Call for Papers: NSRN 2016 Conference, “Approaching Nonreligion”

The NSRN are delighted to announce their 2016 conference, which will be co-hosted with the ‘Diversity of Nonreligion’ Research Project at the University of Zürich, Switzerland, 7-9 July 2016.

See below for the Call for Papers (deadline 15 January 2016) which can also be downloaded as a PDF. Please share widely.

There is also a dedicated conference webpage that will be updated with information about the conference as and when we have new information: https://nsrn.net/nsrn-conference-2016


 

2016 Conference

Call for Papers

Approaching Nonreligion: Conceptual, methodical, and empirical approaches in a new research field

“The Diversity of Nonreligion” & NSRN Conference 2016

7-9 July 2016, University of Zürich, Switzerland

For some years now, nonreligious phenomena have not only sparked public, but also scholarly attention. A rising number of scholars have begun to engage with both organized and non-organized forms of nonreligion. We want to use this conference to go beyond the discussion of terms and individual findings to facilitate exchange over different approaches, and engage with the following broader questions:

  • What phenomena are approached in research projects on nonreligion and how is nonreligion construed in different studies?
  • What are central theoretical references for studies on nonreligion, and in what way do scholars engage with related broader debates on religion and secularity?
  • What are methodic and methodological challenges and approaches in concrete empirical research?
  • What scientific traditions and sources of inspiration motivate and guide researchers in the field of nonreligion?
  • In what ways is research on nonreligion entangled with religious-nonreligious contestations?

The conference brings together empirical research with conceptual and methodological reflection, as well as a self-reflexive perspective on the research field itself.

There will be room for both individual papers as well as prepared panels. We welcome scholarly contributions from different scientific fields. Please apply with either an abstract for an individual paper or a proposal for a thematic session (2-4 individual papers). Please name your institutional affiliation if possible. Please send your proposal (200-300 words) to: alexander.blechschmidt@uzh.ch

Deadline for proposals: January 15th 2016, Notification of acceptance: January 30th 2016

Department of Social Anthropology and Cultural Studies (ISEK), University of Zürich, Switzerland (http://www.isek.uzh.ch/index.html)

The Diversity of Nonreligion: Religious-Nonreligious Dynamics in the Contemporary World (http://www.nonreligion.net)

Nonreligion and Secularity Research Network (www.nsrn.net)

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NSRN Annual Lecture 2015: Outline of a Theory of Religious-Secular Competition

We are delighted to announce our 2015 Annual Lecture, presented in cooperation with the Department of Social Anthropology & Cultural Studies (ISEK) at the University of Zurich, and the Emmy Noether-project “The Diversity of Nonreligion.”

Outline of a Theory of Religious-Secular Competition

Prof. Dr. Jörg Stolz (University of Lausanne)

Thursday, November 12, 2015, 6pm

Venue: University of Zurich (UZH) Oerlikon Campus Andreasstr. 15, 8050 Zurich Room: AND 3.02/06 (3rd floor)

A flyer can be downloaded here (pdf).

NSRN Annual Lecture

New Books in NSRN Book Series

The NSRN and De Gruyter are pleased to announce the first three publications in their book seriesReligion and its Others: Studies in Religion, Nonreligion, and Secularity:

For more on the series, see here: https://nsrn.net/book-series/

Download Flyer

NSRN Series 2

289 new additions to our bibliography of relevant publications

After a long hiatus, 289 new items have been added to the NSRN bibliography. These new items can be viewed here:

https://nsrn.net/bibliography/bibliography-additions/

The bibliography can also be viewed in a list organised by author surname or publication date.

As ever, the bibliography is a collaborative enterprise and we cannot claim that it is comprehensive of all relevant NSRN related publications. If you spot any gaps, at any point, you can let us know via this comment form on the website and we will add the publication at our next update.

Religion after atheism

Cecilie Endresen

Fifty years ago, multi-religious Albania was declared the first atheist state in the world. Today the number of “nones” is almost negligible. Albania is a veritable laboratory for the study of forced secularization and religious diversity. To make this point, Cecilie Endresen introduces recent statistical data about who Albanian “nones” might be.

 

From Islamic to atheist

Europe’s first state with a Muslim majority, Albania, proclaimed independence in 1912. Until then, Albania’s Muslims, Catholics and Orthodox Christians were part of the Islamic Ottoman Empire. Hardly one generation later, they had all become atheists, at least officially.

Secularization from above had started decades before the communist take-over. Albania was funded as a multi-religious country. The political elites considered religion, particularly Islam, an impediment to national unity and progress. The inhabitants were urged to ignore religious differences, and the first Constitution (1922) established that ‘the state does not have any official religion’.

During communism, the top-down secularisation programme was intensified and radicalised. Under Enver Hoxha’s iron fist, the religious institutions were utterly curtailed, and in 1967 shut down. All forms of religious worship were banned, also in the private sphere. The cultural heritage was destroyed, traditions broken, and clerics and worshippers persecuted.

Revival and pluralism

In 1990, the last year of communist rule, religion was legalised. A myriad of Muslim and Christian traditions resurfaced, and Albanians of different religious persuasions celebrated their newborn freedom.[1] Surveys indicate that secularism, religious freedom and equality have strong popular support. An IPSOS poll from 2011 shows that 95.3% of 1500 respondents think religious equality should be the political norm.[2] In a worldwide survey conducted by Pew Research Center in 2013, 98% of Albania’s Muslims – a higher percentage than in any other country  – say it is ‘good that others are very free to practice their faith’.

Do we have any facts?

Before communism, Albania had 68.9 % Muslims, 20.7% Orthodox Christians, and 10.3% Catho­lics.[3] Many later percentages are disputed and can often be considered wishful thinking, especially pro-Christian or anti-Islamic “statistics” that reduce Muslims to a minority. The official census from 2011, conducted by the State Institute of statistics (INSTAT), stirred controversy and was partly boycotted due to its inclusion of ‘sensitive’ questions about religious and ethnic affiliation.[4] A variety of religious and ethnic interest groups contested the results, and 13.79% preferred not to answer.[5] In an IPSOS poll from the same year, less than half of the 1500 respondents believed the census would correctly reflect the country’s religious make-up.[6] Asked an open question about their religious affiliation, people defined themselves as follows:

“Islam”/ “Muslim” 59.2
“Albanian Orthodox” (Christian) 14.1
“Bektashi” (Muslim) 7.7
“Roman Catholic”, “Catholic” (Christian) 5.7
“Sunni” (Muslim) 2.5
“Atheist” 2.2
“Greek Orthodox” (Christian) 2.1
“Non-religious” 1.6
“Eastern Orthodox”, “Orthodox Christian” 1.1
“Shiite” (Muslim) 0.7
“Mixed” 0.6
“Jehovah’s Witnesses” 0.5
“Protestant Christian” 0.2
“I don’t know” 1.9

In short, seven out of ten Albanians are Muslims, and almost a quarter of them Christians[7] – almost the same as before communism.

Believing and belonging

Generally speaking, most Albanians can be defined as non-practitioners. Only 1.8% visit churches or mosques on a daily basis, and more than a quarter of the Muslims “never” attend religious service.[8] 85% of those who do, do it only in connection with major holidays, weddings and funerals. So while the ritual side of religion may be less important to people, it does not make religion socially irrelevant. In fact, it might be social obligations that make most Albanians visit mosques or churches in the first place.

According to the Gallup Balkan Monitor, almost half of the respondents identify ‘very strongly or ‘extremely strongly’ with their religion,[9] and in the IPSOS poll, 87.5% say they ‘believe in God’.[10] Only 5.3% label themselves “atheists”, “non-religious”, “mixed”, or reply “I don’t know”.[11] The formerly atheist nation is thus among the more religious nations in Europe, both in terms of believing and belonging.

Religion: It’s complicated

The statistics give us an idea about sociological aspects, but say less about “lived religion” and individualised systems of meaning. Available survey data do not, for example, tell us how many who, for example, “believe in God, but not in religion”, see religious differences as “manmade”, or insist that Islam and Christianity are “the same” religion. Years in the country makes me believe that such views are widespread. And how many Muslims can be considered Sufis, Salafis,[12] Islamophobes, pro-Catholic,[13] or New Agers?[14] The formerly isolated country still receives scant scholarly attention, but one thing is sure: Secularization, religious revival and globalization have made Albania’s intricate religious landscape more complex than ever.


References

Clayer, Nathalie. 2007. Aux origines du nationalisme albanais: la naissance d’une nation majoritairement musulmane en Europe. Paris: Karthala.

Clayer, Nathalie. 2008. “Behind the veil: the reform of Islam in inter-war Albania or the search for a ‘mod­ern’ and ‘European’ Islam. In Islam in inter-war Europe, p. 128–155. Nathalie Clayer and Eric Hermain (eds.). New York: Colombia University Press.

Endresen, Cecilie. 2016. «Allah og aliens: Albanske mellomvesener og albanere som mellomvesener». Aura. Tidsskrift för akademiska studier av nyreligiositet 8: 28- 56.

Endresen, Cecilie. 2015. “The nation and the nun“. Islam and Christian–Muslim Relations 1: 53-74.

Endresen, Cecilie. 2015. “Faith, Fatherland, or both? Accommodationist and neo-fundamentalist Islamic discourses in Albania”. In The revival of Islam in the Balkans. A. Elbasani and O. Roy (eds.). New York: Palgrave, 222-243.

Endresen, Cecilie. 2014. “Status report Albania 100 years: symbolic nation-building completed?”. Strategies of Symbolic Nation-building in South Eastern Europe. P. Kolstø (ed.). Farnham and Burlington: Ashgate, 201-226.

Endresen, Cecilie. 2012. Is the Albanian’s religion really «Albanianism»? Religion and nation according to Muslim and Christian leaders in Albania. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag.

INSTAT. 2012. Population and housing census. http://www.instat.gov.al/media/178070/rezultatet_kryesore_t__censusit_t__popullsis__dhe_banesave_2011_n__shqip_ri.pdf

Popovic, Alexandre. 1986. L’islam balkanique. Berlin: Osteuropa-Institut an der Freien Universität Berlin, Otto Harrassowitz-Wiesbaden.

[1] Endresen, Cecilie. (2012). Is the Albanian’s religion really «Albanianism»? Religion and nation according to Muslim and Christian leaders in Albania. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag; Endresen (2015). Faith, Fatherland, or both? Accommodationist and neo-fundamentalist Islamic discourses in Albania. In A. Elbasani and O. Roy (eds.). The revival of Islam in the Balkans. Basingstoke: Palgrave, Macmillan.

[2] Question number 46, “Albania” in a survey conducted by IPSOS Strategic Marketing on behalf of the research project Symbolic nation building in West Balkans. Survey results for Albania and other Balkan countries are available.

[3] Popovic, Alexandre. 1986. L’islam balkanique. Berlin: Osteuropa-Institut an der Freien Universität Berlin, Otto Harrassowitz-Wiesbaden, p. 38.

[4] p. 33.

[5] INSTAT (ibid.), 1.1.14.

[6] Question 71, “Albania”, IPSOS 2011.

[7] IPSOS 2011, question 39, “Albania”.

[8] IPSOS 2011, question 41, “Albania”.

[9] “Identification with own religion”, Balkan Monitor 2010.

[10] IPSOS 2011, question 40, “Albania”.

[11] IPSOS 2011, question 39, “Albania”.

[12] Endresen, Cecilie. 2016. «Allah og aliens: Albanske mellomvesener og albanere som mellomvesener». Aura. Tidsskrift för akademiska studier av nyreligiositet 8: 28- 56.

[13] Endresen, Cecilie. 2015. “Faith, Fatherland, or both? Accommodationist and neo-fundamentalist Islamic discourses in Albania”. In The revival of Islam in the Balkans. A. Elbasani and O. Roy (eds.). New York: Palgrave, 222-243.

[14] Endresen, Cecilie. 2016. «Allah og aliens: Albanske mellomvesener og albanere som mellomvesener». Aura. Tidsskrift för akademiska studier av nyreligiositet 8: 28- 56.


Cecilie Endresen (PhD) is Associate Professor in History of Religion at the University of Oslo, Norway. She is the author of the book Is the Albanian’s religion really «Albanianism»? Religion and nation according to Muslim and Christian leaders in Albania (Harrassowitz, 2012). Her research focuses on religious pluralism in Southeast Europe.

NSRN Annual Lecture 2017

Ancestor Worship amongst Today’s Unbelievers

Nonreligious people often experience, and revere, the presence of their deceased relatives. Typically described as ‘religious experience’, the uniqueness of unbelievers’ experiences of the dead are widely misunderstood. In this year’s Nonreligion & Secularity Research Network’s annual lecture Professor Abby Day (Goldsmiths, University of London) discusses new research into the ‘ancestor worship’ of British unbelievers, and asks – what do these experiences tell us about unbelief, nonreligion and the richness of human experience?

The event will be held on 15.45-17.00 Saturday 25 November 2017 at The Beaney House of Art & Knowledge (Canterbury CT1 2RA).

This event is free and open to all. Please register at the eventbrite page.

The NSRN Annual Lecture 2017 is sponsored by the Understanding Unbelief programme, and will be held as part of the Belief, Lost and Found: The Unbelief Café at the Being Human festival. Further details can be found here.

NSRN 2017 lecture flyer

Reframing Assisted Dying: Nonreligion and the Law

 

lori.beamanLaw and religion frequently interact, sometimes as a matter of challenging religion’s reach into public spaces, sometimes as a matter of reentrenching majority religion. But what about nonreligion and the law? In this piece, Lori G. Beaman argues that subtle shifts in legal approaches can be revealing of the often mysterious contents of nonreligion. Specifically, she asks: what could a nonreligious approach to assisted dying law look like?

There are two challenges that are preoccupying me in my research on nonreligion: first, how to think about nonreligion without being pulled into the “like religion but…” vortex and second, how to study this emerging reality.[i]

The challenge of thinking about nonreligion without the “like religion” simile is a function of being immersed in a society that has been shaped by majoritarian religion. In many ways we do not know what a world looks like in which nonreligion is a significant worldview, or in which nonreligion is practiced. To find out, Peter Beyer and I have been working on a conceptual framework that draws on the notion of dark matter in physics as an analogy.[ii] My own approach has been to think about sites of cooperation and conflict as prisms through which to see how people live the “dark matter” of nonreligion.[iii]

One such site is in law. There have been legal challenges to such things as prayer in municipal council meetings and crucifixes on the walls of public institutions such as classrooms, houses of parliament and hospitals. But while these are interesting case studies, it is the more subtle shifts in legal approaches that are more revealing of the contents of nonreligion, which, as Linda Woodhead notes, is placeholder language for that which we cannot yet name.[iv] This is especially so on the issue of assisted death. [v]

The most recent Supreme Court of Canada decision makes a significant shift from a religious approach to a predominantly nonreligious one. The Carter case, involving two people who wished to receive assisted dying services in Canada, challenged the Criminal Code provision which made it an offence to aid and abet a person in committing suicide and which prohibited a person from consenting to death. The Court found those provisions unconstitutional and its discussion represents a major shift in tone from its last major decision (Rodriguez) in 1993. There, the Court had “emphasized that human life should not be depreciated by allowing life to be taken, a collectivist claim based on the construct ‘sanctity of life.’”[vi] The judgement was riddled with religious, specifically Christian, conceptualizations of life and death including the value of suffering and the badness of choosing to die.[vii] In Carter, the Court emphasizes respect and autonomy, stating that “an individual’s choice about the end of her life is entitled to respect.”[viii] The Carter judgement, in my view, makes a significant move toward capturing what a nonreligious approach might look like: “We do not agree that the existential formulation of the right to life requires an absolute prohibition on assistance in dying, or that individuals cannot ‘waive’ their right to life. This would create a ‘duty to live’, rather than a ‘right to life’.”[ix] The Court draws on science, particularly medical science, to understand the process of dying and the possibilities for assistance and intervention.  It maintains the “sanctity of life” and the “right to life”, but reshapes those in ways that support assisted dying.

The Supreme Court of Canada permits interveners to make submissions when it is hearing a case of public importance. In Carter there were 26 interveners, 12 of them religious. One of those was in favour of the idea of establishing an assisted dying regime. The rest were opposed. They used language like “suicide” and used the word “death” rather than “dying”, while nonreligious interveners used terms such as “end-of-life decisions”; “assisted dying”; “medically assisted dying”; “self-chosen death”. Nonreligious interveners framed their understanding of dying as including the possibility of a “good death”, which respected the wishes of the individual and preserved dignity. The point here is that the facta reveal distinctly different approaches that illuminate what we might describe as a nonreligious approach to this issue, or, the dark matter of nonreligion, to return to that metaphor.


References

[i] Day, Abby.  2011. Believing in belonging: Belief and social identity in the modern world. Oxford: Oxford University Press; Lee, Lois. 2015. Recognizing the non-religious: Reimagining the secular. Oxford: Oxford University Press; and Wallis, Simeon. 2014. “Ticking ‘no religion’: A case study amongst ‘young nones’.” DISKUS 16(2): 70–87.

[ii] Beaman, Lori G. 2017. “Living Well Together in a (non)Religious Future: Contributions from the Sociology of Religion.” Sociology of Religion 78(1): 9-32.

[iii] Beaman, Living Well Together, 9-32.

[iv] Woodhead, Linda. 2016. “The rise of ‘no religion’ in Britain: The emergence of a new cultural majority.” Journal of the British Academy 4: 245-261

[v] See Chambers, Stuart. 2011. “Of Stewardship, Suffering and the ‘Slippery Slope’: A Vattimian Analysis of the Sanctity of Life Ethos in Canada (1972–2005)” PhD diss. University of Ottawa, 2011, http://dx.doi.org/10.20381/ruor-4817.

[vi] Ibid., 233.

[vii] Ibid., 233.

[viii] Carter v. Canada (Attorney General), 2015 SCC 5, [2015] 1 S.C.R. 331 (hereinafter Carter) at para. 63.

[ix] Ibid., at para. 63.

[x] Reference re Carter v. Canada (Attorney General), 2015 SCC 5, [2015] 1 S.C.R. 331 (Factum of the Intervener, Canadian Unitarian Council, at para. 4)

 


Lori G. Beaman, Ph.D. is Canada Research Chair in Religious Diversity and Social Change and Professor in the Department of Classics and Religious Studies at the University of Ottawa. She is Principal Investigator of the Religion and Diversity Project, a 37-member international research team whose focus is religion and diversity (religionanddiversity.ca). Publications include: Deep Equality in an Era of Religious Diversity (Oxford University Press, 2017) ; “Living Together v. Living Well Together: A Normative Examination of the SAS Case,” Social Inclusion, 4(2) 2016: 3-13; “Reframing Understandings of Religion: Lessons from India,” in S. Sikka, B. Puri, and L.G. Beaman (eds.) Living with Religious Diversity, 37-48 (Routledge India, 2015); “The Will to Religion: Obligatory Religious Citizenship,” Critical Research on Religion, 1(2) 2013: 141-157; “Battles over Symbols: The ‘Religion’ of the Minority Versus the ‘Culture’ of the Majority,” Journal of Law and Religion, 28(1) 2012/3: 101-138; Defining Harm: Religious Freedom and the Limits of the Law (UBC Press, 2008).

Lori G. Beaman, PhD. est la Chaire de recherche du Canada en diversité religieuse et changement social et Professeure titulaire au Département d’études anciennes et de sciences des religions. Elle est la chercheure principale du Projet religion et diversité, une équipe de recherche internationale rassemblant 37 membres, dont la recherche porte sur la religion et la diversité (religionanddiversity.ca). Ses publications incluent : Deep Equality in an Era of Religious Diversity (Oxford University Press, 2017); “Living Together v. Living Well Together: A Normative Examination of the SAS Case,” Social Inclusion, 4(2) 2016: 3-13; “Reframing Understandings of Religion: Lessons from India,” dans S. Sikka, B. Puri, et L.G. Beaman (eds.) Living with Religious Diversity, 37-48 (Routledge Inde, 2015); “The Will to Religion: Obligatory Religious Citizenship,” Critical Research on Religion, 1(2) 2013: 141-157; “Battles over Symbols: The ‘Religion’ of the Minority Versus the ‘Culture’ of the Majority,” Journal of Law and Religion, 28(1) 2012/3: 101-138; Defining Harm: Religious Freedom and the Limits of the Law (UBC Press, 2008).

Join NSRN Blog Editorial Team

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