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Historical Approaches to Studying Religion

As the RSP continues to grow, we’re going to be returning more frequently to topics and themes which have already been touched upon in previous podcasts and features. This week, we are pleased to bring you a double re-post in response to our double podcast with John Wolffe & Ronald Hutton on Historical Approaches to the Study of Religion.

First, in the following podcast – first ‘broadcast’ on 30 April 2012, and later selected as one of our editors’ picks the following summer – Louise Connelly introduces Chris’s interview with Professor Callum Brown. How can we use historical approaches in the study of religion? More specifically, can we use historical approaches to understand why people are losing it? Professor Callum Brown tells us why historical approaches have much to tell us about religious change.

 

Download.

Second, Dr Tim Hutchings – who has also been an interviewee on the RSP, and participated in our ‘Religion in the News Panel Session’ – wrote the following response essay to Professor Brown’s interview. We ‘re-print’ it here in its entirety. We hope you enjoy these different takes on this week’s central theme. If you do, you can subscribe to receive our weekly podcast through iTunes and other portals. You can also use our Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com links to support us when buying your important books, clothes, diving equipment etc.


A Response to Callum Brown: Connecting “When” and “Why” in Digital Religion

By Tim Hutchings, Durham University

In his new podcast for the Religious Studies Project, Callum Brown has given us an excellent introduction to the historical approach to the study of religion. In conversation with Christopher Cotter, Brown outlines rival traditions within the history of religion and demonstrates what each has contributed to our understanding of secularisation. Along the way, Brown summarises his research career and offers some tantalising hints about his current interview-based study of the life stories of people who have left religion. He also emphasises the value of demographics, arguing that sophisticated analyses of census data reveal that people develop ‘an entirely new sense of self’ when they leave religion.  This is a fascinating and challenging claim, but I have chosen to focus in this response on another of the main themes of this podcast: the relationship between history and sociology.

At the end of this interview, Brown distinguishes the history of religion sharply from sociology. According to Brown, there is a “huge gap” in method, approach and interests between the two disciplines. Sociologists, he argues, believe that the world is governed by rules. They undertake research to study the contemporary religious landscape, interpret this snapshot in time by framing it within a particular model of fixed, linear change, and then make predictions about the future. Historians, on the other hand, believe that nothing is inevitable and assume that “when” must be the first step in working out “why”. Instead of collecting snapshots, historians map change year-on-year, using that longitudinal data to establish the effects of key events.

My own field of research is digital religion, an area with a particularly troubled relationship to history. Scholars and commentators interested in digital culture and its significance for religion have struggled to distinguish what is truly new from what has come before, and continue to search for helpful ways to talk about change.

One classic strategy since the 1990s has been to contrast an anecdotal snapshot of contemporary life against visions of the near future and the recent past.  In the most common forms of this argument, the past is characterised by stable local communities, face-to-face relationships and a secure, unchanging personal identity. Contemporary digital technology challenges this stability by supporting fluid, self-determined, global communication networks, so the argument goes, and these changes will intensify in the near future. Different observers have interpreted this same basic approach in positive, neutral and negative ways, seeing technology as the route to new spiritual awareness (Cobb 1998), a powerful tool that can be used to promote an unchanging religious message to the new mission field of digital culture (Estes 2009, Sweet 2012), or a dangerous threat to church, character and society. Sherry Turkle’s recent declaration that social media is facilitating a “flight from conversation” is a good example of this third type (2012). Young people now use their phones a lot, she argues, and they previously spent time face-to-face, and this shift is very bad for everyone. Her argument is simple and intuitively appealing, contrasting a recognisable snapshot of everyday life with a widely-accepted vision of the recent past and calling for immediate action to rescue the future, and her article has provoked much discussion online in recent weeks.

Scholars of media and religion have tried to challenge this approach over the last decade by framing their observations within a more rigorous historical perspective. The forms of religious community observed online are not unique after all, they argue: they actually continue long-running trajectories of social change from groups to networks (Wellman 2012) or from stable to fluid religious identities (Wagner 2012). Heidi Campbell’s recent work (2010) focuses on the power of religious groups to construct and interpret the technology they use, a process that includes engagement with group history. For Campbell, contemporary religious uses of the internet must be interpreted in the context of the theology and values of particular communities, including how those communities have changed their approach to media over time.  Many other scholars have tried to complicate popular understandings of the past and present of media religion, undertaking detailed comparative studies to show that religious authority, community and identity have not changed in the ways some observers allege.

Listening to Callum Brown’s interview, it becomes clear that all of these scholarly approaches represent a distinctively sociological way of using history. These scholars analyse the past to identify long-term trajectories in social or religious change and use that model to interpret the present. “When” questions are rarely considered: the purpose of the exercise is to establish a tension between a stable (or predictably-changing) past and a snapshot of the present, to generate insights into continuity and change.

There is clear scope here for inter-disciplinary collaboration. Sociological interest in the history of religion and media has generated a space for interventions by historians, who can greatly benefit the study of digital culture by offering detailed critiques of our assumed trajectories of change. Recent examples include Jeremy Stolow’s keynote speech on the spirituality of the telegraph, delivered to the Digital Religion conference in Colorado earlier this year (see Stolow 2011), and Stefan Gelfgren’s work (2012) on the history of religious attitudes to media. Sociologists of digital religion are still not as interested in the connection between “when” and “why” as Callum Brown might like, but clear progress is being made to forge connections with historians. This podcast is an excellent provocation to think harder about the questions we overlook and the interdisciplinary conversations that might help us uncover them.

This material is disseminated under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. and can be distributed and utilised freely, provided full citation is given.

Bibliography

  • Campbell, Heidi. When Religion Meets New Media. Abingdon: Routledge, 2010.
  • Cobb, Jennifer. CyberGrace: The Search for God in the Digital World. New York: Crown, 1998.
  • Estes, Douglas. SimChurch: Being the Church in the Virtual World. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009.
  • Gelfgren, Stefan. “Let there be digital networks and God will provide growth?” Comparing the aims and hopes of 19th-century and post-millenial Christianity. In Pauline Hope Cheong, Peter Fischer-Nielsen, Stefan Gelfgren and Charles Ess (eds.), Digital Religion, Social Media and Culture: Perspectives, Practices and Futures. New York: Peter Lang, 2012. p. 227-242.
  • Hogan, Bernie and Barry Wellman. The immanent internet redux. In Pauline Hope Cheong, Peter Fischer-Nielsen, Stefan Gelfgren and Charles Ess (eds.), Digital Religion, Social Media and Culture: Perspectives, Practices and Futures. New York: Peter Lang, 2012. p. 43-62.
  • Stolow, Jeremy. ‘Telegraph’, in freq.uenci.es: a collaborative genealogy of spirituality. September 7 2011. Available online: http://freq.uenci.es/2011/09/07/telegraph/.  Accessed May 2 2012.
  • Sweet, Leonard. Viral: How Social Networking is Poised to Ignite Revival. Colorado Springs: Waterbrook, 2012.
  • Turkle, Sherry. The flight from conversation. New York Times, April 21 2012. Available online: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/22/opinion/sunday/the-flight-from-conversation.html. Accessed May 2 2012.
  • Wagner, Rachel. Godwired: Religion, Ritual and Virtual Reality. Abingdon: Routledge, 2012.

 

Bruno Latour, Talking “Religiously”, part 1

Professor Bruno Latour is one of the most respected scholars in the social sciences today. This February, he came to Edinburgh University to deliver the annual Gifford Lecture Series, established in 1888 to ‘promote and diffuse the study of Natural Theology in the widest sense of the term” – an opportunity we felt we could not miss. Previous presenters have included such luminaries as William James, Wilfred Cantwell Smith and E. B. Tylor. So how does an anthropologist of science come to be giving the Gifford Lectures?

In this first part, Latour and David Robertson discuss the broader relevance of his work for Religious Studies. They discuss actor-network theory, of which Latour was instrumental in developing. This includes some discussion of phenomenology and religious “essence”. Discussion then moves to Latour’s forthcoming work, Rejoicing: or the Torments of Religious Speech (Polity 2013), a more personal work which concerns not “religion” or “religions” but the adverb “religiously”. What does it mean to talk religiously, and is it still even possible? It is at the same time a fierce attack on religions, but a passionate defence of religious speech.

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.

Videos and abstracts of Bruno Latour’s complete Gifford Lecture series can be viewed on the University of Edinburgh’s page.

Bruno Latour is Professor at Sciences Po Paris and has also been Professor at the Centre de Sociologie de l’Innovation at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Mines in Paris and visiting Professor at University of California (San Diego), at the London School of Economics and Harvard University. After field studies in Africa and California he specialized in the analysis of scientists and engineers at work. In addition to work in philosophy, history, sociology and anthropology of science, he has collaborated on many studies in science policy and research management, producing significant works such as Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts and most recently Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory (Clarendon Lectures in Management Studies). He has also made a valuable contribution to the political philosophy of the environment with the book Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy, a theme which the Gifford Lectures continue.

Sociotheology and Cosmic War

Over the course of the last few decades religious violence has become an increasingly salient topic of public discourse and particularly in its global manifestations. In the social sciences these discourses focus primarily on explanations of violent acts that are driven by the socio-political contexts enveloping them. Mark Juergensmeyer argues that such explanations only tell part of the story, however, since some actions are motivated by a religious vision, like the vision of “cosmic war.” Talking to Per in this podcast Juergensmeyer explains how a “sociotheological approach” is particularly well suited to the task of understanding religious violence by engaging the worldviews of violent actors directly and taking their theological concerns as seriously as their political ideologies.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us, ‘Like’ us on Facebook, and/or follow us on Twitter. And if you want to support the RSP, you can click through to Amazon.co.uk through our affiliates link, and we will earn referral fees from any transactions during your visit.

Mark Juergensmeyer is a former president of the American Academy of Religion and the current director of the Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbera where he also teaches sociology and religious studies. He is a prolific writer and speaker whose work deals with South Asian religion and politics, religious violence and global religion among other topics. Recent books include Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence, Global Rebellion: Religious Challenges to the Secular State, and the just released The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Violence, which contains a chapter outlining, “A Sociotheological Approach to the Study of Religious Violence.”

The Sacred

Religion and the Sacred, the Sacred and religion. Two words that seemingly go together like hand in glove but just how accurate is that? When we talk about religion it’s very hard not to talk about the Sacred but when we talk about the Sacred does this mean we have to talk about religion? What does the Sacred even mean? This introduction began with “Sacred” but it may well be more appropriate to write “sacred”. Whether capitalised or not, the sacred is a predominant topic in many forms of discourse and not all these are necessarily religious in nature.

This week we discuss the sacred and all its connotations with Gordon Lynch. The sacred is not, it seems, just a religion-only category and many aspects of modern secular societies are pervaded with such a notion. But if the sacred isn’t a religion only category where does that leave religion? Should there be departments of Religious Studies at all, or should we be replacing them with Sacred Studies? We discuss the potentially far reaching implications that a shift in focus from Religion to the Sacred can have on academia.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to our weekly podcast, on Secular Sacreds and the Sacred Secular.

Gordon Lynch is the Michael Ramsey Professor of Modern Theology at the University of Kent where he teaches on the sacred in modern Western Society. Professor Lynch has published a number of works including an edited volume with Jolyon Mitchell and has recently published two books on the sacred, The Sacred in the Modern World and On the Sacred. If you’d like to know more about Professor Lynch’s work on the sacred you can find out more information on his blog as well as access some of his own learning resources.

 

Digital Religion

Second Life, World of Warcraft, over the past few years the internet has seen an explosion of activity in virtual realms. People have taken to creating digital avatars whether its to join in epic fantasy battles or simply to meet other people. And where you find people meeting you’re bound to find religion in the mix. Unlike chatrooms and blog posts where people simply write out their ideas and discuss their beliefs these digital worlds offer a whole new way in which to act out and practice religious beliefs. From meditation sessions, church congregations, to memorial services the range of activities not only matches what can be found in the real world but can exceed it also. The Digital realm opens up a whole new range of possibilities for a person to be religious.

For many of us in the study of religions this may seem like a daunting task. The digital realm is a dark continent in which the standard practices of methodology and theory find themselves tested by a whole new landscape. To introduce us to the vast array of topics Tim Hutchings provides us with an introductory discussion into the world of digital religion. We discuss the ways in which religion is finding itself in the digital realm and how this new format of expression differs from its real world iterations. The digital realm poses a number of interesting challenges to the questions of religious authority and orthodoxy in ways not visible/possible in the real world. Finally we tackle some of the issues that we as researchers must face when we try and study digital religion like the methods of data collection and ethics involved in studying digital avatars.

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

Tim Hutchings recently completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the HUMlab digital humanities centre in Umeå, Sweden and has now returned to the UK to join the CODEC research initiative at St John’s College, Durham. Tim is currently working with CODEC to develop a series of digital art exhibitions and installations in response to the Lindisfarne Gospels. His PhD thesis (Durham University, 2010) was an ethnographic study of five online Christian churches, focusing on the relationship between online and offline religion. Research interests include e-vangelism, online Christian storytelling, the future of the Bible as a digital sacred text and the role of new media in death and mourning. Tim has also written for us before responding to Callum Brown, you can find his article which also discusses Digital Religion here.

Why are Women more Religious than Men?

The relationship of religion to gender is a highly complex and disputed area. However, it is well-documented that (to take some UK-based examples), ‘men are proportionately under-represented’ in (mainstream ‘Christian’) ‘religious’ services (Brown 2000, 193), and ‘women outnumber men on all indices of religiosity and spirituality’ (Day 2008, 267). In fact, Marta Trzebiatowska and Steve Bruce, the authors of the forthcoming Why are Women more Religious than Men? (OUP, 20 September 2012) unambiguously state in their abstract that, simply, ‘women are more religious than men’.

In this interview with Chris, recorded at the BSA’s Sociology of Religion Study Group Conference in March 2012, Dr Marta Trzebiatowska us a fascinating whirlwind tour through the masses of sociological research which have been done into this area in recent years.

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

Explanations for this disparity in levels of religiosity include suggestions that ‘religion’ emphasises ‘‘feminine’ qualities of relationality and emotional expression’ (Aune and Vincett 2010, 222), and that ‘men tend to exhibit a greater degree of skepticism than do women’ (Bryant 2007, 844). It has been proposed that women explain their ‘religious’ experiences ‘in terms of protection [and] belonging’ (Day 2008, 274) and ‘value being caring and expressive, being a person through reciprocal relationships, and appreciate the value of improving the quality of subjective-life [in contrast to men, who concentrate] on improving the quality of life by way of autonomous, individuated and competitive agency in the world’ (Heelas et al. 2005, 110). Trzebiatowska extensively examines and critiques such explanations and concludes, with Bruce, that

the gender gap is not the result of biology but is rather the consequence of important social differences —responsibility for managing birth, child-rearing and death, for example, and attitudes to the body, illness and health — over-lapping and reinforcing each other. In the West, the gender gap is exaggerated because the social changes that undermined the plausibility of religion bore most heavily on men first. Where the lives of men and women become more similar, and where religious indifference grows, the gender gap gradually disappears.

For discussions on these issues and more, we recommend that you check out Marta’s other work, the references cited in this post, and the recently launched (2011) online journal previous interview with Lisbeth Mikaelsson on Religion and Gender.

Dr Marta Trzebiatowska is Lecturer in the Department of Sociology at the University of Aberdeen. Her research focuses on ‘taking religion seriously’ and on the relationship between religious discourses and gender politics. More specifically, she focuses on sociologically examining the ways in which religious women construct their femininity under circumstances commonly perceived as restrictive, or even oppressive, by secular feminists. She is the author of a number of articles and chapters in these areas, including Habit does not a nun make?: Religious dress in the lives of Polish Catholic nuns (Journal of Contemporary Religion) and When Reflexivity is Not Enough: Researching Polish Catholics (Fieldwork in Religion), and is co-author, with Steve Bruce, of the OUP Book Why are Women more Religious than Men? (2012).

This interview is the second in our series on Material/Embodied Religion, which started last week with David Morgan on Material Religion, and concludes next week with Professor Kim Knott on Religion, Space and Location.

References:

  • Aune, Kristin, and Giselle Vincett. “Gender Matters: Doing Feminist Research on Religion and Youth.” In Religion and Youth, edited by Sylvia Collins-Mayo and Pink Dandelion, 217–224. Surrey: Ashgate, 2010.
  • Bryant, Alyssa N. “Gender Differences in Spiritual Development During the College Years.” Sex Roles 56 (2007): 835–846.
  • Day, Abby. “Wilfully Disempowered.” European Journal of Women’s Studies 15, no. 3 (2008): 261 –276.
  • Heelas, Paul, Linda Woodhead, Benjamin Seel, Bronislaw Szerszynski, and Karen Tusting. The Spiritual Revolution: Why Religion Is Giving Way to Spirituality. Oxford: Blackwell, 2005.

Editors’ Picks 3: Jay Demerath on Functionalist Religion and the Substantive Sacred

Week three of our Editors’ Picks. Chris tells us why he (and his fiancée) liked Jay Demerath’s interview on substantive and functionalist definitions of religion.

Could the difficulties associated with the academic conceptualisation of “religion” be overcome by changing our focus instead to “the sacred”? Jay Demerath tells Chris why we should define religion substantively – that is, in terms of specific attributes like rituals, deities or dogmas – but the sacred in terms of the function it serves in the lives of individuals and cultures. From this perspective, religion can be considered one of a number of potential sources of the sacred.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. Please take a moment to rate us while you’re there.

Jay Demerath is currently the Emile Durkheim Distinguished Professor of Sociology Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he has been a faculty member since 1972, including ten years as Chair. Prior to UMass, he received a 1958 A.B. from Harvard and a 1964 Ph.D from the U. Of California, Berkeley before rising from Instructor to Professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and serving as Executive Officer of the American Sociological Association. Among his many publications, he is author or editor of fourteen books, including the award-winning Crossing the Gods: World Religions and Worldly Politics (2001) and the recent Sage Handbook for the Sociology of Religion (2008). The current Chair-elect of the Religion Section of the American Sociological Association, he is also past-President of the Eastern Sociological Society, the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, and the Association for the Sociology of Religion.

Of particular relevance to this interview is his paper from 2000, The Varieties of Sacred Experience: Finding the Sacred in a Secular Grove, from the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 39, p. 1–11. Here’s the abstract:

This paper contends that the social scientific study of religion has long labored under a chafing constraint and a misleading premise. It suggests that our primary focus should be on the sacred, and that religion is just one among many possible sources of the sacred. Defining religion “substantively” but the sacred “functionally” helps toresolve a long-standing tension in the field. Broadened conceptions of the sacred and of “sacralization” help to defuse the conflict among the two very different versions of secularization theory: the “all-or-nothing” versus the “middle range.” Meanwhile, a conceptual typology of the sacred pivots around the intersections of two distinctions (compensatory vs. confirmatory and marginal vs. institutional). This generates four distinct scenarios: the sacred as integrative, the sacred as quest, the sacred as collectivity, and the sacred as counter-culture. The paper concludes with three admonitions for research in the area.

Roundtable: Critics or Caretakers?

Anna, Ting, and the bear…

Here we are with yet another roundtable for you, following on from our epic compilation episode where world-famous academics answered the question, ‘Should Scholars of Religion be Critics or Caretakers?’ This discussion brings together a number of aspiring academics to reflect on some of the issues brought up in that podcast in a friendly and hilarious manner. The question cuts to the core of what academics who study religion are doing… are they taking care of religion? Are they antagonising it? What should they be doing? And judging by the various long tangents through which discussion meanders, the question certainly sparked our interest.

The participants were Katie Aston, Anna Clot i Garrell, Christopher Cotter, Ting Guo, Ethan Quillen, David Robertson and Jonathan Tuckett (biographical statements below). All of us had listened to the bulk of the podcast mentioned above… BUT none of us had yet heard Russell McCutcheon’s response to it (so, apologies that we probably fall afoul of his excellent critique).

If you are new to the podcast – this is not what we usually do. If you are a regular listener – you might enjoy this, or you might not. We hope you pick the former…

Jonathan: “…every action is going to be illegal to some state, it’s just a case of which state you’re pandering to at that point”

Discussion flows through what an academic ‘caretaker’ would look like, to whether we are being caretakers of the academic discipline of Religious Studies simply by perpetuating the discussion of religion. We discuss the nature of the ‘sacred’, the idea of ‘critical religion’, and get in to talking about ‘cultural Christians’, the ‘spiritual but not religious’ and the age-old problem of defining religion… and the newer but semantically parasitic problem of defining ‘nonreligion’.

We debate and attempt to answer such questions as:

  • If our research uncovers material which is relevant to the real world… make sure that people know? Should we be public intellectuals?
  • Should we just tell the truth no matter what the consequence?
  • Does this discussion depend on which definition of ‘religion’ we work with?
  • Where would we draw the line between being a scientific academic, and taking action against the conduct of a group we are studying?
  • Are ‘we’ in a position to judge? Would we be judging from intellectual grounds or ethical grounds?
  • Anna: What is the nature of academic criticism, as opposed to criticism in the common parlance?
  • Should we be methodologically atheist? Methodologically agnostic? Are these the same thing?

David and Anna showcase some hooded sweatshirts.

We should warn you that this is a little rough around the edges. The idea was not to present anyone with a sophisticated discussion, but to give you an idea of the vast amount of issues which a simple question can raise, and encourage others to have such discussions themselves and maybe come to different conclusions. It’s uncensored… it’s fun… we had a good time. Please don’t take anything too seriously… but try to enjoy it, to engage with us, to disagree with us, to criticise us. That’s what we’re here for. There is also a lot of discussion of paedophilia… this came up early on as a hypothetically abhorrent practice which some ‘religious’ group might engage in. As it is pretty difficult to trump this in terms of abhorrence we returned to the issue somewhat more regularly than it warranted. Suffice to say, this was most definitely a hypothetical example.

This podcast was recorded in Chris’ place of gainful employment – the University of Edinburgh Visitor Centre – and we are very grateful to them for providing the space. The participants were also all brought together by the Religion & Society Programme’s ‘Sacred Practice of Everyday Life’ conference, and we were very grateful to Linda Woodhead and the other organisers for allowing the Religious Studies Project to attend and record a number of podcasts with participants (to be released from September 2012).

Ethan: “When you define religion as a scholar, you’re essentially putting the last nail in your own coffin.”

Some choice quotations:

Ethan: “so, essentially what you’re promoting is that we all need to be defence attorneys?”

Chris: “Are we as scholars of religion by the very fact that we are scholars of religion… being caretakers?”

Katie: “Can I just clarify that I’m not a scholar of religion? Coz I’m not…”

Ethan: “That’s like saying it’s raining outside, this umbrella isn’t working, so I’ll open this canopy instead.”

And just so that we have a ‘proper’ academic involved, here is the quotation from Donald Wiebe which Chris cites in the recording as an example of the ‘critic’ side of the dichotomy:

 “Just as the knowledge produced in the humanities and by social scientists may bear on human problems and public concerns, so also the knowledge produced by students of religion may bear the same relationship to such issues. In this regard, however, it is important to note: first, that the “linkage” between the knowledge produced and the problems resolved is “external,” that is, it is of the same order, so to speak, as that between the natural sciences and engineering; second, that even though religious studies research may be relevant in that fashion, working out the policy/resolution implications of that knowledge is not the task of the student of religion. To take on that assignment is the task of policy makers, politicians, therapists, conflict managers, and other “public intellectuals.” And it is important, I think, that the scientific character of the study of religion not be compromised in any way by bringing such tasks in to the purview of Religious Studies”

Wiebe, Donald 2008. ‘The Scientific Study of Religion and Its Cultured Despisers’ in Willi Braun and Russell McCutcheon (eds.), Introducing Religion: Essays in Honor of Jonathan Z. Smith. London: Equinox, p. 477.

The Participants:


Having completed a BA (hons) in Fine Art at Wimbledon School of Art in 2006, Katie Aston went on to complete her Masters in Social Anthropology at Goldsmiths University, with a dissertation investigating gender performance within contemporary Stand Up comedy in London. Building on a pilot study of the Atheist Bus Campaign,  she is currently undertaking an ethnographic study of non-religious value construction and material cultures. She is looking specifically at rationalism and the role Christian heritage within non-religious individuals and organisation, taking a historical perspective from the freethought archives of Bishopsgate Institute. Katie is an Assistant Editor at NSRN Online, the web presence of the Nonreligion and Secularity Research Network.


Anna Clot i Garrell is currently a PhD candidate in the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB). She received her degree in Sociology from Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona in 2010. In 2009, she became part of the research group ISOR (Investigations in Sociology of Religion) directed by Dr. Joan Estruch, collaborating in the research project Evangelical Churches in Barcelona: doctrinal heterogeneity, immigration and evangelization strategies directed by Dra Maria del Mar Griera. In 2011, she completed a Master of Arts in Religious Studies at Lancaster University and was awarded with the Ninian Smart prize for the best dissertation in Religious Studies for the dissertation Exploring New Religious Expressions in Catalunya supervised by Dr. Andrew Dawson. She is interested in the transformations of religion and the emergence of novel expressions of religiosity in the secular sphere and traditional religious contexts.


Christopher R. Cotter recently completed his MSc by Research in Religious Studies at the University of Edinburgh, on the topic ‘Toward a Typology of Nonreligion: A Qualitative Analysis of Everyday Narratives of Scottish University Students’. He is currently taking a year out from study to present at conferences, complete various writing projects, and work on projects such as this. His PhD research at Lancaster University (commencing October 2012) will continue to expand the theme of ‘non-religion’ to apply to ‘everyone’ in religiously diverse, socio-economically deprived urban environments, simultaneously deconstructing the religion-nonreligion dichotomy in the process. He is Deputy Editor and Bibliography Manager at the Nonreligion and Secularity Research Network, and currently editing the volume ‘Social Identities between the Sacred and the Secular’ with Abby Day and Giselle Vincett (Ashgate, 2013). See his personal blog, or academia.edu page for a full CV.


Ting Guo is a PhD candidate in religious studies at the University of Edinburgh. Her thesis is on the philosophy of artificial intelligence and how that might contribute to understanding the meaning of spirituality and who and what we are in the Information Age. She is also interested in the religious landscape in East and Southeast Asia, in particular the phenomenon of “underground church” in China, the notion of neo-colonialism, and Chinese diaspora in Britain.


Circular Academia: Navigating the Dangerous Waters of Term Re-Assignment for the Religious Studies Project.


David G. Robertson is a Ph.D. candidate in the Religious Studies department of the University of Edinburgh. His research  examines how UFO narratives became the bridge by which ideas crossed between the conspiracist and New Age milieus in the post-Cold War period. More broadly, his work concerns contemporary alternative spiritualities, and their relationship with popular culture. Forthcoming publications: “Making the Donkey Visible: Discordianism in the Works of Robert Anton Wilson” in C. Cusack & A. Norman (Eds.), Brill Handbook of New Religions and Cultural Production. Leiden: Brill (2012) “(Always) Living in the End Times: The “rolling prophecy” of the conspracist milieu” in When Prophecy Persists. London: INFORM/Ashgate (2012). For a full CV and my MSc thesis on contemporary gnosticism, see my Academia page or my personal blog.


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

Should Scholars of Religion be Critics or Caretakers?

If you have been listening to the podcast for the past couple of weeks, you will be aware that we are about to go on a brief hiatus until September, to give our listeners some time to catch up, and to give Chris and David a chance to catch up on some of their other commitments. The website will still be releasing content on a less regular basis, and we have at least one more roundtable discussion for your delectation over the coming weeks. We will also be re-releasing our ‘editors favourites’ from the first batch of podcasts – so there will still be plenty of material to keep you occupied. However, before we ‘leave you’ we wanted to go out with a bang, and it is therefore with pleasure that we present the second of our compilation episodes.

As with the first of our compilation episodes (What is the Future of Religious Studies?), every time David, Chris and Jonathan have conducted an interview, they have been asking the interviewees an additional question: ‘Should Scholars of Religion be Critics or Caretakers?’ The result is this compilation of differing opinions and interpretations of key terms from eight top scholars from a variety of disciplines – sociology, psychology, religious studies, theology – on how academics should position themselves in relation to the groups and individuals that they study.

However, we decided to push things one step further with this one. The inspiration for this episode came from one of Russell McCutcheon’s works which we had encountered through the undergraduate Religious Studies programme at the University of Edinburgh, entitled ‘Critics Not Caretakers: Redescribing the Public Study of Religion‘. We thought it would be an excellent idea to invite Russell to respond to the opinions of the other scholars in this podcast, and are very grateful that not only was he happy to be involved, but he sent a ten minute response recording. Enjoy.

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

Some of these academics have already appeared on the Religious Studies Project, others’ interviews have yet to be released, and others’ are still on our ‘to-do’ list, yet each has their own unique perspective to offer, and we hope that you appreciate this compilation. We apologise for the UK-centric nature of these recordings… that’s just what happened in this instance.

Featured in this podcast (with links to their previously released interviews):

Whether you stick with us over the break, or come back to us in September, we can assure you that we have another great lineup in store. Future podcasts include interviews with David Morgan (Duke University), Kim Knott (Lancaster University), Robert Orsi (Northwestern University), Gordon Lynch (University of Kent), Suzanne Owen (Leeds Trinity University College), J Gordon Melton (Baylor University), Brian Victoria (Antioch University) and more…

Please keep telling people about us… if you are a lecturer, please consider incorporating this material into your courses… and please keep supporting us on Facebook and Twitter.

Thanks for listening!

Nuancing the Qual-Quan Divide: The Vitality of Research Methods in the Academic Study of Religion

Nuancing the Qual-Quan Divide:The Vitality of Research Methods in the Academic Study of Religion

By Yasaman S. Munro, Wilfrid Laurier University

Published by the Religious Studies Project on 4 July 2012 in response to the Religious Studies Project Interview with David Voas on Quantitative Research (2 July 2012).

By using “vitality” in the title above, I mean to point to two aspects of the same urgent call. First, I simply mean that research methods are vital to the academic study of religion. As Stausberg and Engler suggest, “it is through methods that data and theory speak to each other and become part of a shared horizon” (2011: 11), and indeed it is still not a platitude to recall that theory, method and data can be considered three sides of that triangle we conjure, whether implicitly or explicitly, whenever we conduct research in this discipline. Second, I mean to claim that the active engagement of students and scholars embedded in the study of religion with research methods contributes to the ongoing vitality of our discipline. Please allow me to elaborate.

In this interview with Professor David Voas—a social scientist in Britain specializing in demography, and a scholar who is deeply involved in quantitative research himself—interviewer David Robertson asks about the oft-cited distinction between quantitative and qualitative research. I’d like to comment on this, specifically on what my own social research methods professor called the “qual-quan” divide. Professor Voas goes so far as to contrast the “qualitative people” to scholars using quantitative methods. Yet, what he does hint at, but has not had a chance to elaborate upon here in this short interview, is that the division between qualitative and quantitative research methods can be quite blurry in practice, and furthermore, they can and often are used in conjunction, as for instance in mixed methods research (Stausberg and Engler 2011: 13). Both Voas and Robertson themselves point to what could arguably be considered qualitative problems inherent in quantitative research designs, namely issues around designing valid questionnaires to administer to an appropriate sample of people in order to address specific research questions. Or, for example, in my own research on domestic health and healing practices among Hindu migrants in Canada, I have found myself asking interviewees what Voas refers to as the “how much, to what extent” sorts of questions that could be classified as quantitative questions.

But, even more significant than recognizing this blurry divide is what I noticed in this podcast to be a tendency not to nuance either qualitative and quantitative research methods. Voas rightly points to the usually forgotten difference between methods of data collection and analysis, considering surveys conducted among individuals or organizations. He also outlines some pros and cons for using primary and secondary data collection and analysis. What seems to be missing here is the acknowledgement that both quantitative and qualitative research often involves far more than simply statistical data gleaned from surveys, or in-person interviews, respectively.

Michael Stausberg and Steven Engler’s recent edited volume is a breath of the proverbial fresh air in this regard. In this pioneering handbook on research methods in the study of religion, the editors and the diverse contributors consider a wide variety of research designs, data analysis and collection strategies. Included are everything from issues in research ethics and hermeneutics to network analysis and material culture. Another recent work, by Hilary Rodrigues and John S. Harding, does address approaches to the study of religion—a subject area for which Walter Capps (1995) deserves a notable mention—and would be more suitable for undergraduate students being introduced to research methods. Those of us immersed in religious studies would benefit from pursuing works like these.

Why are research methods so vital to us? A while ago Russell McCutcheon (1997) called on us to pay more critical attention to theory (and method) in the study of religion. We do have a number of important works dealing with theoretical topics in the study of religion (e.g. Braun and McCutcheon 2000; Hinnells 2005; Taylor 1998), and as Stausberg and Engler have in my opinion rightly claimed, our Method and Theory courses have tended to focus more on theory than on method per se. Furthermore, as Capps among others, has reminded us, “where one stands determines what one sees and what one can know” (1995: 334-5); arguably both our theories and methods are implicated in where we stand. Because our methods, just as it is the case with our theories, play such a vital part in structuring, and arguably even producing, the data we find in our research, when we do not explicitly address our research methods, we are not adequately taking advantage of the resources we have to render high quality research. We could more clearly examine our research questions, our methods for data collection and analysis (beyond simply claiming we are conducting “quantitative” or “qualitative” research), and we could more explicitly employ strategies to establish our project’s methodological credibility, among other things. We are each encouraged to immerse ourselves in these sorts of things not only for the sake of our own ongoing research but because doing so will benefit the students and colleagues whose research we continue to help foster together.

Given the interviewee’s background, the interview tends to focus on issues that are usually important to scholars practicing the sociology of religion, issues such as how to measure the degree of religiosity of adherents, and how demographic factors are complicit in these processes. The interview could therefore more accurately be titled “Quantitative Research in the Sociology of Religion in Europe and the United States.” What is important to note here is that Voas’ perspectives on the value of quantitative research, involving particular data collection and analysis strategies (especially those involving large-scale surveys), while valuable, do stem from his adherence to the particular research questions of concern to him. What listeners are therefore exposed to here does not by any means exhaust the possibilities for research designs available to other kinds of scholars carrying out other kinds of research in our multi-faceted discipline.

At the end of the interview, Voas and Robertson encourage young scholars to engage with quantitative research methods. While I wholeheartedly support their inviting sentiments, I suggest it is vital for students and scholars of religion to pay closer attention to research methods more generally. As I have heard often enough in multiple places, the research questions are what ultimately drive the method, and therefore quantitative research designs may not be suitable for all projects. In my own doctoral research, for example, I have found the use of semi-structured interviews in domestic spaces and photography of household medical items indispensable for addressing my particular research questions.

It was a pleasure listening to what I hope to be the first of several more podcasts addressing the richly various aspects of research methods in our discipline. The interview does provide listeners with a good introduction to some important topics, such as validity, sampling, and generalizability. Still, given that research methods courses are a long way from being abundantly accessible to students in the discipline, students (and scholars) of religious studies would benefit from continually engaging with some of the established and emerging literature on research design and methodology so they can further nuance their understandings (e.g. Creswell 2009; Bryman, Teevan and Bell 2009; Berg 2007; Denzin and Lincoln 2011). I have been fortunate in that at my academic institution we have had a “Fieldworkers’ Group” meeting at least once a term for several years to discuss issues we have collectively experienced in mostly anthropological fieldwork. Indeed, beyond classroom and textbook, we all might find it helpful to engage more in occasional roundtables at conferences or at our institutions to discuss best practices in our ongoing adventures with research methods.

I therefore join Stausberg and Engler among others in inviting students and scholars in our discipline to open the lines of dialogue and debate on the vital topic of research methods in the academic study of religion, otherwise our research triangles run the risk of looking a bit more like boomerangs.

This material is disseminated under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. and can be distributed and utilised freely, provided full citation is given.

About the Author:

Yasaman S. Munro is a PhD candidate in the joint Wilfrid Laurier University-University of Waterloo Religious Diversity in North America doctoral program. Her doctoral research focuses on relational and material dimensions of Āyurveda and associated South Asian medical modalities unfolding in the domestic spaces of Hindu migrants in the Waterloo Region of Canada. In particular, she is tracing how the health and healing ideas and practices manifesting in these spaces are linked to those elsewhere and at other times, and what these can tell us about people’s religious and other social identities. More broadly, Yasaman’s work examines intersections between what we call “religion” and “health” from a multidisciplinary approach.

References:

Berg, Bruce L. (2007). Qualitative Research Methods for the Social Sciences, Sixth Edition. Long Beach: California State University.

Braun, Willi, and Russell McCutcheon, Eds. (2000). Guide to the Study of Religion. London and New York: Cassell.

Bryman, Alan, James J. Teevan and Edward Bell. (2009). Social Research Methods, Second Canadian Edition. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.

Capps, Walter H. (1995). Religious Studies: The Making of a Discipline. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Creswell, John W. (2009). Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

Denzin, Norman K., and Yvonna S. Lincoln, Eds. (2011). The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research, 4th revised edition. London and Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

Hinnells, John R., Ed. (2005). The Routledge Companion to the Study of Religion. London and New York: Routledge.

McCutcheon, Russell T. (1997). Manufacturing Religion: The Discourse on Sui Generis Religion and The Politics of Nostalgia. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.

Rodrigues, Hillary, and John S. Harding. (2009). Introduction to the Study of Religion. London and New York: Routledge.

Stausberg, Michael, and Steven Engler, Eds. (2011). The Routledge Handbook of Research Methods in the Study of Religion. Abingdon, Oxon; New York: Routledge.

Taylor, Mark C., Ed. (1998). Critical Terms for Religious Studies. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.

David Voas on Quantitative Research

Sociological research has followed two broad paradigms –  qualitative and quantitative. Qualitative studies seek depth, typically based on interviews and observation with a relatively small pool of subjects. Quantitative studies, on the other hand, survey a larger pool – in some cases, such as the UK National Census, practically the entire population of a country –  relying on mass methods such as questionnaires with a limited set of questions and responses. Such data sets allow cross-analyses of large groups in ways that qualitative methods never could. But without the reflexivity and personal relationship of an interviewer, are quantitative methods compromised by the biases in the specific questions asked? 

In our interviews with Callum Brown and Ariella Keysar, the team had a number of issues with the use of qualitative data in religious studies – which you’ll know if you’ve heard our roundtable response recorded at the SOCREL conference this year. So we decided we needed to speak to an acknowledged expert, to lay out the advantages – and deal with the issues – with quantitative data in the study of religions. In his interview, David Voas deals with the criticisms strongly and with good grace, while laying out a compelling case for the place of quantitative research in the contemporary study of religions.

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.

David Voas is Professor at the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) at the University of Essex, and was formerly Simon Professor of Population Studies at the University of Manchester. He is the national programme director in Great Britain for the European Values Study and co-director of the British Religion in Numbers project (www.brin.ac.uk), an online centre for British data on religion. He serves on the editorial boards of the British Journal of Sociology and the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion and on the council of the British Society for Population Studies.

Among his many publications, some relevant ones are Surveys of behaviour, beliefs and affiliation in Handbook of the Sociology of Religion, ed. J Beckford and NJ Demerath (Sage, 2007); Does religion belong in population studies? in Environment and Planning A 39:5 (2007); and Religious decline in Scotland: New evidence on timing and spatial patterns in Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 45:1 (2006).

Titus Hjelm on Marxist Approaches to the Study of Religions

The foundation of irreligious criticism is: Man makes religion, religion does not make man. Religion is indeed the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself or has already lost himself again. But man is no abstract being squatting outside the world. Man is the world of man, state, society. This state and this society produce religion, which is an inverted consciousness of the world, because they are an inverted world. Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement and its universal basis of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality. The struggle against religion is therefore indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion.

Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people.

The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusion about its condition is the demand to give up a condition, which needs illusions.

This famous quotation from German political philosopher Karl Marx’s unfinished Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right (1843) encapsulates his controversial and complex understanding of the social function of religion. It was a significant part of his theory of alienation – the worker was, in capitalist society, separated from their labour and its products; work had become outside of them, alien. Religion was part of the mechanism by which the bourgeois perpetuated this alienation and therefore the capitalist status quo. Life was unfair, but this was the price of entry into Heaven when you die. As Marx saw it, when the workers were no longer alienated from their work and society made equal, there would be no need for religion, and it would die away.

The theory, and in particular the decontextualised soundbyte, “Religion is the opium of the masses”, was practically a matter of faith among the left-leaning liberal intelligentsia of the 60s and 70s, but the popularity of Marxist analyses of religion (and society in general) lost capital during the 80s and early 90s with the fall of the USSR and the Berlin Wall. What place, then, do his theories have in the contemporary academy, given society’s reawakened concern with inequality? Marx’s theory anticipated both the work of Émile Durkheim, founder of sociology, and an emphasis on power relations which would later be picked up by post-structuralist theorists including Foucault and Bourdieu, all of whom have a profound.influence on contemporary studies of religion.

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.

titus hjelmTitus Hjelm is Lecturer in Finnish Society and Culture at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies at University College, London. His doctoral dissertation, at the University of Helsinki, was on the construction of Satanism in the Finnish news media. His research interests are wide-ranging, however, and include the sociology of religion, news media, popular culture (particularly the Nordic heavy metal scene and vampire fiction), and social theory, including Marxist theories. His two most recent books are Perspectives on Social Constructionism (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010) and an edited volume titled Religion and Social Problems (Routledge, 2010). He is also bass guitar player for Thunderstone.

Apologies too for the background noise – we got locked out of our office.

image of books

Opportunities Digest (18 May 2012) – Scholarships, Conferences, Essay Prizes and more…

The Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest

18 May 2012 Issue

image of booksWe are not responsible for any content contained herein, but have simply copied and pasted from a variety of sources. If you have any content for future digests, please contact us via the various options on our ‘contact’ page.

In this issue:

 

  • Conference Announcements
  • Jobs
  • New Religion Database
  • Essay Prize
  • Scholarships
  • Calls for Papers
  • Public Lectures

 

 


CONFERENCE ANNOUNCEMENTS

 


 

Registration is now open for the 4th Exploring the Extraordinary conference, which will take place in York (UK) on the 21st-23rd September. Exploring the Extraordinary is an interdisciplinary network for those engaged/interested in research into the ‘extraordinary’ – topics often regarded as paranormal, supernatural, religious, transcendent, ecstatic, exceptional, mystical, anomalous, magical, or spiritual.

This year’s conference papers will include

*History, Spiritualism and psychical phenomena

*Parapsychological approaches to paranormal belief and experience

*Revenants in folklore and society

*Spiritual healing and landscape

*Magical performances, magical geographies

*Experiencing alternate realities and entity encounters

*Ghosts and place

*Music and the extraordinary

*Philosophy, the paranormal and questoning spiritual reality

*Extraordinary experiences, emotions and ethics.

For more information, please visit http://etenetwork.weebly.com/ or email ete.network@gmail.com

Exploring the Extraordinary is a not-for-profit researcher network run voluntarily, so we greatly appreciate any and all support.


‘Material Religion in Modern Britain and her Worlds’ June 8th and June 9th. University of Glamorgan Cardiff campus.

This two-day symposium will explore material cultures of religious belief and faith in modern Britain. As Birgit Meyer, David Morgan, Crispin Paine and S. Brent Plate have recently pointed out, studying material objects provides us with an alternative evidence base in the study of modern religious belief (Birgit Meyer et al; 2011). Yet few attempts have yet been made to do so. While many scholars now concede that Britain’s religious landscape is more varied and rich than the narrative of secularisation allows, a tendency remains in the historiography of religion to privilege written sources over material manifestations of religion. This means that all sorts of belief practices have been overlooked. Analysing the material past, we propose, will provide scholars with new and exciting ways of understanding the apparently fraught relationship between modernity and religion.

As Jane Bennett points out, objects are culture constructions and lead active lives in our social and cultural landscape. Religious historians have too often been guilty of adopting an implicitly Protestant binary (set up in opposition to Catholicism) in which words are privileged over objects. Yet everyday cultures of Protestant belief in Britain relied on all kinds of material cultures which sustained religion in an age of uncertainty.

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

Conference Programme

Friday 8th June 2012

10.45

Conference Registration

11.30-1.00

Panel One: Past Visions

Eimir O’Brien, ‘Re-appropriating the Gothic: The Catholic Church and their Consolidation of Power in mid-Nineteenth Century Ireland’.

Timothy Carroll, An ancient modernity: Icons and the revitalisation of Britain’

Richard Irvine, ‘Counterfactual architecture: studies in ‘what if?’ from England and Gibraltar’

1.30-3.00

Panel two: Subjectivity, the everyday and material religion

Candace Hoffman-Hussain, ‘‘An exploration of religiosity and home artefacts within British interfaith hybrid coupledom’

Ann Wilson, ‘The material and visual culture of the construction of Irish Catholic identity, 1879 to 1922’’

Amy Whitehead, ‘An English shade of Animism: Contemporary statue devotion and the Glastonbury Goddess Temple’

3.30-4.30

Panel three: Senses and emotions

Julie-Marie Strange and Bertrand Taithe, ‘Compassion – The Stuff of Religion, 1870-1912’

James Mansell, ‘Church Bells and the Acoustic Experience of War in Britain, 1939-45’

4.30-5.30

Keynote Paper

John Harvey (Aberystwyth University) ‘Revival, Restoration, and Revision: An Audio Interrogation of Evan Roberts’ Wax Cylinder’

Saturday 9th June 2012

10.00-11.00

Keynote Paper:

Dominic Janes (Birkbeck College) ‘The Aesthetic Eucharist in Victorian Britain’

11.30-12.30

Panel Four: Church Exteriors and Interiors

Lucinda Matthews-Jones, ‘Sacred Art for the People: G. F. Watts’s Time, Death and Judgment as Material Christianity, 1883-1970’.

Jim Cheshire, ‘Fashioning Church Interiors – the Importance of Amateur Design’

1.00-2.30

Panel Five: Ritual and Material Religion

Kate Jordan and Ayla Lepine, ‘Adornment and Atonement: Textiles and Labour in Victorian Convents’

Jill Sudbury, ‘Skin as Spiritual Script: Tibetan Buddhism, Tattoos and the West’

Joe Webster, ‘Divine Paper, Demonic Plastic and Delicious Prawns: The Immanence of Transcendence in a Scottish Fishing Village’

2.30

Roundtable


Prophetic Arts in Africa, a Two Day Workshop in Lisbon 24-25th May, 2012

This is a two-day workshop organized by Julien Bonhomme (ENS) and Ramon Sarro (University of Lisbon) in Lisbon, as (hopefully) the first in a series of events we plan to organize around images, prophetic imagination, writing, memory and ritual. In this first one, we limit our focus to Africa.

The relationship between art and prophecy, complementary and alternative forms of imagination, is, intuitively speaking, obvious enough; yet there is still a lack of rigorous scientific research to be carried out about it. Many artists have been prophetic in their work, and many prophets have been artists in their ways of imagining the future and of translating this imagination into texts (sometimes even alphabets), drawings, houses or even cities. The interconnection between art and prophecy is an ideal place where to study the “work of the spirit” that Lévi-Strauss encouraged us to study, and the entanglement between, on the one hand, the domain of words and messages and, on the other, the domain of images and non-verbal connections. Our imaginative two-day journey will take us to Congo (a paradigmatic region of prophetic effervescence) the first day, and beyond Congo (West Africa and the Diaspora) the second day. Relying on the support of images (pictures, paintings, movies), we intend to comparatively analyze the connection between art and prophecy in Africa, in a workshop funded by the ANR Project “Création, Rituel, Mémoire” (Musée du quai Branly, Laboratoire d’anthropologie sociale) and jointly co-organized by the musée du quai Branly, the Institute of Social Sciences (Lisbon), the École Normale Supérieur and the African Studies Centre of Lisbon.

Working language for the workshop will be French.

All welcome. oh, and we will also visualize Filip de Boeck’s film “Cemetery city”, which was not in our initial programme, but by coincidence was set for the 24 May on the programme of a parallel series of films on Africa. The film deals with death and religious imagination in Kinshasa and it speaks to many of the topics that will have been discussed in the earlier papers that day. Please note that unlike the workshop, the Film will be in English (some bits in Lingala, with subtitles in English).

NB this programme is still to be fully confirmed, there may be some minor adjustments in the final one. Please contact me if you intend to come and I’ll keep you up-to-dated.

Ramon Sarró, PhD (London), Habil. (Lisbon)

Senior Lecturer and Research Fellow

Institute of Social Sciences

University of Lisbon

Av. Professor Aníbal de Bettencourt, 9

1600-189 Lisbon

Portugal

e-Mail: ramonsarro@gmail.com


Magic is Might 2012: An International Academic Conference Exploring the Cultural Influences of the Harry Potter Books and Films

University of Limerick, Ireland

July 23-24 2012

Full Program now available: http://magicismight2012.blogspot.com/p/timetable.html

Registration now open! http://magicismight2012.eventbrite.com/?ebtv=C

The Harry Potter series has become a publishing phenomenon that has captured the imagination of children and adults all over the world. The stories created by J.K. Rowling have inspired extensive multidisciplinary academic discussion, ranging from cultural and literary analyses, sociological and philosophical interpretations, design practices, to recognised medical publications.

Conferences have taken place that focused on the impact that the novels have had on the world and their educational contribution and edited collections have been produced centering on themes of philosophy, religion, sociology, and critical analysis, to name just a few. The characters’ relationships, the political and social systems, and cultural commentaries woven into Rowling’s writing are just some examples of what makes the Harry Potter series an exciting framework for academic discourse in a number of areas.

This two-day event will feature twenty 15-20 minute presentations on papers relating to popular culture and the Harry Potter series. We will encourage intensive and lively discussion and debate around the papers over the two days in this intimate setting.

The conference will feature opening remarks by Dr. Eoin Devereux, author of “Understanding the Media”, Head of the UL Dept. of Sociology and a world-renowned expert on fandom, and a keynote presentation by Dom Mark Patrick Hederman, OSB, Abbott of Glenstal Abbey, lecturer and writer, on “Harry Potter” Archetype of the Child as our future in the 21st Century”.

Wizards, Muggles, established academics and postgraduate students are invited to join the conference!

Conference organisers:

Gráinne O’Brien (University of Limerick, Ireland)

Dr. Luigina Ciolfi (University of Limerick, Ireland)

Jadwiga O’Brien (National University of Galway, Ireland)

Lette Moloney (MoloneyMedia and Interaction Design Centre, UL)

Facebook page

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Magic-is-Might-2012/115039398578113

To Register:

http://magicismight2012.eventbrite.com/?ebtv=C

Follow us on twitter @magicismight12

This conference is NOT authorized by J.K. Rowling, her US or UK publishers, WB,

Universal Studios or any other official Harry Potter related or trademarked entity.


Pagans in Dialogue with the Wider World: A Pagan Studies Symposium

Friday, February 15, 2013, San José State University

(semi-concurrent with PantheaCon, February 15-18, 2013, DoubleTree Hotel, San Jose, CA)

Sponsored by San José State University, Humanities Dept., Comparative Religious Studies Program

Organizers: Lee Gilmore (SJSU) & Amy Hale (St. Petersburg College)

Contemporary Paganism, in all its varieties, stands at a unique cultural and religious intersection that can provide insights for a wide range of global, social, and political subjects, beyond its own inward facing concerns. For this symposium, we are calling for scholarly submissions that focus on Paganism’s contributions to and engagements with broader cultural and religious dialogues in an increasingly pluralist world. These could include, but are not limited to, explorations of Paganisms’ endeavors in community, economic, media, health, legal, social justice, and institutional development work, as well as activist, applied, interdisciplinary, and interfaith work.

More generally, all submissions that critically examine Paganism(s) in relationship to categories such as religion, culture, gender, identity, authenticity, power, and ritual–among other possible frameworks–are welcome. In addition, all papers presented at the symposium will be considered for publication in a special issue of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies.

All proposals & queries should be sent to: pagansymposium@gmail.com

Deadline: September 15, 2012

More info (including submission requirements & a pdf of this call):

http://www.sjsu.edu/people/lee.gilmore/paganstudies/


JOBS


Dear Colleagues,

Attached please find an announcement for a professoral position in “Histoire des religions” at the University of Geneva (succession Philippe Borgeaud; annual gross salary starting from 164’500 CHF).

As chair of the nominating committee, I would be grateful if you could spread this information and encourage all potential candidates to apply.

I insist that although local candidates will apply, the examination process will be fair and open, and external applications will be assessed on the same footing as local ones.

Thank you very much for your help,

Best regards,

Nicolas Zufferey

Dean, Faculty of Humanities, University of Geneva


NEW RELIGION DATABASE


This is to announce the launch of a new cumulated International Social Survey Programme (ISSP) dataset with data from all three rounds of the ISSP religion survey (1991, 1998 and 2008). It covers 28 countries across the world, each of which has participated in at least two of the ISSP religion modules. Prior to this analysts have had to work with the three datasets separately.

Documentation and data access, including download in SPSS, SAS, or Stata format, is offered online via the GESIS ZACAT online analysis database at:

http://zacat.gesis.org/webview/index.jsp

This is the direct link to the cumulated ISSP religion file in ZACAT:

http://zacat.gesis.org/webview/index.jsp?object=http://zacat.gesis.org/obj/fStudy/ZA5070

And general information about ISSP can be found here:

http://www.issp.org/


ESSAY PRIZE


I am writing on behalf of the UK?s Science and Religion Forum http://www.srforum.org/ to publicise our 2012 essay competition. Please see above website for further information. The competition is open to all students (undergraduate and postgraduate) and the closing date is July 31st 2012.


SCHOLARSHIPS


Newman University College Birmingham, in conjunction with the Bible Society, is offering a full fees PhD Studentship from 1st October 2012 (or as soon as possible thereafter). The studentship is open to UK and EU applicants, and is available on either a part time or full time basis. It will cover all tuition fees for up to three years of study (full time) or up to six years (part time), subject to the successful applicant making satisfactory progress in their studies; if the student takes longer to complete the PhD, he/she will be liable to pay additional fees.

Applicants must have a good first degree (1st class or 2.1) in Theology, Biblical Studies, or a subject closely related to the research topic, and an MA or MTh or other relevant postgraduate degree. Applicants will need to demonstrate clear evidence of the skills necessary to undertake independent research (e.g. details of research methods modules undertaken and/or successful dissertations completed). Those who are invited for interview will be asked to supply in advance samples of their previous written work.

The successful candidate will be free to negotiate with the supervisory team a specific research focus within the general area of the Use of the Bible in Schools. Applicants should provide in the relevant section of the application form a draft research proposal outlining the aspect(s) of this subject which they are interested in studying, and this will form an important part of the selection process.

Newman University College has particular research strengths in the areas of Biblical Studies and Education, and our postgraduate students benefit from a high level of individual support and dedicated office space. For further information about the Institutional research environment or the Theology subject area and its staff, please visit our website:

http://www.newman.ac.uk/research/432

The application form is available from http://www.newman.ac.uk/studentships/867 and should be returned by post or e-mail to:

John Howard

Graduate School Administrator

Newman University College

Genners Lane

Bartley Green

Birmingham

B32 3NT

E-mail: john.howard@newman.ac.uk


CALLS FOR PAPERS


Religion and the Arts is planning a special issue on Opera and Religion for its issue 17.3 (published in June, 2013). Articles on all aspects of opera and all faith traditions will be considered. We prefer articles of between 4,000 and 9,000 words using parenthetical citation. Send complete articles to goizueta@bc.edu by October 1, 2012.

James Najarian, Editor


Call for Papers

for a special issue for the Journal of Muslims in Europe

“Europe with or without Muslims – narratives of Europe”

Guest editors:             Göran Larsson, University of Gothenburg

Riem Spielhaus, University of Copenhagen

We are seeking papers for a special issue of the new double blind-peer reviewed Journal on Muslims in Europe by BRILL to come out in Spring 2013. This special issue seeks to take up tensions in conflicting stories about and different perspectives on Europe’s history and identity that present Europe without Muslims or contrastingly portray Muslims as part of Europe’s past and present.

Under the headline “Europe with or without Muslims – narratives of Europe” we aim to bring together a number of perspectives from multiple disciplinary fields such as history, religious studies, cultural anthropology, political science and sociology in an analysis of diverging accounts and notions of Europe over time and places throughout the continent, open as well to external perspectives. The initial question thereby is, what role Islam and Muslims have played and still play in the imagining of what Europe means. (See more details on different possible themes for contributions below.)

This way we aim to direct our view at the nexus between constructions of Europe and developments within contemporary European Islam providing space both for a critical review of academic approaches and the development of new impulses for future research.

Besides empirical papers we strongly encourage theoretical papers that challenge current research on Islam and Muslims in Europe and reflect on the own position of the researchers and his or her contributions to the construction of Europe and the role and function of Islam and Muslims.

We invite papers that address one of the topics of two sessions described below. Deadline for sending your abstracts: July the 1st, 2012<https://secure.mail.ibt.ku.dk/owa/UrlBlockedError.aspx>. Accepted participants will be notified by July 20, 2012<https://secure.mail.ibt.ku.dk/owa/UrlBlockedError.aspx>. If your paper is accepted, you must submit the final paper (max 10,000 words inclusive of footnotes) by 20 October 2012<https://secure.mail.ibt.ku.dk/owa/UrlBlockedError.aspx>.

Applications to submit a short paper should include: 1. Proposer’s name and affiliation, 2. a title for the paper, 3. a ca. 500 word abstract.

All abstracts and paper should be written in English.

Time frame:

Deadline for abstracts (ca. 500 words)                               1.July 2012

Deadline for sending final papers                                        20.October 2012

Publication                                                                           15.March 2013

Paper proposals should be send electronically in Microsoft Word formats to Göran Larsson, University of Gothenburg: goran.larsson@religion.gu.se<mailto:goran.larsson@religion.gu.se> and Riem Spielhaus, University of Copenhagen: rsp@teol.ku.dk<mailto:rsp@teol.ku.dk>.

For this special issue we invite papers on the narratives imagining Europe with and without Muslims analyzing contents, actors and setting of those narratives that relate to one or several of the following questions:

  1. Localizing debates connecting Europe and Islam:

•     In what way are debates about Europe and its identity mentioning the European past with reference to Muslim’s presence in Europe on the local, regional, national or European Union level? How do these different levels (local, regional, national, transnational) intersect?

  1. Imagining Europe without Muslims:

•    What are the main patterns of the dominant constructions of Europe’s heritage like notions of a Judaeo-Christian heritage? Where and by whom are these narratives told? To what extent are they embedded in European integration or projects of community or nation-building?

  1. Narratives of Europe inclusive of Muslims:

•    In what cases is the Muslim history of Europe used as counter narrative to question the construction of Europe as a Christian continent? What groups of people insist on an imagination of Europe with Muslims? How are these narratives used to strengthen a feeling of belonging and responsibility of current Muslims?

  1. Contextualizing Islam debates in European history of thought:

•    Is it possible to make any comparison between current debates about Islam and Muslims and previous debates about ties between religions and national identities e.g. different Christian denominations in early modern Europe?

  1. Imagining Europe from outside:

•    How is the relationship between Europe and its Muslim inhabitants viewed beyond the Mediterranean? Do accounts of European history and presentations of the contemporary Europe from within and without bear considerable differences?


Title: Special Issue on the Temples of Bengal

Date: 2012-05-30

Description: Special Issue on the Temples of Bengal We are happy

to announce that the next issue of Chitrolekha Magazine (Vol.

II, No. 1) is going to be on the Temples of Bengal (from the

Ancient Period to the 19th Century). Since we want to bring out

a collection having holistic approaches to the topics, we hav

Contact: editor@chitrolekha.com

URL: chitrolekha.com

Announcement ID: 194455

http://www.h-net.org/announce/show.cgi?ID=194455


Title: Religions: Fields of research, methods and perspectives CFP

Date: 2012-06-15

Description: The First International Krakow Study of Religions

Symposium, 12-14 September 2012 Religions: Fields of research,

methods and perspectives Call for papers Keynote speakers:

Prof. Grace Davie (University of Exeter) Prof. Ralph W. Hood Jr

(University of Tennessee at Chattanooga) Prof. Barnaba Maj

(Univ …

Contact: bajka@iphils.uj.edu.pl

URL: www.religioznawstwo.uj.edu.pl/

Announcement ID: 194503

http://www.h-net.org/announce/show.cgi?ID=194503


PUBLIC LECTURES


Irish Society for the Academic Study of Religions

PUBLIC LECTURE (all welcome)

Prof Tadhg Foley (Professor of Irish Studies, NUI Galway)

“Max Arthur Macauliffe and The Sikh Religion”

Date:  Friday 25 May 2012

Venue: Boole Lecture Theatre, University College Cork, Cork

Time: 5.15pm

Max Arthur Macauliffe (1838-1913), author of the monumental six-volume work, The Sikh Religion, began the preface to his magnum opus with the words: ‘I bring from the East what is practically an unknown religion’. Though regarded by Sikhs as perhaps the most important western figure in the history of their religion, Macauliffe himself is all but unknown in the west. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography does not notice him and he is unknown in his native country, Ireland. He was born as common or garden Michael McAuliffe in Monagea, Co. Limerick and educated at Queen’s College Galway, graduating in modern languages in 1860.  In 1862 he was appointed to the Indian Civil Service and was posted to the Punjab, becoming Deputy Commissioner in 1882 and two years later a Divisional Judge. Based in Amritsar, he developed an intense interest in the Sikh religion, producing the classic English translation of its holy book, the Granth, and, it seems, eventually converting to it. In 1893 he resigned from the Indian Civil Service to devote himself fully to the work of translation. In 1909, Oxford University Press published The Sikh Religion which incorporated his translation of the Granth. He died in London in 1913.

This paper will first address some inaccuracies in existing scholarship concerning Macauliffe’s date and place of birth and indeed the religion into which he was born. It will consider his conception of Sikhism, particularly in relation to Hinduism but also in the context of Christianity, both Protestant and Roman Catholic. He was also a reformer of the Sikh religion, being a leading member of Tat Khalsa, the radical section of the Singh Sabha reform movement, founded in Amritsar in 1873. But he saw his primary role as that of an evangelist for the Sikh religion in the west. He opposed ‘caste exclusiveness’ and ‘sati’, which he called the ‘concremation of widows’. He defended the translation of sacred scripture into vernacular languages and he saw himself as a pioneering figure in his systematic consultation with indigenous Sikh scholars. Indeed he saw his work as, in part, giving the permanency of writing to what had formerly been the orally transmitted wisdom of the gyanis. The paper will conclude with a discussion of Macauliffe’s views on how religion, especially Sikhism, should relate not only to the state as such but also to the British Empire.

The lecture will be followed by an informal Reception for all attending sponsored by the School of Asian Studies, Study of Religions Department and College of Arts, Celtic Studies and Social Sciences, University College Cork (UCC).

Enquiries to Prof Brian Bocking, Study of Religions, UCC, email:  b.bocking[at]ucc.ie


Title: Religion in the Gallery: Two Talks and a Conversation,

Exhibiting Asia in the 21st Century

Location: District of Columbia

Date: 2012-05-24

Description: Join us at the Freer Gallery of Art on May 24, 2012

for two lectures on the role and use of religion in a gallery

setting, followed by an open discourse. Gregory Levine,

associate professor of Asian visual culture at the University

of California, Berkeley, will discuss Zen iconography from past

to p …

Contact: vaccaroj@si.edu

URL: www.asia.si.edu/events/exhibiting-asia/.

Announcement ID: 194447

http://www.h-net.org/announce/show.cgi?ID=194447

Studying “Cults”

Although “cult” and “sect” are used as technical terms in religious studies, in their popular usage, “cult” tends to refer to a New Religious Movement [NRM] or other group whose beliefs or practices are considered reprehensible. Since such pejorative attitudes are generally considered inappropriate for the academic study of religion, scholars have tended to adopt the nomenclature of NRMs to refer to “a wide range of groups and movements of alternative spirituality, the emergence of which is generally associated with the aftermath of the 1960s counter-culture” (Arweck 2002:269). In this interview with Chris, Emeritus Professor Eileen Barker (LSE) takes us through the academic study of NRMs from the 1960s onwards, engaging with the particular challenges and successes which have been encountered by academics in the field, and reflecting on some of the more colourful aspects of this area of research.

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.

Eileen Barker OBE, FBA, is Emeritus Professor of Sociology with special reference to the study of Religion at the London School of Economics. She has been researching minority religions and the responses to which they give rise since the early 1970s. Her study of conversion to the Unification Church for her PhD, led to an interest in a wide variety of movements, and she has personally studied, to greater or lesser degree, over 150 different groups. She has over 300 publications, translated into 27 languages. She travels extensively for research purposes, particularly in North America, Europe and Japan, and, since collapse of the Berlin Wall, in Eastern Europe and, more recently, China. She was the first non-American to be elected President of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion.

She is also the founder of INFORM (Information Network, Focus on Religious Movements), an independent charity that was founded in 1988 with the support of the British Home Office and the mainstream Churches. It is based at the London School of Economics. According to Inform’s website, “the primary aim of Inform is to help people by providing them with information that is as accurate, balanced, and up-to-date as possible about alternative religious, spiritual and esoteric movements.”

Among Professor Barker’s publications, the following may be of interest (those which are open-access are indicated with an asterisk):

Reference:
Arweck, Elizabeth 2002. “New Religious Movements” in Religions in the Modern World, edited by Linda Woodhead, Paul Fletcher, Hiroko Kawanami and David Smith. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 264-288.

A Response to Callum Brown: Connecting “When” and “Why” in Digital Religion, by Tim Hutchings

A Response to Callum Brown: Connecting “When” and “Why” in Digital Religion

By Tim Hutchings, Durham University

Published by the Religious Studies Project, on 4 May 2012 in response to the Religious Studies Project Interview with Callum Brown on Historical Approaches to (Losing) Religion (30 April 2012). For a more ‘informal’ response, you can listen to our roundtable discussion session on the question Can We Trust the Social Sciences?.

In his new podcast for the Religious Studies Project, Callum Brown has given us an excellent introduction to the historical approach to the study of religion. In conversation with Christopher Cotter, Brown outlines rival traditions within the history of religion and demonstrates what each has contributed to our understanding of secularisation. Along the way, Brown summarises his research career and offers some tantalising hints about his current interview-based study of the life stories of people who have left religion. He also emphasises the value of demographics, arguing that sophisticated analyses of census data reveal that people develop ‘an entirely new sense of self’ when they leave religion.  This is a fascinating and challenging claim, but I have chosen to focus in this response on another of the main themes of this podcast: the relationship between history and sociology.

At the end of this interview, Brown distinguishes the history of religion sharply from sociology. According to Brown, there is a “huge gap” in method, approach and interests between the two disciplines. Sociologists, he argues, believe that the world is governed by rules. They undertake research to study the contemporary religious landscape, interpret this snapshot in time by framing it within a particular model of fixed, linear change, and then make predictions about the future. Historians, on the other hand, believe that nothing is inevitable and assume that “when” must be the first step in working out “why”. Instead of collecting snapshots, historians map change year-on-year, using that longitudinal data to establish the effects of key events.

My own field of research is digital religion, an area with a particularly troubled relationship to history. Scholars and commentators interested in digital culture and its significance for religion have struggled to distinguish what is truly new from what has come before, and continue to search for helpful ways to talk about change.

One classic strategy since the 1990s has been to contrast an anecdotal snapshot of contemporary life against visions of the near future and the recent past.  In the most common forms of this argument, the past is characterised by stable local communities, face-to-face relationships and a secure, unchanging personal identity. Contemporary digital technology challenges this stability by supporting fluid, self-determined, global communication networks, so the argument goes, and these changes will intensify in the near future. Different observers have interpreted this same basic approach in positive, neutral and negative ways, seeing technology as the route to new spiritual awareness (Cobb 1998), a powerful tool that can be used to promote an unchanging religious message to the new mission field of digital culture (Estes 2009, Sweet 2012), or a dangerous threat to church, character and society. Sherry Turkle’s recent declaration that social media is facilitating a “flight from conversation” is a good example of this third type (2012). Young people now use their phones a lot, she argues, and they previously spent time face-to-face, and this shift is very bad for everyone. Her argument is simple and intuitively appealing, contrasting a recognisable snapshot of everyday life with a widely-accepted vision of the recent past and calling for immediate action to rescue the future, and her article has provoked much discussion online in recent weeks.

Scholars of media and religion have tried to challenge this approach over the last decade by framing their observations within a more rigorous historical perspective. The forms of religious community observed online are not unique after all, they argue: they actually continue long-running trajectories of social change from groups to networks (Wellman 2012) or from stable to fluid religious identities (Wagner 2012). Heidi Campbell’s recent work (2010) focuses on the power of religious groups to construct and interpret the technology they use, a process that includes engagement with group history. For Campbell, contemporary religious uses of the internet must be interpreted in the context of the theology and values of particular communities, including how those communities have changed their approach to media over time.  Many other scholars have tried to complicate popular understandings of the past and present of media religion, undertaking detailed comparative studies to show that religious authority, community and identity have not changed in the ways some observers allege.

Listening to Callum Brown’s interview, it becomes clear that all of these scholarly approaches represent a distinctively sociological way of using history. These scholars analyse the past to identify long-term trajectories in social or religious change and use that model to interpret the present. “When” questions are rarely considered: the purpose of the exercise is to establish a tension between a stable (or predictably-changing) past and a snapshot of the present, to generate insights into continuity and change.

There is clear scope here for inter-disciplinary collaboration. Sociological interest in the history of religion and media has generated a space for interventions by historians, who can greatly benefit the study of digital culture by offering detailed critiques of our assumed trajectories of change. Recent examples include Jeremy Stolow’s keynote speech on the spirituality of the telegraph, delivered to the Digital Religion conference in Colorado earlier this year (see Stolow 2011), and Stefan Gelfgren’s work (2012) on the history of religious attitudes to media. Sociologists of digital religion are still not as interested in the connection between “when” and “why” as Callum Brown might like, but clear progress is being made to forge connections with historians. This podcast is an excellent provocation to think harder about the questions we overlook and the interdisciplinary conversations that might help us uncover them.

This material is disseminated under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. and can be distributed and utilised freely, provided full citation is given.

About the Author

Tim Hutchings recently completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the HUMlab digital humanities centre in Umeå, Sweden and has now returned to the UK to join the CODEC research initiative at St John’s College, Durham. Tim is currently working with CODEC to develop a series of digital art exhibitions and installations in response to the Lindisfarne Gospels. His PhD thesis (Durham University, 2010) was an ethnographic study of five online Christian churches, focusing on the relationship between online and offline religion. Research interests include e-vangelism, online Christian storytelling, the future of the Bible as a digital sacred text and the role of new media in death and mourning.

Bibliography

Campbell, Heidi. When Religion Meets New Media. Abingdon: Routledge, 2010.

Cobb, Jennifer. CyberGrace: The Search for God in the Digital World. New York: Crown, 1998.

Estes, Douglas. SimChurch: Being the Church in the Virtual World. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009.

Gelfgren, Stefan. “Let there be digital networks and God will provide growth?” Comparing the aims and hopes of 19th-century and post-millenial Christianity. In Pauline Hope Cheong, Peter Fischer-Nielsen, Stefan Gelfgren and Charles Ess (eds.), Digital Religion, Social Media and Culture: Perspectives, Practices and Futures. New York: Peter Lang, 2012. p. 227-242.

Hogan, Bernie and Barry Wellman. The immanent internet redux. In Pauline Hope Cheong, Peter Fischer-Nielsen, Stefan Gelfgren and Charles Ess (eds.), Digital Religion, Social Media and Culture: Perspectives, Practices and Futures. New York: Peter Lang, 2012. p. 43-62.

Stolow, Jeremy. ‘Telegraph’, in freq.uenci.es: a collaborative genealogy of spirituality. September 7 2011. Available online: http://freq.uenci.es/2011/09/07/telegraph/.  Accessed May 2 2012.

Sweet, Leonard. Viral: How Social Networking is Poised to Ignite Revival. Colorado Springs: Waterbrook, 2012.

Turkle, Sherry. The flight from conversation. New York Times, April 21 2012. Available online: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/22/opinion/sunday/the-flight-from-conversation.html. Accessed May 2 2012.

Wagner, Rachel. Godwired: Religion, Ritual and Virtual Reality. Abingdon: Routledge, 2012.

 

Podcasts

Historical Approaches to Studying Religion

As the RSP continues to grow, we’re going to be returning more frequently to topics and themes which have already been touched upon in previous podcasts and features. This week, we are pleased to bring you a double re-post in response to our double podcast with John Wolffe & Ronald Hutton on Historical Approaches to the Study of Religion.

First, in the following podcast – first ‘broadcast’ on 30 April 2012, and later selected as one of our editors’ picks the following summer – Louise Connelly introduces Chris’s interview with Professor Callum Brown. How can we use historical approaches in the study of religion? More specifically, can we use historical approaches to understand why people are losing it? Professor Callum Brown tells us why historical approaches have much to tell us about religious change.

 

Download.

Second, Dr Tim Hutchings – who has also been an interviewee on the RSP, and participated in our ‘Religion in the News Panel Session’ – wrote the following response essay to Professor Brown’s interview. We ‘re-print’ it here in its entirety. We hope you enjoy these different takes on this week’s central theme. If you do, you can subscribe to receive our weekly podcast through iTunes and other portals. You can also use our Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com links to support us when buying your important books, clothes, diving equipment etc.


A Response to Callum Brown: Connecting “When” and “Why” in Digital Religion

By Tim Hutchings, Durham University

In his new podcast for the Religious Studies Project, Callum Brown has given us an excellent introduction to the historical approach to the study of religion. In conversation with Christopher Cotter, Brown outlines rival traditions within the history of religion and demonstrates what each has contributed to our understanding of secularisation. Along the way, Brown summarises his research career and offers some tantalising hints about his current interview-based study of the life stories of people who have left religion. He also emphasises the value of demographics, arguing that sophisticated analyses of census data reveal that people develop ‘an entirely new sense of self’ when they leave religion.  This is a fascinating and challenging claim, but I have chosen to focus in this response on another of the main themes of this podcast: the relationship between history and sociology.

At the end of this interview, Brown distinguishes the history of religion sharply from sociology. According to Brown, there is a “huge gap” in method, approach and interests between the two disciplines. Sociologists, he argues, believe that the world is governed by rules. They undertake research to study the contemporary religious landscape, interpret this snapshot in time by framing it within a particular model of fixed, linear change, and then make predictions about the future. Historians, on the other hand, believe that nothing is inevitable and assume that “when” must be the first step in working out “why”. Instead of collecting snapshots, historians map change year-on-year, using that longitudinal data to establish the effects of key events.

My own field of research is digital religion, an area with a particularly troubled relationship to history. Scholars and commentators interested in digital culture and its significance for religion have struggled to distinguish what is truly new from what has come before, and continue to search for helpful ways to talk about change.

One classic strategy since the 1990s has been to contrast an anecdotal snapshot of contemporary life against visions of the near future and the recent past.  In the most common forms of this argument, the past is characterised by stable local communities, face-to-face relationships and a secure, unchanging personal identity. Contemporary digital technology challenges this stability by supporting fluid, self-determined, global communication networks, so the argument goes, and these changes will intensify in the near future. Different observers have interpreted this same basic approach in positive, neutral and negative ways, seeing technology as the route to new spiritual awareness (Cobb 1998), a powerful tool that can be used to promote an unchanging religious message to the new mission field of digital culture (Estes 2009, Sweet 2012), or a dangerous threat to church, character and society. Sherry Turkle’s recent declaration that social media is facilitating a “flight from conversation” is a good example of this third type (2012). Young people now use their phones a lot, she argues, and they previously spent time face-to-face, and this shift is very bad for everyone. Her argument is simple and intuitively appealing, contrasting a recognisable snapshot of everyday life with a widely-accepted vision of the recent past and calling for immediate action to rescue the future, and her article has provoked much discussion online in recent weeks.

Scholars of media and religion have tried to challenge this approach over the last decade by framing their observations within a more rigorous historical perspective. The forms of religious community observed online are not unique after all, they argue: they actually continue long-running trajectories of social change from groups to networks (Wellman 2012) or from stable to fluid religious identities (Wagner 2012). Heidi Campbell’s recent work (2010) focuses on the power of religious groups to construct and interpret the technology they use, a process that includes engagement with group history. For Campbell, contemporary religious uses of the internet must be interpreted in the context of the theology and values of particular communities, including how those communities have changed their approach to media over time.  Many other scholars have tried to complicate popular understandings of the past and present of media religion, undertaking detailed comparative studies to show that religious authority, community and identity have not changed in the ways some observers allege.

Listening to Callum Brown’s interview, it becomes clear that all of these scholarly approaches represent a distinctively sociological way of using history. These scholars analyse the past to identify long-term trajectories in social or religious change and use that model to interpret the present. “When” questions are rarely considered: the purpose of the exercise is to establish a tension between a stable (or predictably-changing) past and a snapshot of the present, to generate insights into continuity and change.

There is clear scope here for inter-disciplinary collaboration. Sociological interest in the history of religion and media has generated a space for interventions by historians, who can greatly benefit the study of digital culture by offering detailed critiques of our assumed trajectories of change. Recent examples include Jeremy Stolow’s keynote speech on the spirituality of the telegraph, delivered to the Digital Religion conference in Colorado earlier this year (see Stolow 2011), and Stefan Gelfgren’s work (2012) on the history of religious attitudes to media. Sociologists of digital religion are still not as interested in the connection between “when” and “why” as Callum Brown might like, but clear progress is being made to forge connections with historians. This podcast is an excellent provocation to think harder about the questions we overlook and the interdisciplinary conversations that might help us uncover them.

This material is disseminated under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. and can be distributed and utilised freely, provided full citation is given.

Bibliography

  • Campbell, Heidi. When Religion Meets New Media. Abingdon: Routledge, 2010.
  • Cobb, Jennifer. CyberGrace: The Search for God in the Digital World. New York: Crown, 1998.
  • Estes, Douglas. SimChurch: Being the Church in the Virtual World. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009.
  • Gelfgren, Stefan. “Let there be digital networks and God will provide growth?” Comparing the aims and hopes of 19th-century and post-millenial Christianity. In Pauline Hope Cheong, Peter Fischer-Nielsen, Stefan Gelfgren and Charles Ess (eds.), Digital Religion, Social Media and Culture: Perspectives, Practices and Futures. New York: Peter Lang, 2012. p. 227-242.
  • Hogan, Bernie and Barry Wellman. The immanent internet redux. In Pauline Hope Cheong, Peter Fischer-Nielsen, Stefan Gelfgren and Charles Ess (eds.), Digital Religion, Social Media and Culture: Perspectives, Practices and Futures. New York: Peter Lang, 2012. p. 43-62.
  • Stolow, Jeremy. ‘Telegraph’, in freq.uenci.es: a collaborative genealogy of spirituality. September 7 2011. Available online: http://freq.uenci.es/2011/09/07/telegraph/.  Accessed May 2 2012.
  • Sweet, Leonard. Viral: How Social Networking is Poised to Ignite Revival. Colorado Springs: Waterbrook, 2012.
  • Turkle, Sherry. The flight from conversation. New York Times, April 21 2012. Available online: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/22/opinion/sunday/the-flight-from-conversation.html. Accessed May 2 2012.
  • Wagner, Rachel. Godwired: Religion, Ritual and Virtual Reality. Abingdon: Routledge, 2012.

 

Bruno Latour, Talking “Religiously”, part 1

Professor Bruno Latour is one of the most respected scholars in the social sciences today. This February, he came to Edinburgh University to deliver the annual Gifford Lecture Series, established in 1888 to ‘promote and diffuse the study of Natural Theology in the widest sense of the term” – an opportunity we felt we could not miss. Previous presenters have included such luminaries as William James, Wilfred Cantwell Smith and E. B. Tylor. So how does an anthropologist of science come to be giving the Gifford Lectures?

In this first part, Latour and David Robertson discuss the broader relevance of his work for Religious Studies. They discuss actor-network theory, of which Latour was instrumental in developing. This includes some discussion of phenomenology and religious “essence”. Discussion then moves to Latour’s forthcoming work, Rejoicing: or the Torments of Religious Speech (Polity 2013), a more personal work which concerns not “religion” or “religions” but the adverb “religiously”. What does it mean to talk religiously, and is it still even possible? It is at the same time a fierce attack on religions, but a passionate defence of religious speech.

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.

Videos and abstracts of Bruno Latour’s complete Gifford Lecture series can be viewed on the University of Edinburgh’s page.

Bruno Latour is Professor at Sciences Po Paris and has also been Professor at the Centre de Sociologie de l’Innovation at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Mines in Paris and visiting Professor at University of California (San Diego), at the London School of Economics and Harvard University. After field studies in Africa and California he specialized in the analysis of scientists and engineers at work. In addition to work in philosophy, history, sociology and anthropology of science, he has collaborated on many studies in science policy and research management, producing significant works such as Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts and most recently Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory (Clarendon Lectures in Management Studies). He has also made a valuable contribution to the political philosophy of the environment with the book Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy, a theme which the Gifford Lectures continue.

Sociotheology and Cosmic War

Over the course of the last few decades religious violence has become an increasingly salient topic of public discourse and particularly in its global manifestations. In the social sciences these discourses focus primarily on explanations of violent acts that are driven by the socio-political contexts enveloping them. Mark Juergensmeyer argues that such explanations only tell part of the story, however, since some actions are motivated by a religious vision, like the vision of “cosmic war.” Talking to Per in this podcast Juergensmeyer explains how a “sociotheological approach” is particularly well suited to the task of understanding religious violence by engaging the worldviews of violent actors directly and taking their theological concerns as seriously as their political ideologies.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us, ‘Like’ us on Facebook, and/or follow us on Twitter. And if you want to support the RSP, you can click through to Amazon.co.uk through our affiliates link, and we will earn referral fees from any transactions during your visit.

Mark Juergensmeyer is a former president of the American Academy of Religion and the current director of the Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbera where he also teaches sociology and religious studies. He is a prolific writer and speaker whose work deals with South Asian religion and politics, religious violence and global religion among other topics. Recent books include Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence, Global Rebellion: Religious Challenges to the Secular State, and the just released The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Violence, which contains a chapter outlining, “A Sociotheological Approach to the Study of Religious Violence.”

The Sacred

Religion and the Sacred, the Sacred and religion. Two words that seemingly go together like hand in glove but just how accurate is that? When we talk about religion it’s very hard not to talk about the Sacred but when we talk about the Sacred does this mean we have to talk about religion? What does the Sacred even mean? This introduction began with “Sacred” but it may well be more appropriate to write “sacred”. Whether capitalised or not, the sacred is a predominant topic in many forms of discourse and not all these are necessarily religious in nature.

This week we discuss the sacred and all its connotations with Gordon Lynch. The sacred is not, it seems, just a religion-only category and many aspects of modern secular societies are pervaded with such a notion. But if the sacred isn’t a religion only category where does that leave religion? Should there be departments of Religious Studies at all, or should we be replacing them with Sacred Studies? We discuss the potentially far reaching implications that a shift in focus from Religion to the Sacred can have on academia.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to our weekly podcast, on Secular Sacreds and the Sacred Secular.

Gordon Lynch is the Michael Ramsey Professor of Modern Theology at the University of Kent where he teaches on the sacred in modern Western Society. Professor Lynch has published a number of works including an edited volume with Jolyon Mitchell and has recently published two books on the sacred, The Sacred in the Modern World and On the Sacred. If you’d like to know more about Professor Lynch’s work on the sacred you can find out more information on his blog as well as access some of his own learning resources.

 

Digital Religion

Second Life, World of Warcraft, over the past few years the internet has seen an explosion of activity in virtual realms. People have taken to creating digital avatars whether its to join in epic fantasy battles or simply to meet other people. And where you find people meeting you’re bound to find religion in the mix. Unlike chatrooms and blog posts where people simply write out their ideas and discuss their beliefs these digital worlds offer a whole new way in which to act out and practice religious beliefs. From meditation sessions, church congregations, to memorial services the range of activities not only matches what can be found in the real world but can exceed it also. The Digital realm opens up a whole new range of possibilities for a person to be religious.

For many of us in the study of religions this may seem like a daunting task. The digital realm is a dark continent in which the standard practices of methodology and theory find themselves tested by a whole new landscape. To introduce us to the vast array of topics Tim Hutchings provides us with an introductory discussion into the world of digital religion. We discuss the ways in which religion is finding itself in the digital realm and how this new format of expression differs from its real world iterations. The digital realm poses a number of interesting challenges to the questions of religious authority and orthodoxy in ways not visible/possible in the real world. Finally we tackle some of the issues that we as researchers must face when we try and study digital religion like the methods of data collection and ethics involved in studying digital avatars.

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

Tim Hutchings recently completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the HUMlab digital humanities centre in Umeå, Sweden and has now returned to the UK to join the CODEC research initiative at St John’s College, Durham. Tim is currently working with CODEC to develop a series of digital art exhibitions and installations in response to the Lindisfarne Gospels. His PhD thesis (Durham University, 2010) was an ethnographic study of five online Christian churches, focusing on the relationship between online and offline religion. Research interests include e-vangelism, online Christian storytelling, the future of the Bible as a digital sacred text and the role of new media in death and mourning. Tim has also written for us before responding to Callum Brown, you can find his article which also discusses Digital Religion here.

Why are Women more Religious than Men?

The relationship of religion to gender is a highly complex and disputed area. However, it is well-documented that (to take some UK-based examples), ‘men are proportionately under-represented’ in (mainstream ‘Christian’) ‘religious’ services (Brown 2000, 193), and ‘women outnumber men on all indices of religiosity and spirituality’ (Day 2008, 267). In fact, Marta Trzebiatowska and Steve Bruce, the authors of the forthcoming Why are Women more Religious than Men? (OUP, 20 September 2012) unambiguously state in their abstract that, simply, ‘women are more religious than men’.

In this interview with Chris, recorded at the BSA’s Sociology of Religion Study Group Conference in March 2012, Dr Marta Trzebiatowska us a fascinating whirlwind tour through the masses of sociological research which have been done into this area in recent years.

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

Explanations for this disparity in levels of religiosity include suggestions that ‘religion’ emphasises ‘‘feminine’ qualities of relationality and emotional expression’ (Aune and Vincett 2010, 222), and that ‘men tend to exhibit a greater degree of skepticism than do women’ (Bryant 2007, 844). It has been proposed that women explain their ‘religious’ experiences ‘in terms of protection [and] belonging’ (Day 2008, 274) and ‘value being caring and expressive, being a person through reciprocal relationships, and appreciate the value of improving the quality of subjective-life [in contrast to men, who concentrate] on improving the quality of life by way of autonomous, individuated and competitive agency in the world’ (Heelas et al. 2005, 110). Trzebiatowska extensively examines and critiques such explanations and concludes, with Bruce, that

the gender gap is not the result of biology but is rather the consequence of important social differences —responsibility for managing birth, child-rearing and death, for example, and attitudes to the body, illness and health — over-lapping and reinforcing each other. In the West, the gender gap is exaggerated because the social changes that undermined the plausibility of religion bore most heavily on men first. Where the lives of men and women become more similar, and where religious indifference grows, the gender gap gradually disappears.

For discussions on these issues and more, we recommend that you check out Marta’s other work, the references cited in this post, and the recently launched (2011) online journal previous interview with Lisbeth Mikaelsson on Religion and Gender.

Dr Marta Trzebiatowska is Lecturer in the Department of Sociology at the University of Aberdeen. Her research focuses on ‘taking religion seriously’ and on the relationship between religious discourses and gender politics. More specifically, she focuses on sociologically examining the ways in which religious women construct their femininity under circumstances commonly perceived as restrictive, or even oppressive, by secular feminists. She is the author of a number of articles and chapters in these areas, including Habit does not a nun make?: Religious dress in the lives of Polish Catholic nuns (Journal of Contemporary Religion) and When Reflexivity is Not Enough: Researching Polish Catholics (Fieldwork in Religion), and is co-author, with Steve Bruce, of the OUP Book Why are Women more Religious than Men? (2012).

This interview is the second in our series on Material/Embodied Religion, which started last week with David Morgan on Material Religion, and concludes next week with Professor Kim Knott on Religion, Space and Location.

References:

  • Aune, Kristin, and Giselle Vincett. “Gender Matters: Doing Feminist Research on Religion and Youth.” In Religion and Youth, edited by Sylvia Collins-Mayo and Pink Dandelion, 217–224. Surrey: Ashgate, 2010.
  • Bryant, Alyssa N. “Gender Differences in Spiritual Development During the College Years.” Sex Roles 56 (2007): 835–846.
  • Day, Abby. “Wilfully Disempowered.” European Journal of Women’s Studies 15, no. 3 (2008): 261 –276.
  • Heelas, Paul, Linda Woodhead, Benjamin Seel, Bronislaw Szerszynski, and Karen Tusting. The Spiritual Revolution: Why Religion Is Giving Way to Spirituality. Oxford: Blackwell, 2005.

Editors’ Picks 3: Jay Demerath on Functionalist Religion and the Substantive Sacred

Week three of our Editors’ Picks. Chris tells us why he (and his fiancée) liked Jay Demerath’s interview on substantive and functionalist definitions of religion.

Could the difficulties associated with the academic conceptualisation of “religion” be overcome by changing our focus instead to “the sacred”? Jay Demerath tells Chris why we should define religion substantively – that is, in terms of specific attributes like rituals, deities or dogmas – but the sacred in terms of the function it serves in the lives of individuals and cultures. From this perspective, religion can be considered one of a number of potential sources of the sacred.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. Please take a moment to rate us while you’re there.

Jay Demerath is currently the Emile Durkheim Distinguished Professor of Sociology Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he has been a faculty member since 1972, including ten years as Chair. Prior to UMass, he received a 1958 A.B. from Harvard and a 1964 Ph.D from the U. Of California, Berkeley before rising from Instructor to Professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and serving as Executive Officer of the American Sociological Association. Among his many publications, he is author or editor of fourteen books, including the award-winning Crossing the Gods: World Religions and Worldly Politics (2001) and the recent Sage Handbook for the Sociology of Religion (2008). The current Chair-elect of the Religion Section of the American Sociological Association, he is also past-President of the Eastern Sociological Society, the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, and the Association for the Sociology of Religion.

Of particular relevance to this interview is his paper from 2000, The Varieties of Sacred Experience: Finding the Sacred in a Secular Grove, from the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 39, p. 1–11. Here’s the abstract:

This paper contends that the social scientific study of religion has long labored under a chafing constraint and a misleading premise. It suggests that our primary focus should be on the sacred, and that religion is just one among many possible sources of the sacred. Defining religion “substantively” but the sacred “functionally” helps toresolve a long-standing tension in the field. Broadened conceptions of the sacred and of “sacralization” help to defuse the conflict among the two very different versions of secularization theory: the “all-or-nothing” versus the “middle range.” Meanwhile, a conceptual typology of the sacred pivots around the intersections of two distinctions (compensatory vs. confirmatory and marginal vs. institutional). This generates four distinct scenarios: the sacred as integrative, the sacred as quest, the sacred as collectivity, and the sacred as counter-culture. The paper concludes with three admonitions for research in the area.

Roundtable: Critics or Caretakers?

Anna, Ting, and the bear…

Here we are with yet another roundtable for you, following on from our epic compilation episode where world-famous academics answered the question, ‘Should Scholars of Religion be Critics or Caretakers?’ This discussion brings together a number of aspiring academics to reflect on some of the issues brought up in that podcast in a friendly and hilarious manner. The question cuts to the core of what academics who study religion are doing… are they taking care of religion? Are they antagonising it? What should they be doing? And judging by the various long tangents through which discussion meanders, the question certainly sparked our interest.

The participants were Katie Aston, Anna Clot i Garrell, Christopher Cotter, Ting Guo, Ethan Quillen, David Robertson and Jonathan Tuckett (biographical statements below). All of us had listened to the bulk of the podcast mentioned above… BUT none of us had yet heard Russell McCutcheon’s response to it (so, apologies that we probably fall afoul of his excellent critique).

If you are new to the podcast – this is not what we usually do. If you are a regular listener – you might enjoy this, or you might not. We hope you pick the former…

Jonathan: “…every action is going to be illegal to some state, it’s just a case of which state you’re pandering to at that point”

Discussion flows through what an academic ‘caretaker’ would look like, to whether we are being caretakers of the academic discipline of Religious Studies simply by perpetuating the discussion of religion. We discuss the nature of the ‘sacred’, the idea of ‘critical religion’, and get in to talking about ‘cultural Christians’, the ‘spiritual but not religious’ and the age-old problem of defining religion… and the newer but semantically parasitic problem of defining ‘nonreligion’.

We debate and attempt to answer such questions as:

  • If our research uncovers material which is relevant to the real world… make sure that people know? Should we be public intellectuals?
  • Should we just tell the truth no matter what the consequence?
  • Does this discussion depend on which definition of ‘religion’ we work with?
  • Where would we draw the line between being a scientific academic, and taking action against the conduct of a group we are studying?
  • Are ‘we’ in a position to judge? Would we be judging from intellectual grounds or ethical grounds?
  • Anna: What is the nature of academic criticism, as opposed to criticism in the common parlance?
  • Should we be methodologically atheist? Methodologically agnostic? Are these the same thing?

David and Anna showcase some hooded sweatshirts.

We should warn you that this is a little rough around the edges. The idea was not to present anyone with a sophisticated discussion, but to give you an idea of the vast amount of issues which a simple question can raise, and encourage others to have such discussions themselves and maybe come to different conclusions. It’s uncensored… it’s fun… we had a good time. Please don’t take anything too seriously… but try to enjoy it, to engage with us, to disagree with us, to criticise us. That’s what we’re here for. There is also a lot of discussion of paedophilia… this came up early on as a hypothetically abhorrent practice which some ‘religious’ group might engage in. As it is pretty difficult to trump this in terms of abhorrence we returned to the issue somewhat more regularly than it warranted. Suffice to say, this was most definitely a hypothetical example.

This podcast was recorded in Chris’ place of gainful employment – the University of Edinburgh Visitor Centre – and we are very grateful to them for providing the space. The participants were also all brought together by the Religion & Society Programme’s ‘Sacred Practice of Everyday Life’ conference, and we were very grateful to Linda Woodhead and the other organisers for allowing the Religious Studies Project to attend and record a number of podcasts with participants (to be released from September 2012).

Ethan: “When you define religion as a scholar, you’re essentially putting the last nail in your own coffin.”

Some choice quotations:

Ethan: “so, essentially what you’re promoting is that we all need to be defence attorneys?”

Chris: “Are we as scholars of religion by the very fact that we are scholars of religion… being caretakers?”

Katie: “Can I just clarify that I’m not a scholar of religion? Coz I’m not…”

Ethan: “That’s like saying it’s raining outside, this umbrella isn’t working, so I’ll open this canopy instead.”

And just so that we have a ‘proper’ academic involved, here is the quotation from Donald Wiebe which Chris cites in the recording as an example of the ‘critic’ side of the dichotomy:

 “Just as the knowledge produced in the humanities and by social scientists may bear on human problems and public concerns, so also the knowledge produced by students of religion may bear the same relationship to such issues. In this regard, however, it is important to note: first, that the “linkage” between the knowledge produced and the problems resolved is “external,” that is, it is of the same order, so to speak, as that between the natural sciences and engineering; second, that even though religious studies research may be relevant in that fashion, working out the policy/resolution implications of that knowledge is not the task of the student of religion. To take on that assignment is the task of policy makers, politicians, therapists, conflict managers, and other “public intellectuals.” And it is important, I think, that the scientific character of the study of religion not be compromised in any way by bringing such tasks in to the purview of Religious Studies”

Wiebe, Donald 2008. ‘The Scientific Study of Religion and Its Cultured Despisers’ in Willi Braun and Russell McCutcheon (eds.), Introducing Religion: Essays in Honor of Jonathan Z. Smith. London: Equinox, p. 477.

The Participants:


Having completed a BA (hons) in Fine Art at Wimbledon School of Art in 2006, Katie Aston went on to complete her Masters in Social Anthropology at Goldsmiths University, with a dissertation investigating gender performance within contemporary Stand Up comedy in London. Building on a pilot study of the Atheist Bus Campaign,  she is currently undertaking an ethnographic study of non-religious value construction and material cultures. She is looking specifically at rationalism and the role Christian heritage within non-religious individuals and organisation, taking a historical perspective from the freethought archives of Bishopsgate Institute. Katie is an Assistant Editor at NSRN Online, the web presence of the Nonreligion and Secularity Research Network.


Anna Clot i Garrell is currently a PhD candidate in the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB). She received her degree in Sociology from Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona in 2010. In 2009, she became part of the research group ISOR (Investigations in Sociology of Religion) directed by Dr. Joan Estruch, collaborating in the research project Evangelical Churches in Barcelona: doctrinal heterogeneity, immigration and evangelization strategies directed by Dra Maria del Mar Griera. In 2011, she completed a Master of Arts in Religious Studies at Lancaster University and was awarded with the Ninian Smart prize for the best dissertation in Religious Studies for the dissertation Exploring New Religious Expressions in Catalunya supervised by Dr. Andrew Dawson. She is interested in the transformations of religion and the emergence of novel expressions of religiosity in the secular sphere and traditional religious contexts.


Christopher R. Cotter recently completed his MSc by Research in Religious Studies at the University of Edinburgh, on the topic ‘Toward a Typology of Nonreligion: A Qualitative Analysis of Everyday Narratives of Scottish University Students’. He is currently taking a year out from study to present at conferences, complete various writing projects, and work on projects such as this. His PhD research at Lancaster University (commencing October 2012) will continue to expand the theme of ‘non-religion’ to apply to ‘everyone’ in religiously diverse, socio-economically deprived urban environments, simultaneously deconstructing the religion-nonreligion dichotomy in the process. He is Deputy Editor and Bibliography Manager at the Nonreligion and Secularity Research Network, and currently editing the volume ‘Social Identities between the Sacred and the Secular’ with Abby Day and Giselle Vincett (Ashgate, 2013). See his personal blog, or academia.edu page for a full CV.


Ting Guo is a PhD candidate in religious studies at the University of Edinburgh. Her thesis is on the philosophy of artificial intelligence and how that might contribute to understanding the meaning of spirituality and who and what we are in the Information Age. She is also interested in the religious landscape in East and Southeast Asia, in particular the phenomenon of “underground church” in China, the notion of neo-colonialism, and Chinese diaspora in Britain.


Circular Academia: Navigating the Dangerous Waters of Term Re-Assignment for the Religious Studies Project.


David G. Robertson is a Ph.D. candidate in the Religious Studies department of the University of Edinburgh. His research  examines how UFO narratives became the bridge by which ideas crossed between the conspiracist and New Age milieus in the post-Cold War period. More broadly, his work concerns contemporary alternative spiritualities, and their relationship with popular culture. Forthcoming publications: “Making the Donkey Visible: Discordianism in the Works of Robert Anton Wilson” in C. Cusack & A. Norman (Eds.), Brill Handbook of New Religions and Cultural Production. Leiden: Brill (2012) “(Always) Living in the End Times: The “rolling prophecy” of the conspracist milieu” in When Prophecy Persists. London: INFORM/Ashgate (2012). For a full CV and my MSc thesis on contemporary gnosticism, see my Academia page or my personal blog.


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

Should Scholars of Religion be Critics or Caretakers?

If you have been listening to the podcast for the past couple of weeks, you will be aware that we are about to go on a brief hiatus until September, to give our listeners some time to catch up, and to give Chris and David a chance to catch up on some of their other commitments. The website will still be releasing content on a less regular basis, and we have at least one more roundtable discussion for your delectation over the coming weeks. We will also be re-releasing our ‘editors favourites’ from the first batch of podcasts – so there will still be plenty of material to keep you occupied. However, before we ‘leave you’ we wanted to go out with a bang, and it is therefore with pleasure that we present the second of our compilation episodes.

As with the first of our compilation episodes (What is the Future of Religious Studies?), every time David, Chris and Jonathan have conducted an interview, they have been asking the interviewees an additional question: ‘Should Scholars of Religion be Critics or Caretakers?’ The result is this compilation of differing opinions and interpretations of key terms from eight top scholars from a variety of disciplines – sociology, psychology, religious studies, theology – on how academics should position themselves in relation to the groups and individuals that they study.

However, we decided to push things one step further with this one. The inspiration for this episode came from one of Russell McCutcheon’s works which we had encountered through the undergraduate Religious Studies programme at the University of Edinburgh, entitled ‘Critics Not Caretakers: Redescribing the Public Study of Religion‘. We thought it would be an excellent idea to invite Russell to respond to the opinions of the other scholars in this podcast, and are very grateful that not only was he happy to be involved, but he sent a ten minute response recording. Enjoy.

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

Some of these academics have already appeared on the Religious Studies Project, others’ interviews have yet to be released, and others’ are still on our ‘to-do’ list, yet each has their own unique perspective to offer, and we hope that you appreciate this compilation. We apologise for the UK-centric nature of these recordings… that’s just what happened in this instance.

Featured in this podcast (with links to their previously released interviews):

Whether you stick with us over the break, or come back to us in September, we can assure you that we have another great lineup in store. Future podcasts include interviews with David Morgan (Duke University), Kim Knott (Lancaster University), Robert Orsi (Northwestern University), Gordon Lynch (University of Kent), Suzanne Owen (Leeds Trinity University College), J Gordon Melton (Baylor University), Brian Victoria (Antioch University) and more…

Please keep telling people about us… if you are a lecturer, please consider incorporating this material into your courses… and please keep supporting us on Facebook and Twitter.

Thanks for listening!

Nuancing the Qual-Quan Divide: The Vitality of Research Methods in the Academic Study of Religion

Nuancing the Qual-Quan Divide:The Vitality of Research Methods in the Academic Study of Religion

By Yasaman S. Munro, Wilfrid Laurier University

Published by the Religious Studies Project on 4 July 2012 in response to the Religious Studies Project Interview with David Voas on Quantitative Research (2 July 2012).

By using “vitality” in the title above, I mean to point to two aspects of the same urgent call. First, I simply mean that research methods are vital to the academic study of religion. As Stausberg and Engler suggest, “it is through methods that data and theory speak to each other and become part of a shared horizon” (2011: 11), and indeed it is still not a platitude to recall that theory, method and data can be considered three sides of that triangle we conjure, whether implicitly or explicitly, whenever we conduct research in this discipline. Second, I mean to claim that the active engagement of students and scholars embedded in the study of religion with research methods contributes to the ongoing vitality of our discipline. Please allow me to elaborate.

In this interview with Professor David Voas—a social scientist in Britain specializing in demography, and a scholar who is deeply involved in quantitative research himself—interviewer David Robertson asks about the oft-cited distinction between quantitative and qualitative research. I’d like to comment on this, specifically on what my own social research methods professor called the “qual-quan” divide. Professor Voas goes so far as to contrast the “qualitative people” to scholars using quantitative methods. Yet, what he does hint at, but has not had a chance to elaborate upon here in this short interview, is that the division between qualitative and quantitative research methods can be quite blurry in practice, and furthermore, they can and often are used in conjunction, as for instance in mixed methods research (Stausberg and Engler 2011: 13). Both Voas and Robertson themselves point to what could arguably be considered qualitative problems inherent in quantitative research designs, namely issues around designing valid questionnaires to administer to an appropriate sample of people in order to address specific research questions. Or, for example, in my own research on domestic health and healing practices among Hindu migrants in Canada, I have found myself asking interviewees what Voas refers to as the “how much, to what extent” sorts of questions that could be classified as quantitative questions.

But, even more significant than recognizing this blurry divide is what I noticed in this podcast to be a tendency not to nuance either qualitative and quantitative research methods. Voas rightly points to the usually forgotten difference between methods of data collection and analysis, considering surveys conducted among individuals or organizations. He also outlines some pros and cons for using primary and secondary data collection and analysis. What seems to be missing here is the acknowledgement that both quantitative and qualitative research often involves far more than simply statistical data gleaned from surveys, or in-person interviews, respectively.

Michael Stausberg and Steven Engler’s recent edited volume is a breath of the proverbial fresh air in this regard. In this pioneering handbook on research methods in the study of religion, the editors and the diverse contributors consider a wide variety of research designs, data analysis and collection strategies. Included are everything from issues in research ethics and hermeneutics to network analysis and material culture. Another recent work, by Hilary Rodrigues and John S. Harding, does address approaches to the study of religion—a subject area for which Walter Capps (1995) deserves a notable mention—and would be more suitable for undergraduate students being introduced to research methods. Those of us immersed in religious studies would benefit from pursuing works like these.

Why are research methods so vital to us? A while ago Russell McCutcheon (1997) called on us to pay more critical attention to theory (and method) in the study of religion. We do have a number of important works dealing with theoretical topics in the study of religion (e.g. Braun and McCutcheon 2000; Hinnells 2005; Taylor 1998), and as Stausberg and Engler have in my opinion rightly claimed, our Method and Theory courses have tended to focus more on theory than on method per se. Furthermore, as Capps among others, has reminded us, “where one stands determines what one sees and what one can know” (1995: 334-5); arguably both our theories and methods are implicated in where we stand. Because our methods, just as it is the case with our theories, play such a vital part in structuring, and arguably even producing, the data we find in our research, when we do not explicitly address our research methods, we are not adequately taking advantage of the resources we have to render high quality research. We could more clearly examine our research questions, our methods for data collection and analysis (beyond simply claiming we are conducting “quantitative” or “qualitative” research), and we could more explicitly employ strategies to establish our project’s methodological credibility, among other things. We are each encouraged to immerse ourselves in these sorts of things not only for the sake of our own ongoing research but because doing so will benefit the students and colleagues whose research we continue to help foster together.

Given the interviewee’s background, the interview tends to focus on issues that are usually important to scholars practicing the sociology of religion, issues such as how to measure the degree of religiosity of adherents, and how demographic factors are complicit in these processes. The interview could therefore more accurately be titled “Quantitative Research in the Sociology of Religion in Europe and the United States.” What is important to note here is that Voas’ perspectives on the value of quantitative research, involving particular data collection and analysis strategies (especially those involving large-scale surveys), while valuable, do stem from his adherence to the particular research questions of concern to him. What listeners are therefore exposed to here does not by any means exhaust the possibilities for research designs available to other kinds of scholars carrying out other kinds of research in our multi-faceted discipline.

At the end of the interview, Voas and Robertson encourage young scholars to engage with quantitative research methods. While I wholeheartedly support their inviting sentiments, I suggest it is vital for students and scholars of religion to pay closer attention to research methods more generally. As I have heard often enough in multiple places, the research questions are what ultimately drive the method, and therefore quantitative research designs may not be suitable for all projects. In my own doctoral research, for example, I have found the use of semi-structured interviews in domestic spaces and photography of household medical items indispensable for addressing my particular research questions.

It was a pleasure listening to what I hope to be the first of several more podcasts addressing the richly various aspects of research methods in our discipline. The interview does provide listeners with a good introduction to some important topics, such as validity, sampling, and generalizability. Still, given that research methods courses are a long way from being abundantly accessible to students in the discipline, students (and scholars) of religious studies would benefit from continually engaging with some of the established and emerging literature on research design and methodology so they can further nuance their understandings (e.g. Creswell 2009; Bryman, Teevan and Bell 2009; Berg 2007; Denzin and Lincoln 2011). I have been fortunate in that at my academic institution we have had a “Fieldworkers’ Group” meeting at least once a term for several years to discuss issues we have collectively experienced in mostly anthropological fieldwork. Indeed, beyond classroom and textbook, we all might find it helpful to engage more in occasional roundtables at conferences or at our institutions to discuss best practices in our ongoing adventures with research methods.

I therefore join Stausberg and Engler among others in inviting students and scholars in our discipline to open the lines of dialogue and debate on the vital topic of research methods in the academic study of religion, otherwise our research triangles run the risk of looking a bit more like boomerangs.

This material is disseminated under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. and can be distributed and utilised freely, provided full citation is given.

About the Author:

Yasaman S. Munro is a PhD candidate in the joint Wilfrid Laurier University-University of Waterloo Religious Diversity in North America doctoral program. Her doctoral research focuses on relational and material dimensions of Āyurveda and associated South Asian medical modalities unfolding in the domestic spaces of Hindu migrants in the Waterloo Region of Canada. In particular, she is tracing how the health and healing ideas and practices manifesting in these spaces are linked to those elsewhere and at other times, and what these can tell us about people’s religious and other social identities. More broadly, Yasaman’s work examines intersections between what we call “religion” and “health” from a multidisciplinary approach.

References:

Berg, Bruce L. (2007). Qualitative Research Methods for the Social Sciences, Sixth Edition. Long Beach: California State University.

Braun, Willi, and Russell McCutcheon, Eds. (2000). Guide to the Study of Religion. London and New York: Cassell.

Bryman, Alan, James J. Teevan and Edward Bell. (2009). Social Research Methods, Second Canadian Edition. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.

Capps, Walter H. (1995). Religious Studies: The Making of a Discipline. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Creswell, John W. (2009). Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

Denzin, Norman K., and Yvonna S. Lincoln, Eds. (2011). The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research, 4th revised edition. London and Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

Hinnells, John R., Ed. (2005). The Routledge Companion to the Study of Religion. London and New York: Routledge.

McCutcheon, Russell T. (1997). Manufacturing Religion: The Discourse on Sui Generis Religion and The Politics of Nostalgia. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.

Rodrigues, Hillary, and John S. Harding. (2009). Introduction to the Study of Religion. London and New York: Routledge.

Stausberg, Michael, and Steven Engler, Eds. (2011). The Routledge Handbook of Research Methods in the Study of Religion. Abingdon, Oxon; New York: Routledge.

Taylor, Mark C., Ed. (1998). Critical Terms for Religious Studies. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.

David Voas on Quantitative Research

Sociological research has followed two broad paradigms –  qualitative and quantitative. Qualitative studies seek depth, typically based on interviews and observation with a relatively small pool of subjects. Quantitative studies, on the other hand, survey a larger pool – in some cases, such as the UK National Census, practically the entire population of a country –  relying on mass methods such as questionnaires with a limited set of questions and responses. Such data sets allow cross-analyses of large groups in ways that qualitative methods never could. But without the reflexivity and personal relationship of an interviewer, are quantitative methods compromised by the biases in the specific questions asked? 

In our interviews with Callum Brown and Ariella Keysar, the team had a number of issues with the use of qualitative data in religious studies – which you’ll know if you’ve heard our roundtable response recorded at the SOCREL conference this year. So we decided we needed to speak to an acknowledged expert, to lay out the advantages – and deal with the issues – with quantitative data in the study of religions. In his interview, David Voas deals with the criticisms strongly and with good grace, while laying out a compelling case for the place of quantitative research in the contemporary study of religions.

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.

David Voas is Professor at the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) at the University of Essex, and was formerly Simon Professor of Population Studies at the University of Manchester. He is the national programme director in Great Britain for the European Values Study and co-director of the British Religion in Numbers project (www.brin.ac.uk), an online centre for British data on religion. He serves on the editorial boards of the British Journal of Sociology and the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion and on the council of the British Society for Population Studies.

Among his many publications, some relevant ones are Surveys of behaviour, beliefs and affiliation in Handbook of the Sociology of Religion, ed. J Beckford and NJ Demerath (Sage, 2007); Does religion belong in population studies? in Environment and Planning A 39:5 (2007); and Religious decline in Scotland: New evidence on timing and spatial patterns in Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 45:1 (2006).

Titus Hjelm on Marxist Approaches to the Study of Religions

The foundation of irreligious criticism is: Man makes religion, religion does not make man. Religion is indeed the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself or has already lost himself again. But man is no abstract being squatting outside the world. Man is the world of man, state, society. This state and this society produce religion, which is an inverted consciousness of the world, because they are an inverted world. Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement and its universal basis of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality. The struggle against religion is therefore indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion.

Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people.

The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusion about its condition is the demand to give up a condition, which needs illusions.

This famous quotation from German political philosopher Karl Marx’s unfinished Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right (1843) encapsulates his controversial and complex understanding of the social function of religion. It was a significant part of his theory of alienation – the worker was, in capitalist society, separated from their labour and its products; work had become outside of them, alien. Religion was part of the mechanism by which the bourgeois perpetuated this alienation and therefore the capitalist status quo. Life was unfair, but this was the price of entry into Heaven when you die. As Marx saw it, when the workers were no longer alienated from their work and society made equal, there would be no need for religion, and it would die away.

The theory, and in particular the decontextualised soundbyte, “Religion is the opium of the masses”, was practically a matter of faith among the left-leaning liberal intelligentsia of the 60s and 70s, but the popularity of Marxist analyses of religion (and society in general) lost capital during the 80s and early 90s with the fall of the USSR and the Berlin Wall. What place, then, do his theories have in the contemporary academy, given society’s reawakened concern with inequality? Marx’s theory anticipated both the work of Émile Durkheim, founder of sociology, and an emphasis on power relations which would later be picked up by post-structuralist theorists including Foucault and Bourdieu, all of whom have a profound.influence on contemporary studies of religion.

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.

titus hjelmTitus Hjelm is Lecturer in Finnish Society and Culture at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies at University College, London. His doctoral dissertation, at the University of Helsinki, was on the construction of Satanism in the Finnish news media. His research interests are wide-ranging, however, and include the sociology of religion, news media, popular culture (particularly the Nordic heavy metal scene and vampire fiction), and social theory, including Marxist theories. His two most recent books are Perspectives on Social Constructionism (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010) and an edited volume titled Religion and Social Problems (Routledge, 2010). He is also bass guitar player for Thunderstone.

Apologies too for the background noise – we got locked out of our office.

image of books

Opportunities Digest (18 May 2012) – Scholarships, Conferences, Essay Prizes and more…

The Religious Studies Project Opportunities Digest

18 May 2012 Issue

image of booksWe are not responsible for any content contained herein, but have simply copied and pasted from a variety of sources. If you have any content for future digests, please contact us via the various options on our ‘contact’ page.

In this issue:

 

  • Conference Announcements
  • Jobs
  • New Religion Database
  • Essay Prize
  • Scholarships
  • Calls for Papers
  • Public Lectures

 

 


CONFERENCE ANNOUNCEMENTS

 


 

Registration is now open for the 4th Exploring the Extraordinary conference, which will take place in York (UK) on the 21st-23rd September. Exploring the Extraordinary is an interdisciplinary network for those engaged/interested in research into the ‘extraordinary’ – topics often regarded as paranormal, supernatural, religious, transcendent, ecstatic, exceptional, mystical, anomalous, magical, or spiritual.

This year’s conference papers will include

*History, Spiritualism and psychical phenomena

*Parapsychological approaches to paranormal belief and experience

*Revenants in folklore and society

*Spiritual healing and landscape

*Magical performances, magical geographies

*Experiencing alternate realities and entity encounters

*Ghosts and place

*Music and the extraordinary

*Philosophy, the paranormal and questoning spiritual reality

*Extraordinary experiences, emotions and ethics.

For more information, please visit http://etenetwork.weebly.com/ or email ete.network@gmail.com

Exploring the Extraordinary is a not-for-profit researcher network run voluntarily, so we greatly appreciate any and all support.


‘Material Religion in Modern Britain and her Worlds’ June 8th and June 9th. University of Glamorgan Cardiff campus.

This two-day symposium will explore material cultures of religious belief and faith in modern Britain. As Birgit Meyer, David Morgan, Crispin Paine and S. Brent Plate have recently pointed out, studying material objects provides us with an alternative evidence base in the study of modern religious belief (Birgit Meyer et al; 2011). Yet few attempts have yet been made to do so. While many scholars now concede that Britain’s religious landscape is more varied and rich than the narrative of secularisation allows, a tendency remains in the historiography of religion to privilege written sources over material manifestations of religion. This means that all sorts of belief practices have been overlooked. Analysing the material past, we propose, will provide scholars with new and exciting ways of understanding the apparently fraught relationship between modernity and religion.

As Jane Bennett points out, objects are culture constructions and lead active lives in our social and cultural landscape. Religious historians have too often been guilty of adopting an implicitly Protestant binary (set up in opposition to Catholicism) in which words are privileged over objects. Yet everyday cultures of Protestant belief in Britain relied on all kinds of material cultures which sustained religion in an age of uncertainty.

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

Conference Programme

Friday 8th June 2012

10.45

Conference Registration

11.30-1.00

Panel One: Past Visions

Eimir O’Brien, ‘Re-appropriating the Gothic: The Catholic Church and their Consolidation of Power in mid-Nineteenth Century Ireland’.

Timothy Carroll, An ancient modernity: Icons and the revitalisation of Britain’

Richard Irvine, ‘Counterfactual architecture: studies in ‘what if?’ from England and Gibraltar’

1.30-3.00

Panel two: Subjectivity, the everyday and material religion

Candace Hoffman-Hussain, ‘‘An exploration of religiosity and home artefacts within British interfaith hybrid coupledom’

Ann Wilson, ‘The material and visual culture of the construction of Irish Catholic identity, 1879 to 1922’’

Amy Whitehead, ‘An English shade of Animism: Contemporary statue devotion and the Glastonbury Goddess Temple’

3.30-4.30

Panel three: Senses and emotions

Julie-Marie Strange and Bertrand Taithe, ‘Compassion – The Stuff of Religion, 1870-1912’

James Mansell, ‘Church Bells and the Acoustic Experience of War in Britain, 1939-45’

4.30-5.30

Keynote Paper

John Harvey (Aberystwyth University) ‘Revival, Restoration, and Revision: An Audio Interrogation of Evan Roberts’ Wax Cylinder’

Saturday 9th June 2012

10.00-11.00

Keynote Paper:

Dominic Janes (Birkbeck College) ‘The Aesthetic Eucharist in Victorian Britain’

11.30-12.30

Panel Four: Church Exteriors and Interiors

Lucinda Matthews-Jones, ‘Sacred Art for the People: G. F. Watts’s Time, Death and Judgment as Material Christianity, 1883-1970’.

Jim Cheshire, ‘Fashioning Church Interiors – the Importance of Amateur Design’

1.00-2.30

Panel Five: Ritual and Material Religion

Kate Jordan and Ayla Lepine, ‘Adornment and Atonement: Textiles and Labour in Victorian Convents’

Jill Sudbury, ‘Skin as Spiritual Script: Tibetan Buddhism, Tattoos and the West’

Joe Webster, ‘Divine Paper, Demonic Plastic and Delicious Prawns: The Immanence of Transcendence in a Scottish Fishing Village’

2.30

Roundtable


Prophetic Arts in Africa, a Two Day Workshop in Lisbon 24-25th May, 2012

This is a two-day workshop organized by Julien Bonhomme (ENS) and Ramon Sarro (University of Lisbon) in Lisbon, as (hopefully) the first in a series of events we plan to organize around images, prophetic imagination, writing, memory and ritual. In this first one, we limit our focus to Africa.

The relationship between art and prophecy, complementary and alternative forms of imagination, is, intuitively speaking, obvious enough; yet there is still a lack of rigorous scientific research to be carried out about it. Many artists have been prophetic in their work, and many prophets have been artists in their ways of imagining the future and of translating this imagination into texts (sometimes even alphabets), drawings, houses or even cities. The interconnection between art and prophecy is an ideal place where to study the “work of the spirit” that Lévi-Strauss encouraged us to study, and the entanglement between, on the one hand, the domain of words and messages and, on the other, the domain of images and non-verbal connections. Our imaginative two-day journey will take us to Congo (a paradigmatic region of prophetic effervescence) the first day, and beyond Congo (West Africa and the Diaspora) the second day. Relying on the support of images (pictures, paintings, movies), we intend to comparatively analyze the connection between art and prophecy in Africa, in a workshop funded by the ANR Project “Création, Rituel, Mémoire” (Musée du quai Branly, Laboratoire d’anthropologie sociale) and jointly co-organized by the musée du quai Branly, the Institute of Social Sciences (Lisbon), the École Normale Supérieur and the African Studies Centre of Lisbon.

Working language for the workshop will be French.

All welcome. oh, and we will also visualize Filip de Boeck’s film “Cemetery city”, which was not in our initial programme, but by coincidence was set for the 24 May on the programme of a parallel series of films on Africa. The film deals with death and religious imagination in Kinshasa and it speaks to many of the topics that will have been discussed in the earlier papers that day. Please note that unlike the workshop, the Film will be in English (some bits in Lingala, with subtitles in English).

NB this programme is still to be fully confirmed, there may be some minor adjustments in the final one. Please contact me if you intend to come and I’ll keep you up-to-dated.

Ramon Sarró, PhD (London), Habil. (Lisbon)

Senior Lecturer and Research Fellow

Institute of Social Sciences

University of Lisbon

Av. Professor Aníbal de Bettencourt, 9

1600-189 Lisbon

Portugal

e-Mail: ramonsarro@gmail.com


Magic is Might 2012: An International Academic Conference Exploring the Cultural Influences of the Harry Potter Books and Films

University of Limerick, Ireland

July 23-24 2012

Full Program now available: http://magicismight2012.blogspot.com/p/timetable.html

Registration now open! http://magicismight2012.eventbrite.com/?ebtv=C

The Harry Potter series has become a publishing phenomenon that has captured the imagination of children and adults all over the world. The stories created by J.K. Rowling have inspired extensive multidisciplinary academic discussion, ranging from cultural and literary analyses, sociological and philosophical interpretations, design practices, to recognised medical publications.

Conferences have taken place that focused on the impact that the novels have had on the world and their educational contribution and edited collections have been produced centering on themes of philosophy, religion, sociology, and critical analysis, to name just a few. The characters’ relationships, the political and social systems, and cultural commentaries woven into Rowling’s writing are just some examples of what makes the Harry Potter series an exciting framework for academic discourse in a number of areas.

This two-day event will feature twenty 15-20 minute presentations on papers relating to popular culture and the Harry Potter series. We will encourage intensive and lively discussion and debate around the papers over the two days in this intimate setting.

The conference will feature opening remarks by Dr. Eoin Devereux, author of “Understanding the Media”, Head of the UL Dept. of Sociology and a world-renowned expert on fandom, and a keynote presentation by Dom Mark Patrick Hederman, OSB, Abbott of Glenstal Abbey, lecturer and writer, on “Harry Potter” Archetype of the Child as our future in the 21st Century”.

Wizards, Muggles, established academics and postgraduate students are invited to join the conference!

Conference organisers:

Gráinne O’Brien (University of Limerick, Ireland)

Dr. Luigina Ciolfi (University of Limerick, Ireland)

Jadwiga O’Brien (National University of Galway, Ireland)

Lette Moloney (MoloneyMedia and Interaction Design Centre, UL)

Facebook page

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Magic-is-Might-2012/115039398578113

To Register:

http://magicismight2012.eventbrite.com/?ebtv=C

Follow us on twitter @magicismight12

This conference is NOT authorized by J.K. Rowling, her US or UK publishers, WB,

Universal Studios or any other official Harry Potter related or trademarked entity.


Pagans in Dialogue with the Wider World: A Pagan Studies Symposium

Friday, February 15, 2013, San José State University

(semi-concurrent with PantheaCon, February 15-18, 2013, DoubleTree Hotel, San Jose, CA)

Sponsored by San José State University, Humanities Dept., Comparative Religious Studies Program

Organizers: Lee Gilmore (SJSU) & Amy Hale (St. Petersburg College)

Contemporary Paganism, in all its varieties, stands at a unique cultural and religious intersection that can provide insights for a wide range of global, social, and political subjects, beyond its own inward facing concerns. For this symposium, we are calling for scholarly submissions that focus on Paganism’s contributions to and engagements with broader cultural and religious dialogues in an increasingly pluralist world. These could include, but are not limited to, explorations of Paganisms’ endeavors in community, economic, media, health, legal, social justice, and institutional development work, as well as activist, applied, interdisciplinary, and interfaith work.

More generally, all submissions that critically examine Paganism(s) in relationship to categories such as religion, culture, gender, identity, authenticity, power, and ritual–among other possible frameworks–are welcome. In addition, all papers presented at the symposium will be considered for publication in a special issue of The Pomegranate: The International Journal of Pagan Studies.

All proposals & queries should be sent to: pagansymposium@gmail.com

Deadline: September 15, 2012

More info (including submission requirements & a pdf of this call):

http://www.sjsu.edu/people/lee.gilmore/paganstudies/


JOBS


Dear Colleagues,

Attached please find an announcement for a professoral position in “Histoire des religions” at the University of Geneva (succession Philippe Borgeaud; annual gross salary starting from 164’500 CHF).

As chair of the nominating committee, I would be grateful if you could spread this information and encourage all potential candidates to apply.

I insist that although local candidates will apply, the examination process will be fair and open, and external applications will be assessed on the same footing as local ones.

Thank you very much for your help,

Best regards,

Nicolas Zufferey

Dean, Faculty of Humanities, University of Geneva


NEW RELIGION DATABASE


This is to announce the launch of a new cumulated International Social Survey Programme (ISSP) dataset with data from all three rounds of the ISSP religion survey (1991, 1998 and 2008). It covers 28 countries across the world, each of which has participated in at least two of the ISSP religion modules. Prior to this analysts have had to work with the three datasets separately.

Documentation and data access, including download in SPSS, SAS, or Stata format, is offered online via the GESIS ZACAT online analysis database at:

http://zacat.gesis.org/webview/index.jsp

This is the direct link to the cumulated ISSP religion file in ZACAT:

http://zacat.gesis.org/webview/index.jsp?object=http://zacat.gesis.org/obj/fStudy/ZA5070

And general information about ISSP can be found here:

http://www.issp.org/


ESSAY PRIZE


I am writing on behalf of the UK?s Science and Religion Forum http://www.srforum.org/ to publicise our 2012 essay competition. Please see above website for further information. The competition is open to all students (undergraduate and postgraduate) and the closing date is July 31st 2012.


SCHOLARSHIPS


Newman University College Birmingham, in conjunction with the Bible Society, is offering a full fees PhD Studentship from 1st October 2012 (or as soon as possible thereafter). The studentship is open to UK and EU applicants, and is available on either a part time or full time basis. It will cover all tuition fees for up to three years of study (full time) or up to six years (part time), subject to the successful applicant making satisfactory progress in their studies; if the student takes longer to complete the PhD, he/she will be liable to pay additional fees.

Applicants must have a good first degree (1st class or 2.1) in Theology, Biblical Studies, or a subject closely related to the research topic, and an MA or MTh or other relevant postgraduate degree. Applicants will need to demonstrate clear evidence of the skills necessary to undertake independent research (e.g. details of research methods modules undertaken and/or successful dissertations completed). Those who are invited for interview will be asked to supply in advance samples of their previous written work.

The successful candidate will be free to negotiate with the supervisory team a specific research focus within the general area of the Use of the Bible in Schools. Applicants should provide in the relevant section of the application form a draft research proposal outlining the aspect(s) of this subject which they are interested in studying, and this will form an important part of the selection process.

Newman University College has particular research strengths in the areas of Biblical Studies and Education, and our postgraduate students benefit from a high level of individual support and dedicated office space. For further information about the Institutional research environment or the Theology subject area and its staff, please visit our website:

http://www.newman.ac.uk/research/432

The application form is available from http://www.newman.ac.uk/studentships/867 and should be returned by post or e-mail to:

John Howard

Graduate School Administrator

Newman University College

Genners Lane

Bartley Green

Birmingham

B32 3NT

E-mail: john.howard@newman.ac.uk


CALLS FOR PAPERS


Religion and the Arts is planning a special issue on Opera and Religion for its issue 17.3 (published in June, 2013). Articles on all aspects of opera and all faith traditions will be considered. We prefer articles of between 4,000 and 9,000 words using parenthetical citation. Send complete articles to goizueta@bc.edu by October 1, 2012.

James Najarian, Editor


Call for Papers

for a special issue for the Journal of Muslims in Europe

“Europe with or without Muslims – narratives of Europe”

Guest editors:             Göran Larsson, University of Gothenburg

Riem Spielhaus, University of Copenhagen

We are seeking papers for a special issue of the new double blind-peer reviewed Journal on Muslims in Europe by BRILL to come out in Spring 2013. This special issue seeks to take up tensions in conflicting stories about and different perspectives on Europe’s history and identity that present Europe without Muslims or contrastingly portray Muslims as part of Europe’s past and present.

Under the headline “Europe with or without Muslims – narratives of Europe” we aim to bring together a number of perspectives from multiple disciplinary fields such as history, religious studies, cultural anthropology, political science and sociology in an analysis of diverging accounts and notions of Europe over time and places throughout the continent, open as well to external perspectives. The initial question thereby is, what role Islam and Muslims have played and still play in the imagining of what Europe means. (See more details on different possible themes for contributions below.)

This way we aim to direct our view at the nexus between constructions of Europe and developments within contemporary European Islam providing space both for a critical review of academic approaches and the development of new impulses for future research.

Besides empirical papers we strongly encourage theoretical papers that challenge current research on Islam and Muslims in Europe and reflect on the own position of the researchers and his or her contributions to the construction of Europe and the role and function of Islam and Muslims.

We invite papers that address one of the topics of two sessions described below. Deadline for sending your abstracts: July the 1st, 2012<https://secure.mail.ibt.ku.dk/owa/UrlBlockedError.aspx>. Accepted participants will be notified by July 20, 2012<https://secure.mail.ibt.ku.dk/owa/UrlBlockedError.aspx>. If your paper is accepted, you must submit the final paper (max 10,000 words inclusive of footnotes) by 20 October 2012<https://secure.mail.ibt.ku.dk/owa/UrlBlockedError.aspx>.

Applications to submit a short paper should include: 1. Proposer’s name and affiliation, 2. a title for the paper, 3. a ca. 500 word abstract.

All abstracts and paper should be written in English.

Time frame:

Deadline for abstracts (ca. 500 words)                               1.July 2012

Deadline for sending final papers                                        20.October 2012

Publication                                                                           15.March 2013

Paper proposals should be send electronically in Microsoft Word formats to Göran Larsson, University of Gothenburg: goran.larsson@religion.gu.se<mailto:goran.larsson@religion.gu.se> and Riem Spielhaus, University of Copenhagen: rsp@teol.ku.dk<mailto:rsp@teol.ku.dk>.

For this special issue we invite papers on the narratives imagining Europe with and without Muslims analyzing contents, actors and setting of those narratives that relate to one or several of the following questions:

  1. Localizing debates connecting Europe and Islam:

•     In what way are debates about Europe and its identity mentioning the European past with reference to Muslim’s presence in Europe on the local, regional, national or European Union level? How do these different levels (local, regional, national, transnational) intersect?

  1. Imagining Europe without Muslims:

•    What are the main patterns of the dominant constructions of Europe’s heritage like notions of a Judaeo-Christian heritage? Where and by whom are these narratives told? To what extent are they embedded in European integration or projects of community or nation-building?

  1. Narratives of Europe inclusive of Muslims:

•    In what cases is the Muslim history of Europe used as counter narrative to question the construction of Europe as a Christian continent? What groups of people insist on an imagination of Europe with Muslims? How are these narratives used to strengthen a feeling of belonging and responsibility of current Muslims?

  1. Contextualizing Islam debates in European history of thought:

•    Is it possible to make any comparison between current debates about Islam and Muslims and previous debates about ties between religions and national identities e.g. different Christian denominations in early modern Europe?

  1. Imagining Europe from outside:

•    How is the relationship between Europe and its Muslim inhabitants viewed beyond the Mediterranean? Do accounts of European history and presentations of the contemporary Europe from within and without bear considerable differences?


Title: Special Issue on the Temples of Bengal

Date: 2012-05-30

Description: Special Issue on the Temples of Bengal We are happy

to announce that the next issue of Chitrolekha Magazine (Vol.

II, No. 1) is going to be on the Temples of Bengal (from the

Ancient Period to the 19th Century). Since we want to bring out

a collection having holistic approaches to the topics, we hav

Contact: editor@chitrolekha.com

URL: chitrolekha.com

Announcement ID: 194455

http://www.h-net.org/announce/show.cgi?ID=194455


Title: Religions: Fields of research, methods and perspectives CFP

Date: 2012-06-15

Description: The First International Krakow Study of Religions

Symposium, 12-14 September 2012 Religions: Fields of research,

methods and perspectives Call for papers Keynote speakers:

Prof. Grace Davie (University of Exeter) Prof. Ralph W. Hood Jr

(University of Tennessee at Chattanooga) Prof. Barnaba Maj

(Univ …

Contact: bajka@iphils.uj.edu.pl

URL: www.religioznawstwo.uj.edu.pl/

Announcement ID: 194503

http://www.h-net.org/announce/show.cgi?ID=194503


PUBLIC LECTURES


Irish Society for the Academic Study of Religions

PUBLIC LECTURE (all welcome)

Prof Tadhg Foley (Professor of Irish Studies, NUI Galway)

“Max Arthur Macauliffe and The Sikh Religion”

Date:  Friday 25 May 2012

Venue: Boole Lecture Theatre, University College Cork, Cork

Time: 5.15pm

Max Arthur Macauliffe (1838-1913), author of the monumental six-volume work, The Sikh Religion, began the preface to his magnum opus with the words: ‘I bring from the East what is practically an unknown religion’. Though regarded by Sikhs as perhaps the most important western figure in the history of their religion, Macauliffe himself is all but unknown in the west. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography does not notice him and he is unknown in his native country, Ireland. He was born as common or garden Michael McAuliffe in Monagea, Co. Limerick and educated at Queen’s College Galway, graduating in modern languages in 1860.  In 1862 he was appointed to the Indian Civil Service and was posted to the Punjab, becoming Deputy Commissioner in 1882 and two years later a Divisional Judge. Based in Amritsar, he developed an intense interest in the Sikh religion, producing the classic English translation of its holy book, the Granth, and, it seems, eventually converting to it. In 1893 he resigned from the Indian Civil Service to devote himself fully to the work of translation. In 1909, Oxford University Press published The Sikh Religion which incorporated his translation of the Granth. He died in London in 1913.

This paper will first address some inaccuracies in existing scholarship concerning Macauliffe’s date and place of birth and indeed the religion into which he was born. It will consider his conception of Sikhism, particularly in relation to Hinduism but also in the context of Christianity, both Protestant and Roman Catholic. He was also a reformer of the Sikh religion, being a leading member of Tat Khalsa, the radical section of the Singh Sabha reform movement, founded in Amritsar in 1873. But he saw his primary role as that of an evangelist for the Sikh religion in the west. He opposed ‘caste exclusiveness’ and ‘sati’, which he called the ‘concremation of widows’. He defended the translation of sacred scripture into vernacular languages and he saw himself as a pioneering figure in his systematic consultation with indigenous Sikh scholars. Indeed he saw his work as, in part, giving the permanency of writing to what had formerly been the orally transmitted wisdom of the gyanis. The paper will conclude with a discussion of Macauliffe’s views on how religion, especially Sikhism, should relate not only to the state as such but also to the British Empire.

The lecture will be followed by an informal Reception for all attending sponsored by the School of Asian Studies, Study of Religions Department and College of Arts, Celtic Studies and Social Sciences, University College Cork (UCC).

Enquiries to Prof Brian Bocking, Study of Religions, UCC, email:  b.bocking[at]ucc.ie


Title: Religion in the Gallery: Two Talks and a Conversation,

Exhibiting Asia in the 21st Century

Location: District of Columbia

Date: 2012-05-24

Description: Join us at the Freer Gallery of Art on May 24, 2012

for two lectures on the role and use of religion in a gallery

setting, followed by an open discourse. Gregory Levine,

associate professor of Asian visual culture at the University

of California, Berkeley, will discuss Zen iconography from past

to p …

Contact: vaccaroj@si.edu

URL: www.asia.si.edu/events/exhibiting-asia/.

Announcement ID: 194447

http://www.h-net.org/announce/show.cgi?ID=194447

Studying “Cults”

Although “cult” and “sect” are used as technical terms in religious studies, in their popular usage, “cult” tends to refer to a New Religious Movement [NRM] or other group whose beliefs or practices are considered reprehensible. Since such pejorative attitudes are generally considered inappropriate for the academic study of religion, scholars have tended to adopt the nomenclature of NRMs to refer to “a wide range of groups and movements of alternative spirituality, the emergence of which is generally associated with the aftermath of the 1960s counter-culture” (Arweck 2002:269). In this interview with Chris, Emeritus Professor Eileen Barker (LSE) takes us through the academic study of NRMs from the 1960s onwards, engaging with the particular challenges and successes which have been encountered by academics in the field, and reflecting on some of the more colourful aspects of this area of research.

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.

Eileen Barker OBE, FBA, is Emeritus Professor of Sociology with special reference to the study of Religion at the London School of Economics. She has been researching minority religions and the responses to which they give rise since the early 1970s. Her study of conversion to the Unification Church for her PhD, led to an interest in a wide variety of movements, and she has personally studied, to greater or lesser degree, over 150 different groups. She has over 300 publications, translated into 27 languages. She travels extensively for research purposes, particularly in North America, Europe and Japan, and, since collapse of the Berlin Wall, in Eastern Europe and, more recently, China. She was the first non-American to be elected President of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion.

She is also the founder of INFORM (Information Network, Focus on Religious Movements), an independent charity that was founded in 1988 with the support of the British Home Office and the mainstream Churches. It is based at the London School of Economics. According to Inform’s website, “the primary aim of Inform is to help people by providing them with information that is as accurate, balanced, and up-to-date as possible about alternative religious, spiritual and esoteric movements.”

Among Professor Barker’s publications, the following may be of interest (those which are open-access are indicated with an asterisk):

Reference:
Arweck, Elizabeth 2002. “New Religious Movements” in Religions in the Modern World, edited by Linda Woodhead, Paul Fletcher, Hiroko Kawanami and David Smith. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 264-288.

A Response to Callum Brown: Connecting “When” and “Why” in Digital Religion, by Tim Hutchings

A Response to Callum Brown: Connecting “When” and “Why” in Digital Religion

By Tim Hutchings, Durham University

Published by the Religious Studies Project, on 4 May 2012 in response to the Religious Studies Project Interview with Callum Brown on Historical Approaches to (Losing) Religion (30 April 2012). For a more ‘informal’ response, you can listen to our roundtable discussion session on the question Can We Trust the Social Sciences?.

In his new podcast for the Religious Studies Project, Callum Brown has given us an excellent introduction to the historical approach to the study of religion. In conversation with Christopher Cotter, Brown outlines rival traditions within the history of religion and demonstrates what each has contributed to our understanding of secularisation. Along the way, Brown summarises his research career and offers some tantalising hints about his current interview-based study of the life stories of people who have left religion. He also emphasises the value of demographics, arguing that sophisticated analyses of census data reveal that people develop ‘an entirely new sense of self’ when they leave religion.  This is a fascinating and challenging claim, but I have chosen to focus in this response on another of the main themes of this podcast: the relationship between history and sociology.

At the end of this interview, Brown distinguishes the history of religion sharply from sociology. According to Brown, there is a “huge gap” in method, approach and interests between the two disciplines. Sociologists, he argues, believe that the world is governed by rules. They undertake research to study the contemporary religious landscape, interpret this snapshot in time by framing it within a particular model of fixed, linear change, and then make predictions about the future. Historians, on the other hand, believe that nothing is inevitable and assume that “when” must be the first step in working out “why”. Instead of collecting snapshots, historians map change year-on-year, using that longitudinal data to establish the effects of key events.

My own field of research is digital religion, an area with a particularly troubled relationship to history. Scholars and commentators interested in digital culture and its significance for religion have struggled to distinguish what is truly new from what has come before, and continue to search for helpful ways to talk about change.

One classic strategy since the 1990s has been to contrast an anecdotal snapshot of contemporary life against visions of the near future and the recent past.  In the most common forms of this argument, the past is characterised by stable local communities, face-to-face relationships and a secure, unchanging personal identity. Contemporary digital technology challenges this stability by supporting fluid, self-determined, global communication networks, so the argument goes, and these changes will intensify in the near future. Different observers have interpreted this same basic approach in positive, neutral and negative ways, seeing technology as the route to new spiritual awareness (Cobb 1998), a powerful tool that can be used to promote an unchanging religious message to the new mission field of digital culture (Estes 2009, Sweet 2012), or a dangerous threat to church, character and society. Sherry Turkle’s recent declaration that social media is facilitating a “flight from conversation” is a good example of this third type (2012). Young people now use their phones a lot, she argues, and they previously spent time face-to-face, and this shift is very bad for everyone. Her argument is simple and intuitively appealing, contrasting a recognisable snapshot of everyday life with a widely-accepted vision of the recent past and calling for immediate action to rescue the future, and her article has provoked much discussion online in recent weeks.

Scholars of media and religion have tried to challenge this approach over the last decade by framing their observations within a more rigorous historical perspective. The forms of religious community observed online are not unique after all, they argue: they actually continue long-running trajectories of social change from groups to networks (Wellman 2012) or from stable to fluid religious identities (Wagner 2012). Heidi Campbell’s recent work (2010) focuses on the power of religious groups to construct and interpret the technology they use, a process that includes engagement with group history. For Campbell, contemporary religious uses of the internet must be interpreted in the context of the theology and values of particular communities, including how those communities have changed their approach to media over time.  Many other scholars have tried to complicate popular understandings of the past and present of media religion, undertaking detailed comparative studies to show that religious authority, community and identity have not changed in the ways some observers allege.

Listening to Callum Brown’s interview, it becomes clear that all of these scholarly approaches represent a distinctively sociological way of using history. These scholars analyse the past to identify long-term trajectories in social or religious change and use that model to interpret the present. “When” questions are rarely considered: the purpose of the exercise is to establish a tension between a stable (or predictably-changing) past and a snapshot of the present, to generate insights into continuity and change.

There is clear scope here for inter-disciplinary collaboration. Sociological interest in the history of religion and media has generated a space for interventions by historians, who can greatly benefit the study of digital culture by offering detailed critiques of our assumed trajectories of change. Recent examples include Jeremy Stolow’s keynote speech on the spirituality of the telegraph, delivered to the Digital Religion conference in Colorado earlier this year (see Stolow 2011), and Stefan Gelfgren’s work (2012) on the history of religious attitudes to media. Sociologists of digital religion are still not as interested in the connection between “when” and “why” as Callum Brown might like, but clear progress is being made to forge connections with historians. This podcast is an excellent provocation to think harder about the questions we overlook and the interdisciplinary conversations that might help us uncover them.

This material is disseminated under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. and can be distributed and utilised freely, provided full citation is given.

About the Author

Tim Hutchings recently completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the HUMlab digital humanities centre in Umeå, Sweden and has now returned to the UK to join the CODEC research initiative at St John’s College, Durham. Tim is currently working with CODEC to develop a series of digital art exhibitions and installations in response to the Lindisfarne Gospels. His PhD thesis (Durham University, 2010) was an ethnographic study of five online Christian churches, focusing on the relationship between online and offline religion. Research interests include e-vangelism, online Christian storytelling, the future of the Bible as a digital sacred text and the role of new media in death and mourning.

Bibliography

Campbell, Heidi. When Religion Meets New Media. Abingdon: Routledge, 2010.

Cobb, Jennifer. CyberGrace: The Search for God in the Digital World. New York: Crown, 1998.

Estes, Douglas. SimChurch: Being the Church in the Virtual World. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009.

Gelfgren, Stefan. “Let there be digital networks and God will provide growth?” Comparing the aims and hopes of 19th-century and post-millenial Christianity. In Pauline Hope Cheong, Peter Fischer-Nielsen, Stefan Gelfgren and Charles Ess (eds.), Digital Religion, Social Media and Culture: Perspectives, Practices and Futures. New York: Peter Lang, 2012. p. 227-242.

Hogan, Bernie and Barry Wellman. The immanent internet redux. In Pauline Hope Cheong, Peter Fischer-Nielsen, Stefan Gelfgren and Charles Ess (eds.), Digital Religion, Social Media and Culture: Perspectives, Practices and Futures. New York: Peter Lang, 2012. p. 43-62.

Stolow, Jeremy. ‘Telegraph’, in freq.uenci.es: a collaborative genealogy of spirituality. September 7 2011. Available online: http://freq.uenci.es/2011/09/07/telegraph/.  Accessed May 2 2012.

Sweet, Leonard. Viral: How Social Networking is Poised to Ignite Revival. Colorado Springs: Waterbrook, 2012.

Turkle, Sherry. The flight from conversation. New York Times, April 21 2012. Available online: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/22/opinion/sunday/the-flight-from-conversation.html. Accessed May 2 2012.

Wagner, Rachel. Godwired: Religion, Ritual and Virtual Reality. Abingdon: Routledge, 2012.