Podcasts

Roundtable on Religious Studies and Academic Credibility beyond ‘World Religions’

A while back a few of us gathered for what became the first of a ‘successful’ bout of roundtables conducted by a cadre of ‘amazing people’ with differing and ‘unique’ opinions. In that first ‘test’ for the ones that would follow, six of us gathered together to discuss the ‘future of religious studies.’

A few highlights from that recording are the revelation that what one does with a degree in religious studies inevitably leads toward a fine career at Starbucks, that ‘relativity,’ being one step from ‘subjectivity,’ is the ‘post-modernist quagmire of death and destruction that will consume all academic fields if it’s allowed to spread too far,’ and that we ourselves, despite the wishes of many, are not, in fact, the future of religious studies.

After that first attempt came many others and the RSP has blossomed nicely. A few of us finished the degrees that were at that time ‘in-progress’ and moved on—and away—from Edinburgh. This last September we were given the opportunity—thanks to romance—to all be back in town, and arranged a ‘reunion-of-sorts.’ This time, our conversation was a bit less organized, but by no means less interesting. A few of us had begun working on Ph.D. programs, and a few of us had just entered into the early-to-final stages of those begun around the time of the first recording. We sat in the same seats, in the same room, and sipped the same canned cocktails as before. Interestingly, our positions, opinions, and arguments seem both old and new, the result of time working together, learning each other’s personalities, and becoming closer friends and colleagues. Please share in our discussion, comment, discuss on your own and, as always, thanks for listening.

Kevin came back to Edinburgh, cap in hand. Liam thought this was a brilliant thing!

Kevin came back to Edinburgh, cap in hand. Liam thought this was a brilliant thing!

Many thanks to Ethan for penning this prose.

Identity or Identification?

Identity or Identification? In this second podcast for Identities? Week, the Culture on the Edge group address the issue of religious identity.

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“There is no such thing as identity, only operational acts of identification.” – Jean-Francois Bayart

Is our identity – cultural, religious or other – something which causes us to act, or something which we choose to mobilise in certain circumstances? And what part do scholars have in reifying these discourses? Why are certain groups “militant” and not others? And what does this have to do with Hinduism? (Don’t ask me, though – I’m a straight white British male and therefore have no cultural identity…)

The group’s blog can be read here – although we’ll also be featuring their posts on the RSP facebook page. You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. And if you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us, or use our Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com link to support us when buying your important books etc.

Culture on the Edge is an international scholarly working group, centered at the University of Alabama and begun in the Spring of 2012, whose aim is to use social theory to offer more nuanced understandings of how those things that we commonly call identities are produced, managed, and continually reproduced. Culture on the Edge therefore tackles, at a variety of social sites, the contradiction between, on the one hand, the historicity of identity (which is now generally seen by scholars to be always fluid over place and time), and, on the other, the nagging presumption of a static and ahistorical origin against which cultural change is thought to be measured.

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Russell McCutcheon has a dog named Izzy.

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K. Merinda Simmons is an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at The University of Alabama. Her manuscript, Mary Prince and Her Sisters: Gender, Race, Migration, and the Problem of Authenticity, has recently been contracted by Ohio State University Press and her other books include Studying Religion: A Reader (Acumen, forthcoming) and the co-edited Race and Displacement (The University of Alabama Press, 2013). She is also the co-editor (along with Houston Baker) for the newly contracted collection, The Trouble with Post-Blackness(Columbia University Press), examining the assumptions that make possible the ideal of “post-blackness” that many media moguls, politicians, and public intellectuals have now adopted.

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Monica R. Miller is Assistant Professor of Religion and Africana Studies at Lehigh University and among other publications, author of Religion and Hip Hop (Routledge, 2012). Miller is Principal Investigator of a large scale survey project entitled “Remaking Religion” which examines changing patterns of religion and irreligion in youth culture in Portland, Oregon. Monica also is editing Claiming Identity in the Study of Religion, the first book in the Culture on the Edge book series. Follow Monica on Twitter.

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A Critical Introduction to the Study of Religion (Equinox, 2012), and Religious Experience: A Reader, co-edited with Russell T. McCutcheon (Equinox, 2012).

rameyedgeSteven Ramey is Associate Professor in the Department of Religious Studies and Director of Asian Studies at the University of Alabama. His book Hindu Sufi or Sikh (Palgrave, 2008) focuses on communities who identify as Sindhi Hindus and the ways they contest dominant understandings of identities, both in India and beyond. His newest project addresses the assumptions in the language of religious labels and the ways those assumptions determine research and valorize particular constructions of religions. He is Series Editor of Culture on the Edge: Studies in Identity Formation, a book series with Equinox Publishers.

smithedgeLeslie Dorrough Smith is an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies and Director of the Women’s and Gender Studies Department at Avila University (Kansas City, MO). She has just finished a book manuscript, contracted by Oxford University Press, that explores the uses for rhetorics of chaos within such groups as Concerned Women for America, one of the nation’s most powerful and vocal conservative Christian groups. Among her articles are: “Divine Order, Divine Myth: Uncovering the Mythical Construction of Gender Ideals in Protestant Fundamentalist Circles” (ARCThe Journal of the Faculty of Religious Studies, McGill University, 2002) and “What’s in a Name?: Scholarship and the Pathology of Conservative Protestantism” (Method & Theory in the Study of Religion, 2008), and a chapter in After the Passion is Gone: American Religious Consequences (AltaMira Press, 2004) entitled “Living In the World, But Not of the World: Understanding Evangelical Support for ‘The Passion of the Christ’.”

vaia2Vaia Touna earned her BA and MA at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece, in the study of Hellenistic religions, and ancient Greek literature, and is currently writing her doctoral dissertation at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. Her research focuses on the sociology of identity formation with examples drawn from ancient, to modern Greece. Vaia is the Editorial Assistant for the journal Method & Theory in the Study of Religion (published by Brill of the Netherlands). Among her publications are: “The Manageable Self in the Early Hellenistic Era” published in The Bulletin for the Study of Religion (2010) and “Redescribing Iconoclasm: Holey Frescoes and Identity Formation,” a chapter in Failure and Nerve in the Academic Study of Religion (Acumen, 2012). Vaia is also the editor for The Problem of Nostalgia in the Study of Identification in the Culture on the Edge Book Series.

Cross-Cultural Identities Roundtable

It’s Identities? Week here at the Religious Studies Project, with not one but two specially-recorded roundtable discussions about how identity is negotiated (if indeed it is) through our religious, ethnic, sexual and socio-cultural identities.

interview - photoThis first podcast, recorded at the Open University’s Contemporary Religion in Historical Perspective conference in Milton Keynes in May, organised with Paul-Francois Tremlett (convenor of the OU’s Cross-Cultural Identities research theme) focuses on identity and dislocation, either through diaspora or through rapid social change. Jasjit Singh’s research focuses on how young British Sikh’s negotiate their religious identity; Isabel Cabana Rojas discusses the emigration of Peruvian Catholics to Japan in the 19th century and the subsequent return of some of them to Peru; Marta Turkot discusses the rapidly changing religious situation in Poland today, one of the bastions of Catholicism in Europe. The discussion takes these as a starting-points, however, to address broader issues of identity formation.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. And if you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us, or use our Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com link to support us when buying your important books etc.

You can read Paul-Francois Tremlett’s report of the two Cross-Cultural Identities panels at the conference here.

Paul Tremlett photoPaul-François Tremlett is Lecturer in Religious Studies at the Open University. His PhD research focused on local religion and national identity in the Philippines at  the extinct volcano Mount Banahaw. His present research is more theoretically oriented, including spatialities and geographies and place-making practices; modernity(ies) and secularism(s); Marxism and classical and contemporary social theory.

Jasjit Singh -photoDr Jasjit Singh has recently completed a PhD which examined the religious lives of 18-30 year old British Sikhs focusing on the different ways in which young Sikhs now learn about Sikhism. He has spoken about his research on BBC Radio 4 and has published a number of academic articles and book chapters. He is currently employed as a post-doctoral research fellow at the University of Leeds and is looking to examine the role of devotional music in identity formation and religious transmission. Further details about his work can be found at: www.leeds.ac.uk/sikhs

Academic Publishing Roundtable

Publish, or be damned! But the world of publishing can be esoteric, especially the cloistered world of academic publishing. In this special roundtable discussion, recorded during the Australian Association for the Study of Religion annual conference last year, Zoe Alderton leads a group of academics with experience of all levels of academic publishing in a discussion which aims to demystify the process.

George, Zoe and Carole begin by talking about editing special themed Issues of academic journals. They talk about networking – that you have to make yourself available, but you have to put the work in when it’s needed. Alex then describes how a larger edited book is constructed from the proposals received. Simon then describes his experience of writing for an edited volume. Alex shares a cautionary tale about authorship and competition, and Carole recounts some less-than-positive experiences with editors.

Conversation then turns to the experience of being an editor yourself. George reads an email which he composed in order to reject someone as kindly as he could. Carole’s closing advice is “Write what you want, and write clear.” This podcast is essential information not only for prospective Religious Studies scholars, not only the humanities and social scientists, but anyone aiming for a career in academia.

Thanks to Zoe for chairing this, to Carole and Don for opening their home, and to Annabel Carr for providing photographs. And thanks to all the participants for an informative and entertaining recording.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. And if you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us, or use our Amazon.co.uk link to support us when buying your important books etc.

Zoe Alderton is a PhD candidate in the department of Studies in Religion at the University of Sydney. Her thesis concerns the New Zealand artist Colin McCahon and the nature of his audience reception. Zoe’s main interests are religion in modern art and religious communication via new media. Her recent publications include a discussion of the inheritance of Theosophy in Australian modernism, and an exploration of the contentious politics surrounding the Blake Prize for Religious Art. Upcoming publications concern imaginative pilgrimage in the work of Colin McCahon, and a discussion of the motifs in his beachside theology. Zoe is also a tutor in Sociology for the University of Western Sydney and reviews editor for the journal Literature & Aesthetics.

Carole M. Cusack (Professor in Studies in Religion at the University of Sydney) trained as a medievalist and her doctorate was published as Conversion Among the Germanic Peoples (Cassell, 1998). Since the late 1990s she has taught in contemporary religious trends, publishing on pilgrimage and tourism, modern Pagan religions, new religious movements, the interface between religion and politics, and religion and popular culture. She is the author of The Essence of Buddhism (Lansdowne, 2001), Invented Religions: Imagination, Fiction and Faith (Ashgate, 2010), and The Sacred Tree: Ancient and Medieval Manifestations (Cambridge Scholars Publishing), 2011. She has published in a number of edited volumes, and is the editor (with Christopher Hartney) of Religion and Retributive Logic: Essays in Honour of Garry W. Trompf (Brill, 2010). With Christopher Hartney (University of Sydney) she is editor of the Journal of Religious History (Wiley) and with Liselotte Frisk (Dalarna University) she is editor of the International Journal for the Study of New Religions (Equinox). She serves on the Editorial Boards of the journal Literature & Aesthetics, and of the Sophia Monograph Series (Springer).

Alex NormanAlex Norman (“the Tourism Guy”) lectures at the Department of Studies in Religion at the University of Sydney, where he completed his doctorate in 2010. His central research interests revolve around the confluence of travel practices and religious practices. His book Spiritual Tourism (Continuum 2011) examines the intersection of travel and secular spiritual practice by contemporary Westerners. His other main research interest is in new religious movements, and in 2012 he co-edited the Handbook of New Religions and Cultural Production (Brill 2012) with Carole M. Cusack. From 2010 to 2013 Alex was co-editor of Literature & Aesthetics, culminating in a special issue examining travel and literature published in 2012. His latest research project looks at the various ways in which travel events and traditions have impacted the formation of new religious movements.

George Ioannides studied comparative religion as part of his Undergraduate degree at the University of Sydney, Australia.

 

 

Simon Theobold is a graduate student in the Archaeology and Anthropology department of the Australian National University. His current research examines food taboos in contemporary Australia.

Sarah K. Balstrup is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Studies in Religion at the University of Sydney, and you can follow this link to read her paper Sentient Symbols: The Implications of Animal Cruelty Debates in Contemporary Australian Art.

 

Roundtable: Should Religious Studies be Multidisciplinary?

Jonathan, Elizabeth, Liam, Maegan, Kevin and Krittika (with Ethan behind the camera)

Ninian Smart was a proponent of the idea that Religious Studies should be “poly-methodical”; but should Religious Studies as a discipline incorporate theories and methodologies from multiple other disciplines, such as sociology, anthropology or history? When RS departments have run on an interdisciplinary basis, have they been successful?

Krittika suggested that a Religious Studies department has much greater difficulty being recognised institutionally than, say, a History Department

For this third roundtable, recorded at the University of Edinburgh, Jonathan tabled the motion. It quickly becomes apparent that Jonathan has an agenda; to push phenomenology as Religious Studies’ sole methodology. Happily, the panelists were somewhat more multidisciplinary than normal, and were keen to disagree. Polite sparring ensues.

If you are new to the podcast – this is not what we usually do, although it is becoming increasingly common. If you are a regular listener – you might enjoy this, or you might not; either way, we are back to normal with Timothy Fitzgerald’s interview on Religion and Mystification on Monday. You can also download this roundtable, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. We would be delighted if you used this as an opportunity to continue discussion of this important topic on our Facebook page, on Twitter, or in the comments section below.

To continue the portrait of discussion…

Ethan: “The issue with this issue that we are talking about is that there is no issue.”

As Nathan Schneider recently wrote on Religion Dispatches, “No matter what you “do with it,” really, the study of religion forces you to learn about geopolitics, languages, literatures, sciences, and histories.” Is this a good thing? Should individual scholars multi-disciplinary? Or just departments? What is the difference between multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary?

Kevin: “We don’t understand sociology as well as the sociologists; we don’t understand psychology as well as the psychologists… they might be able to give us information we can use in a way we wouldn’t have been able to gather.”

Given that Religious Studies is currently vying for finances and for an academic identity and respect, is it important that we have one consistent methodological approach? Would this lead to commonality and manageability? Do we even need to be unique? Any why not turn to theory or content to provide that distinctiveness and autonomy?

Liam: “A rough, minimal commitment to the social-scientific study of religion is all we really need to set us apart…”

If we were to have just one methodology, what would it be? Phenomenology? Anthropology? Sociology? History? Psychology? Text Criticism? Neo-Tylorianism? Critical Religions? What would we “kick out”?

Towards the end of the discussion, the issues of bias and representation come to the fore. which is quite serendipitous given that our next compilation episode and roundtable are both focusing on the issue of whether scholars of religion should be critics or caretakers.

There is a lot of chat about historical approaches in this podcast, and if you would like to get a better handle on what this mysterious phenomenology actually is, then please do listen to this podcast with the oft-mentioned James Cox, or read Jonathan’s response essay on the same topic.

Maegan: “I think you originally asked a question, but did you just answer it yourself?”

The Panelists:

Krittika Bhattacharjee is reading towards an MSc in Religious Studies at the University of Edinburgh. She completed a BA in History from Delhi University and went on to do a second undergraduate degree in History at the University of Oxford. She is interested in the points of contact between tourism and religion, particularly in how tourists interact with, and in sites deemed religious. Her Masters dissertation studies tourists at Rosslyn Chapel. She will be joining a theatre company in Delhi as an actor after her MSc is concluded.

 

Maegan C. M. Gilliland is a doctoral candidate at the University of Edinburgh. Her thesis focuses on the early Christian transmission of the Pauline Epistles through a text-critical evaluation and statistical analysis of the epistles as found within the extant writings of Clement of Alexandria. Her research interests include textual criticism, early Christian movements, the early Christian reception and transmission of religious texts and Ancient Near Eastern religious texts. Her forthcoming publications (2012) include three dictionary articles for the Lexham Bible Dictionary (“Form Criticism”, “Redaction Criticism” and “The History of Writing in Mesopotamia”).

Ethan Gjerset Quillen is a doctoral candidate in religious studies at the University of Edinburgh.  His dissertation is on the evaluation of the categorically social, historical, and cultural attributes of Atheist identities in the United Kingdom from 1979 to 2012 using the novels of Ian McEwan as representative data.  He earned a Bachelor of Arts from the University of California, Riverside in religious studies and a Master of Arts from California State University, Long Beach with an emphasis on 19th century American religious communities and New Religious Movements.  He also holds two Master of Arts degrees from Baylor University – the first in American Studies, and the second from the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church State Studies. He has also written the essay Circular Academia: Navigating the Dangerous Waters of Term Re-Assignment for the Religious Studies Project.

Liam Sutherland is a Religious Studies Postgraduate student at Edinburgh University undertaking a Masters by Research, on the relevance of E.B Tylor for the contemporary theory of religion, defining religion and modern scholars with a ‘Neo-Tylorian’ influence or affinity. He is a native of Edinburgh where he also completed his undergraduate degree  in 2009, producing a dissertation on contemporary Indigenous Australian spirituality and the politics of land rights. Though he began in Politics, and took many Politics and school of Social Science courses, he quickly fell in love with Religious Studies! Liam has also written the essay An Evaluation of Harvey’s Approach to Animism and the Tylorian Legacy for the Religious Studies Project.

What is Phenomenology? for the Religious Studies Project, as well as recording a number of interviews.

Dr Elizabeth Ursic is a professor of religious studies at Mesa Community College in Phoenix Arizona. Her research interests include gender, religion, and the arts. She is a Visiting Fellow at New College at the University of Edinburgh, currently writing a chapter on the 1980s Motherhood of God controversy in the Church of Scotland. She holds a PhD from Arizona State University and an MDiv from Yale Divinity School where she was a graduate fellow in the Yale Institute of Sacred Music.

 

“Roundtable Regular” Kevin Whitesides completed his B.A. in Religious Studies at Humboldt State University. He is currently developing an MSc dissertation at the University of Edinburgh on ’2012′ millennialism as part of a broader emphasis on countercultural transmission. Kevin has contributed articles to ‘Archaeoastronomy’ and ‘Zeitschrift fur Anomalistik’, has contributed chapters for two anthologies on apocalypse and prophecy, and has presented widely on the ’2012′ milieu at academic conferences and universities.