedford, UK

Deadline: April 30, 2017

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Symposium: Climate and Apocalypse

June 29–30, 2017

Bedford, UK

Deadline: February 28, 2017

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Symposium: Violence and Millenarian Movements

April 6–7, 2017

Bedford, UK

Deadline: December 31, 2016

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Events

Conference: Communicative Figurations

December 7–9, 2016

Universität Bremen, Germany

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SSNB Lecture Series: Evangelical and Tablighi Pioneers on Post-Atheist Frontiers

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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NSRN Annual Lecture: Is atheism a religion?

December 2, 2016, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m.

London, UK

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SSNB Lecture Series: Jewish atheists in foxholes? Phenomenologies of violence and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

December 7, 2016, 6 p.m. – 8 p.m.

London, UK

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Jobs and funding

Faculty Fellowships: Summer Institute for Israel Studies

Brandeis University, USA

Deadline: January 20, 2017

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Lecturer: Modern Jewish Studies

Pennsylvania State University, USA

Deadline: March 19, 2017

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Postdoctoral position: Religion and Its Publics

University of Virginia, USA

Deadline: December 15, 2016

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Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – 22 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.

Thank you!

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

Calls for papers

Conference: Re-Inventing Eastern Europe

January 27–28, 2017

Belgrade, Serbia

Deadline: December 10, 2016

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Posters: L’archéologie funéraire en Italie du Sud

March 24–25, 2017

Paris, France

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Symposium: Pentecostal Charismatic Christianities in Australia

August 11–12, 2017

Sydney University, Australia

Deadline: January 13, 2017

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Symposium, workshop: Mythology, discourse, and authority: Retrospective methods in cultural research

November 22–23, 2016

University of Helsinki, Finland

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Workshop: The Irish Network for the Study of Esotericism and Paganism

March 31, 2017

University College Cork, Ireland

Deadline: December 21, 2016

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Events

Report Launch: Scotting Muslims in Numbers

November 29, 2016, 5:30 p.m. – 7 p.m.

University of Edinburgh, UK

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

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

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

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

Communism and Catholicism: Religion and Religious Studies in Lithuania

Under Communism, religion was suppressed in the formerly Catholic Eastern European country of Lithuania until the 1990s. Milda Ališauskienė tells David Robertson about the religious field like in a country where religion was banned for half of the 20th century. Do we see a simple resurgence of Catholicism, or something more complex? What about New Religious Movements – are there new forms of vernacular Lithuanian religious expression? How does immigration affect this field?

indexThe second half of the interview discusses the practicalities of how you go about setting up and running a Religious Studies department in a post-Soviet country such as Lithuania. While there was no academic study of religion during the Soviet era, this has also affected the public perception of the need for such a study. This interview presents a fascinating inside look at the study of religion between two hegemonies – Communism and Catholicism.

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 Che Guevara T-shirts, Rosaries, Pokemon Go, and many other capitalist goods.

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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Religious Studies as a Discipline

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

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

Listeners might also be interested in our previous podcasts on Religion as Sui Generis, The Relationship between Theology and Religious Studies, Teaching and Learning in Contemporary Religious Studies, The Critical Study of Religion, and Biblical Studies and Religious Studies. You can download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us . And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.com, or Amazon.ca links to support us at no additional cost when buying academic texts, storage boxes, tiny shoes and more.

Method and Theory in the Cognitive Sciences of Religion

podcast with the Religious Studies Project in 2014, Dr. Robert McCauley gave an overview of some of these processes cognitive scientists appeal to in accounting for religion (e.g., agent detection, theory of mind), as well as a 2015 North American Association for the Study of Religion (NAASR) conference (and thanks to their support), McCauley discusses methodological and theoretical issues within CSR. He begins by tackling the topic of “naturalism” vs. “supernaturalism” in explaining religion, moving on to how these explanations function at different levels of analysis and integration. In closing, McCauley discusses the relationship between the humanities and the sciences, some successful and not so successful CSR theories, and the interplay between explanations emphasizing cognition and culture.

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, video games, indulgences, and more.

See you in the next life? Cognitive foundations of reincarnation beliefs

Human reincarnation: Same person, different body, another life. From established theological doctrines to local folk beliefs, the idea that deceased individuals may be “reborn” into the body of another can be found all over the world (White, In press). Since the writings of philosopher John Locke in the 17th century, establishing personal identity has primarily focused on memory. The interplay between memories and what constitutes a person’s identity plays an interesting role in reincarnation beliefs. For example, when juxtaposed alongside theologies that teach that the individual undergoes mental or physical changes in the process of rebirth, how can this same individual be identified in the new life if they have undergone changes (White, 2015)? In this podcast, Dr. Claire White brings the tools of cognitive science of religion (CSR) to bear on this question and several others surrounding reincarnation beliefs.  

Dr. White begins  by discussing the ongoing research at her laboratory at California State University, Northridge. She goes on to introduce the topic of reincarnation, noting that only recently has CSR paid much attention to these types of beliefs. While conceptual scaffolding surrounding the idea of reincarnation can vary widely from culture to culture, Dr. White draws on some of her recent research pointing out that many similarities exist in how individuals reason about and discern the pre-rebirth identities of the reincarnated. In closing, Dr. White shares some preliminary insights gathered from her ethnography of “past-life groups” in the western United States. Interested in why some individuals may be attracted to these groups, she suggests the groups may function as a form of psychotherapy and self-actualization for those attending.

Listeners may also be interested in our previous podcasts on Religion and Memory, and Cognitive Approaches to the Study of Religion. 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, small dinosaur figurines, poppy seeds, and more.

Many thanks to NAASR for facilitating the recording of this interview.

References

  • White, C. (2015). Establishing Personal Identity in Reincarnation: Minds and Bodies Reconsidered. Journal Of Cognition And Culture, 15(3-4), 402-429. http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/15685373-12342158
  • White, C. (In press). The Cognitive Foundations of Reincarnation. Method and Theory in the Study of Religion.

Report: 2015 Joint Conferences of the New Zealand and Australian Associations for the Study of Religion

Conference report for The Religious Studies Project by Bruno Marshall Shirley and John H. Shaver

The biennial conference of the New Zealand Association for the Study of Religions (NZASR) and the annual conference of the Australian Association for the Study of Religions (AASR) were held together in Queenstown, New Zealand from December 8-10 2015. Interdisciplinary perspectives and theoretical approaches across the humanities and social sciences were evident in the wide-range of papers presented. Islam, and Asian religions more generally, were the most consistent objects of focus, perhaps unsurprising given Australasia’s proximity to Asia and recent increased media attention to the Islamic State.

The Manata room at the Mercure Resort Queenstown, which hosted the conference.

The Manata room at the Mercure Resort Queenstown, which hosted the conference.

The conference’s emphasis on Asia and Islam were evident in the keynote lectures. In a talk entitled “Creativity and Ethical Life in India,” Tulasi Srinivas (Emerson College) described religious innovations in Bangalore and the sense of “wonder” that they often inspire. She argued that scholars ought to take emerging religious practices seriously, rather than as anomalies or deviations from established, textually-based understandings of religion. Turning to Japan, Douglas Ezzy (University of Tasmania) argued that Shint­ō is best considered a “religion of practice” in contrast to those traditional conceptions of religion as belief-oriented. He suggested that while a non-Christian can attend mass at a Christian place of worship and not be “doing Christianity,” a tourist at a Shint­ō shrine participating in its various ritual practices might be said to be “doing Shint­ō.” For many Japanese Shint­ō is not associated with doctrinal belief (shūkyō), which allows people to engage with Shint­ō ritual practice while not accepting its cosmology. Some in the audience disagreed with Ezzy’s analysis of Shint­ō and its relationship to shūkyō, but his call for a renewed focus on religious practice was generally appreciated. Sally McAra (University of Auckland), looked at one traditionally Asian religion, Buddhism, in the Australasian context. She discussed the problems facing an anthropologist conducting ethnographic research among their own group, principally a difficulty in carrying out objective analyses, due to a positive bias towards group ideals.

The final keynote lecture, from Gary D. Bouma (Monash University), turned to Islam and to Western discourses about the “threat” that each other poses. Bouma argued that both anti-Western and anti-Muslim narratives shared several key features: both narratives assert that the “other” is incorrect in some way; each is reinforced due to media bias; and both narratives are responsible for the perpetuation of conflict. Bouma’s most significant point was that Religious Studies scholars have a responsibility to discredit these discourses – particularly anti-Muslim narratives in the West, such as those put forth by Trump or Abbot. These narratives, Bouma argued, serve to legitimise attempts to gain power at the expense of civil liberties, and/or to divert attention from their own violence (including structural violence, domestic violence, or even climate change).

Comfort Max-Wirth presenting her paper "Political Manipulation of the Occult in Ghana: Embracing the Occult," in the panel "Religion in/and Politics."

Comfort Max-Wirth presenting her paper “Political Manipulation of the Occult in Ghana: Embracing the Occult,” in the panel “Religion in/and Politics.”

The panel “Contemporary Religions” continued the central foci on Asian religions and Islam. A paper by Douglas Osto (Massey) (based on his forthcoming book, Altered States: Buddhism and Psychedelic Spirituality in America, Columbia UP, 2016) outlined the history of “Psychedelic Buddhism” from the 1950s into the present, and the changing attitudes of American Buddhist practitioners towards mind-altering drugs. Osto described how some practitioners used psychedelic drugs as a “door” to advanced states of mind, before graduating to “pure” meditation practices, while others (notably Joan Halifax) continued to use drugs to supplement their meditative practices. Although psychedelia has been investigated before, Osto’s study represents the first serious examination of psychedelic Buddhism as a non-systemic religious movement, and is sure to lead to further studies of other hybrid Buddhist practices in the West. Buddhism was also the focus of a panel on “Buddhist Tales and Territories,” which featured a paper by Chaisit Suwanvarangkul (University of Otago) on the relevance of dharmakāya and the tathāgatagarbha doctrine to Therāvada Buddhism, as well as to the Mahāyāna. Suwanvarangkul’s paper was partially in response to an earlier paper by Michael Radich (Victoria University of Wellington), presented at the 2007 Australian Association of Buddhist Studies conference, entitled “There is no Dhammakāya in the Pāli Canon.” Suwanvarangkul’s inclusion of the Chinese Āgama as Theravāda was the subject of some controversy, as Osto pointed out that, despite parallels to the Theravāda nikāya, the Chinese āgama contain several key differences from the Theravāda texts. The panel also included papers by Anna Halafoff and Matthew Clarke (both of Deakin University) on the role of Songdhammakalyani monastery (Thailand) in promoting gender equality; Chiew Hui Ho (University of Sydney) on Chinese tales about the Diamond Sutra and their role in encouraging faith; and Phra Akbordin Rattana (University of Otago) on the model of Buddha devotion expressed in the Mārabandha chapter of the Paṭhamasambodhi-kathā.

Papers in the panel “Religion and the State” shared a common theme of distinctions between “religious practice” and “political actions” breaking down, in cases drawn from China, Japan, and Sri Lanka. Melissa Inoue (University of Auckland) discussed China’s True Jesus Church and its “miraculous” discourse. She argued that by directing attention to this-worldly affairs, the discourse indirectly both critiques and affirms contemporary Chinese society and the stewardship of the party-state. Ben Schonthal (University of Otago) turned to Sri Lanka and the (legal) case of a Buddhist monk who was denied an application for a driver’s license on the grounds that it was not appropriate for monks to drive. He argued that this was fundamentally a problem of contested authority over religious practice in Sri Lanka, arising from an ambiguous constitutionalising of religion. Bruno M. Shirley (Victoria University of Wellington) called for a post-secular rethinking of “religious violence” using the case study of Sri Lanka’s Bodu Bala Senā. Shirley suggested that explanations for religious violence, generally and in Sri Lanka specifically, have tended to assume a secularist dichotomy of “religion” and “politics” that is inadequate for dealing with the relationship between Buddhism, politics, and violence in Sri Lanka. Shirley suggested instead that we might reconsider this relationship within a framework of identity politics.

Dr. Will Sweetman (University of Otago) presenting his paper "Is ISIS Islamic? Category Formation in the Academic Study of Religion," in the panel "Naming Islamism."

Dr. Will Sweetman (University of Otago) presenting his paper “Is ISIS Islamic? Category Formation in the Academic Study of Religion,” in the panel “Naming Islamism.”

The panel “Naming Islamism,” was by far the most controversial of the conference. Will Sweetman (University of Otago), Christopher van der Krogt (Massey University), Douglas Pratt (University of Waikato), William E. Shepard (University of Canterbury), and audience members debated whether or not the Islamic State could be considered an authentic iteration of “Islam.” Van der Krogt argued that such a debate represents a misunderstanding of religion, and Islam in particular, while Sweetman argued that there is no basis for denying the Islamic State’s self-identification as Muslim. Several audience members disagreed with this assertion, instead arguing that Islam did indeed have some core norms and values with which the Islamic State does not conform. This panel also included less controversial papers by Shepard (University of Canterbury), on the development of Sayyid Qutb’s views on gender relations, and Pratt, on the Islamic State’s “theological ideology.”

Not all of the panels at the conference focussed on Asia or on Islam, and of these the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study (NZAVS) panel is particularly notable for being the most empirically-oriented of the conference. The first NZAVS talk was delivered by the director of the study, Chris Sibley, a psychologist from the University of Auckland. Sibley described the breadth of the study and some of the many challenges inherent to large-scale longitudinal data collection. Joseph Bulbulia (Victoria University of Wellington) then detailed a few of the more significant findings pertaining to religion that have emerged from the NZAVS, including his work on the distinct “faith signatures” that span and defy traditional denominational categorization. Following these talks, Geoffrey Troughton (Victoria University of Wellington) described the history of the “Christian Not Further Declared (NFD)” designation in the New Zealand census, and then used NZAVS data to describe the demographic characteristics of those individuals that have recently come to identify with this tremendously growing group. The panel concluded with John Shaver (Victoria University of Wellington) describing the complex, but unique, picture of religion and prejudice/ tolerance in New Zealand. Although highly religious New Zealanders are more tolerant of many social groups (including ethnic and religious out-groups) than their secular counterparts, they are also less tolerant of some other groups (e.g., homosexuals). Shaver interpreted this pattern as a result of the differential flexibility of human values. He argued that those values associated with conservatism are necessary for the cultural transmission of religion and are therefore less free to vary across cultures, while those that are less relevant to transmission are subject to greater environmental influence.

Perhaps due to the University of Otago’s excellent choice to host the conference in scenic Queenstown, the conference was relatively well-attended by NZASR standards, and a strong Australian presence was a welcome addition to the conference’s academic and social events. While Asia and Islam were focal, the range of perspectives and disciplinary approaches made for interesting discussions, both in panels and informally. The conference demonstrated that the study of religions in New Zealand and Australia continues to broaden its interdisciplinary focus.

Discursive Approaches and the Crises of Religious Studies

Discursive analysis of one kind or another is perhaps the most prominent methodology in the study of religion today. The linguistic turn took longer to influence Religious Studies than many other areas of the social sciences, but in recent years this approach has produced some hugely influential works which challenge many of the traditional assumptions of the field. In this interview recorded at the 2015 IAHR Congress in Erfurt, Kocku von Stuckrad tells David G. Robertson how discursive approaches might help solve the challenges of contemporary Religious Studies: the crisis of representation; the situated observer; and the dilemma of essentialism and relativism.

Bruce Lincoln and Titus Hjelm, and feature essays by Ethan Quillen, David Gordon White, Martin Lepage, Emily Stratton, and Craig Martin. 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, wooden chess sets, monkey nuts, and more!

NAASR 2015 Annual Meeting: A Report from the Field

The North American Association for the Study of Religion (NAASR) held its annual meeting last week in connection with the American Academy of Religion (AAR) and Society for Biblical Literature (SBL) conference in Atlanta, GA. Conference report for The Religious Studies Project by Matt Sheedy.

The theme for this year’s NAASR panels was “Theory in a Time of Excess,” which aimed to signal a basic problem in the study of religions; that despite increased attention and inclusion of debates on method and theory within the field over the last 30-odd years, it would appear, to quote the description on NAASR’s website, “that few of the many examples of doing theory today involve either meta-reflection on the practical conditions of the field or rigorously explanatory studies of religion’s cause(s) or function(s).” Accordingly, this year’s NAASR panels were designed to re-examine just what we mean by “theory” in the study of religion—e.g., should we follow an inclusive, “big tent” approach, or something more precise?

Be sure to wear your NAASR button! Photo thanks to NAASR.

Be sure to wear your NAASR button! Photo thanks to NAASR.

Four pre-circulated papers were presented on November 20-21, each of which included a panel of respondents:

1 “On the Restraint of Theory,” by Jason N. Blum

2 “What the Cognitive Science of Religion Is (And Is Not),” by Claire White

3 “Of Cognitive Science, Bricolage, and Brandom,” by Matt Bagger

4 “The High Stakes of Identifying (with) One’s Object of Study,” by Merinda Simmons

These panels presented a variety of critical approaches to the study of religion—materialist phenomenology, cognitive science of religion, cognitive science and analytic philosophy, and culture and identity studies—in order to explore some competing ideas of what constitutes “theory” in the study of religion, with responses from a variety of early career scholars who were chosen because of their own distance from the approaches in question.

Some questions and ideas that came out of these well-attended discussions (an average of 40-50 per session, by my count) included:

  • Can we speak about “religious” consciousness and experience without privileging particularistic and ahistorical perspectives?
  • Theory challenges us to realize that we are always fictionalizing our data.
  • What is the role of realism and inter-subjective reasoning in our work? Or, to put it differently, what are the lines between theory and addressing practical concerns as they appear in the social world today?
  • How can we address tensions between “naturally occurring” patterns of human cognition (e.g., the tendency to attribute agency to unknown forces) vs. the role of culture in shaping conceptions of the supernatural in the cognitive science of religion (CSR)?
  • Can religion be explained scientifically, as many CSR scholars would have it, or is the term religion itself too unstable to signify a coherent object of study?
  • Can we still talk about “religious belief” in the study of religion?
  • What is new about the “new materialism” (e.g., the return to questions of the body)? Is it merely repeating the idea of “lived religions” or something else altogether?
  • To what extent does one’s position in the academy (e.g., as a grad student, adjunct, or professor) determine what they can and cannot say in terms of their desire to critique certain aspects of the field?

During the NAASR business meeting, it was announced that Steven Ramey will be joining Aaron Hughes as the new co-editor of the NAASR-affiliated journal Method & Theory in the Study of Religion, and that the panel proceedings from this year’s conference will be turned into a book with Equinox Publishing. Providing opportunities for early career scholars was a constant topic of discussion at the conference, as well as the need to draw in new members—though it was noted that there was a significant spike in membership in 2015.

This year’s Presidential Panel featured two papers:

“Theory is the Best Accessory: Some Thoughts on the Power of Scholarly Compartmentalization,” by Leslie Dorrough Smith (Avila University)

“Compared to What?: Collaboration and Accountability in a Time of Excess,” by Greg Johnson (University of Colorado at Boulder)

Leslie Dorrough Smith and Greg Johnson. Photo thanks to NAASR.

NAASR Presidential Panel: Leslie Dorrough Smith and Greg Johnson. Photo thanks to NAASR.

Both of these presenters, along with those in attendance, were encouraged to read an unpublished essay on NAASR’s history by Don Wiebe and Luther Martin, which was written on the occasion of NAASR’s 20th anniversary, some 10 years ago. The purpose of this panel, now some 30 years after NAASR’s inception, was to explore how the organization can “continue pressing the field in novel, rigorous, and interesting directions,” and “to help us think through where the cutting edges may now be in the field.”

Sunday afternoon included a well attended workshop entitled, “…But What Do You Study?”: A NAASR Workshop on Theory & Method in the Job Market. Here a variety of early career scholars were broken up into groups, each with a more established scholar, to discuss strategies such as crafting a Cover Letter and what to include in one’s CV.

The final NAASR panel, co-sponsored with the SBL, was entitled “When Is the Big Tent too Big?” Following the description on the NAASR website, this panel sought to address the following question: “What are the strengths and weaknesses of the ‘big tent” philosophy that governs much of the disciplines of religious studies and biblical studies as represented in many academic societies, the publishing industry, and many colleges and universities?” Some of the questions/ideas raised by the panelists included:

  • The structural need for a big tent given the relative size of NAASR as compared with the AAR and SBL
  • What counts as reasonable, constructive scholarship and what goes too far (e.g., the “anything goes” approach)?
  • The need to highlight the role of ideology, power, and interests
  • An adequate secondary discourse should be neutral in terms of who can do it (i.e., it should privilege certain insiders and aim for theories that all scholars of religion can apply)
  • When is the tent to big? When it forgets its purpose as scholarship? When it covers up its own history?
  • Proposing the need to declare conflicts of interest when one is claiming academic legitimacy (i.e., where one is receiving funds from, relevant organizations they belong to, etc.).

All in all, the format of this year’s conference was deemed a success, and discussions are currently underway for adopting a similar format for the 2016 conference in San Antonio, TX, including another workshop for early career scholars looking to make their way in a challenging market.

 

 

 

 

 

“Religion in Peru” — conference report, 2015

The conference, “Religion in Peru : Research itineraries from the social sciences,” was held at the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, Lima-Peru, 24 September 2015. Conference report for The Religious Studies Project by Sidney Castillo.

Opening session. Photo by Alondra Oviedo.

Opening session. Photo by Alondra Oviedo.

The study of religion has deep roots in the South American country of Peru. Over twenty years ago, one of this country’s most eminent scholars of religion, the late Manuel Marzal, (1996) wrote an article detailing a century of religious studies in Peru. Since the dawn of social sciences in Peruvian academia, scholars from different schools of thought and institutions have applied their own perspectives to religion, from indigenism to Marxism—and of course the catholic church. These scholars wanted to get a grip on what means to be religious in Peru in order to better understand its people, however they also differed in key ways. For example, some have been concerned with religion as it may relate to establishing enduring political structures, to gain more adherents, or for good old fashioned criticism. Peru is a country rich with not only religious tradition, but also religious innovation. For example, we have both our equivalent of the Popol Vuh, the Dioses y hombres de Huarochirí [1] manuscript from the sixteenth century, and also a Peruvian new religious movement, the Asociación Evangélica de la Misión Israelita del Nuevo Pacto Universal from the twentieth century  as examples; this is why the conference presented different approaches to the study of religious phenomena, and discussed its relevance in the 21st century.

The conference was organized by the Master’s Degree in Sciences of Religion of the Faculty of Social Sciences from Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, represented by its Coordinator, Jaime Regan and myself (Sidney Castillo) as organizer, in collaboration with the Students Center of Anthropology of the same university (CEAN in Spanish) and the Peruvian Academy of the Sciences of Religion (APECREL also in Spanish). The conference featured anthropological researches based on case study and comparative religion approaches, as well as sociological research in the field of secularism and state regulations, and the sciences of religion itself as an academic field. The scholars who participated in the event were Luis Millones (Professor Emeritus of Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos), Diego Huerta (University of Helsinki), Marco Huaco (University of Strasbourg) and Dorothea Ortmann (University of Rostock).

From left to right: Huaco, Castillo, Millones, Ortmann and Huerta. Photo by Alondra Oviedo.

From left to right: Huaco, Castillo, Millones, Ortmann and Huerta. Photo by Alondra Oviedo.

For myself, as an organizer, it was particularly fulfilling to see the conference auditorium packed and the scholars ready to take the lead on the subject that was of our interest. And it was also fulfilling because we had a lot of competition that day: three academic events in the same faculty at pretty much the same time! We can say then, that people is really getting interested in learning about religion outside mainstream means e.g. churches.

Luis Millones’s talk was about Apostle Santiago and the Moors (Millones : 2015). He presented his latest research done in San Lucas de Colan, a small town within the Paita province in the coastal part of Piura region. His ethnographic research provided an insiders appreciation of the festival offered to Santiago Apostle’s horse, Felipe, in which the image of the patron saint observes the symbolic representation of the horse battling against the Moors. The festival commands both a huge participation on money and coordination from the brotherhood of the saint. Millones viewed this as a means of obtaining prestige among the townsfolk. Interestingly, these kind of festivities are a staple in many different rural and urban places. Particularly, as it’s a way of recreating social bonds with fellow members of the community (or former communities since a lot of people that participate in these celebrations are migrants) by venerating the patron saint and having a huge party lasting several days.

In the second talk, Diego Huerta used a comparative approach in discussing two religious phenomenons comprising some of his past research: the pilgrimage of the Christ of Huamantanga in the outer part of Lima, in the Canta district ; and the (neo)paganism in the urban parts of Lima (Huerta : 2012). His aim was to put into question the factual realization of the secularization process in Peru, in order to examine folk religion and new religious movements as manifestations of an alternative religiosity. Huerta suggested that while the former is more related to popular interpretations of Catholicism, the latter stems more from a product of globalization, embedded in a culture of media driven information on different religious traditions. I found his presentation as indicating that not even tradition is written in stone, tradition changes.

Lawyer, Marco Huaco. Photo by Alondra Oviedo.

Lawyer, Marco Huaco. Photo by Alondra Oviedo.

In the third presentation, Marco Huaco’s discussed the policy of laicidad, a.k.a. secularism in church-state relations (Huaco : 2013). He detailed the historical trajectory of the Peruvian constitutions, demonstrating their evolution, developing from constitutions of doctrinal confessionality towards constitutions of historical-sociological confessionality, finally arriving to the present day constitution. This constitution acknowledges the Catholic Church an important element of Peruvian society, and allows the State to take part in partnership with other religious denominations. This is highlighted by the 1980 Agreement between the Holy See and Peru, which he explained, has important consequences in the ordering of public policies (e.g., birth control and lgbt rights) and primary education.

The closing presentation was delivered by Dorothea Ortmann. In it, she presented how the Sciences of Religion was first established in Peru (Ortmann: 2002). Ortmann traced the beginnings of this development from the researches of Julio C. Tello, Rafael Larco Hoyle and Luis Válcarcel, where they tried to explain the syncretism process, noting the economic and political implications of these mixtures on many Andean deities. For example, the Lanzon of Chavin de Huantar and the Teja Amaru[2]. Ortmann discussed how researchers utilized the tools from different disciplines to explain this process (e.g. archaeology, linguistics and anthropology), in order to gain a wider overview of the Andean societies.

The variety of research that was presented at the conference allowed Peru’s academic community to gather a comprehensive entry into what the academic study of religion was and is, noting future possibilities for research. In echoing Ortmann’s sentiments, the academic study of religion in Peru has existed, at least to date, due to the personal interests and dedication of lone researchers (largely at their own costs) and not due to established monetary support from institutions. However, while some valuable research has been supported at religiously affiliated institutions (e.g., Centro de Estudios Teológicos de la Amazonía, Instituto de Pastoral Andina with the Allpanchis journal, Instituto Bartolomé de las Casas, Centro de Estudios y Publicaciones) other perspectives are needed, and at further distance from pastoral inspiration. Shedding some level of ties with the insider perspectives often provided via religious institutions will allow Peruvian academics to study religious phenomena from a variety of fresh perspectives[3].

 

That this conference took place at the National University of San Marcos was quite inspiring. This was the first university on the continent with a theology and arts faculty during the second half of the sixteenth century. Now, almost five hundred years later, Peruvian academics still have an interest in studying religion. However, our current perspectives and methodologies are far more diverse, and ever broadening. I remain optimistic that, in the near future, the academic study of religion in Peru will be as widespread and supported as other research areas. No doubt, this will be due in large part to the dedication and interest of Peruvian scholars, as this conference exemplifies.

References

Marzal, Manuel. (1996). “Un siglo de investigación de la religión en el Perú”. Anthropologica. Lima, volumen 14, número 14, pp. 7-28. Accesed on: november 29, 2015. http://revistas.pucp.edu.pe/index.php/anthropologica/article/view/1876/1809

Millones, L. (2015). “Las muchas caras de Santiago, por Luis Millones”. El Comercio. Lima, 01 of August. Accesed on: 04 de agosto de 2015. http://elcomercio.pe/opinion/columnistas/muchas-caras-santiago-luis-millones-noticia-1829935

Huaco, M. (2013). Procesos constituyentes y discursos contra-hegemónicos sobre laicidad, sexualidad y religión: Ecuador, Perú y Bolivia.  Buenos Aires: CLACSO. Accesed on: november 28, 2015.

http://biblioteca.clacso.edu.ar/clacso/sur-sur/20121108040727/ProcesosConstituyentes.pdf

Ortmann, D. (2002). Ciencias de la religión en el Perú. Lima: Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos. Accesed on: november 29, 2015. http://sisbib.unmsm.edu.pe/bibvirtual/libros/sociologia/c_religion/indice.htm

Huerta, D. (2012). De eclécticos e iniciados o una aproximación etnográfica a la práctica del (neo) paganismo en Lima. Licenciate thesis on Social Sciences with mention in Anthropology. Lima: Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, Faculty of Social Sciences.

 

[1] Gathered by Francisco de Avila around 1598, and then translated from quechua to spanish by Jose Maria Arguedas in the middle of the tweinthieth century, it’s the only text that accounts for the mainstream fundational mythos of Peru, prior to the spaniards arrival.

[2] The first deity refers to a monolith of 4.5 meters located in the Temple of Chavin. It depicted a zooantropomorphic god with feline and avian features (animals found in the jungle and andes respectively), and was the main deity of the Chavin culture (1000 B.C.). The second one refers to a clay shaped tile representing the Amaru god with features of a otorongo (the peruvian feline), symbolizing the resistance of the spanish influence on andean culture. Some of these tiles were found in southern andean part of Peru and date from the early XIX century.

[3] Many scholars of religion like the late Fernando Fuenzalida, Harold Hernández, Jaime Regan, Juan Ossio and our own speakers of the conference have been doing innovative work in this manner, since they have provided great insights regarding new religious movements, andean and amazonian religion, and the relationship of religion and politics.

Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – 13 October 2015

Dear subscriber,

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

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

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

We thank you for your contribution.

Now, sink your teeth into this:

Calls for papers

Conference: Religious Materiality and Emotion

February 17–18, 2016

Adelaide City, Australia

Deadline: October 31, 2015

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

December 1–2, 2015

Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Milano, Italy

Deadline: November 10, 2015

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Conference: Shia Minorities in the Contemporary World

May 20–21, 2016

University of Chester, UK

Deadline: December 15, 2015

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Conference: Religion and Non-Religion in Contemporary Societies

April 21–24, 2016

Zadar, Croatia

Deadline: November 15, 2015

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

May 27–28, 2016

Belgrade, Serbia

Deadline: December 1, 2015

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Conference: Religion and Revolution

June 16–17, 2016

University College Cork, Ireland

Deadline: January 21, 2016

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Conference: Dialogue among religions as strategy and means for peace

July 12–15, 2016

Havana, Cuba

Deadline: November 20, 2015

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

October 6–8, 2016

Salt Lake City, UT, USA

Deadline: May 15, 2016

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Conference: Knowing Demons, Knowing Spirits

July 5–7, 2016

University of Oxford, UK

Deadline: November 10, 2015

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Colloquium: Translating Christianities

December 7, 2015

University of Stirling, UK

Deadline: October 30, 2015

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Symposium: The End of the World: A Universal Imagination

June 8–10, 2016

Nantes, France

Deadline: December 15, 2015

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Symposium: 41st Spalding Symposium on Indian Religions

April 15–17, 2015

Cardiff University, UK

Deadline: December 7, 2014

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Symposium: Oxford Symposium on Religious Studies

December 7–9, 2015

University of Oxford, UK

Deadline: November 6, 2015

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EASR panel: Nonreligion and Atheism in Central and Eastern Europe

June 28–July 1, 2015

Helsinki, Finland

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Journal: Preternature

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World Religions in Academia and the Loci of Tradition in Irish Paganism(s)

In her interview with the Religious Studies Project, Dr. Jenny Butler spoke with Christopher Cotter about the specificities of the object of her doctoral research at University College Cork (2012), contemporary Irish Paganism, and about the field of Pagan studies in the context of Irish academia. Butler’s research encompasses very diverse aspects of contemporary Paganism in general, from Wicca to Pagan Witchcraft, through Heathenism and Druidry, without forgetting to pay attention to solitary practitioners who revolve around groups like Wiccan covens and Druidic groves. Nevertheless, what started as an overview of Butler’s work in Ireland quickly turned into a much-needed critique of the context surrounding academia and religious studies. Her own ethnographic research raises questions about important categories and paradigms in religious studies today.

The first element of interest in Butler’s work is her use of “Paganism”, a somewhat monolithic term, to describe the Pagan movement. It is most interesting to see how her use of the term “Paganism” instead of “Paganisms” pertains to the current hesitation in academia to talk about “Christianisms,” for example, as an array of different traditions included in Christianity. Some scholars of Pagan studies prefer the use of “Paganisms,” easily recognizing that it is more appropriate to talk about it in a way that reflects its inner diversity and lack of cohesion in regards to beliefs, practices and ethics. We can only deduct that Butler’s move to speak of her object of study in the singular form must be due in part to the fact that the study of Pagans and Paganism in Ireland is still nascent. For that reason, it would probably have been harder for her to have her object recognized by the academic institution if she didn’t comply with the same convention that usually applies to the major religious traditions of this world, i.e. world religions. Does it have anything to do with the possibility that a confessional approach of religion still lingers within religious studies in the Republic of Ireland? Compared to the context of Butler’s research, it seems that American and Canadian scholars of religion show much less hesitation to talk about “Christianisms” or “Hinduisms,” for example, as a series of several sub-traditions, rather than as uniform religions. Butler specifies that this decision derives from her ethnographic methods of research, and, in that sense, that her use of the term “Paganism” as a whole stems from her fieldwork. In this manner, she gracefully avoids some of the methodological and theoretical problems that would come out of an ethnocentered perception of religion.

In light of this, one can wonder how expeditious is the common assumption that most Pagans, or at least a majority of them are well read (Davy, 2007). First, let’s not forget that it is not unusual at all that members or adepts of a religion, be it new or old, take upon themselves to be well aware of the literature, academic or confessional, surrounding their religion. In my experience, Pagans are certainly well read in particular areas, like mythology, folklore and sometimes history, but they seem much less informed when the time comes to compare “world religions” to their own religiosities or to compare their own religious categories to those produced and accepted in academic circles in religious studies, anthropology, and history, among others. This is not to say that Pagans are particularly less well-read than individuals who belong to other institutionalized or formal religious traditions. Many adepts of Neo-Druidry do indeed dig deep into historical and archaeological material to reconstruct parts of their worldviews, practices, and social organisations. It is also possible that for a great number of individuals who identify themselves against religions, like some atheists for example, being informed by scholarly works might be an important aspect of their “non-religion.”

As far as I am concerned, this idea that Pagans are more informed about scholarly works in religious studies is questionable only because most Pagans, as Butler indicates, do not interrogate the origins of their religiosities beyond their romanticized interpretation of geographical locations and historical or mythological influences. In fact, one can wonder why it has never been articulated anywhere so far within Pagan studies that Wicca, the only “religion” stemming out of Britain (Hutton, 1999), is rooted in elements often associated with Irish Celtic myths or figures. What about the veneration of deities such as the popular Ceridwen and Cernunnos? What changes did those figures go through by leaving English soil, going around the Western world through the popularization of Wicca, contemporary Paganism, New Age, and Goddess spiritualities, before coming back to Ireland, decades later? Is it just that Pagan studies in Ireland haven’t made the connection yet? Probably not. Is it that these figures did not undergo any kind of transformation? That would, of course, be quite surprising. Or, maybe is it that these distinctions do not matter for Pagans and scholars who study them? Paganism, being a religion without dogma, without a “proper” institution standardizing discourse and practice, in the face of globalization, might not have what it takes to conceive these divergences as significant issues to deal with.

In my eye, the most interesting aspect of Butler’s study is that it shows just how locations and spiritual nexuses in Ireland are at the heart of Irish Pagan religiosities. Certainly akin to what happens in Britain at Stonehenge or Glastonbury, this phenomenon invokes issues of authenticity and “nativeness.” These locations point to a long gone past, which then comprised very different worldviews from those at play today that have inevitably been marked by what Butler qualifies as a “Christian veneer.” This brings up and interrogates the basic distinction between Christianity and paganism[1], or rather the issue of identification of paganism by agents of Christianity. Would a certain paganism occurring today not be paganism anymore after being marked by centuries of Christian proselytism? This forces researchers to work outside of these ever-reproduced categories to focus on more current issues, giving more space to collective and individual stories rather than written texts that prescribe modes of practice.

In the last couple of years, scholarship in Pagan studies has begun to slow down. The main source cited by Butler, The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies, is struggling more and more as the years go by to find new approaches to Paganisms and Earth-centered or nature-based religions that would give them some sort of undisputable recognition within universities. In fact, it seems that as soon as students and scholars of Pagan Studies step out of the United States or Britain (mostly), they still face an ever-present normative push that won’t accept Paganisms as legitimate religious objects of study or Pagan studies as a legitimate field of study. We can only hope that Butler’s work, quite unique in itself, can revive this pull towards understanding the originality and specificities of contemporary Paganism as it spreads in different ways throughout the globe.

Reference

Davy, B. J. (2007). Introduction to Pagan Studies. New York/Toronto: Altamira Press.

Hutton, R. (1999). The Triumph of the Moon. A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft. New York: Oxford University Press.

York, M. (2005). Pagan Theology: Paganism as a World Religion. New York: NYU Press.

[1] The term “paganism” refers to what Michael York calls a spontaneous religiosity linked to the land (2005), found in Native and aboriginal cultures for example, as opposed to “Paganism”, capitalized to refer to the contemporary revival of pre-Christian mythologies.

Podcasts

Sociology of Religion – and Religious Studies?

“You got your sociology of religion in my religious studies!” “You got religious studies in my sociology of religion!” – DELICIOUS

What makes the sociology of religion and Religious Studies distinct from each other – if anything? Paul-Francois Tremlett, Titus Hjelm and David Robertson discuss what the two approaches have in common, and how they differ. Importantly, they consider how they might learn from each other. Does the sociology of religion over-rely on surveys, or could RS benefit from such large-scale data? Is Religious Studies overly-concerned with theory and definitions, or could sociology benefit from a more critically-nuanced approach? Why is it that sociologists seem to have the ear of policy-makers when RS scholars do not?

This episode is the sixth in a series of seven entitled “New Directions in the Sociology of Religion”, co-produced with SOCREL to celebrate their 40th anniversary.

Be sure to check out the other podcasts in this series, such as ‘Religion and Feminism‘ with Dawn Llewellyn, ‘Evangelicalism and Civic Space‘ with Anna Strhan,  ‘An Introduction to the Sociology of Religion‘ with Grace Davie, ‘Researching Radicalisation‘ with Matthew Francis, and ‘Religion, youth, and Intergenerationality‘ with Naomi Thompson.

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, Wu Tang Clan gear, Cornish sea salt, and more.

 

Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – 29 November 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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Anthology: Religion and Ethics in Contemporary Speculative Fiction

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July 11–13, 2017

University of Hull, UK

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Universität Bremen, Germany

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University of Virginia, USA

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Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – 22 November 2016

Dear subscriber,

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

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

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

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

Communism and Catholicism: Religion and Religious Studies in Lithuania

Under Communism, religion was suppressed in the formerly Catholic Eastern European country of Lithuania until the 1990s. Milda Ališauskienė tells David Robertson about the religious field like in a country where religion was banned for half of the 20th century. Do we see a simple resurgence of Catholicism, or something more complex? What about New Religious Movements – are there new forms of vernacular Lithuanian religious expression? How does immigration affect this field?

indexThe second half of the interview discusses the practicalities of how you go about setting up and running a Religious Studies department in a post-Soviet country such as Lithuania. While there was no academic study of religion during the Soviet era, this has also affected the public perception of the need for such a study. This interview presents a fascinating inside look at the study of religion between two hegemonies – Communism and Catholicism.

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 Che Guevara T-shirts, Rosaries, Pokemon Go, and many other capitalist goods.

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 as a Discipline

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

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

Listeners might also be interested in our previous podcasts on Religion as Sui Generis, The Relationship between Theology and Religious Studies, Teaching and Learning in Contemporary Religious Studies, The Critical Study of Religion, and Biblical Studies and Religious Studies. You can download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us . And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.ukAmazon.com, or Amazon.ca links to support us at no additional cost when buying academic texts, storage boxes, tiny shoes and more.

Method and Theory in the Cognitive Sciences of Religion

podcast with the Religious Studies Project in 2014, Dr. Robert McCauley gave an overview of some of these processes cognitive scientists appeal to in accounting for religion (e.g., agent detection, theory of mind), as well as a 2015 North American Association for the Study of Religion (NAASR) conference (and thanks to their support), McCauley discusses methodological and theoretical issues within CSR. He begins by tackling the topic of “naturalism” vs. “supernaturalism” in explaining religion, moving on to how these explanations function at different levels of analysis and integration. In closing, McCauley discusses the relationship between the humanities and the sciences, some successful and not so successful CSR theories, and the interplay between explanations emphasizing cognition and culture.

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, video games, indulgences, and more.

See you in the next life? Cognitive foundations of reincarnation beliefs

Human reincarnation: Same person, different body, another life. From established theological doctrines to local folk beliefs, the idea that deceased individuals may be “reborn” into the body of another can be found all over the world (White, In press). Since the writings of philosopher John Locke in the 17th century, establishing personal identity has primarily focused on memory. The interplay between memories and what constitutes a person’s identity plays an interesting role in reincarnation beliefs. For example, when juxtaposed alongside theologies that teach that the individual undergoes mental or physical changes in the process of rebirth, how can this same individual be identified in the new life if they have undergone changes (White, 2015)? In this podcast, Dr. Claire White brings the tools of cognitive science of religion (CSR) to bear on this question and several others surrounding reincarnation beliefs.  

Dr. White begins  by discussing the ongoing research at her laboratory at California State University, Northridge. She goes on to introduce the topic of reincarnation, noting that only recently has CSR paid much attention to these types of beliefs. While conceptual scaffolding surrounding the idea of reincarnation can vary widely from culture to culture, Dr. White draws on some of her recent research pointing out that many similarities exist in how individuals reason about and discern the pre-rebirth identities of the reincarnated. In closing, Dr. White shares some preliminary insights gathered from her ethnography of “past-life groups” in the western United States. Interested in why some individuals may be attracted to these groups, she suggests the groups may function as a form of psychotherapy and self-actualization for those attending.

Listeners may also be interested in our previous podcasts on Religion and Memory, and Cognitive Approaches to the Study of Religion. 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, small dinosaur figurines, poppy seeds, and more.

Many thanks to NAASR for facilitating the recording of this interview.

References

  • White, C. (2015). Establishing Personal Identity in Reincarnation: Minds and Bodies Reconsidered. Journal Of Cognition And Culture, 15(3-4), 402-429. http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/15685373-12342158
  • White, C. (In press). The Cognitive Foundations of Reincarnation. Method and Theory in the Study of Religion.

Report: 2015 Joint Conferences of the New Zealand and Australian Associations for the Study of Religion

Conference report for The Religious Studies Project by Bruno Marshall Shirley and John H. Shaver

The biennial conference of the New Zealand Association for the Study of Religions (NZASR) and the annual conference of the Australian Association for the Study of Religions (AASR) were held together in Queenstown, New Zealand from December 8-10 2015. Interdisciplinary perspectives and theoretical approaches across the humanities and social sciences were evident in the wide-range of papers presented. Islam, and Asian religions more generally, were the most consistent objects of focus, perhaps unsurprising given Australasia’s proximity to Asia and recent increased media attention to the Islamic State.

The Manata room at the Mercure Resort Queenstown, which hosted the conference.

The Manata room at the Mercure Resort Queenstown, which hosted the conference.

The conference’s emphasis on Asia and Islam were evident in the keynote lectures. In a talk entitled “Creativity and Ethical Life in India,” Tulasi Srinivas (Emerson College) described religious innovations in Bangalore and the sense of “wonder” that they often inspire. She argued that scholars ought to take emerging religious practices seriously, rather than as anomalies or deviations from established, textually-based understandings of religion. Turning to Japan, Douglas Ezzy (University of Tasmania) argued that Shint­ō is best considered a “religion of practice” in contrast to those traditional conceptions of religion as belief-oriented. He suggested that while a non-Christian can attend mass at a Christian place of worship and not be “doing Christianity,” a tourist at a Shint­ō shrine participating in its various ritual practices might be said to be “doing Shint­ō.” For many Japanese Shint­ō is not associated with doctrinal belief (shūkyō), which allows people to engage with Shint­ō ritual practice while not accepting its cosmology. Some in the audience disagreed with Ezzy’s analysis of Shint­ō and its relationship to shūkyō, but his call for a renewed focus on religious practice was generally appreciated. Sally McAra (University of Auckland), looked at one traditionally Asian religion, Buddhism, in the Australasian context. She discussed the problems facing an anthropologist conducting ethnographic research among their own group, principally a difficulty in carrying out objective analyses, due to a positive bias towards group ideals.

The final keynote lecture, from Gary D. Bouma (Monash University), turned to Islam and to Western discourses about the “threat” that each other poses. Bouma argued that both anti-Western and anti-Muslim narratives shared several key features: both narratives assert that the “other” is incorrect in some way; each is reinforced due to media bias; and both narratives are responsible for the perpetuation of conflict. Bouma’s most significant point was that Religious Studies scholars have a responsibility to discredit these discourses – particularly anti-Muslim narratives in the West, such as those put forth by Trump or Abbot. These narratives, Bouma argued, serve to legitimise attempts to gain power at the expense of civil liberties, and/or to divert attention from their own violence (including structural violence, domestic violence, or even climate change).

Comfort Max-Wirth presenting her paper "Political Manipulation of the Occult in Ghana: Embracing the Occult," in the panel "Religion in/and Politics."

Comfort Max-Wirth presenting her paper “Political Manipulation of the Occult in Ghana: Embracing the Occult,” in the panel “Religion in/and Politics.”

The panel “Contemporary Religions” continued the central foci on Asian religions and Islam. A paper by Douglas Osto (Massey) (based on his forthcoming book, Altered States: Buddhism and Psychedelic Spirituality in America, Columbia UP, 2016) outlined the history of “Psychedelic Buddhism” from the 1950s into the present, and the changing attitudes of American Buddhist practitioners towards mind-altering drugs. Osto described how some practitioners used psychedelic drugs as a “door” to advanced states of mind, before graduating to “pure” meditation practices, while others (notably Joan Halifax) continued to use drugs to supplement their meditative practices. Although psychedelia has been investigated before, Osto’s study represents the first serious examination of psychedelic Buddhism as a non-systemic religious movement, and is sure to lead to further studies of other hybrid Buddhist practices in the West. Buddhism was also the focus of a panel on “Buddhist Tales and Territories,” which featured a paper by Chaisit Suwanvarangkul (University of Otago) on the relevance of dharmakāya and the tathāgatagarbha doctrine to Therāvada Buddhism, as well as to the Mahāyāna. Suwanvarangkul’s paper was partially in response to an earlier paper by Michael Radich (Victoria University of Wellington), presented at the 2007 Australian Association of Buddhist Studies conference, entitled “There is no Dhammakāya in the Pāli Canon.” Suwanvarangkul’s inclusion of the Chinese Āgama as Theravāda was the subject of some controversy, as Osto pointed out that, despite parallels to the Theravāda nikāya, the Chinese āgama contain several key differences from the Theravāda texts. The panel also included papers by Anna Halafoff and Matthew Clarke (both of Deakin University) on the role of Songdhammakalyani monastery (Thailand) in promoting gender equality; Chiew Hui Ho (University of Sydney) on Chinese tales about the Diamond Sutra and their role in encouraging faith; and Phra Akbordin Rattana (University of Otago) on the model of Buddha devotion expressed in the Mārabandha chapter of the Paṭhamasambodhi-kathā.

Papers in the panel “Religion and the State” shared a common theme of distinctions between “religious practice” and “political actions” breaking down, in cases drawn from China, Japan, and Sri Lanka. Melissa Inoue (University of Auckland) discussed China’s True Jesus Church and its “miraculous” discourse. She argued that by directing attention to this-worldly affairs, the discourse indirectly both critiques and affirms contemporary Chinese society and the stewardship of the party-state. Ben Schonthal (University of Otago) turned to Sri Lanka and the (legal) case of a Buddhist monk who was denied an application for a driver’s license on the grounds that it was not appropriate for monks to drive. He argued that this was fundamentally a problem of contested authority over religious practice in Sri Lanka, arising from an ambiguous constitutionalising of religion. Bruno M. Shirley (Victoria University of Wellington) called for a post-secular rethinking of “religious violence” using the case study of Sri Lanka’s Bodu Bala Senā. Shirley suggested that explanations for religious violence, generally and in Sri Lanka specifically, have tended to assume a secularist dichotomy of “religion” and “politics” that is inadequate for dealing with the relationship between Buddhism, politics, and violence in Sri Lanka. Shirley suggested instead that we might reconsider this relationship within a framework of identity politics.

Dr. Will Sweetman (University of Otago) presenting his paper "Is ISIS Islamic? Category Formation in the Academic Study of Religion," in the panel "Naming Islamism."

Dr. Will Sweetman (University of Otago) presenting his paper “Is ISIS Islamic? Category Formation in the Academic Study of Religion,” in the panel “Naming Islamism.”

The panel “Naming Islamism,” was by far the most controversial of the conference. Will Sweetman (University of Otago), Christopher van der Krogt (Massey University), Douglas Pratt (University of Waikato), William E. Shepard (University of Canterbury), and audience members debated whether or not the Islamic State could be considered an authentic iteration of “Islam.” Van der Krogt argued that such a debate represents a misunderstanding of religion, and Islam in particular, while Sweetman argued that there is no basis for denying the Islamic State’s self-identification as Muslim. Several audience members disagreed with this assertion, instead arguing that Islam did indeed have some core norms and values with which the Islamic State does not conform. This panel also included less controversial papers by Shepard (University of Canterbury), on the development of Sayyid Qutb’s views on gender relations, and Pratt, on the Islamic State’s “theological ideology.”

Not all of the panels at the conference focussed on Asia or on Islam, and of these the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study (NZAVS) panel is particularly notable for being the most empirically-oriented of the conference. The first NZAVS talk was delivered by the director of the study, Chris Sibley, a psychologist from the University of Auckland. Sibley described the breadth of the study and some of the many challenges inherent to large-scale longitudinal data collection. Joseph Bulbulia (Victoria University of Wellington) then detailed a few of the more significant findings pertaining to religion that have emerged from the NZAVS, including his work on the distinct “faith signatures” that span and defy traditional denominational categorization. Following these talks, Geoffrey Troughton (Victoria University of Wellington) described the history of the “Christian Not Further Declared (NFD)” designation in the New Zealand census, and then used NZAVS data to describe the demographic characteristics of those individuals that have recently come to identify with this tremendously growing group. The panel concluded with John Shaver (Victoria University of Wellington) describing the complex, but unique, picture of religion and prejudice/ tolerance in New Zealand. Although highly religious New Zealanders are more tolerant of many social groups (including ethnic and religious out-groups) than their secular counterparts, they are also less tolerant of some other groups (e.g., homosexuals). Shaver interpreted this pattern as a result of the differential flexibility of human values. He argued that those values associated with conservatism are necessary for the cultural transmission of religion and are therefore less free to vary across cultures, while those that are less relevant to transmission are subject to greater environmental influence.

Perhaps due to the University of Otago’s excellent choice to host the conference in scenic Queenstown, the conference was relatively well-attended by NZASR standards, and a strong Australian presence was a welcome addition to the conference’s academic and social events. While Asia and Islam were focal, the range of perspectives and disciplinary approaches made for interesting discussions, both in panels and informally. The conference demonstrated that the study of religions in New Zealand and Australia continues to broaden its interdisciplinary focus.

Discursive Approaches and the Crises of Religious Studies

Discursive analysis of one kind or another is perhaps the most prominent methodology in the study of religion today. The linguistic turn took longer to influence Religious Studies than many other areas of the social sciences, but in recent years this approach has produced some hugely influential works which challenge many of the traditional assumptions of the field. In this interview recorded at the 2015 IAHR Congress in Erfurt, Kocku von Stuckrad tells David G. Robertson how discursive approaches might help solve the challenges of contemporary Religious Studies: the crisis of representation; the situated observer; and the dilemma of essentialism and relativism.

Bruce Lincoln and Titus Hjelm, and feature essays by Ethan Quillen, David Gordon White, Martin Lepage, Emily Stratton, and Craig Martin. 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, wooden chess sets, monkey nuts, and more!

NAASR 2015 Annual Meeting: A Report from the Field

The North American Association for the Study of Religion (NAASR) held its annual meeting last week in connection with the American Academy of Religion (AAR) and Society for Biblical Literature (SBL) conference in Atlanta, GA. Conference report for The Religious Studies Project by Matt Sheedy.

The theme for this year’s NAASR panels was “Theory in a Time of Excess,” which aimed to signal a basic problem in the study of religions; that despite increased attention and inclusion of debates on method and theory within the field over the last 30-odd years, it would appear, to quote the description on NAASR’s website, “that few of the many examples of doing theory today involve either meta-reflection on the practical conditions of the field or rigorously explanatory studies of religion’s cause(s) or function(s).” Accordingly, this year’s NAASR panels were designed to re-examine just what we mean by “theory” in the study of religion—e.g., should we follow an inclusive, “big tent” approach, or something more precise?

Be sure to wear your NAASR button! Photo thanks to NAASR.

Be sure to wear your NAASR button! Photo thanks to NAASR.

Four pre-circulated papers were presented on November 20-21, each of which included a panel of respondents:

1 “On the Restraint of Theory,” by Jason N. Blum

2 “What the Cognitive Science of Religion Is (And Is Not),” by Claire White

3 “Of Cognitive Science, Bricolage, and Brandom,” by Matt Bagger

4 “The High Stakes of Identifying (with) One’s Object of Study,” by Merinda Simmons

These panels presented a variety of critical approaches to the study of religion—materialist phenomenology, cognitive science of religion, cognitive science and analytic philosophy, and culture and identity studies—in order to explore some competing ideas of what constitutes “theory” in the study of religion, with responses from a variety of early career scholars who were chosen because of their own distance from the approaches in question.

Some questions and ideas that came out of these well-attended discussions (an average of 40-50 per session, by my count) included:

  • Can we speak about “religious” consciousness and experience without privileging particularistic and ahistorical perspectives?
  • Theory challenges us to realize that we are always fictionalizing our data.
  • What is the role of realism and inter-subjective reasoning in our work? Or, to put it differently, what are the lines between theory and addressing practical concerns as they appear in the social world today?
  • How can we address tensions between “naturally occurring” patterns of human cognition (e.g., the tendency to attribute agency to unknown forces) vs. the role of culture in shaping conceptions of the supernatural in the cognitive science of religion (CSR)?
  • Can religion be explained scientifically, as many CSR scholars would have it, or is the term religion itself too unstable to signify a coherent object of study?
  • Can we still talk about “religious belief” in the study of religion?
  • What is new about the “new materialism” (e.g., the return to questions of the body)? Is it merely repeating the idea of “lived religions” or something else altogether?
  • To what extent does one’s position in the academy (e.g., as a grad student, adjunct, or professor) determine what they can and cannot say in terms of their desire to critique certain aspects of the field?

During the NAASR business meeting, it was announced that Steven Ramey will be joining Aaron Hughes as the new co-editor of the NAASR-affiliated journal Method & Theory in the Study of Religion, and that the panel proceedings from this year’s conference will be turned into a book with Equinox Publishing. Providing opportunities for early career scholars was a constant topic of discussion at the conference, as well as the need to draw in new members—though it was noted that there was a significant spike in membership in 2015.

This year’s Presidential Panel featured two papers:

“Theory is the Best Accessory: Some Thoughts on the Power of Scholarly Compartmentalization,” by Leslie Dorrough Smith (Avila University)

“Compared to What?: Collaboration and Accountability in a Time of Excess,” by Greg Johnson (University of Colorado at Boulder)

Leslie Dorrough Smith and Greg Johnson. Photo thanks to NAASR.

NAASR Presidential Panel: Leslie Dorrough Smith and Greg Johnson. Photo thanks to NAASR.

Both of these presenters, along with those in attendance, were encouraged to read an unpublished essay on NAASR’s history by Don Wiebe and Luther Martin, which was written on the occasion of NAASR’s 20th anniversary, some 10 years ago. The purpose of this panel, now some 30 years after NAASR’s inception, was to explore how the organization can “continue pressing the field in novel, rigorous, and interesting directions,” and “to help us think through where the cutting edges may now be in the field.”

Sunday afternoon included a well attended workshop entitled, “…But What Do You Study?”: A NAASR Workshop on Theory & Method in the Job Market. Here a variety of early career scholars were broken up into groups, each with a more established scholar, to discuss strategies such as crafting a Cover Letter and what to include in one’s CV.

The final NAASR panel, co-sponsored with the SBL, was entitled “When Is the Big Tent too Big?” Following the description on the NAASR website, this panel sought to address the following question: “What are the strengths and weaknesses of the ‘big tent” philosophy that governs much of the disciplines of religious studies and biblical studies as represented in many academic societies, the publishing industry, and many colleges and universities?” Some of the questions/ideas raised by the panelists included:

  • The structural need for a big tent given the relative size of NAASR as compared with the AAR and SBL
  • What counts as reasonable, constructive scholarship and what goes too far (e.g., the “anything goes” approach)?
  • The need to highlight the role of ideology, power, and interests
  • An adequate secondary discourse should be neutral in terms of who can do it (i.e., it should privilege certain insiders and aim for theories that all scholars of religion can apply)
  • When is the tent to big? When it forgets its purpose as scholarship? When it covers up its own history?
  • Proposing the need to declare conflicts of interest when one is claiming academic legitimacy (i.e., where one is receiving funds from, relevant organizations they belong to, etc.).

All in all, the format of this year’s conference was deemed a success, and discussions are currently underway for adopting a similar format for the 2016 conference in San Antonio, TX, including another workshop for early career scholars looking to make their way in a challenging market.

 

 

 

 

 

“Religion in Peru” — conference report, 2015

The conference, “Religion in Peru : Research itineraries from the social sciences,” was held at the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, Lima-Peru, 24 September 2015. Conference report for The Religious Studies Project by Sidney Castillo.

Opening session. Photo by Alondra Oviedo.

Opening session. Photo by Alondra Oviedo.

The study of religion has deep roots in the South American country of Peru. Over twenty years ago, one of this country’s most eminent scholars of religion, the late Manuel Marzal, (1996) wrote an article detailing a century of religious studies in Peru. Since the dawn of social sciences in Peruvian academia, scholars from different schools of thought and institutions have applied their own perspectives to religion, from indigenism to Marxism—and of course the catholic church. These scholars wanted to get a grip on what means to be religious in Peru in order to better understand its people, however they also differed in key ways. For example, some have been concerned with religion as it may relate to establishing enduring political structures, to gain more adherents, or for good old fashioned criticism. Peru is a country rich with not only religious tradition, but also religious innovation. For example, we have both our equivalent of the Popol Vuh, the Dioses y hombres de Huarochirí [1] manuscript from the sixteenth century, and also a Peruvian new religious movement, the Asociación Evangélica de la Misión Israelita del Nuevo Pacto Universal from the twentieth century  as examples; this is why the conference presented different approaches to the study of religious phenomena, and discussed its relevance in the 21st century.

The conference was organized by the Master’s Degree in Sciences of Religion of the Faculty of Social Sciences from Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, represented by its Coordinator, Jaime Regan and myself (Sidney Castillo) as organizer, in collaboration with the Students Center of Anthropology of the same university (CEAN in Spanish) and the Peruvian Academy of the Sciences of Religion (APECREL also in Spanish). The conference featured anthropological researches based on case study and comparative religion approaches, as well as sociological research in the field of secularism and state regulations, and the sciences of religion itself as an academic field. The scholars who participated in the event were Luis Millones (Professor Emeritus of Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos), Diego Huerta (University of Helsinki), Marco Huaco (University of Strasbourg) and Dorothea Ortmann (University of Rostock).

From left to right: Huaco, Castillo, Millones, Ortmann and Huerta. Photo by Alondra Oviedo.

From left to right: Huaco, Castillo, Millones, Ortmann and Huerta. Photo by Alondra Oviedo.

For myself, as an organizer, it was particularly fulfilling to see the conference auditorium packed and the scholars ready to take the lead on the subject that was of our interest. And it was also fulfilling because we had a lot of competition that day: three academic events in the same faculty at pretty much the same time! We can say then, that people is really getting interested in learning about religion outside mainstream means e.g. churches.

Luis Millones’s talk was about Apostle Santiago and the Moors (Millones : 2015). He presented his latest research done in San Lucas de Colan, a small town within the Paita province in the coastal part of Piura region. His ethnographic research provided an insiders appreciation of the festival offered to Santiago Apostle’s horse, Felipe, in which the image of the patron saint observes the symbolic representation of the horse battling against the Moors. The festival commands both a huge participation on money and coordination from the brotherhood of the saint. Millones viewed this as a means of obtaining prestige among the townsfolk. Interestingly, these kind of festivities are a staple in many different rural and urban places. Particularly, as it’s a way of recreating social bonds with fellow members of the community (or former communities since a lot of people that participate in these celebrations are migrants) by venerating the patron saint and having a huge party lasting several days.

In the second talk, Diego Huerta used a comparative approach in discussing two religious phenomenons comprising some of his past research: the pilgrimage of the Christ of Huamantanga in the outer part of Lima, in the Canta district ; and the (neo)paganism in the urban parts of Lima (Huerta : 2012). His aim was to put into question the factual realization of the secularization process in Peru, in order to examine folk religion and new religious movements as manifestations of an alternative religiosity. Huerta suggested that while the former is more related to popular interpretations of Catholicism, the latter stems more from a product of globalization, embedded in a culture of media driven information on different religious traditions. I found his presentation as indicating that not even tradition is written in stone, tradition changes.

Lawyer, Marco Huaco. Photo by Alondra Oviedo.

Lawyer, Marco Huaco. Photo by Alondra Oviedo.

In the third presentation, Marco Huaco’s discussed the policy of laicidad, a.k.a. secularism in church-state relations (Huaco : 2013). He detailed the historical trajectory of the Peruvian constitutions, demonstrating their evolution, developing from constitutions of doctrinal confessionality towards constitutions of historical-sociological confessionality, finally arriving to the present day constitution. This constitution acknowledges the Catholic Church an important element of Peruvian society, and allows the State to take part in partnership with other religious denominations. This is highlighted by the 1980 Agreement between the Holy See and Peru, which he explained, has important consequences in the ordering of public policies (e.g., birth control and lgbt rights) and primary education.

The closing presentation was delivered by Dorothea Ortmann. In it, she presented how the Sciences of Religion was first established in Peru (Ortmann: 2002). Ortmann traced the beginnings of this development from the researches of Julio C. Tello, Rafael Larco Hoyle and Luis Válcarcel, where they tried to explain the syncretism process, noting the economic and political implications of these mixtures on many Andean deities. For example, the Lanzon of Chavin de Huantar and the Teja Amaru[2]. Ortmann discussed how researchers utilized the tools from different disciplines to explain this process (e.g. archaeology, linguistics and anthropology), in order to gain a wider overview of the Andean societies.

The variety of research that was presented at the conference allowed Peru’s academic community to gather a comprehensive entry into what the academic study of religion was and is, noting future possibilities for research. In echoing Ortmann’s sentiments, the academic study of religion in Peru has existed, at least to date, due to the personal interests and dedication of lone researchers (largely at their own costs) and not due to established monetary support from institutions. However, while some valuable research has been supported at religiously affiliated institutions (e.g., Centro de Estudios Teológicos de la Amazonía, Instituto de Pastoral Andina with the Allpanchis journal, Instituto Bartolomé de las Casas, Centro de Estudios y Publicaciones) other perspectives are needed, and at further distance from pastoral inspiration. Shedding some level of ties with the insider perspectives often provided via religious institutions will allow Peruvian academics to study religious phenomena from a variety of fresh perspectives[3].

 

That this conference took place at the National University of San Marcos was quite inspiring. This was the first university on the continent with a theology and arts faculty during the second half of the sixteenth century. Now, almost five hundred years later, Peruvian academics still have an interest in studying religion. However, our current perspectives and methodologies are far more diverse, and ever broadening. I remain optimistic that, in the near future, the academic study of religion in Peru will be as widespread and supported as other research areas. No doubt, this will be due in large part to the dedication and interest of Peruvian scholars, as this conference exemplifies.

References

Marzal, Manuel. (1996). “Un siglo de investigación de la religión en el Perú”. Anthropologica. Lima, volumen 14, número 14, pp. 7-28. Accesed on: november 29, 2015. http://revistas.pucp.edu.pe/index.php/anthropologica/article/view/1876/1809

Millones, L. (2015). “Las muchas caras de Santiago, por Luis Millones”. El Comercio. Lima, 01 of August. Accesed on: 04 de agosto de 2015. http://elcomercio.pe/opinion/columnistas/muchas-caras-santiago-luis-millones-noticia-1829935

Huaco, M. (2013). Procesos constituyentes y discursos contra-hegemónicos sobre laicidad, sexualidad y religión: Ecuador, Perú y Bolivia.  Buenos Aires: CLACSO. Accesed on: november 28, 2015.

http://biblioteca.clacso.edu.ar/clacso/sur-sur/20121108040727/ProcesosConstituyentes.pdf

Ortmann, D. (2002). Ciencias de la religión en el Perú. Lima: Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos. Accesed on: november 29, 2015. http://sisbib.unmsm.edu.pe/bibvirtual/libros/sociologia/c_religion/indice.htm

Huerta, D. (2012). De eclécticos e iniciados o una aproximación etnográfica a la práctica del (neo) paganismo en Lima. Licenciate thesis on Social Sciences with mention in Anthropology. Lima: Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, Faculty of Social Sciences.

 

[1] Gathered by Francisco de Avila around 1598, and then translated from quechua to spanish by Jose Maria Arguedas in the middle of the tweinthieth century, it’s the only text that accounts for the mainstream fundational mythos of Peru, prior to the spaniards arrival.

[2] The first deity refers to a monolith of 4.5 meters located in the Temple of Chavin. It depicted a zooantropomorphic god with feline and avian features (animals found in the jungle and andes respectively), and was the main deity of the Chavin culture (1000 B.C.). The second one refers to a clay shaped tile representing the Amaru god with features of a otorongo (the peruvian feline), symbolizing the resistance of the spanish influence on andean culture. Some of these tiles were found in southern andean part of Peru and date from the early XIX century.

[3] Many scholars of religion like the late Fernando Fuenzalida, Harold Hernández, Jaime Regan, Juan Ossio and our own speakers of the conference have been doing innovative work in this manner, since they have provided great insights regarding new religious movements, andean and amazonian religion, and the relationship of religion and politics.

Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest – 13 October 2015

Dear subscriber,

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

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

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

We thank you for your contribution.

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Calls for papers

Conference: Religious Materiality and Emotion

February 17–18, 2016

Adelaide City, Australia

Deadline: October 31, 2015

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

December 1–2, 2015

Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Milano, Italy

Deadline: November 10, 2015

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Conference: Shia Minorities in the Contemporary World

May 20–21, 2016

University of Chester, UK

Deadline: December 15, 2015

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Conference: Religion and Non-Religion in Contemporary Societies

April 21–24, 2016

Zadar, Croatia

Deadline: November 15, 2015

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

May 27–28, 2016

Belgrade, Serbia

Deadline: December 1, 2015

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Conference: Religion and Revolution

June 16–17, 2016

University College Cork, Ireland

Deadline: January 21, 2016

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Conference: Dialogue among religions as strategy and means for peace

July 12–15, 2016

Havana, Cuba

Deadline: November 20, 2015

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

October 6–8, 2016

Salt Lake City, UT, USA

Deadline: May 15, 2016

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Conference: Knowing Demons, Knowing Spirits

July 5–7, 2016

University of Oxford, UK

Deadline: November 10, 2015

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Colloquium: Translating Christianities

December 7, 2015

University of Stirling, UK

Deadline: October 30, 2015

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Symposium: The End of the World: A Universal Imagination

June 8–10, 2016

Nantes, France

Deadline: December 15, 2015

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Symposium: 41st Spalding Symposium on Indian Religions

April 15–17, 2015

Cardiff University, UK

Deadline: December 7, 2014

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Symposium: Oxford Symposium on Religious Studies

December 7–9, 2015

University of Oxford, UK

Deadline: November 6, 2015

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EASR panel: Nonreligion and Atheism in Central and Eastern Europe

June 28–July 1, 2015

Helsinki, Finland

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Journal: Preternature

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

Deadline: December 15, 2015

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Journal: Open Theology

Special issue: Religion and Racism: Intercultural Perspectives

Deadline: January 31, 2016

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Events

Conference: Religion, Addiction and Recovery

November 2, 2015

University of Chester, UK

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Seminar: Islamic Studies in Scotland: Retrospect and Prospect

October 23–24, 2015

University of Edinburgh, UK

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Jobs

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

University of Groningen, The Netherlands

Deadline: October 15, 2015

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Assistant Professor of Religion: Buddhist Studies

Bard College, NY, USA

Deadline: November 1, 2015

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Senior Research Associate: CREST

Lancaster University, UK

Deadline: October 23, 2015

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Doctoral positions: Muslim Cultures and Societies

Freie Universität Berlin, Germany

Deadline: November 15, 2015

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World Religions in Academia and the Loci of Tradition in Irish Paganism(s)

In her interview with the Religious Studies Project, Dr. Jenny Butler spoke with Christopher Cotter about the specificities of the object of her doctoral research at University College Cork (2012), contemporary Irish Paganism, and about the field of Pagan studies in the context of Irish academia. Butler’s research encompasses very diverse aspects of contemporary Paganism in general, from Wicca to Pagan Witchcraft, through Heathenism and Druidry, without forgetting to pay attention to solitary practitioners who revolve around groups like Wiccan covens and Druidic groves. Nevertheless, what started as an overview of Butler’s work in Ireland quickly turned into a much-needed critique of the context surrounding academia and religious studies. Her own ethnographic research raises questions about important categories and paradigms in religious studies today.

The first element of interest in Butler’s work is her use of “Paganism”, a somewhat monolithic term, to describe the Pagan movement. It is most interesting to see how her use of the term “Paganism” instead of “Paganisms” pertains to the current hesitation in academia to talk about “Christianisms,” for example, as an array of different traditions included in Christianity. Some scholars of Pagan studies prefer the use of “Paganisms,” easily recognizing that it is more appropriate to talk about it in a way that reflects its inner diversity and lack of cohesion in regards to beliefs, practices and ethics. We can only deduct that Butler’s move to speak of her object of study in the singular form must be due in part to the fact that the study of Pagans and Paganism in Ireland is still nascent. For that reason, it would probably have been harder for her to have her object recognized by the academic institution if she didn’t comply with the same convention that usually applies to the major religious traditions of this world, i.e. world religions. Does it have anything to do with the possibility that a confessional approach of religion still lingers within religious studies in the Republic of Ireland? Compared to the context of Butler’s research, it seems that American and Canadian scholars of religion show much less hesitation to talk about “Christianisms” or “Hinduisms,” for example, as a series of several sub-traditions, rather than as uniform religions. Butler specifies that this decision derives from her ethnographic methods of research, and, in that sense, that her use of the term “Paganism” as a whole stems from her fieldwork. In this manner, she gracefully avoids some of the methodological and theoretical problems that would come out of an ethnocentered perception of religion.

In light of this, one can wonder how expeditious is the common assumption that most Pagans, or at least a majority of them are well read (Davy, 2007). First, let’s not forget that it is not unusual at all that members or adepts of a religion, be it new or old, take upon themselves to be well aware of the literature, academic or confessional, surrounding their religion. In my experience, Pagans are certainly well read in particular areas, like mythology, folklore and sometimes history, but they seem much less informed when the time comes to compare “world religions” to their own religiosities or to compare their own religious categories to those produced and accepted in academic circles in religious studies, anthropology, and history, among others. This is not to say that Pagans are particularly less well-read than individuals who belong to other institutionalized or formal religious traditions. Many adepts of Neo-Druidry do indeed dig deep into historical and archaeological material to reconstruct parts of their worldviews, practices, and social organisations. It is also possible that for a great number of individuals who identify themselves against religions, like some atheists for example, being informed by scholarly works might be an important aspect of their “non-religion.”

As far as I am concerned, this idea that Pagans are more informed about scholarly works in religious studies is questionable only because most Pagans, as Butler indicates, do not interrogate the origins of their religiosities beyond their romanticized interpretation of geographical locations and historical or mythological influences. In fact, one can wonder why it has never been articulated anywhere so far within Pagan studies that Wicca, the only “religion” stemming out of Britain (Hutton, 1999), is rooted in elements often associated with Irish Celtic myths or figures. What about the veneration of deities such as the popular Ceridwen and Cernunnos? What changes did those figures go through by leaving English soil, going around the Western world through the popularization of Wicca, contemporary Paganism, New Age, and Goddess spiritualities, before coming back to Ireland, decades later? Is it just that Pagan studies in Ireland haven’t made the connection yet? Probably not. Is it that these figures did not undergo any kind of transformation? That would, of course, be quite surprising. Or, maybe is it that these distinctions do not matter for Pagans and scholars who study them? Paganism, being a religion without dogma, without a “proper” institution standardizing discourse and practice, in the face of globalization, might not have what it takes to conceive these divergences as significant issues to deal with.

In my eye, the most interesting aspect of Butler’s study is that it shows just how locations and spiritual nexuses in Ireland are at the heart of Irish Pagan religiosities. Certainly akin to what happens in Britain at Stonehenge or Glastonbury, this phenomenon invokes issues of authenticity and “nativeness.” These locations point to a long gone past, which then comprised very different worldviews from those at play today that have inevitably been marked by what Butler qualifies as a “Christian veneer.” This brings up and interrogates the basic distinction between Christianity and paganism[1], or rather the issue of identification of paganism by agents of Christianity. Would a certain paganism occurring today not be paganism anymore after being marked by centuries of Christian proselytism? This forces researchers to work outside of these ever-reproduced categories to focus on more current issues, giving more space to collective and individual stories rather than written texts that prescribe modes of practice.

In the last couple of years, scholarship in Pagan studies has begun to slow down. The main source cited by Butler, The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies, is struggling more and more as the years go by to find new approaches to Paganisms and Earth-centered or nature-based religions that would give them some sort of undisputable recognition within universities. In fact, it seems that as soon as students and scholars of Pagan Studies step out of the United States or Britain (mostly), they still face an ever-present normative push that won’t accept Paganisms as legitimate religious objects of study or Pagan studies as a legitimate field of study. We can only hope that Butler’s work, quite unique in itself, can revive this pull towards understanding the originality and specificities of contemporary Paganism as it spreads in different ways throughout the globe.

Reference

Davy, B. J. (2007). Introduction to Pagan Studies. New York/Toronto: Altamira Press.

Hutton, R. (1999). The Triumph of the Moon. A History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft. New York: Oxford University Press.

York, M. (2005). Pagan Theology: Paganism as a World Religion. New York: NYU Press.

[1] The term “paganism” refers to what Michael York calls a spontaneous religiosity linked to the land (2005), found in Native and aboriginal cultures for example, as opposed to “Paganism”, capitalized to refer to the contemporary revival of pre-Christian mythologies.