[Event Report] SocRel 2016 – Construction and Disruption

 


The 2016 Sociology of Religion Study Group (SocRel) conference was hosted by Lancaster alisonUniversity, 12th-14th of July. The conference theme of ‘Construction and Disruption: The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere’ offered a wide range of entry points for considering the visibility and role of religion in contemporary society. Papers explored religion in relation to such public realms as education, culture, state and gender and conflict. Of particular interest to me is how different constructions of the concept of religion impact on the concomitant question of what then constitutes non-religion, and how the concepts interact. The papers outlined below offered opportunities to reflect on this.

Religion, the Public Sphere and Law: Construction, Disruption and Reconstitution

Lori Beaman’s keynote set the tone by considering interactions between the law and the concept of religion. Her examination of legal cases explored how the concept of religion is constructed by different people in different contexts, and how distance between state and religion is legally constructed. Beaman’s interest is less in answering the vexed question of what is and what is not religious than in the complexities that are revealed when the question is debated within particular contexts.

She considered three cases in detail: The first, from the USA, involved a school district sued for allowing students to be taught yoga in what was argued to be a breach of the US Constitutional requirement forbidding the establishment of religion. The second, brought by a French citizen to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), involved a niqab-wearing woman challenging the 2010 ban on wearing, in public places, garments that cover the face. She argued that the ban breached several articles of the European Declaration on Human Rights including article 9 (freedom of thought, conscience and religion), and article 10 (protecting freedom of expression). The third case was Canadian, and centred on the question of whether opening municipal council meeting with public prayer is an inappropriate interference with the freedom of practice and conscience of attendees.

Each case demonstrates how a given phenomenon can be constructed as religious in nature by some, and as non-religious, cultural or secular by others without any material change in the circumstances under consideration. Although each occurred in different social, cultural and legal contexts, Beaman argued convincingly for a shared relevance located in an examination of the ways in which the different courts involved constructed and transformed the concepts of religion and culture. These processes resulted in yoga being legally determined as non-religious in nature, because its practice is mainstream in contemporary America. Quebec’s court of appeal accepted the same type of reasoning, judging that the use of public prayer reflected a shared cultural heritage rather than an explicitly religious practice (the Supreme Court later over-turned this ruling). While the ECHR concluded that the need to live together in a social/cultural context which understands facial visibility as an aid to social interaction outweighs the individual’s right to express themselves by covering their face. Each decision thus demonstrates the complexity and contested nature of concepts of religious and non-religious, and problematizes the idea of an absolute division between the two concepts.

Existential Cultures in Steiner Schools

Katie Aston and Dan Whisker reported on the initial stages of their research into interactions of non-religious parents and faith schools. The work to date had all taken place in Steiner schools, which base their ethos on Anthroposophy (a spiritual philosophy with roots in theosophy) . Steiner schools engage in ritual as a school community but actively avoid teaching doctrine. Education is individually focussed, with the intention of nurturing the spirit of the child. The schools are non-competitive and emphasise play as a means of learning.

The research involves surveys and interviews with parents, children and teachers. From this data Aston and Whisker identified that none of the parents with whom they spoke were either anthroposophists, or affiliated to any other religious tradition. All identified as either non-religious or spiritual. Most had also been dissatisfied with their own mainstream schooling, and this contributed to their approval of Steiner educational values and their choice of schools for their children.

Aston and Whisker have identified several preliminary avenues of analysis regarding the value of faith schools to non-religious parents. These include the development of existential cultures, processes of sacralising childhood, and distinctions between verbalised meaning and shared experience. For me this offer a chance to explore the practical distinctions between concepts of religion, non-religion and spirituality for self-described non-religious parents, actively seeking education with a spiritual component for their children and choosing a religious school to provide this. The conceptual constructions at play here suggest the complexity and ambiguity of these terms and the ways they interact in a real-world context.

Pluralist Publics and the Scientific Study of Non-Religion

This panel began with an outline of the multi-disciplinary ‘Understanding Unbelief’ project and the sociological shifts underlying academic interest in non-religion before considering some current approaches in the field.

One area being developed by Lois Lee is the emergence of ‘unbelief’ as an analytic term. She represented this as a deliberate shift away from a sole focus on the issue of deity. The term thus has several aspects – relative, indicating unbelief in specific theological claims; positive, relating to alternative existential/metaphysical beliefs; and negative, describing a general absence of metaphysical beliefs. Areas of interest include the distinct cognitive and social phenomena captured by the term, and ways in which ‘unbeliefs’ manifest in/from people’s lives. For me this shift challenges the idea of religion and non-religion as binary, suggesting perhaps either term can be applicable to a given example via the same constructive processes that Beaman’s legal cases employed.

These examples are drawn from rich and diverse range of papers, many of which touched upon non-religion and secularity in similar ways. There are many opportunities to develop the field further in relation to the academic, cultural and personal conceptual constructions of its critical terms , as well as the multivalent complexity of the religious/non-religious spectrum.


Alison Robertson is in the final stages of her PhD with the Open University. Her thesis is
on BDSM as a lived practice of religioning and her research interests include religion and spirituality in relation to self-inflicted pain, trauma and well-being, personalised religious practices, paganisms any other area where the boundaries between what is and is not deemed ‘religion’ become fuzzy. Alison has recently taken over as the Post-Graduate and Early-Careers Liaison Office for the Sociology of Religion (SocRel) research group.

 

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[CFP] SocRel Response Day 2016

SocRel Response Day 2016: Connecting for Change: emerging research and policy on religion and belief in the public sphere

Friday 21st October, 10 a.m. -4 p.m.

BSA Meeting Room, Imperial Wharf, London

Keynote Speaker: Professor Tariq Modood (University of Bristol)

The public sphere has been both prominent and turbulent in recent times, and in common with other interests and disciplines, the study of religion and belief has been exploring the questions which are raised. From the role of faith in public life, to media representations, legal cases and controversies, and the future of school RE, a plethora of research and reports has been underway which connect religion and belief with policy and practice. This event will present key examples, with an emphasis on sociology of religion, including as it connects with other disciplines, and with policy and practice.

The goal is to explore the connections between religion and belief research, policy and the public sphere through presentations, questions and discussions. We invite proposals for papers and/or (small) panels of 40 minutes (including time for questions), which present research which has connected with – or is planned to – any aspect of policy or practice (such as education, health, housing, welfare, law, employment, politics, government and others).

Registration now open: http://portal.britsoc.co.uk/public/event/eventBooking.aspx?id=EVT10587

Key Dates:

  • Abstract submission closes: 9th September 2016
  • Decision notification: 13th September 2016
  • Registration closes: 7th October 2016

To deliver a paper, please send an abstract of no more than 250 words, alongside a biographical note of no more than 50 words. To deliver a panel, please send an abstract of no more than 500 words alongside a biographical note of no more than 50 words for each contributor. Please send abstracts to Professor Adam Dinham at a.dinham@gold.ac.uk by Friday 9th September 2016.

Costs: £36.00 for BSA members; £41 for Socrel members; £46.00 for non-members; £15 for BSA Concessionary members; £20.00 for Socrel Concessionary members; £25.00 for non-members concessionary.

Should you have any queries about the day, please do not hesitate to contact the event organizers, Professor Adam Dinham a.dinham@gold.ac.uk or Rachael Shillitoe r.shillitoe@worc.ac.uk. For further details, visit the SocRel website www.socrel.org.uk.  For further details about the BSA visit www.britsoc.co.uk

Religion and Belief in Higher Education, Derby 15 June 2012

Please see details below for a symposium on religion and belief in higher education, please note the inclusion of Dr Rebecca Catto and Dr Janet Eccles project findings, ‘Forming and Expressing Non-Religious Beliefs in Higher Education’.

RELIGION & BELIEF IN HIGHER EDUCATION

How are students and staff negotiating religion and belief in universities today? This symposium will bring together researchers examining the role of religion and belief in higher education and showcase a range of recent research projects. We will examine evidence from large-scale surveys and local case studies, and from projects spanning a range of faith and belief groups. Topics include multi-faith spaces on campus, non-religious students, Muslim chaplaincy and student Christianity. The symposium will bring together scholars from a range of disciplines, including sociology, religious studies, social policy, architecture, Islamic studies and theology.

SPEAKERS:

Professor Paul Weller & Nicki Moore (Derby) ‘Religion and Belief in Higher Education: Findings, Questions and Reflections from a Research Project for the Equality Challenge Unit’

Jacqueline Stevenson (Leeds Metropolitan) ‘Struggling, Striving, Strategising, Surviving: Religious students in UK higher education’

Dr Ataullah Siddiqui (Markfield Institute) ‘Bridging the Gap between the “Islamic Studies” and “Islamic Sciences”: Some Challenges’

Dr Mike Higton (Cambridge) ‘A Theology of Higher Education’

Dr Adam Dinham (Goldsmith’s) ‘An Ambiguous Role for Religion in the Universities: A Case Study in Practice’

Dr Andrew Crompton (Liverpool) ‘The Architecture of the Multifaith Space: Designing for Inclusion’

Dr Rebecca Catto & Dr Janet Eccles (Lancaster) ‘Forming and Expressing Non-Religious Beliefs in Higher Education’

Maulana Dr M. Mansur Ali (Cambridge Muslim College) ‘Muslim Chaplaincy in UK and US Higher Education: A Comparative Study’

Dr Kristin Aune (Derby) ‘Student Christianity in English Universities’

DATE: Friday 15th June 10am-4.45pm

VENUE: The Enterprise Centre, University of Derby, Bridge Street, DE1 3LA

REGISTRATION: No charge but places are limited so please register soon. Vegetarian lunch and refreshments provided.
Register by email to Frauke Uhlenbruch (f.uhlenbruch@derby.ac.uk) by Friday 18th May

Dr. Kristin Aune
Senior Lecturer in Sociology
Head of the Society, Religion & Belief Research Group
Faculty of Education, Health & Sciences
University of Derby
Kedleston Road
Derby DE22 1GB
Tel: 01332 591428

Westminster Faith Debates

A series of debates on religion in public life, running from February to May 2012 at RUSI, 61 Whitehall, SW1A 2ET, Wednesdays fortnightly, 5.30-7pm.

Between 2007-2012 £12m was invested by two research councils, the AHRC and ESRC, in the largest-ever funded research programme on ‘Religion and Society’. In this series leading academics will present findings arising from that research, for response by public figures. Together they will open up debate about the place of religion in public life today.

The series is organised by the Rt Hon Charles Clarke, Professor Linda Woodhead and Dr Rebecca Catto, in co-operation with Theos.

1. Religious Identity in ‘Superdiverse’ Societies – 8th Feb

  • Trevor Phillips, Dominic Grieve, Kim Knott, Therese O’Toole

2. What’s the Place of Faith in Schools? – 22nd Feb

  • Richard Dawkins, John Pritchard, Jim Conroy, Robert Jackson

3. What have we Learned about Radicalisation? – 7th March

  • Mehdi Hasan, Ed Husain, Mark Sedgwick, Marat Shterin, Mat Francis

4. What role for Religious Organisations in an era of Shrinking Welfare? – 21st March

  •  David Blunkett, Peter Smith, Adam Dinham, Sarah Johnsen

5. What Limits to Religious Freedom? – 18th April

  • Lisa Appignanesi, Maleiha Malik, Peter Jones

6. What are the main Trends in Religion and Values in Britain? – 2nd May

  • Aaqil Ahmed, Cole Moreton, Linda Woodhead, Grace Davie

Please email p.ainsworth@lancaster.ac.uk to register for the debates you would like to attend, and visit http://www.religionandsociety.org.uk/faith_debates for further details.