[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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Workshop for PhD candidates at the University of Zurich

The Emmy Noether-project “The Diversity of Nonreligion” is organizing a workshop for PhD candidates at the Department of Social Anthropology & Cultural Studies (ISEK) at the University of Zurich. The Workshop will take place on the 13th and 14th of November, right after the NSRN lecture of Jörg Stolz, ‘Outline of a Theory of Religious-Secular Competition‘, on the 12th of November.
The participants of the workshop are PhD students in the fields of social anthropology, sociology, and religious studies, who all study nonreligious, secular and religious phenomena and their entanglements. The PhD projects include studies with a regional focus on China, Germany, India, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Sweden, and the United States.

SocRel Response Day 2015: The Future of Learning about Religion and Belief

SocRel Response Day 2015: The Future of Learning about Religion and Belief

Thursday 5th November 2015, 10 a.m. -4 p.m.

BSA Meeting Room, Imperial Wharf, London

The 2015 SocRel Response Study Day will explore the future of learning about religion and belief. The symposium is organised by SocRel, the BSA Sociology of Religion Study Group.

 For registration please click HERE.

 Speakers include: Professor Robert Jackson (Warwick University), Dr Matthew Francis (Lancaster University), Martha Shaw (Goldsmiths). More speakers will be announced soon.

 In light of the continued focus on learning about religion, not just in schools but also in wider society, the SocRel response day will explore the future of learning about religion and belief from a variety of perspectives, reflecting not only on what the future might hold, but also considering what knowledge we need for encountering religion in the modern world today.

Despite the long held assumption that we live in an increasingly secular society, the continued presence and visibility of religion in both the public and private sphere means that religion is still as significant and important as ever. As we encounter religion in everyday spaces and places throughout our lives, understanding and awareness about faith traditions is necessary for all sorts of professions, sectors and organisations. However, after decades of silence on the subject, many are lacking this essential knowledge. This coupled with suspicion and anxiety about religion, fuelled by media outlets and political agendas, means that we are increasingly ill-equipped to talk about religion comfortably and confidently in our daily lives.

In an increasingly diverse and multi faith society, it is vital that we have the necessary knowledge to understand the various faiths and religious practices in our world. Religion permeates most if not all areas of life and cannot be simply syphoned out or compartmentalised. As such we need to have insight and awareness about religion for everyday life situations and this learning should not start and finish in schools; we need a continued education. But what expertise do we need and how should we learn about this? Would a social worker need to know the same as a lawyer? Is ‘religious talk’ the same in politics as it is in business? And if we are to have different levels or types of ‘religious literacy’, how do we ensure accuracy and consistency within such learning schemes?

The SocRel response day aims to consider this through a series of presentations and plenary discussions, covering a range of topics related to the future of learning about religion and belief. The day will be highly participative and engaged. The symposium will be organised as a single stream so that the day is as much about discussion as it is about presentation.

Costs: BSA Member £36; SocRel Member £41; Non-member £46; BSA concessionary £15; SocRel concessionary £20; Non-member concessionary £25

Lunch is provided

Should you have any queries about the day, please do not hesitate to contact the event organisers, Professor Adam Dinham a.dinham@goldsmiths.ac.uk or Rachael Shillitoe r.shillitoe@worc.ac.uk

Rachael

SocRel Conference and Events Officer

CFP: The European Conference on Ethics, Religion and Philosophy 2015

The European Conference on Ethics, Religion and Philosophy 2015

Thistle Brighton, Brighton, East Sussex, United Kingdom

Monday, July 6, 2015 – Wednesday, July 8, 2015 (All Day)

Abstract Submission Deadline: March 1, 2015 

Registration Deadline for Presenters: June 1, 2015

Abstract Submission Process: In order to present at the conference, your abstract must first pass a double blind peer review. Upon payment of registration fees, your presentation will be confirmed.

  • Results of abstract reviews returned to authors: Usually within two weeks of submission
  • Full paper submission: August 1, 2015

How to Submit


Ways to Present

Individual Presenter (30 minutes)The standard format for presentation — oral presentations are thirty minutes in length.Poster Presenter (90 minutes)Posters allow presenters to reach a large audience and engage interested participants directly. These sessions give participants a chance to network with other delegates who may be interested in similar research or other disciplines.Virtual Presenter. Some presenters will be unable to make the trip to the UK to present their paper, mainly due to financial and/or political restrictions on travel. Virtual presentations allow authors the same publication opportunities as regular presenters.

  • We do not allow presentations by video-conferencing but presenters have the opportunity to submit a video of their presentation, which will be placed on the official YouTube channel. Information on how to do this will be sent following registration.
  • Following the conference you will be mailed a conference pack, including a printed receipt of payment, certificate of participation, and a printed copy of the conference programme.

Workshop (60 to 90 minutes) A workshop is a brief intensive course lasting 60 to 90 minutes led by an experienced practitioner, usually someone with a PhD. It emphasises group interaction and the exchange of information usually amongst a smaller number of participants than at a plenary session.Often a workshop involves problem solving, skills training, or the dissemination of new content or disciplinary approaches. Conference workshops are typically more instructional and interactive in nature than oral presentations and involve participants working with the workshop leader on a particular topical issue.Panel (90 minutes) As the organiser of a proposed panel, submit a proposal for the panel through the online system.

  • Panels must have at least four participants (including the chair).
  • All the panel participants must be listed in the submission, with the chair leader as the primary author, and the other presenters as co-authors.
  • If your proposal is accepted you will be invited to register for the conference. Please ensure that you send the submission reference number to the other members of your panel and have them register in a timely fashion. Upon payment of the registration fee of all participants, your panel will be scheduled in the conference programme.
  • If you, as the panel chair, wish to publish a joint paper associated with the panel in the conference proceedings, please upload one through the online system.
  • If you and your panel members wish to publish separate papers, they may register individually and submit their proposals for review.

Conference Theme and Streams

Conference Theme: “Power

The conference theme is “Power” and the organizers encourage submissions that approach this theme from a variety of perspectives. However, the submission of other topics for consideration is welcome and we also encourage sessions within and across a variety of disciplines and fields related to Ethics, Religion and Philosophy, including the following streams:

Philosophy:

  • Philosophy and Religion
  • Philosophy and the Arts
  • Philosophy and Public Policy
  • Philosophy and Technology
  • Philosophy and Culture
  • Philosophy and Education
  • Philosophy and Peace Studies
  • Comparative Philosophy
  • Linguistics, Language and Philosophy

Ethics:

  • Medical Ethics
  • Business and Management Ethics
  • Ethics in Education
  • Ethics, Law, and Justice
  • Ethics and Globalization
  • Ethics and Science
  • Comparative Ethics
  • Linguistics, Language and Ethics

Religion:

  • Theism and Atheism
  • Feminism and Religious Traditions
  • Religion and Education
  • Religion and Peace Studies
  • Mysticism, Faith, and Scientific Culture
  • Interfaith Dialogue
  • Comparative Religion
  • Linguistics, Language and Religion

Interdisciplinary:

  • Conflict Resolution and Mediation Studies

For further information – please see the ECERP2015: Call For Papers website.

Event: LSE: Governing Difference through Rights: The Politics of Religious Freedom

FORUM ON RELIGION SEMINAR

Governing Difference through Rights: The Politics of Religious Freedom

Speaker: Elizabeth Shakman Hurd (Northwestern University)

Chair: Mathijs Pelkmans

Date: Wednesday, 13 November 2013
Time: 6.30-8.00pm
Venue: Wolfson Theatre, New Academic Building, LSE, WC2A 2AE

What happens when social difference is conceived through the prism of religious rights and religious freedom? Far from occupying an autonomous sphere independent of religious affairs, human rights advocacy is a site of difference and governance that implicates religion in complex ways. This paper explores the consequences of a religious rights model for both politics and religion. It argues that this model regulates the spaces in which people live out their religion in specific and identifiable ways: singling out groups for legal protection as religious groups; moulding religions into discrete “faith communities” with clean boundaries, clearly defined orthodoxies, and seniorleaders who speak on their behalf; and privileging a modern liberal understanding of faith. The right to religious freedom is a specific, historically situated mode of governing difference through rights.

Elizabeth Shakman Hurd teaches and writes on the politics of religious diversity, the intersection of law and religion, the history and politics of US foreign relations, and the international relations of the Middle East including Turkey and Iran. She is the author of The Politics of Secularism in International Relations (Princeton, 2008), which won an APSA award for the best book in religion and politics (2008-2010) and co-editor of Comparative Secularisms in a Global Age (Palgrave, 2010) which will appear in paperback in 2013. Recent publications include “International politics after secularism” in Review of International Studies (2012) and “Contested secularisms in Turkey and Iran” in Contesting Secularism: Comparative Perspectives (Ashgate, 2013). Hurd is currently writing a book on the “strategic operationalization” of religion in international affairs and its implications for religion, law and public policy.

The event is free and open to all. For further information, please contact Dr Mathijs Pelkmans, m.e.pelkmans@lse.ac.uk.

CFP: Media and Religion: Interdisciplinary Takes on Four Aspects of a Complex Relationship

Workshop on 14 September 2012 by Dr. Britta Ohm

Institut für Sozialanthropologie, Bern University, Länggassstrasse 49a, CH-3000 Bern 9

A workshop of interest to the network, including input speakers on Secularism – Dr. Nanna Heidenreich, innstitute for Media Research, Academy of Fine Arts,Braunschweig and Antje Glück (PhD candidate), Institute for Interdisciplinary Research on Conflict and Violence, University of Bielefeld

The call for papers inlcudes four key themes, (In)Visibility, Practise, Secularism and Democracy

For more details please see the the website or read the call for papers.

 

 

Event: TOMORROW – ‘Ethics as Piety’, Webb Keane‏

Speaker: Webb Keane (University of Michigan)
Chair: Charles Stafford (London School of Economics)

Date: 27 June 2012, 18.00-19.30

Venue: London School of Economics, New Academic Building Room LG.09 (off Lincoln’s Inn Fields)

Sponsored by the Anthropology Department and the Programme for the Study of Religion and Non-Religion.

Assuming that what we call “religion” and “ethics” are in principle distinct from each other, what is the conceptual relationship between them? What are the historical pathways along which the two often seem to converge? What are the social implications of that convergence where it occurs? And when they converge, what remainder escapes the conflation of these two? These are, of course, very large questions, whose investigation requires substantial empirical and conceptual work. In the interests of carrying out a preliminary ground-clearing, this talk is confined to reflections on a limited number of texts. Discussion of these texts will centre on how certain traditions within Islam and Protestant Christianity objectify ethics in ways that render them cognitively explicit and thus expose them to pressures toward rationalisation, generalisation, and abstraction. But these traditions also expect ethics to guide everyday life, in all its concrete particularity, with potentially paradoxical consequences.

The event is free and open to all with no ticket required. Entry is on a first come, first served basis.

See www2.lse.ac.uk/anthropology/research/PRNR/Events/events.aspx for more details

If you have any queries regarding this event, please contact Dr Matthew Engelke (m.engelke@lse.ac.uk)