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Diya Abdo (Guildford College, USA)
My Qarina, My Self: Islamic Feminism in Alifa Rifaat’s My World of the Unknown
Full abstract » Alifa Rifaat’s controversial short story “My World of the Unknown” elaborates a radical brand of Islamic feminism that challenges damaging cultural perceptions of female sexuality as threatening unless controlled. While scholarship on the story, scant as it is, focuses on Rifaat’s concern with women’s sexual fulfilment, critics have a hard time reconciling the text’s idealizing of a homosexual affair between the female narrator and a female jinn with Rifaat’s own positioning as a devout Muslim woman. I will argue, however, that Rifaat’s understanding of the sacred (as illustrated in the Qur’an and the Hadith) foregrounds the importance of women’s sexual satisfaction as it leads to spiritual and emotional fulfillment and ultimately a happier society. While Rifaat believes that such sexual gratification should take place within the sanctioned bounds of marriage, the text establishes that this is not achievable for our narrator. The text provides numerous ways of legitimizing, religiously and otherwise, these homoerotic encounters, but it’s their representation as trance-like states akin to Sufi meditation that allows us to see the female jinn as the narrator’s double in the jinn world (i.e. her Qarina), and hence these sensual encounters as an allegory for the pleasure and happiness our narrator can find within herself, a woman — where “perfect beauty is to be found” (Rifaat 75). This relationship with the jinn, and ultimately this exploratory journey into the self, becomes the gateway for a meditation on the nature of the divine and one’s relationship to it, a journey which can “guide [our narrator] to worlds possessed of such beauty as [she had] never imagined” (Rifaat 75). Rifaat grounds her text in and reinterprets Islamic teachings, Arabic folklore and pre-Islamic Egyptian history to show how women’s sexuality must be revered rather than feared. She offers a searing critique of patriarchal misreadings which have paralyzed women’s sexual and hence religious satisfaction and enjoins women to claim their divinely given rights through creative but sanctioned means available to them in the sacred Islamic texts while illustrating the ways in which masculinist interpretations of these texts have produced social environments where such reclaiming is anything but easy.
and biography » Diya Abdo is assistant professor of English at Guilford College in Greensboro, North Carolina (U.S.A). She teaches twentieth-century American Literature and modern and contemporary world and postcolonial literatures. Her research interests are Arab women writers, Islamic feminism, autobiography, and postcolonial translation. She has published articles in Women’s Studies Quarterly, The Eugene O’Neill Review, PAMLA’s Pacific Coast Philology, Image and Narrative, Frontiers, and Life Writing, as well as in collections on Anglophone Arab writers and women writers.
Farah Ahmed (Cambridge University and Islamic Shaksiyah Foundation)
Tarbiyah for Shaksiyah (Educating for Identity) – Muslim Women Seeking out Culturally Coherent Education to Empower Themselves and Their Children
Full abstract » The existence of Islamic education in western nations is highly contentious. Perceived as the alien ‘other’ the needs of Muslim children in State education provision are often neglected. Drawing upon Islamic epistemology to confront the challenges of a postcolonial world; Muslims are formulating hybrid western- ethnic, interracial but essentially Muslim identities and culturally relevant educational approaches that incorporate the sacred and spirituality into educational practice. This paper presents a small-scale qualitative case study of a British Muslim community education project, Islamic Shakhsiyah Foundation (ISF). ISF grew out of collaboration by home-schooling Muslim mothers and is based on a ‘Holistic Islamic Education’ (HIE) paradigm. HIE arises from the epistemological approach of tawhid-ul-‘ilm, (unity of knowledge); conceptualising education as holistic and transformative; nurturing shakhsiyah (character/identity) through tarbiyah (spiritual upbringing).
Western socio-political criticisms of Islamic education often arise from liberal concerns about a perceived lack of autonomy in Islamic education. Findings from this study show a community of Muslim women who feel empowered by HIE and felt disempowered by the ‘modern’ secular liberal education they had received in British schools. Findings demonstrate parallels between the experiences and motivations of these mothers and other indigenous / culturally relevant education movements seeking to preserve the sacred. Participants perceive HIE is a means to provide a ‘Qur’an-centred’ worldview rejecting the perceived functional and economic nature of the dominant educational paradigm. They consider HIE as reviving traditional Islamic pedagogy as a defense against the onslaught of western culture and a means to navigate and celebrate difference and diversity through an intercultural bilingual education albeit within an Islamic context. This is seen as a positive approach to meeting the challenges of being Muslims in Britain, synthesizing traditional Islamic education with modern western pedagogy to provide an alternative space for the development of children who can bridge multiple cultures.
and biography » Farah Ahmed is the founder and head-teacher of the Islamic Shakhsiyah Foundation, which seeks to develop holistic Islamic education for the 21st century. She has an M.Ed in Educational Research from the University of Cambridge, a BA Hons in Philosophy from the University of Bristol and a PGCE in Secondary English from the Institute of Education. She is currently studying for a PhD in Education at the University of Cambridge, and she is developing an academic and research background focusing on philosophy of Islamic education; oral pedagogy, Halaqah, Islamic notions of personal autonomy and indigenous research. She has 16 years of experience in education and 8 years of experience in devising and delivering courses in ‘Islamic Teacher Education’. She is the author of ‘Halaqah Curriculum’ – an innovative approach to teaching Islam in the modern context.
Muntasir Al-Hamad (Manchester Metropolitan University)
Uncovering Commonalities in Abrahamic Faiths and their Impact on Community and Social Cohesion
Full abstract » Not many people know the commonalities between the Abrahamic religions. Frequently, only lip service is paid without the intellectual academic evidence of the common features, ideas and beliefs between Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
Looking at the educational curriculum, not much is taught about commonalities. Instead, each religion is taught separately.
Media tends when they talking about commonalities, to be biased towards either political or to the perception of one of the religions Many instances of TV programmes on religions and their following, the reference to commonalities tend to be scathing and tangential.
Politically, however, when the Palestine issue is conveyed, people tend to remember that Jerusalem is sacred to the three religions. But really not much is said about the creed and what items and sections in the creed and practices of the three religions are common.
This paper attempts to show that Judaism, Christianity and Islam have many common features, and highlights how these may be used constructively in enhancing community cohesion and understanding for the common good
and biography » Dr. Muntasir Al-Hamad is lecturer of Arabic and Oriental Studies at the Manchester Metropolitan University, as well as the director of Amstone Project on Abrahamic Religions at the University of Manchester. Al-Hamad is specialist in the comparative Semitic Languages, and highly interested in the history of the region and its faiths. He is also directly involved in many community and educational projects and responsibilities in the UK and abroad, including: Member of the Director’s Board of Arabic supplementary schools in Manchester; Founder of an educational magazine for teaching RE in schools; Consultant researcher on the cultural impact of 2022 World Cup for the Childhood Cultural Center; Consultant on RE subject for Qualification and Curriculum Authority in the UK.
Mariam Al-Mulla (University of Leeds)
‘Heritage in Qatar: An Example of Creating Status to Build Cross-Cultural Relations and Dialogue
Full abstract » With the development of modern Qatar in the mid 1970s and the end of the British protectorate, there was a new focus on museums and the heritage of the country. This focus on the role of culture has increased rapidly in the last five years, and can be mapped against the wider cultural developments in the Gulf, as countries aim to be more open to the West and the tourist industry and to address critical issues of the global perception of the Muslim world. In this paper I shall discuss politicians’ empowerment of culture and religious to build cross-cultural relationships and dialogue. The development of Museum of Islamic Art, presents an example of politicians attempt to empower cultural materials by giving them sacred status to build up a cross-cultural relationship. The MIA’s curators were determined to influence their audiences’ thinking through creating a sacred space in an opening exhibition Beyond Boundaries: Islamic Art Across Cultures. Roger Silverstone in his article ‘The medium is the Museum’ argues that the object does not exist only in the life of one individual, but rather it gains its value and meaning through the interplay of various economic, political, social and cultural environment. In the MIA, visitors to the opening exhibition were encouraged via the interpretation of objects to see how these artefacts functioned in a large dialogue. Each object has a political and polemical stance. The objects are used specifically to deliver the curators and museums’ aim in demonstrating the close and integrated structure of the Muslim faith with other world religions at a time of Global unease after the terrorist attacks and during the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.
This paper will address the relationship between empowerment of the cultural materials via creation of sacred space. A method that the curators in the MIA found is vital to propose the cross-cultural dialogue. The paper will also present a new role that religious and cultural materials have played in the 21st century in Qatar under a political discourse.
and biography » Mariam Al-Mulla is a PhD Candidate in the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies, at the University of Leeds. Previously she was curator of the National Museum of Qatar
Anna Auguscik (University of Oldenburg)
‘Reading Postsecular Readings: The Sacred in Literary Texts and the Empowerment of the Critic’
Full abstract » In 1995, John A. McClure applied the term of postsecularism as a means of contesting contemporary tendencies “to inscribe postmodernism within a secular history of secularization”. McClure detected a “resurgence of magical, sacred, pre-modern and non- western constructions of reality” and offered a postsecular reading of postmodern American fiction. The term has since gained in usage and strives to position itself next to the established terms of postmodernism and postcolonialism in political, sociological, philosophical and literary debates. A postsecular condition has been noted in newspaper articles, political agendas, philosophical arguments, right wing Christian internet platforms, but also served in literary and cultural analyses.
At the 2008 Postsecular Britain? Religion, Secularity, and Cultural Agency conference in Oldenburg, Graham Huggan stepped into Kwame Anthony Appiah’s footprints in asking “Is the ‘Post’ in Postsecular the ‘Post’ in Postcolonial?”. Huggan carefully analyzed the premises of the postsecular based on a reading of Ananda Abeysekara’s postulate of a Derridean “un- inheriting” of secularism’s normative authority in The Politics of Postsecular Religion: Mourning Secular Futures (2008), and searched contemporary postcolonial novels for relevant postsecular poetics.
Do such readings in general and the usage of the term postsecular in particular point to a revival of religious topics and instances of empowerment through the sacred in literary representations? Or are they in fact empowering critics to read contemporary literary productions with a revived and renewed interest? In my paper, I will address these questions on the basis of a reading of McClure and Huggan’s essays and their respective approaches to the postsecular, ranging from affirmation to scepticism, propagation to playful application. I will explore the perspectives taken by these literary scholars on the debate of postsecularism, their awareness of risk-taking, as well as their ways of appropriation, and challenge some of the assumptions made about the chronology and essentiality of the postsecular debate(s).
and biography » Anna Auguscik studied English, Slavic and Comparative Literature in Munich and Padua, and graduated with a master thesis on “Oscar Wilde as Subject of Contemporary Literature and Film: Representations of an Eccentric Identity”. Since 2006 she has been a research assistant at the Institute of English and American Studies at the University of Oldenburg and has taught seminars on the mapping of postcolonialism, postmodernism and postsecularism, and the contemporary novel in English. She is presently writing her dissertation on the role of literary prizes for literary communication, specifically the Booker Prize, and the waves of public reactions: “Prizing Debate: The Emergence of Problems in the Contemporary Market of Fiction in English”.
Chris Beetle ()
‘Evidence of Empowerment in the Hare Krishna Movement
Full abstract » In this paper, I argue that faith in the word of God and one’s spiritual teacher (guru) and the understanding that anything is possible with God’s blessings, can be empowering tools for spiritual and social leadership, agency and transformation, both at an individual and collective level.
I examine the religious leadership of A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, the founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness or the Hare Krishna movement as it is popularly called. A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami left India for New York at the age of 69 in 1965 and he argued that the soul knows no race, caste, or gender and that the teachings from the Bhagavad-gita that he sought to spread are not limited to any section of society. Within a few years, and despite health, financial and practical hurdles—he arrived in the USA with only 7 dollars and one contact—A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami turned scores of hippies, many of whom were drug addicts and societal drop outs disillusioned with political and societal issues, into determined spiritual and social practitioners and activists. His movement reached England, where his disciples, who had faith in him as an empowered agent of God, met George Harrison of the Beatles and recorded the famous Hare Krishna single under his patronage.
I thus investigate the comments of Professor Thomas Hopkins (now Senior Associate Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies), made in the late 1960s, on how A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami inspired his followers to spread the movement despite their lack of any preliminary religious or professional training; and that it was on the basis of his confidence that Krishna, the deity of the Vaishnava tradition he represented, would help his followers that A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami was an empowered and empowering religious leader.
and biography » Christopher Beetle (Krishna-kripa Das) was born in Albany, New York, in 1959. He graduated from Brown University in 1982 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Computer Science. He then wrote accounting software for Norton Murphy International for six years. He became a Hare Krishna monk in 1983, and he worked with Bhaktivedanta Institute, the science branch of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, doing book and video production from 1988 to 2005. He has given seminars on science and spirituality. He presently travels in America and Europe giving lectures on Bhagavad-gita and promotes the chanting God’s names as a prime means for self-realization.
Steph Berns (University of Kent and British Museum)
The Fate of Sacred Objects in Post-Enlightenment Museums
Full abstract » While educational and informal learning studies have dominated the field of museum visitor research for the past three decades, very little attention is paid to how sacred museum objects may exert agency in the lives of visitors. Reflecting on the practice of museums, Theodor Adorno pondered on the negative connotations of the German word for museum-like, ‘museal’. “It describes objects”, Adorno declared “to which the observer no longer has a vital relationship and which are in the process of dying” (1981: 173). Do museums sever the ‘vital relationship’ between visitor and object? If so, are objects, previously recognised as sacred and religious, desacralized on entering the ‘secular’ museum?
In determining the fate of sacred museum objects, this paper will begin by looking at the Age of Enlightenment and the separation of humans and non-humans in a process Bruno Latour calls ‘purification’ (Latour 1993). Public museums were born out of the Enlightenment and the ontological framework of this period persists, to some extent, today. Webb Keane attributes this separation of humans from materiality to the Protestant Reformation which sought to ascribe agency to people and not things (Keane, 2007).
Moving away from the ‘purified’ concepts of agency which are dependent on human traits such as intentionality and personal efficacy, I will call on Latour’s notion of agency as it is employed in Actor Network Theory (ANT). ANT perceives agency not as a human trait, but what emerges as connections are formed between entities. By recognising the agency of sacred objects, I will propose a different approach to perceiving the role of visitors and sacred objects in museums; not as separate entities but as a network of mediators and object-human hybrids. In concluding this paper, I will explain how ANT may enable new ways of considering how sacred objects co-shape visitors’ experiences.
and biography » Steph Berns began her doctoral research into how visitors engage with sacred objects in October 2010. This research is a collaborative PhD between the British Museum and the University of Kent. She has a Masters in Visual Culture from the University of Westminster, where she focused on museum practices, and a BA degree in New Media Production. Prior to starting her PhD, Steph worked for six years in communications, campaigns and project management roles within the charity and education sectors. She has also volunteered at a number of London museums and galleries.
Tina Block (Thompson Rivers University, British Colombia)
‘Don’t think – feel!’: Mainstream Churches and the Sixties Counterculture in Western Canada
Full abstract » Canadian historians have begun to turn their attention to the 1960s counterculture. However, the response of the churches to the social and ideological changes of the sixties in Canada has yet to be explored. This paper addresses this lacuna, and explores how certain mainstream churches in Western Canada engaged with the counterculture. Drawing on archival records and published materials of the Anglican, Unitarian, and United Churches in British Columbia and Alberta, I argue that the churches responded in complex, sometimes ambivalent, and not always expected ways to the new cultural forms and meanings that were emerging in this era. Although they objected to such elements as the turn to permissive sexuality and drug use, the churches were more than just bulwarks against the counterculture. As in other times, during the sixties the churches reflected upon and appropriated new attitudes and practices that were circulating in the wider culture, incorporating them into their literature, groups, and services. This paper will focus particularly on how the churches encountered and negotiated new meanings of gender, sexuality, and the body in this era. Through experimental services and groups, the churches actively engaged with the counterculture; however, such engagements were not without conflict. Practices such as psychedelic services, church hug-ins, and consciousness-raising sessions were embraced by some church members and officials, and rejected by others. This paper will probe the tensions that arose as the churches sought to reconcile the countercultural focus on emotional expressiveness and sensory awareness with the more staid intellectualism of liberal Christianity. Canadian historians have too easily overlooked the intersections between the churches and the sixties counterculture. As this paper suggests, the churches could and did function as sites where the new cultural impulses of this generation were appropriated, negotiated, and sometimes created.
and biography » Tina Block completed her Ph.D. in history at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada in 2006. Since 2007, I have been employed as an Assistant Professor of Canadian history at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, B.C. My research centres on the intersections between religion and irreligion, gender, sexuality, and the family in postwar B.C. I have recently published articles in the journals BC Studies, Histoire sociale, Pacific Northwest Quarterly, and the Oral History Forum. I am currently at work on two major research projects, one on religion and the 1960s counterculture and the other on the social history of atheism in postwar Canada.
Måns Broo (Åbo Akademi University)
Constructing Sacred Practice Yoga in Turku, Finland
Full abstract » As elsewhere in Finland, different types of yoga practices are popular in Turku, the country’s ancient capital and European Capital of Culture 2011. But how do practitioners view their own relationship to their practice, and further, what do they feel that they as individuals gain through it? Through in-depth interviews with yoga teachers in the city of Turku/ Åbo and using the theoretical framework of social psychologists’ James E. Côte’s and Charles G. Levine’s concept of identity capital, I wish to examine ways in which individuals in what could be called a post-secular society construct a meaningful sense of self and of individual agency.
Also, sometimes contemporary religious/spiritual well-being practices are regarded as providing mere resources to be used by the individual(ist) seeker and agent who is understood as the sole or main authority of his or her own spiritual life (e.g. Heelas & Woodhead 2005). However, the question may not be quite as simple as this. Matthew Wood (2008) argues on the basis of his ethnography within various New Age settings that individual seekers may instead have many authorities, and that together this plurality of authorities undermines one single and determining religious authority. Thus the contemporary field of religiosities/spiritualities and well-being practices, does not necessarily imply a categorical change from outer to inner authority. Rather, it indicates that the whole question of authority becomes increasingly complex and is in flux. Therefore, one characteristic of post-secular culture would be that this set of multiple authorities may consist of very different yet somehow interacting sources: traditionally understood religious sources as well as scientific texts and personal inner voices, etc.
The observations offered in this paper represents preliminary notes as part of a larger project on yoga in Turku, conducted at the “Post-Secular Culture and a Changing Religious Landscape” research project at Åbo Akademi University, devoted to qualitative and ethnographic investigations of the changing religious landscape in Finland.
and biography » Dr. Måns Broo is a senior lecturer at the department of Comparative Religion at Åbo Akademi University, Finland. His present research is focused on aspects of intentionality, agency and identity formation in contemporary Finnish popular culture. Building on his background in yoga- and Hindu studies, and using both ethnographic and discourse analytic methods, he will focus on examining how Finnish yoga practitioners view their practice and how they form their world-view.
Mikel Burley (University of Leeds)
Ambivalent Images of Feminine Empowerment: Examples from Two Hindu Myths
Full abstract » Mythic narratives play a significant role in many religious traditions, and this is especially true of the complex network of traditions known as Hinduism. Among the multiple purposes served by Hindu myths is the imparting of norms and values pertaining to social roles and religious practice. This paper will illustrate this function with reference to two episodes from Pauranic Hindu mythology, focusing on the variegated and ambivalent nature of the imagery within these narratives as it relates to women (or to feminine characters more generally). Rather than extracting simple regulatory dogmas from the myths, attention will be given to the difficulty of doing this and to the ‘mixed messages’ conveyed through the texts with respect to feminine empowerment.
The two episodes to be discussed are the story of the Rasalila dance from the Vishnu Purana and the story of the origin of the goddess (variously designated Ambika, Candika, Durga) and her battle with the buffalo demon in the Devi Mahatmya. The first of these portrays young female cow-herders seeking after the mischievous Krishna, and eventually participating with him in an ecstatic and erotic night-time dance. Here the women are clearly in a subordinate role to their divine Lord, yet the story as a whole encapsulates a radical subversion of traditional Brahmanical injunctions for women to remain obedient to father and husband. The second story involves a relation of apparently mutual dependence between the central goddess figure and several masculine gods. While she is created out of their energy, the gods are in turn reliant upon her to save the cosmos from destructive demonic forces. In the ferocity of the goddess’s rage we see an embodiment of power which is gendered as feminine but also, at certain places in the narrative, so extreme as to exceed the limits of the human.
and biography » Mikel Burley teaches in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Leeds. His areas of teaching include Hindu and Buddhist traditions, philosophy of religion, and religious ethics. His publications include Classical Samkhya and Yoga: An Indian Metaphysics of Experience (Routledge, 2007), Contemplating Religious Forms of Life: Wittgenstein and D. Z. Phillips (Continuum, forthcoming), and articles on emotion, death, and immortality.
Anthony Carrigan (University of Keele)
Reflections on Disaster and the Sacred
Full abstract » TBA and biography » Anthony Carrigan is Lecturer in English at Keele University, UK. He has written articles on a range of postcolonial topics including tourism, ecology, indigeneity, and island literatures, and his monograph, Postcolonial Tourism: Literature, Culture and Environment, was published by Routledge in 2011. His current research explores postcolonial literature and disaster from an ecocritical perspective, with related articles appearing in the Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies, New Literatures Review, and the edited collection, Postcolonial Ecologies: Literatures of the Environment, published by Oxford University Press.
Sarah Jane Cervenak (University of North Carolina, Greensboro, USA)
Dignity, the Sacred, and the Ends of Black Performance
Full abstract » Black conceptual artists William Pope L. and Adrian Piper engage with Buddhist and Hindu spiritual practices as a way to imagine the possibility of secular transcendence for racialized gendered bodies. As part of an African American activist tradition committed to the insights within Hindu ethical and spiritual philosophies (most clearly seen in the influence of Mahatma Ghandi on Civil Rights’ praxis), Pope L. and Piper consider the value of worldly devastation and spiritually inspired renunciation for radical resistance. This essay examines the role yoga plays, particularly, in the refiguration of possibility and dignity for the systematically devastated black body. By using yogic philosophies and practice in their art-making, William Pope L and Adrian Piper raise important questions about the value of material renunciation (a tenet of yogic philosophy) for radical, anti-slavery politics, philosophy, and performance. Further, I argue that Pope L. and Piper’s spiritually inspired renunciations are modalities of wandering that raise important philosophical and political questions around Black freedom and spatio-temporal transcendence.
Significantly, this essay is part of my larger book project that considers the ways that wandering at once enacts and resists racial and sexual subjugation. As a mode of philosophical performance, wandering expresses the encounter with racial and sexual difference, encounters that proved essential in Enlightenment’s philosophical theorizations of reason, truth, and freedom. Indeed, wandering makes possible Enlightenment philosophy, albeit its type of movement was subsequently forgotten or disavowed in the interest of its (the Enlightenment) subject. Resistance to Enlightenment has also taken the form of wandering. My thoughts on the political possibility of wandering emerged out of a deep investment in racial and sexual freedom and a sustained reading of texts from an African American aesthetic tradition. While white wandering (e.g., transatlantic exploration)—essential to the moral and empirical ‘disinterestedness of Enlightenment instrumentality—resulted in Black immobilization and captivity, Black wandering enacted a modality of philosophical performance that offered new possibilities of freedom in the Americas
and biography » Sarah Jane Cervenak is an assistant professor jointly appointed in the Women’s and Gender Studies and African American Studies programs at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. Her intellectual, ethical, and political interests concern the operations of racial, gender, and economic freedom in the modern world. Particularly, she is interested in the ways that wandering (rambling, roaming, meditating) in 19th-21st century Black performances describes the philosophical and performative event of resistance to racialized, gendered captivity. Her research and teaching draw on methodologies within African American studies, gender studies, critical race theory, Marxist analysis, philosophy and performance studies.
Anne Cassidy (National University of Ireland, Galway)
“Just Good Women”: The Role of Catholic Sisters in a Community Development Setting
Full abstract » This paper gives an account of a Roman Catholic order of nuns’ (the Little Sisters of the Assumption) involvement in a community development setting in the west of Ireland. Their work reflected a dual concern with embodying the precepts of their order and the Catholic Church’s liberation theology movement and the practical manifestation of this philosophy in the form of living within and working to revitalise a socio-economically disadvantaged community. Pierre Bourdieu’s concepts of habitus, doxa and hexis are used as a theoretical framework to explore the Sisters’ life, work and presence in this community. The question is asked as to what impact this grounding in a religious ethos had not only on the Sisters’ lived experiences and their community development practice but the relationships they built with members of the local community and the kind of tasks that they willingly took on outside their official capacity as social workers (such as quasi-mothers and social justice activists). The Sisters used their multi-faceted identity as members of the LSA congregation, community organisers, professionals and neighbours, to promote healing and rejuvenation at an individual and community level. This paper argues that the Sisters’ religious background had a significant, albeit complex, part to play in their engagement with this community. Whilst it allowed them to live in the neighbourhood and carry out their work largely outside the confines of State-driven community development frameworks, it also produced disparities between what other actors demanded of them and their personal reality with its attendant boundaries and limitations. The research is based on a series of narrative interviews carried out during a time of transition when the Sisters’ management of the local community development project was being phased out and by extension their involvement in the locality was being reduced in scale and significance.
and biography » Anne Cassidy is a Doctoral Fellow in the School of Political Science and Sociology in the National University of Ireland Galway. Prior to this she completed a Masters in Community Development Studies, which included a placement working with an order of Roman Catholic Sisters in their community development project. Her MA thesis focused on the impact the Sisters’ religious ethos had on their status, work practices and relationships with local actors. She has a BA in Sociological and Political Studies and History. Her research interests include the sociology of religion, community and rural development and youth research.
Claire Chambers (Leeds Metropolitan University)
A Tale of Two Screenings: Four Lions and the Politics of Reception
Full abstract » TBA and biography » Claire Chambers is a senior lecturer in postcolonial literatures at Leeds Metropolitan University and an expert in contemporary South Asian writing in English and literary representations of British Muslims. Her research has been supported by grants from HEFCE, the AHRC and British Academy. She has published widely in such journals as Postcolonial Text, Crossings and Contemporary Women’s Writing, and is Coeditor of the Journal of Commonwealth Literature.
Heidi Chirugwa Gomi (Göteborg University)
Performance of Power
Full abstract » Since the beginning of time humankind has been subject to major traumatic events and has consequently tussled with loss. Cultures, traditions and faiths following the necessities of time and place, have devised numerous ways namely mourning and memory, to cope with the traumatic past and disaster. Mourning performed and displayed in passion plays is not regarded as a form of letting go; neither is remembering the losses looked upon as a form of denial. They are rather ways of honoring the importance of someone or something in certain tradition and in the life of its followers.
The significance of remembrance and mourning as performed in the drama genre of passion plays or as practiced in sacred public rituals is however often politically motivated and socially manipulated. At our present historical juncture, public memory and mourning as instruments of power and authority also as assets of resistance and rebellion are vital in our understanding of the perpetual power games of our time.
The present paper focuses on Parr-i Siyavoshan and Ta’ziyeh Khani rituals, being two of the most predominant passion plays in pre-Islamic Persia and its continuity and its activism in Islam Shiite sects. The overwhelming power of these rituals as political and spiritual assets in the resurgence of Shiite ideology, their impact being often substantial, on or against the enlightenment discourses of reason, progress and modernity, empowerment and emancipation, in political, cultural and intellectual terms are among the issues addressed
Video clips of some traditional and contemporary performances live and recorded, will accompany this paper.
and biography » Dr. Heidi. Chirugwa-Gomi is Ph.D., Post.doc. graduate in Science of Religions, and Oriental Culture from Goteborg University, Sweden & The University of Toyo, Japan respectively.
Lynda Chouiten (The
Moore Institute, National University of Ireland, Galway)
Faith, Race, and Power: Isabelle Eberhardt’s Representation of Islam and Muslims
Full abstract » My paper aims at discussing Isabelle Eberhardt’s complex, and often ambivalent, relation to Islam. As many critics agree, her conversion to this religion was strikingly unconventional in a context of colonialist contempt for all that it is not European; however, I would like to argue that it was free neither from the will-to-power that traditionally characterises the Western presence on Eastern lands nor from the Eurocentrism that gives voice to it. While obviously sincere, this conversion also fulfilled the convenient function of freeing her from a Western community where she occupied a helplessly marginal position on account of her gender and “scandalous” family history, a position for which it allowed her to substitute the privileged rank of a Westerner among the Muslims.
Indeed, Eberhardt never forgot her Westernness. Though her acquaintance with the culture and languages of North Africa was no less complete than her knowledge of Islam, it is only to the latter she acknowledged her full belonging. She unquestionably defined herself as Muslim but, for all the affection she manifested for the indigenous population and for the Arabic language, she never saw herself as an Arab. This clear-cut distinction between religious and racial categories allowed her to provide sometimes diverging representations of Islam and those who professed it. While her laudatory account of the religion she adopted was a far cry from the distorting and unsympathetic images that usually fill Western representations, her portrayal of some of the Muslims was not devoid of the derogatory clichés with which racialist and colonialist writings teem.
and biography » PhD Researcher (PRTLI Scholarship holder), The Moore Institute, National University of Ireland, Galway. Research Project: Texts, Contexts, and Culture (TCC). Research Subject: The Orient in Isabelle Eberhardt’s Writings. Several international conferences on postcolonial issues and cultural representation. Publications: “Aux Etats-Unis d’Afrique d’Abdourahmane Waberi: L’alternative utopique”. Passerelles. 41 (July 2009). “Hybridity and Cultural Negotiation in Mouloud Féraoun’s La Terre et le sang and Les Chemins qui montent”. « What Countrey’s this ? And Whither are we Gone?” Papers from the Twelfth International Conference on the Literature of Region and Nation, eds. J. Derrick McClure, Karoline Szatek, and Rosa Penna (Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2010). “The Other Battle: Postcolonialism and Ressentiment”. Journal of Postcolonial Theory and Theology. Volume 2, Issue 3 (April 2011). Areas of Interest: Postcolonial Literature and Culture, Cultural Representations, Orientalism, Comparative Literature, English Literature and Civilisation, Literature and Philosophy, Literary Theory.
Elliot Cohen (Leeds Metropolitan University)
Transpersonal Psychology: The Spiritualising of Psychology or the Psychology of Spiritualising
Full abstract » Considering that Psychology has its etymological origins in the study of the ψυχή Psyche – the soul, it is interesting to observe that the spiritual dimension has been consistently ignored or sidelined in most mainstream Psychological approaches and discourses. One noticeable exception has been the relatively recent emergence, and increasing visibility of Transpersonal (or Fourth Force) approaches and perspectives within Psychology; approaches which have been deeply influenced by Shamanistic, Mystical and ‘Eastern’ wisdom traditions (most commonly Buddhist, Hindu Vedantic and Daoist).
In the UK there is now a Transpersonal Section of the British Psychological Society (founded in 1996) and a Spirituality and Psychiatry Special Interest Group (SPSIG) within the Royal College of Psychiatrists (founded in 1999).
I will endeavour to explore the extent to which spiritual thought and practices are informing and transforming mainstream Psychology and to what extent spiritual thought and practices are being instrumentalised, reduced and assimilated into various Psychological approaches. The recasting of religious beliefs and perspectives into to psychotherapeutic ‘coping mechanisms’ will also be considered; from Carl Jung’ s interpretation of Daoist Alchemical manuals, to the recent advent and propagation of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) in Psychiatric, Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapeutic contexts.
As Transpersonal Psychologists may begin to view themselves as the natural inheritors and interpreters of these various Wisdom Traditions it is important to ask by what process do they empower themselves to take on such a role.
and biography » The Moore Institute
Jonathon Cronshaw (University of Leeds)
Jacob Epstein’s The Risen Christ
Full abstract » Jacob Epstein’s The Risen Christ (1917-19) can be fairly described as one of the most controversial bronzes of Epstein’s oeuvre and remains one of his most misunderstood works. Like Frankenstein’s monster, The Risen Christ depicts the dead risen as an amalgamation of body parts from various sources: the head of composer Bernard van Dieren; the hands and torso of painter Jacob Kramer; and the feet of musician Cecil Grey. At over seven feet in height, it stands, draped in burial clothing, pointing at a stigmata wound on his hand and staring accusingly at the spectator. The Christ’s head diverges from the traditional image of Christ and depicts Him as a modern man, with a gaunt face, short hair and cultivated beard.
Jacob Epstein’s The Risen Christ (1917-19) can be fairly described as one of the most controversial bronzes of Epstein’s oeuvre and remains one of his most misunderstood works. Like Frankenstein’s monster, The Risen Christ depicts the dead risen as an amalgamation of body parts from various sources: the head of composer Bernard van Dieren; the hands and torso of painter Jacob Kramer; and the feet of musician Cecil Grey. At over seven feet in height, it stands, draped in burial clothing, pointing at a stigmata wound on his hand and staring accusingly at the spectator. The Christ’s head diverges from the traditional image of Christ and depicts Him as a modern man, with a gaunt face, short hair and cultivated beard.
It stands and accuses the world for its grossness, inhumanity, cruelness and beastliness, for the First World War. The Jew – the Galilean – condemns our wars, and warns us that “Shalom, Shalom”, must still be the watchword between man and man.
and biography » National University of Ireland, Galway
Melanie Dembinsky (University of Kent)
The Power to heal: Spirituality and the Use of Bush Medicine amongst Yamatji Women with Breast Cancer
Full abstract » This paper, derived from a PhD thesis, focuses on the use of bush medicine by Australian Aboriginal women with breast cancer and its ability to function as a tool for empowerment, closely linked to these individuals’ social and emotional well-being.
The Midwest region of Western Australia, where the research was conducted between September 2010 and April 2011, is largely Yamatji country. As the majority of participating women identified as Yamatji, research participants are subsequently referred to as Yamatji women. Breast cancer is the predominant cancer diagnosed among Australian Aboriginal women, and while the incidence rate is below the national average, mortality rates are much higher. Nevertheless, data pertaining to the lived experience of Australian Aboriginal women with breast cancer is scarce and addressing this paucity was the prime motivation for this research.
Interviews with Yamatji women who have breast cancer and/or are in remission, care takers, health care service providers, elders and relatives of women deceased following a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment provided the bulk of the data incorporated in this paper. In course of the data collection, bush medicine emerged as a strong analytical theme within interviews and focus groups, with a particular emphasis on spirituality and its importance in regards to bush medicine’s effectiveness. The use of bush medicine allows Yamatji women to feel in control of their disease, making its use an effective coping mechanism and tool for empowerment.
The data presented both verifies previous findings by public health scholars regarding the adherence to the use of bush medicine after a cancer diagnosis and deepens understanding of the manner in which such use contributes to coping with this diagnosis.
and biography » TBA
Laura Desfor Edles (California State University, USA)
What is Sacred? The Symbolic Landscape of Christianity in the United States Today
Full abstract » In this paper I use a neo-Durkheimian approach to explore the symbolic landscape of Christianity in the United States today. I argue that just as progressive evangelicals have historically been at the forefront of many pivotal American movements and moments of social change (e.g. abolition), progressive evangelicals (e.g. Jim Wallis; Jeremiah Wright) are a particularly important contingent within progressive Christianity today. This is because progressive evangelicals are uniquely situated to engage both their more conservative and progressive brothers and sisters— i.e. their symbolic common denominators allow for meaningful dialogue in both camps. At the same time, however, progressive evangelicals’ seeming symbolic and theological ambiguity often infuriates both camps as well. In this paper I explore the consequences of these theologically muddy waters in the on-going battle between the religious “right” and “left” in the United States today. The importance of this discussion lies not only in the sociology and politics of religion, however, but also the sociology and politics of race. For instance, while both so-called “progressive Christians” (most of whom are white) and progressive as well as conservative African American evangelicals are proud to claim President Barack Obama as one of their own; tellingly, few (if any!) white conservative Christians consider Obama “one of their own” (indeed some even think he’s Muslim).
and biography » Research Project: Texts, Contexts, and Culture (TCC)
Marie L Dick and Susan Schultz Huxman (St. Cloud State University, USA)
Peace prose out of paradox: The constitutive rhetoric of Chief Lawrence Hart.
Full abstract » LAWRENCE HART (1933- ), a revered traditional peace chief of the Cheyenne and an ordained Mennonite minister, has been described as a “national treasure” and “the greatest living peace chief” in the U.S. for his dynamic way of preserving Cheyenne traditions and bridging Cheyenne and Christian religious and cultural practices.
For over forty years, Chief Hart has been widely sought as a speaker, mediator and advocate for National Indian Affairs.
On April 6, 1981, Chief Hart gave a convocation address at Bethel College, his alma mater in Newton, Kansas. In his address Hart reminded listeners of the injustices toward the Cheyenne nation and commemorated the lives of peace chiefs Black Kettle, White Antelope, and Lean Bear. Hart also explained the call to a “peaceful life,” mandated for peace chiefs in the Cheyenne phrase, “Evehonesvostanehev,” which is translated into English as “that person is living the life of a chief.”
In this paper, the rhetorical strategies of Hart’s address are explicated by comparing them to those used by Elizabeth Cady Stanton in her acclaimed 1892 “Solitude of Self” speech. This paper addresses agency, symbolic reversals, normative disruptions and metaphor and analyzes critical arguments about the nature of constitutive rhetoric and the rhetorical dilemma of pacifism. The authors argue that paradox – both lived and directly addressed – helps Hart skate successfully on the line of tragedy without falling into powerlessness.
As a Marine jet fighter pilot during the Korean War, an ordained minister in the pacifistic Mennonite faith, and a traditional Cheyenne peace chief, Lawrence Hart displays a remarkable gift for “enlarging the tribe”—reconciling and commemorating the often tragic history of U.S. government and Native American relations. His national reputation to “stand in two worlds” is clearly evident in his life, and punctuates the poignancy of paradox as a rhetorical resource.
and biography » Research Subject: The Orient in Isabelle Eberhardt’s Writings
Lindsay Driediger-Murphy (University of Oxford)
Divine Commands, or Commanding the Divine? Religion and Empowerment in the Roman Republic
Full abstract » Divination was ubiquitous in the public life of ancient Rome, with consultations of the gods before government meetings, elections, and declarations of war, as well as on campaign, before leading an army across a river or engaging an enemy in battle. Yet modern studies of this continual interrogation of divine will tend to emphasize human rather than divine agency. Divination is seen from a functionalist perspective, as enabling humans to legitimize their decisions, as strengthening the authority of those in power over those under them, and, somewhat paradoxically, as freeing humans from the need to factor the gods’ attitudes into otherwise ‘rational’ plans and decisions. This model of religious empowerment is essentially secular, as it assumes that Romans’ personal, political, or strategic calculations are what ‘really’ drove their behaviour, without exploring the possibility that the divine might have been thought to have independent agency, or that religious motives could themselves influence decision-making. I wish to challenge these assumptions, using historical incidents as evidence that divination at Rome could produce unpredictable and undesired (perceived) divine incursions in Roman life, to which some Romans nevertheless submitted. On the one hand, this is to argue that Roman religion allotted a larger role and greater freedom to divine agency, and thereby placed humans under a greater degree of constraint, than is usually supposed. On the other hand, I believe that this argument can free us to consider alternative conceptions of human freedom and empowerment at Rome. I will argue that we have evidence that Romans could conceptualize submission to the divine will as liberating and enabling humans to pursue beneficial courses of action: in the poet Horace’s words, ‘It is because you conduct yourself as less than the gods, that you rule’. In this way, Roman ‘rationalism’ may be understood not as opposing, but as embracing, the sacred.
and biography » TBA
Tina Eftekhar (University of York)
Iranian Women’s Empowerment in “Inter-Universal Mysticism”
Full abstract » This paper investigates the self-perception of Iranian women in relation to the movement known as Inter-universal Mysticism. This movement, founded by Mohammad Ali Taheri thirty years ago, fosters a mystical attitude compatible with the framework of mysticism in Iran. Due to the political situation in Iran, the government is against any spiritual movements and deals with them as a kind of threat to its Islamic fundamentalism, and Inter-universal Mysticism is not an exception. Despite the fact that any advertisement in this regard is restricted, the movement has been developing quickly in most parts of Iran, entirely through word of mouth. The ideas have now spread to other parts of the world, including Asia, Europe, Canada, and America. In this school of thought, it is believed that the mystic journey is made through connection to the numerous links in which God’s blessing is streaming in diverse forms of divine compassion which are useful in everyday life. Interestingly, women make up a large percentage of followers in Iran (nearly 8o%, according to 2009 movement statistics). In order to address why this should be so in a complex modern country such as Iran, I have assessed women’s understanding of their spirituality, with particular emphasis on if, and how, the women see this spirituality as influencing or improving their lives. This paper draws on my interviews with 55 women in the movement, together with my focus groups and observations, conducted in three cities of Iran, Tehran, Yazd and Mashhad, in 2010. By assessing women’s relationship to their spirituality I am attempting to add to knowledge of how the spiritual and the material interact.
and biography » Several international conferences on postcolonial issues and cultural representation.
Jane de Gay (Leeds Trinity University College)
‘Virginia Woolf and Sacred Space: Discourses of Gender and Power
Full abstract » This paper will explore the contribution made by the novelist Virginia Woolf (1882-1941), a feminist and avowed atheist, to debates over empowerment and the sacred: specifically in her analyses of the use of sacred space. Focusing particularly on references to cathedrals and church buildings in a variety of her writings (both her fiction and non-fiction), the paper will show that she had an informed understanding of how architecture contributed to displays of power. At one level, in her essay Three Guineas she presents a critique of how cityscapes bring national religious, political, financial and legal institutions together in a display of patriarchal power; at another level, her satirical description of a service at King’s College Chapel, Cambridge, in Jacob’s Room, shows an understanding of how the interior layout of church buildings (relatively recently reordered under the influence of the Gothic Revival) was designed to keep the congregation, and particularly women, at a distance from the sacred.
The paper also shows that Woolf was also aware of a more empowering dimension, for the tourist could transcend such displays of power, in some cases by being able to maintain critical and ironic distance, but in other cases by engaging with the sacred in private prayer. It also shows how Woolf used the cathedral, in particular, as an empowering metaphor for mental space. The paper situates Woolf’s work in the context of architectural history of the early twentieth century and also draws on recent architectural theories on the gendering of architecture and space to examine how Woolf reconfigures space as both literal and metaphorical, so that public buildings become spaces that can be occupied in ways that defy the controlling intentions of their architects.
and biography » TBA
Luis Guilherme (University of Abersystwyth, Wales)
Can there be Empowerment without the Sacred?
Full abstract » This paper seeks to problematize the notion of ‘secularization’ in light of the reception and appropriation of Nietzsche’s thought by three 20th century religious thinkers: Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971), Paul Tillich (1886-1975) and Eric Voegelin (1901-1985). Writing under the spell of Kierkegaard, they addressed the Nietzschean problematic of the death of God as undermining, rather than confirming, the widespread assumption of modernity as unreligious. Their readings of Nietzsche were very different as was their success in accommodating his naturalism into a Christian theology of political and existential reach. But in spite of their differences, they set out a theo-ontological trajectory which would deeply affect the shape and fate of any future theorization of religion. They all shared a common suspicion towards what Voegelin had described as the ‘immanentization of the eschaton’. For them, modernity represented the transmutation of transcendental and trans-historical images and values onto the mundane plane of history, empowering agency by means of the sanctification of human capabilities and the deification of ‘Man’. Hence, these thinkers sought to address the Nietzschean themes of the ‘death of God’, the ‘will to power’ and the ‘transvaluation of values’ in light of the modern relation between empowerment and the sacred. If, on the one hand, empowerment entails the performative role of the sacred upon historical agency, on the other hand, Nietzsche seemed to suggest that the sacred always ensues from a subconscious will-to-power, which forges the sacred within itself as a tool of its own functioning and survival. Therefore, the purpose of this paper will be to study the ways in which Niebuhr, Tillich and Voegelin sought to accommodate Nietzsche into their account of secularization as a historical shift in the relation of empowerment to the sacred.
and biography » TBA
Silvia Henke (University of Design and Art, Lucerne)
Art and Religious Narratives: Empowerment by the Imaginary?
Full abstract » Starting from the religious narrative and allegory as basic forms of written religion, I want to show how contemporary art and religion are related by what we call ‘belief’. Believing brings together the rational and the irrational. But what does that mean when we are teaching in a modern institution such as a University of the Arts? How we believe and what we believe is not at all conscious in artistic production and reflection. Therefore it is helpful to see that believing, independent from statements and confessions, is an activity that opens up the imaginary. But it does not only set free: it reminds us also that something can be learned from contemporary art. Through a few examples this paper will explore the contribution of artists’ work to a dialogue with politics with particular reference to Jean Luc Nancy’s concept of the “unrepresentable community”. Some of the examples discussed come out of the “Holyspace, Holyways” research-project, at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts, Design & Art in Lucerne.
and biography » “Aux Etats-Unis d’Afrique d’Abdourahmane Waberi: L’alternative utopique”. Passerelles. 41 (July 2009).
James W Hood (Guildford College, USA)
Grounding the Sacred: The Rhetoric of Place in Contemporary American Nature Writing
Full abstract » Since Emerson’s Nature essay in the nineteenth century, American writers focusing on the natural world have addressed in various ways how nature engages the sacred. One might reasonably chart a trajectory from Emerson’s idealism—the idea that nature symbolizes or represents spirit—to more imagist contemporary writers like Annie Dillard and Gretel Ehrlich, whose prose celebrates the tangible, tactile wonders, horrors, and beauties of the natural world qua nature, as an end itself and not a representative means. But much recent American writing about the natural world continues to explore relationship to the sacred, embedding within its rhetoric a deep sense of wonder and mystery and thereby implying that the human relationship to nature lodges fundamentally in a spiritual—meaning extra-rational, affective, and trans-historical—connection. This paper will examine how an intense focus on the tangibles of place in contemporary American nature writing engages ideas about the sacred in the hope of transfiguring conceptions of the natural world, ultimately to promote a more sustainable future. Drawing upon David Abram’s The Spell of the Sensuous, the paper will outline a return in this literature to an understanding of the sacred as deeply grounded in the particulars of place, not mobile in the way of a sacred text. Such a focus on the sacrality of place represents a powerful ideological shift, one that energizes environmental preservation.
and biography » TBA
Robert Ivermee (University of Kent)
The Religious and the Secular: Bengali Muslims and the Calcutta Madrasa
Full abstract » The Calcutta Madrasa was founded by the government of the East India Company in 1780 as an institution for the imparting of a traditional Muslim education – inclusive of the Qur’an, hadith, theology, geometry, arithmetic and law – for Muslim elites in the Company’s Bengal metropolis. In this paper I consider Muslim negotiations with the Anglo-Indian attempt to effect reform at the madrasa in the middle part of the nineteenth century.
After the anglicist ‘triumph’ in colonial education debates in the 1830s, Anglo-Indian critics increasingly posited that neither the course of studies nor the pedagogical practices at the Calcutta Madrasa conformed to European ideas of a ‘modern’ educational institution. Proposals for reform of the madrasa’s curriculum meant the attempt to introduce Western science; to promote English language and literature; and to exclude religion from the madrasa’s Arabic syllabus.
It is often noted that Calcutta-based Muslim elites engaged in discourses on education after 1857 were greatly concerned by the ‘backwardness’ of their co-religionists in acquiring an English-language, Western-style education, deemed indispensable to the social and political interests of their community. Those engaged in debates over reform of the Calcutta Madrasa, however, were to overwhelmingly assert that a Western education might be acquired alongside, but not at the expense of, Arabic and Persian instruction, and to contest the separation of the ‘religious’ from the ‘secular’ at the madrasa.
The site of that contestation was an emergent Bengali Muslim civil society. I chart the emergence of Muslim civil society in Bengal as a transactional domain for exchange between Anglo-Indian administrators and Muslim elites in the 1850s and 1860s. Contrary to prevalent, Eurocentric understandings of the public sphere, in which the secularity of that space is posed or assumed, Bengali Muslim civil society developed as a site from which the ‘religious’ would refuse to disappear.
and biography » TBA
Adriaan van Klinken (Utrecht University)
Sacred Stories and Male Agency: The Case of St Joachim’s Catholic Men’s Organisation in Zambia
Full abstract » “Joachim is the model of every Catholic husband and father… He is a symbol of Christian life to all men.” This quotation from the constitution of the St. Joachim Catholic Men’s Organization in Zambia presents St. Joachim as the model of Catholic manhood. According to apocryphal Christian traditions, Joachim is the father of Mary who is the mother of Jesus. Though Joachim has never been very popular in Catholic devotion, nowadays in Zambia a Catholic men’s fellowship is named after him and actively promotes him as a role model for Catholic men. This presents us with an interesting case of religious masculinity politics in a postcolonial African context.
The paper explores, first, how in the context of this organisation the sacred story of Joachim is employed to correct certain behaviour and attitudes of men, to transform dominant concepts of masculinity and to address social problems such as HIV/AIDS, gender based violence and alcoholism. Second, the paper employs Butler’s notion of gender as a performance inspired by a history of received meanings that are subject to a set of imitative practices, to investigate how the story of St. Joachim functions as a source of meanings that men translate and apply to their lives. The question is how the personal and communal discourses about St. Joachim, and the imitative practices through which men perform their alternative masculinity modelled after St. Joachim, produce new religious and gendered identities and constitute male agency.
Discussing the case of this Catholic men’s organisation, the paper broadens the scope and questions some of the dominant concepts of the current study of men, masculinities and religion. Where men and masculinities in religious settings are often analysed in a conceptual framework of patriarchy, the paper adopts an alternative frame, building on concepts of agency and performativity (Mahmood; Butler).
and biography » “The Other Battle: Postcolonialism and Ressentiment”. Journal of Postcolonial Theory and Theology. Volume 2, Issue 3 (April 2011).
Lars Jørun Langøien (NTNU, Norway)
Yoga as a Tool for Change and Empowerment
Full abstract » Yoga is a diverse practice of Indian origin. Originally being a religious-spiritual practice, some claim that in a Western context yoga has become more of a physical exercise. While this is true for some practitioners, I will argue that the Western practice of yoga still retains many of its spiritual undercurrents, and that it both as a physical and a spiritual practice has become a generator/catalyst of change for some practitioners. There are various reasons for starting practicing yoga, spanning at one end the wish just to get in shape and at the other reaching moksha or liberation from the wheel of rebirth. In either end of the scale yoga is perceived to make important changes. For some, the practice is also motivated by difficulties, feelings of alienation, and loss in life. Others are searching for truer more authentic selves. In this context yoga, and the perception that it is based on the ancient wisdoms of India, seems to offer a way to more harmonious being in both one’s own body and the world. Based on fieldwork among Western practitioners in Mysore, India, I want to focus on motivations for doing yoga and their personal stories of change and empowerment due to the practice of Ashtanga Yoga. Yoga, both as a spiritual and a physical practice, encourages introspection. Drawing among others on Heelas (2008) notion of ‘spiritualities of life’ I want to explore how the experience of the yoga practice can act as a source of truth and reality in the lives of the practitioners. Importantly ‘spiritualities of life’ locates spirituality within the depths of life.
and biography » TBA
Mark Lindley-Highfield (Open University)
The Politics of Religious Conversion to Islam and Anglican Christianity in Mexico
Full abstract » The transformation that is religious conversion might have explicitly political motives. Long has it been suggested, for example, that dalits in India have abandoned Hinduism in an attempt to effect a socio-political shift from the ‘untouchable’ state to freedom from historical caste distinctions, however successful this may be (see Vedantam 2002 and Fernandes 2010). Yet where motivations for religious conversion are not ascribed an overtly political nature, by either the converts themselves or those interpreting the phenomenon, religious conversion remains an intrinsically political act or process. The social transformations effected by conversion freshly empower and constrain converts. Converts are able to redefine themselves. They come to be viewed differently by others. They are, at the very least symbolically, extracted from one context and placed within another. Through an examination of conversions to Islam and Anglican Christianity in Mexico, this paper explores the transformative effects of religious conversion in these contexts and furthermore demonstrates how religious conversion itself can be seen to be an implicitly political act, providing a means for self-empowerment, while also subjecting converts to new constraints.
and biography » TBA
Philip Lockley (Oxford University)
Awaiting or Making the Millenium’: Visionary Rituals, Agency and Socialism in Industrial England
Full abstract » The religious expectation of a messiah, or a millennial age that will make ‘all things new’, can produce complex attitudes to human agency in its believers. On the one hand, adherents typically expect a divine agent to accomplish the change they long for. They make calculations for when God’s action is to be expected, or read ‘the signs of the times’ for its approach. On the other hand, living in anticipation of sudden, disruptive change often produces distinct religious practices reflecting such waiting. These practices can engage the participants in the millennial idea so closely as to become perceived links between the compromised present and the redeemed future. In such links, groups have been known to re-conceive their own agency in actualising social change, to marry their own actions with anticipated divine actions.
I propose a paper discussing the shifting attitudes to agency discernable in one millennial tradition of belief in Britain in the nineteenth century. The followers of Joanna Southcott were once considered by E.P. Thompson to be the epitome of religious opposition to political agency in his Making of the English Working Class. They awaited a divine agent of change while their radical working neighbours were becoming conscious of their own agency through radicalism. My paper will recover aspects of the beliefs, rituals, and even political practices of early nineteenth-century Southcottians which, in fact, reveal an alternative sense of human agency inherent within this tradition. This human agency was tied to an acknowledged divine agency in the world, through communal ritual, and, in some cases, deliberate engagement with early socialism as the means by which God’s Kingdom would be established. This paper will draw perspectives from social and cultural history and theology, exploring a dimension of subaltern religion in England’s industrialising period, to inform the wider discussion of the conference.
and biography » TBA
Lyn McCredden (Deakin University, Australia)
‘The Sacred in Postcolonial Australia: Indigenous Challenges
Full abstract » In many cultures across the last three decades, Indigenous peoples have been challenging the authority of colonizing regimes, and the secularity of so-called Western democratic cultures. While it is simplistic to assign Indigenous cultures, in their diversity, to “the sacred”, nevertheless the deep issues of justice, access to and care of the land, as well as very different understandings of selfhood and community, need to be acknowledged in this context. It is often Indigenous imaginative writers who have led the way, opening up powerful questions about sacredness and the contemporary world. This paper will test the claim to new, post-colonial and hybrid understandings of sacredness in the poetry of two Indigenous poets: Lionel Fogarty and Sam Wagan Watson. It will also ask what is at stake for understandings of the sacred, in the dialogues between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
and biography » Areas of Interest:
Sean McCloughlin (University of Leeds)
Muslim travellers: homing desire, the umma and British-Pakistanis.
Full abstract » TBA and biography » Postcolonial Literature and Culture, Cultural Representations, Orientalism, Comparative Literature, English Literature and Civilisation, Literature and Philosophy, Literary Theory.
Barbara Meier (University of Munster)
Cosmology and Violence: Acholi Rituals in between the Sacred Realm and Public Peace Agencies
Full abstract » The presentation addresses the role of Acholi sacred traditions in the context of conflict and conflict resolution. After two decades of a brutal war in Northern Uganda that has devastated the social, political and economic environment of the majority of the Acholi population, rituals have been promoted as alternative route to peace by the international community, the state, churches, local NGOs, as well as cultural brokers, emphasizing cultural agency by revitalising local sacred traditions. Thus the sacred has entered a highly contested political arena with newly empowered agencies.
and biography » TBA
David Midgley (Leeds Jamyang Buddhist Centre)
Engaged Buddhism and Dharma Gaia
Full abstract » The paper deals with the Northern Ugandan post-‘warscape’ (Nordstrom) focusing on instances of revitalized ritual practices as performances of political power (by chiefs, priests, etc.) and their effect on spiritual authorities (such as elders, diviners, prophets). The question arises as to whether the Acholi are experiencing a ‘translation of sacred realities’ into ‘disenchanted histories’ and public symbols. Or, has the accelerated discourse on rituals of peace lead to a resurgence of traditional religion among northern Ugandans? Now, 5 years after the rebels have fled to neighbouring countries and intensive efforts of reconstruction, NGOs are leaving the region and an odd silence has settled upon the public discussion of transitional justice. While most appear to be concerned only with practical issues of reconstruction, many criticize their leaders of misusing sacred issues for their personal benefit and expect a return of violence as a form of spiritual retribution. On the whole a new reflection upon rituals has set in, circling around ritual efficaciousness, religious authority, cosmological justice or public attention. A key to understanding how people make sense of the past conflict and their present situation is that violence is not thought of as accidental occurrence but in relation to the cosmological sphere.
Within this context the concept of empowerment and its relationship to consciousness and to spiritual practice is central. This centrality is encapsulated in Joanna Macy’s work on Despair and Empowerment (Macy, 1979), subsequently integrated with the work of Arne Naess and others on Deep Ecology. Buddhism has had a particularly intimate relationship with the Deep Ecology movement, which emphasises that our current civilisation’s dysfunctional relationship with Nature can only be rectified by a collective shift in consciousness that is analogous to the transformational process at the heart of the Buddhist spiritual path (particularly the Mahayana).
Macy’s work shows how the ego-bound consciousness of ‘normal’ existence induces a paralysis of thought and action when confronted with the seemingly overwhelming challenges posed by global threats to peace, ecological sustainability and social and economic justice. Transformational processes of self-inquiry, meditative contemplation and interactive exercises, designed to break down the ‘illusion of separate identity’ that keeps individuals bound within a false sense of isolation, lead to a vivid sense of empowerment consequent on an awareness of being part of a connected whole, a collective consciousness identified with the ‘Mind of Gaia’.
and biography » TBA
JoAnn McGregor (University College London)
Removal Centres as Spaces of Religious Revival: Rethinking Immigration Detention, Deportability and Resistance
Full abstract » This article investigates the effects of confinement on the religious and political subjectivities of migrants who have been held in British removal centres. Using geographical literatures on affect and the emotions it explores detainees’ experiences, examining the links between emotional responses, strategies for coping/resistance, and religious and political framings. I argue that immigration detention centres are acting as spaces of religious revival. African ex-detainees’ narratives of their confinement dwelt repeatedly on their experiences of religious renewal while they were being held, and the article explores how Christianity and the bible provided bodily, narrative and performative ways of coping with the affective force of detention. Faith acted as a source of energy, hope and strength, created communities of practice and related webs of relationships within and beyond the removal centres, while religious narratives affirmed detainees’ humanity. Some expressions of faith were connected to more directly political messages, intersecting with ideas about the self as a rights bearing subject that also allowed non-citizens to articulate their legitimate place in society. By exploring how confinement reshaped detainees’ political and religious imaginaries, the article asks new questions about deportability, avoiding stereotypes of detainees as either villains or victims and the tendency in both biopolitical and humanitarian framings to deny agency to those confined. The article is based on interviews with Zimbabwean ex-detainees, their friends, family, chaplains and members of detainee visitors’ groups as well as official inspection reports.
and biography » JoAnn McGregor is Reader in Human Geography. She has published on detention and deportation, on Africans in Britain, and on Southern African politics and history. Recent books include the co-edited collection Zimbabwe’s New Diaspora: Displacement and the Cultural Politics of Survival (Berghahn Books, 2010) and the authored volume Crossing the Zambezi: The Politics of Landscape on a Central African Frontier (Boydell and Brewer, 2009).
Gustavo Morello (Cordóba Catholic University, Argentina)
Religious Discourse and Counter-Discourse: Catholicism Shaping Practices of Torture and Survival in Argentina’s State Terror
Full abstract » In studies on relations between Catholicism and state terror in Argentina (Graciano, Lewis, Levine, Mignone, Mallimaci, Verbistky), the influence of Catholic discourse on governmental actions and on the complicity of some bishops in the repression has been highlighted. Through analysis of a case (the kidnapping of five seminarians of La Salette Congregation in Córdoba, Argentina, in 1976), I want to discuss the role that religion played in the survival and resistance of victims in the concentration camps. As one Catholic discourse defended the repressive power, another Catholicism served as a counter-discourse, which was an emancipatory and defended the human rights and the dignity of victims.
To build the case study, I made in-depth interviews with some survivors of La Perla – one of the biggest of Argentina’s concentration camps – and worked in governmental and church archives: US State Department – Argentine Embassy, Congressman Robert Drinan’s Archive, Cordoba’s Archdiocesan Archive and State of Cordoba’s Memory Archive.
and biography » Gustavo Morello works at the Catholic University of Córdoba, a Jesuit College in Argentina. I took grades in Philosophy and Theology, and have a Master’s Degree in Social Sciences (on the links between Catholicism and “Montonero” guerillas in Argentina in the Sixties, published as a book). I have just finished my PhD dissertation at University of Buenos Aires. The dissertation is about Catholic Church and Argentine’s state terror in the Seventies. I have some published papers in Philosophy and Social Criticism, (33: 617-639) and in Politics and the Religious Imagination (Routledge) ed. by John Dyck, Paul Rowe, and Jens Zimmermann, pp.143-159.
Madhumanti Mukherjee (University of Kent)
The Primal Power and her ‘Helpless’ Daughters in Contemporary India
Full abstract » In the Shakta tradition of Hinduism, Adya Shakti (the primal or primeval power/energy) is the creatress of all mortal and immortal, living and non-living entities in this universe. She is not only the creatress but also the creation, that is, she pervades and shapes everything that exists including all the other numerous gods and goddesses. She is conceptualised as the Mother Goddess who is un-manifested and formless yet can and does manifest herself in innumerable forms. In contemporary Hinduism she is worshipped in various forms including the valiant warrior goddess Durga, the terrible destructive goddess Kali and the benevolent nurturing goddess Jagaddhatri. One Shakta text describes her as ‘pure Being-Consciousness-Bliss, as Power, who exists in the form of Time and Space and all that is therein, and who is the radiant Illuminatrix in all beings.’ One of the most commonly used hymns in modern Mother worship describes her as the goddess who abides in all beings in the form of consciousness, intelligence, sleep, hunger, power, modesty, peace, faith, beauty, compassion, contentment and the Mother.
and biography » Madhumanti Mukherjee is a PhD student in the Kent Law School, University of Kent. She is currently writing up her thesis on the constructions of the female self in the Indian criminal laws that seek to regulate sexual conduct. Her research interests include Feminist Legal Studies, Socio-legal Studies, Criminal Law, Constitutional Law, Law and Religion, Postcolonial studies, Law Reform, Gendered violence and Law as culture. She is a member of the Editorial Board of the Feminist Legal Studies, a peer-reviewed feminist academic journal since 2007 and a member of the editorial committee launching (In April 2011) the online open access peer-reviewed feminist academic journal feminists@law hosted by the University of Kent. Madhumanti has an LLM in International Law with International Relations from the University of Kent and an LLB from the University of Calcutta, India. Her PhD is funded by a Kent Law School PhD Studentship.
Kat Neumann (University of Sterling)
The Church as Post-Modern Survivor
Full abstract » In an age where traditional forms and organisations of religious life have increasingly become alienated from the common perceptions pervading society – criticised, marginalised or even made obsolete altogether, it becomes vital to assess where these cultural and religious remnants have left us today, or if indeed we have left them. This paper seeks to address the place of the church (institution and conception) in Western, ‘post-modern’ society. Engaging with the thought of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Sanctorum Communio (1930) and Simone Weil’s concerns about the church in Waiting on God (1951), the discussion will focus on the historical perception of the role of the church by these authors and how their critique touches on problems we encounter with notions of church today, before turning towards a hermeneutics of the liturgy as internal interpretative process within the organisation of the church itself. Occupying a liminal existence – between secular and sacred – church can engage individual and society to interrogate the divine and the mundane in an emancipatory move away from the dualism of a public/secular and private/sacred space, something I see suggested in the work of Dorothee Sölle (1929-2003) and her understanding of “deprivatisation”. I want to suggest that the organisation of the church is predicated on renewing its engagement with the world, as a survivor and as a necessity to the democratic principle that constitutes (or is deemed to constitute) the free, secular society.
and biography » I’m a first year PhD student at the University of Stirling. My project centres on the literary and theological work of the German theologian Dorothee Sölle (1929-2003) in relation to conceptions of prayer. Having previously completed a BA hons. in English and Religious studies at Stirling (2009), I moved on to the Mlitt programme in Hermeneutics at Stirling and Glasgow (2010) with a thesis on Bonhoeffer. With an increasing fascination in liturgical studies, I’m particularly interested to trace the ways in which conceptual language and historical concerns intersect hermeneutically, transforming our present understanding of reality – secular and sacred.
Rev’d Christopher Newell (NHS)
Becoming a Theologian, Becoming Empowered: A Perspective from the Experience of Long-Term and Enduring Mental Health Issues
Full abstract » This living tradition holds the key to the construction of women as wise, valiant and creative as opposed to the more mainstream idea of women as irrational, weak and unimaginative. The secular legal traditions of postcolonial India conceptualises women as unequal and disadvantaged and hence in need of protection. The Constitution declares her to be equal to men and makes special provisions to bring her at par with her male counterparts. In my view this perpetual portrayal of the woman as weak, in-need-of-help and victimised in equality discourses reinforces her disempowerment. True empowerment would need her to reconnect to her valiant, wise, autonomous, self-assured ancient ancestress and reconceptualise herself as her true heir.
and biography » Christopher Newell is an ordained Anglican Priest who works as a Community Mental Health and Learning Disabilities Chaplain in the Department of Spiritual and Pastoral Care for Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust. Christopher has worked as an Anglican Priest for 25 years, working in inner- city and rural parish settings as well as in a large London Teaching Hospital as a chaplain. He has worked in the field of mental health chaplaincy for 10 years, publishing a number of papers, journal articles and contributing to a book all on the theme of the interface between Spirituality and Mental Health. He is currently researching for a doctorate on the perspectives of feminist liberation and queer theology from the landscape of experiencing profound mental health issues. Christopher lives with a long term mental health diagnosis and has frequently required acute in-patient care, sometimes under section from the Trust with whom he works. He regards himself as both a mental health professional and a recovering service experiencer. He completed his Masters in Applied Theology whilst recovering from a mental health crisis. Christopher is married with two daughters. His partner is a bookseller and one of his daughters lives with severe autism whilst the other has recently competed her Masters in Philosophy of Religion.
Omobolaji Olarinmoye (Oxford University)
Negotiating Empowerment: Women and Faith in Nigeria
Full abstract » This paper focuses on Women’s empowerment within the context of identity mobilization in Africa using as case study FOMWAN, Federation of Muslim Women Associations of Nigeria. It argues that while identity is generally perceived as unfavourable to women’s empowerment, women operating cautiously within traditional gender boundaries and seeking to maintain legitimacy with existing religious and state authorities have succeed in creating a space for themselves within the context of Islamic reform in Nigeria but such cautious empowerment is susceptible to reversals because it does not challenge the very power structures that originally dis-empower women as the case of the reversals in women’s right since the introduction of full Shari ‘a legal system in northern Nigeria and the existence of two mutually contradicting faces (discourses) of FOMWAN most aptly shows.
and biography » Nigerian and political scientist, Dr Olarinmoye holds a doctorate in Comparative Politics from the University of Ibadan (2007), an M. Phil/D.E.A in African Politics from the Institut d’ etudes Politique /Centre d’études d’Afrique Noire, Bordeaux (2001), an M.sc (1998) and B.sc (1996) in Political Science from University of Ibadan. Dr Olarinmoye was programme coordinator, South-South Research Exchange Programme on History of Development, SEPHIS in the office of the Executive Secretary, CODESRIA Secretariat, Dakar and programmes manager in the Training, Grants and Fellowship programme of CODESRIA. His areas of specialization are: Comparative Politics, African Politics/ Nigerian Government and Politics, Social Science Research Training Management in Africa, South-South Research Training in Social Sciences, Development Studies and Peacekeeping/Post conflict peace-building. He is currently an Oxford-Princeton Global Leaders Fellow at the Global Economic Governance Programme, University College, Oxford where he is working on “Accountability in International Development: A Study of Faith-based Development Organisations in Nigeria”.
Christine O’Dowd-Smyth (Waterford Institute of Technology, Ireland)
“Answering Back” – Women Priests as Antidote to Patriarchy: Empowerment and the Sacred in Post-Catholic Ireland
Full abstract » This paper will examine the agency of the female priesthood in the ‘different sacred space’ of the Church of Ireland, the tiny Anglican minority in a post-colonial Ireland that has traditionally defined its national identity as Catholic and Gaelic. Now, in the light of the scandals that have discredited the Irish Church and put an end to patriarchal hegemony, this paper will examine how articulating different sacred discourses and practices in a largely monocultural society can re-frame the possibilities of agency – socially, spiritually and imaginatively.
This paper will examine the agency of the female priesthood in the ‘different sacred space’ of the Church of Ireland, the tiny Anglican minority in a post-colonial Ireland that has traditionally defined its national identity as Catholic and Gaelic. Now, in the light of the scandals that have discredited the Irish Church and put an end to patriarchal hegemony, this paper will examine how articulating different sacred discourses and practices in a largely monocultural society can re-frame the possibilities of agency – socially, spiritually and imaginatively.
and biography » Rev’d Dr Christine O’Dowd-Smyth is a senior lecturer in French literary & cultural studies at Waterford Institute of Technology, Republic of Ireland. She has published widely in the areas of postcolonial identity and women’s autobiographical writing. She is an ordained non stipendiary priest in the Church of Ireland (Anglican).
Donal O’Siodhachain (University of Limerick)
Dreaming a Dream that is Dreamt in the Heart and Only the Heart can Hold: Irish Poets of the Celtic Revival and the 1916 Rebellion
Full abstract » This paper will examine the major seminal political event in 20th century Ireland, the 1916 Rebellion, and how poetic concepts and the poets’ sense of the Sacral translated into action and captured the public imagination.
The 1916 Rebellion in Dublin took everyone save the plotters by surprise. The property destruction was significant and in the immediate aftermath when faced with the raw violence of revolution there was much soul searching as to how this event had come about. As part of this, the still relatively young but internationally significant Irish poet, W B Yeats posed himself the question: “Did words of mine send young men out to die?” The general historical consensus amongst writers is, yes they did, as did those of the other poets associated with the Rebellion.
If the words of Yeats send young men out to die, the involvement of other Irish poets was much more direct, they not alone advocated revolution in their poetry – they actually planned and instigated the Rebellion. They played such a significant part that the Easter Rising in its immediate aftermath was known internationally as ‘The Poets Rebellion’.
By taking examples of the poetry of some of these prominent poets involved in the rebellion, this paper will explore how their poetic ideals and sense of the Sacral, translated directly into action, motivation and practice, although in so doing they also knew that that what they could actualize would fall well short of their ideals as in the words of Pearse they were “Dreaming a dream that is dreamt in the heart and only the heart can hold”
and biography » Donal O’Siodhachain is a mature History Post Grad student at the University of Limerick. He is also a writer and published poet who have won several awards for his work. In 2008/ 9 he was won the award of All Ireland Champion Poet for Live Performance Poetry. Donal was also up to retirement an active participant in Irish Republican politics and he was on the National Executive of Sinn Fein for some years. He also participated in the Peace Process and was involved in organizing Sinn Fein for involvement in mainstream constitutional politics. Through his cultural and political activity, Donal is continuing a well defined tradition of Irish Political poet activists and consequently as a person who has also won awards for his Sacral poetry, he is able to bring some unique insights to bear on his chosen theme.
Suzanne Owen (Leeds Trinity University College)
‘From Secular to Religious? Druidry and the Charity Commission Decision
Full abstract » The popular view of Druidry is that it is a peculiar, anachronistic pastime engaged in by eccentric bearded men wearing white robes gathered in a circle around Stonehenge. In September 2010, The Druid Network, one of many Druid organisations, was registered as a religious charity by the Charity Commission leading to much misunderstanding and reaction among Druids and non-Druids, some of whom insist that Druidry is not a religion. To complicate matters, there are significant numbers of Christian Druids and those that combine Druidry with Wiccan or other pagan perspectives and practices. It is generally accepted that Druidry does not have a prescriptive set of scriptures, doctrines, ethics and practices, or a single concept of deity or reality. The Druid Network’s success in presenting itself as a coherent religion in order to register as a religious charity has upset many who prefer the more individual or philosophical approach to Druidry.
The paper will discuss The Druid Network motives for becoming a ‘religion’ and the process of negotiation that led to the Charity Commission decision, as well as presenting a few illustrative responses and views from the media, outspoken Druid activists, members of The Druid Network and other Druid organisations, highlighting the problem of defining Druidry as a ‘religion’ and assumptions this reveals. I will conclude with the implications of the decision, which, as far as the Charity Commission is concerned, has changed the definition of religion in the UK.
and biography » Dr Suzanne Owen, who received her PhD from the University of Edinburgh, lectures in Theology and Religious Studies at Leeds Trinity University College. Her main research area is in indigenous religions and their categorisation, which has led to her current investigation of Druidry as an indigenous religion. She has published a monograph, The Appropriation of Native American Spirituality (Continuum, 2008), and articles on contemporary Mi’kmaq practices and the teaching of religions.
Reza Pankhurst (London School of Economics)
‘Rehabilitating a Global Polity
Full abstract » When Mustafa Kamal abolished the Caliphate with the words that “the dignity has been abolished”, it signaled the end of a symbol that had been ever-present in the Muslim World for almost all of the last 14 centuries. Writing at the time, Thomas Arnold believed that the hold of the Caliphate upon the imagination of the Muslim nation would continue despite the events of 1924, stating that “Even when the dogmas of their faith have little hold upon them, they are still attracted by the glamour of a distinctly Muslim culture and long to break the chains of an alien civilization. To these men, as much as to the others, this hope remains enshrined in the doctrine of the Caliphate”.
However, despite numerous protests at the time, and heated debates between the scholars of al-Azhar and one of their own Ali Abdul Raziq at the time, the Caliphate faded from public consideration as a political alternative. By the 1960’s, Western academics such as Richard Mitchell considered that the rise of pan-Arabism and the repression of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt meant that political Islam as a whole was no longer a political alternative.
Recent years have disproven such predictions, with the rising influence of religion in political views reflected in several polls carried out over the last few years in the Middle East and wider Muslim World. This paper will chart the history and explain the possible reasons of the re-emergence of the Caliphate as a political aspiration after a period where it had been discredited and viewed as a incompatible with the modern world, and to touch upon whether and how these aspirations can be reconciled with the current discourse surrounding the Arab uprising across North Africa and the Gulf at this time.
and biography » I am a PhD candidate at the LSE Government Department, where I have submitted my thesis entitled “Reconstituting the Muslim Ummah: An Interpretive Analysis of Efforts to Establish a Global Islamic Caliphate since 1924 “I also teach and lecture to undergraduates on the course GV265 States, Nations and Empires. For further details please see http://www.rezapankhurst.net/p/about.html
Diana Paton (Newcastle University)
Religious Hierarchy, Law and Power in the Anglo-Creole Caribbean
Full abstract » In the Caribbean, popular emancipatory struggles have almost without exception been framed in religious terms, from the sacred oaths that united participants in slave rebellions to the use of religious symbolism by nationalist leaders such as Michael Manley in the late twentieth century. Such religious forms were by no means opposed to ‘the secular’, however. Indeed, the politics of domination have also tended to take religious form: one might cite the Anglican ‘Colonial Church Union’ that formed in reaction to the rebellion of 1831, or more recently, the use of affirmations of the ‘Christian’ nature of Jamaican society as a way of rebutting the demands of lesbian and gay Jamaicans for civil rights and state protection. This paper argues that the problem of recognition for the majority’s sacred traditions has never been the dominance of the ‘secular’, but rather, the designation, enforced by state power, of certain forms of religious practice as normative and others—associated with blackness, Africa, and poor people– as illegitimate. Using records of prosecutions for obeah in the Jamaican and Trinidadian magistrates’ courts in the first half of the twentieth century, the paper will show that members and leaders of established religious communities were regularly prosecuted under these laws, as were individual ritual specialists. Examination of obeah defendants’ claims in their own defense, as well as the legal strategies of their lawyers (some of whom were later to become prominent nationalist leaders) and the arguments of prosecutors and magistrates allow us to investigate the multiple assumptions and arguments about the place of religion and religious power in Caribbean public life that operated in these contexts.
and biography » Diana Paton is Reader in Caribbean History at Newcastle University, and author of No Bond but the Law: Punishment, Race and Gender in Jamaican State Formation, 1780-1870. Her collection, Obeah and Other Powers: The Politics of Caribbean Religion and Healing, edited with Maarit Forde, will be published by Duke University Press in 2012.
Anna Piela (University of Winchester)
Muslim Women Online: Empowerment through Gender Based Interpretations of Islamic Texts in Virtual Spaces
Full abstract » Secular frameworks of empowerment have failed to deliver effective solutions in many contexts where religious revivalism is on the rise. This was particularly poignant in the case of secular feminism in Muslim-majority countries. The realisation that social problems such as patriarchal gender relations must be approached from an Islamic perspective to have a raison d’etre in such contexts has encouraged women to independently seek thorough Islamic education. Whilst there are growing numbers of local women study groups (halaqas) in countries like Egypt as well as in the ‘West’, many women go online to seek Islamic knowledge. There are a huge number of virtual spaces offering answers to questions related to Islam, however they often reflect mainstream, male-based and even misogynistic interpretations of the Qur’an and the Hadith. In response, Muslim women have actively sought to create their own online spaces where they could consider day-to-day issues from an Islamic perspective without being undermined by misogynistic views. The privacy of these spaces has also allowed discussions of intimate issues with other women knowledgeable in Islamic scriptures whose advice was sought more comfortably than male scholars’. As a result, male scholars’ answers to the ontological question ‘what is Islam’ have been challenged by grassroots women from across the world who have followed in the steps of female Muslim scholars like Fatima Mernissi or Asma Barlas. The online discussions I analyse reveal complex processes of resistance to hegemonic discourses produced by both patriarchal religious/political agents and Western neo-Orientalists. This multifaceted resistance and agency allow women to reach their own readings of Islamic sources that emphasise women’s rights in Islam and utilise them in their day-to-day lives where patriarchy is still at play. At the same time, collisions of different, ‘localised’ understandings of Islamic scriptures lead to unusual alliances and collaborations amongst the women.
and biography » Anna Piela has a PhD in Women’s Studies from the University of York. Currently she works as a researcher and a visiting lecturer at the Communication and Media Research Institute, University of Westminster, London. Her research focuses on online religious discourses and content produced by Muslim women. She has published articles on gender, religion and the Internet in the Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs and CyberOrient. At the moment she is finishing her first monograph titled Muslim Women Online: Faith and Identity in the Virtual Space and editing a collection titled Muslim Women’s Digital Geographies.
Claire Poirier (Memorial University, Newfoundland)
Socializing with the Sacred: the Politics of a Plains Cree Knowledge Practice
Full abstract » Repatriation policy, as it applies to Canada’s First Nations, requires that materials must be considered ‘sacred’ in order to be returned to their communities of origin. While museums may be open to repatriation and may support the revitalization of ceremonial practices through the return of sacred materials, the process is problematic in that it prioritizes an approach favoured by Provincial and Federal governments. The state’s conception of ownership rests on a clear distinction between people and things, while for many First Nations sacred objects are viewed through “webs of relatedness” (Bird-David 1999:S77) in which humans and non-humans are accorded equal agency. It follows that repatriation is a process where different ontologies, or ways of understanding what constitutes the world (Clammer et al 2004:4), may come into conflict.
Mekwan Awasis, Plains Cree elder, was invited to Calgary’s Glenbow Museum in 2005 to begin the gradual process of determining future directions to take with a large collection of sacred and ceremonial materials. For Mekwan, the only way to appropriately interact with ‘the sacred’ is through what he calls ‘horizontal and vertical socialization’. Participants engage in acts of ceremonial protocol, such as the giving of cloth and tobacco, through which the horizontal axis is performed. By carrying out these acts one becomes socialized along the vertical axis, where the behaviours of ancestral beings become recognizable. In this paper I argue that Glenbow provides space for the enactment of Mekwan’s ontology, which has vast implications for the political autonomy of First Nations in their relations with modern institutions.
Addressing such areas of potential conflict at the level of ontologies is itself a political move. The agency of ancestral beings is taken at face value, rather than as reflecting mere metaphorical beliefs. In this way, empowerment comes through the recognition of multiple worlds.
and biography » Claire Poirier’s interests are in how indigenous concepts of ‘the sacred’ take shape in, or are left out of, bureaucratic processes. She is currently a PhD candidate in Archaeology at Memorial University of Newfoundland. After completing her MA in Social Anthropology at Dalhousie University in 2009, she carried out community-based government research on a Mi’kmaq sacred site, and worked with Mi’kmaq ethnology and archaeology collections at the Nova Scotia Museum. Her proposed topic, based on her MA research, will be published in Anthropologica later this year. Her PhD work will continue to explore Plains Cree concepts of ‘the sacred’.
Melanie Prideaux (University of Leeds)
Interfaith Dialogue as Secular Activity
Full abstract » Under New Labour interfaith activity, including dialogue, was perceived as a public good, and received governmental support and endorsement with reports such as Face to Face and Side by Side. While the implications of the ‘Big Society’ for governmental support of interfaith activities are as yet unknown, it remains clear that ‘interfaith’ has become a preferred way for public bodies to relate to faith communities. This paper will explore the way in which interfaith dialogue activities in the UK have been influenced by governmental policies intended to support community cohesion and increase civic participation. It will conclude by arguing that the risk of governmental engagement is that the religious dimension of interfaith dialogue can become co-opted to primarily secular agendas, thus effectively disempowering the religious content of interfaith dialogue.
and biography » Melanie Prideaux is based in Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Leeds, where my primary research and teaching interests are in the area of religion and public life, especially interfaith relations in local communities.
Shivani Rajkomar (University of Leeds)
‘Brahmacharya and Resistance Against Colonialism in Mauritian Novel “Lal Pasina”‘
Full abstract » Set in 19th century colonial Mauritius and originally published in 1977, Sueurs de Sang, Mauritian writer Abhimanyu Unnuth’s most celebrated novel, has as its main thrust the clash between a despotic plantation system and three generations of Indian indentured labourers replacing slaves in sugar plantation fields. This clash, I contend, is aptly captured in the differing conceptions of masculinity of each party.
On the one hand, Unnuth presents to us what I call ‘plantation masculinity’, or the masculinity of the agents of plantation economy. Plantation masculinity is inherently aggressive and heavily dependent upon the regular and even gratuitous use of physical force and external aids such as guns, sticks and dogs to impose the superiority and control of the plantation owner and, by extension, of colonialism, on the indentured labourers. On the other hand, and implicitly so, Unnuth presents the notion of brahmacharya, the ancient ‘ascetic ideal’ (Francesca Orsini, 2006) prescribing self-control, or control of the senses and mind through intelligence, spiritual knowledge and asceticism. Brahmacharya aims to situate its practitioner on the platform of love of God. Faith in God thus becomes an indispensible element to the practice of brahmacharya. Described in the Atharva Veda and the Bhagavad Gita, brahmacharya formed part of the labourers’ Hindu traditions brought to Mauritius from India.
I argue that as plantation masculinity threatens the survival of these Hindu traditions – which the labourers are prevented from practising – in the island, the labourers attempt to pool from these very traditions, over three generations, to simultaneously resist plantation economy and protect these traditions from disappearing. As Unnuth indeed illustrates the relationship between successful resistance and the practice of brahmacharya, or self-control buttressed by faith in the divine, religion, which Priyamvada Gopal (2005) would call ‘a zone of conflict and subjugation’ during colonial times, also becomes ‘a zone of intervention’ and an empowering tool of resistance against arbitrary control.
and biography » Shivani Rajkomar is a final-year PhD student at the School of English, University of Leeds. My thesis explores the use of Vaishnava literature and philosophy in literary representations of indentured labour, which replaced slavery in sugar colonies of the 19th century, in Mauritian literature. My research aims to contribute to budding and under-studied areas of postcolonial studies such as the sacred, Francophone literatures (especially in an Anglophone setting), indentured labour and Mauritius as a colonial context. My further interests lie in religious and South Asian studies; Indian Ocean and Caribbean literatures; French colonialism; and orientalist literature.
Shaunaka Rishi (Oxford Centre of Hindu Studies)
Full abstract » TBA and biography » TBA
Michael Sandford (University of Sheffield)
The Roots of the Historical Jesus’ Social Ethics: Poverty, Wealth and Socio-Political Resistance Amongst Jesus
Full abstract » This paper will examine some significant socio-political traditions that were present in first century Galilee and the Greco-Roman world and which may have influenced the social ethics of the Historical Jesus. The paper will consider attitudes towards poverty, wealth, and the possibility of social change amongst the Galilean bandits (predominantly attested in the writings of Josephus), the Essenes and the Qumran community, the Cynics, and John the Baptist and his followers. Like Jesus, these four groups inhabited a world that was marked by stark socioeconomic inequalities, and in which poverty was a reality, or at least a very present threat, for nearly half of the population. But these groups each represent a notable departure from mainstream attitudes towards poverty, wealth and economic disparity, so much so that they were able to break into a history that is generally concerned only with the interests of the elite. Their historical and geographical proximity to the Historical Jesus, and their apparently shared ideologies, demand that they be considered as potential influences of Jesus’ socio-political views.
The influence of the Essenes and the Cynics upon the Historical Jesus has been postulated by some New Testament scholars (The Essenes by Brian Capper, the Cynics by F. Gerald Downing and John Dominic Crossan), and the relationship between the Galilean bandits search for social justice and the Historical Jesus has been raised (James Crossley). The social ethics of John the Baptist and their relationship to Jesus’ teachings have received some scholarly comment, although not as much as is warranted, considering the close relationship between Jesus and John, and their remarkably comparable views on poverty and wealth. This paper will examine each of these four traditions, the plausibility of their influence upon Jesus, and the extent to which Jesus appears to embody, or to reject elements of their socio-political ideologies in his lifestyle, social engagement, and teachings.
and biography » Michael Sandford is in his second year of PhD research in the Biblical Studies department at the University of Sheffield. My research so far has focused on the social and economic setting of the New Testament, defining ‘the poor’ in biblical texts, attitudes towards poverty and wealth in the New Testament world, and social ethics in the Hebrew bible. I have given a lecture as part of a second year module, and presented in the Sheffield Biblical Studies Postgraduate Seminar. I am also involved in the Christian campaigning Network SPEAK, who campaign on issues of social justice including corporate accountability, climate change and the arms trade.
Lori Shelbourn (University of Leeds)
The Cross-Cultural Sacred: Re-Thinking the Premises of Cross-Cultural and Inter-Faith Dialogue in Wilson Harris’s Fiction
Full abstract » In a series of essays from the 1990s, contemporary Guyanese author, Wilson Harris, argued for a visualization of cross-cultural community that is grounded in the sacred. Beginning by conceptualizing the sacred as that which is ‘beyond seizure or capture in any structure’ (not, in itself, an unusual definition), Harris proposed that the ‘ground of the sacred’ could become the basis for realizing ‘the shared territory that exists between windows of reality that we tragically reinforce into absolutes’.
This paper will introduce the idea of the ‘cross-cultural sacred’ as it has been developed in Harris’s works, and will reflect on the ways in which Harris’s concept of the ‘cross-cultural sacred’ enables, or ‘empowers’ us to rethink the premises of cross-cultural and cross-religious dialogue – and particularly as these premises are more conventionally defined in discourses of multiculturalism. By linking the cross-cultural and the sacred in this way, Harris is quite deliberately setting up a tension between his own conception of the sacred and another strain in the usage of this term – one that’s perhaps particularly prevalent in Euro-American discourses of multiculturalism – in which the concept of ‘the sacred’, primarily in its protective or defensive aspect, is tied into constructs of cultural identity. This paper will therefore pose the question: If one of the main ways in which discourses of multiculturalism are making the connection between empowerment and the sacred is through notions of cultural identity, then is Harris’s cross-cultural sacred seeking to frame ideas of empowerment, and freedom, differently?
and biography » Lori Shelbourn is a PhD student at the University of Leeds, where she is writing her thesis on the Guyanese author Wilson Harris and the ‘Cross-Cultural Imagination’. She has a BA in English Literature from Cambridge University (King’s College) and an MA in National and International Literatures in English from the Institute of English Studies, University of London.
Jasjit Singh (University of Leeds)
Sikh-ing Beliefs: The Meaning and Importance of ‘belief’ for Young British Sikhs
Full abstract » Based on a wider study of processes of religious transmission amongst British emerging adult Sikhs, this paper explores both the ways in which ‘belief’ comes to be significant in the lives of young Sikhs as an identity-marker in relation to a perceived cultural mainstream or other cultural and religious groups against whom Sikhs wish to differentiate themselves from. Whilst cognitive or symbolic elements of belief may function as identity-markers in this way, this study also demonstrates that the more important content of religious transmission for young Sikhs are emotional or aesthetic performances of devotion rather than the formal, explicit content of Sikh belief and examines why this might be the case. The very notion of Sikh ‘beliefs’ is also set in a wider historical context in which, through colonialism and migration, Sikh groups actively formed their tradition in relation to the cultural template of Western Christianity, and thus sought to articulate Sikhism as a religion organized around particular beliefs. This further demonstrates the historically and culturally contingent nature of performances of belief.
and biography » Jasjit Singh is a Doctoral Student at the University of Leeds, studying the transmission of religion among young British Sikhs (18-30). Having conducted research on young British Sikhs, Hair and the Turban (Singh 2010) he is now examining why young British born Sikhs wish to learn about Sikhism, what role is played by traditional religious institutions (Gurdwaras), why young Sikhs organise events to teach Sikhism to their peers and the impact of new technologies (translation software, the internet) on the transmission of Sikhism
Nika Spalinger (University of Art and Design, Lucerne)
Artistic Practice as Gateway to the Religious and Sacred
Full abstract » In the context of the research-project “Holyspace, Holyways” at the University of Applied Sciences, Design & Art in Lucerne, we have investigated, in a series of interviews, visual artists’ perspectives on the religious and the sacred. My paper focuses on one particular aspect from the interviews and analyses: the artistic practice as a gateway to the religious and sacred. I begin with the assumption that fleeting, sub- and unconscious images, conceptions, emotions and memories often become manifest only in the artistic process, in the (haptic) handling of material, and are made accessible to self-perception, perception by others, and to communication through fixation and materialisation in an artistic medium. Using the statements of artists in the interview/analysis as examples, I ask how far such artistic processes have an emancipatory impact on the artist’s relation to unconscious religious conditioning and to attitudes concerning the religious and sacred. As a conclusion, I formulate some proposals concerning the design of art lessons and research on the subject of the religious and the sacred at universities of design and art.
and biography » Professor Nika Spalinger is an artist, professor and researcher at the University of Design and Art in Lucerne. She has worked on research projects in the fields of art in public spheres, art and tourism and art and religion. Her multimedia work, which has been exhibited at national and international shows, examines the role of artistic interactions in the domains of play, travel, memory and ritual. Selected exhibitions include: 2001-03 Impacts (CH, E); 2004 Travel Agency, ParaSite, Contemporary Art Space Hong Kong; 2005 in Xenopolis, Rathausgalerie, München; 2006 in GlobalTour, W139 Amsterdam; 2007 in l’Europe en devenir, CCS, Paris. 2009 in Alienator on Tour, Fribourg, Bern, 2010 in Alienator: le retour in Kinshasa.
Daniel Stadnicki (Carlton University, Canada)
The Art of Musical Vituperation in the Gospel Drum Shed
Full abstract » This presentation will discuss the role of vituperation in the gospel ‘drum shed,’ a term derived from Lawrence Levine’s text, “Black Culture and Black Consciousness” (Levine 8). Referring to anthropological accounts of various African ceremonial traditions, Levine discusses the unique public practice of harsh, verbal criticism utilized in these communities to resolve conflict and relieve one’s emotional, spiritual, and psychological issues. According to Levine, the African ‘verbal arts’ provided an individual with the ability to achieve cathartic release without disturbing communal solidarity (Levine 10). Throughout the experiences of slavery, segregation, and the civil rights’ movement in the United States, vituperative practices were integral for transcending oppression and adversity, manifesting into various forms of expression in black culture. Today, we now see this performative trope in the communal practice of ‘shedding’ in gospel drumming. Gospel drumming is directly associated with Christian worship music, emerging as one of the most popular trends in drumming culture today. The ‘shed’ is a unique performance event that occurs outside the church service context, allowing for individuals to perform with one another and participate in an inclusive discourse of humor, encouragement, and critique through the competitive display of musical ability. Although gospel drumming techniques and practices have been adopted (or, appropriated) into the repertoire of many non-black drummers, it is largely portrayed as a specifically black form of musical expression. Subsequently, one can claim they are ‘performing gospel’ if adhering to an objectivist standpoint of playing the transcribable notes, rhythmic patterns, and drum fills (i.e., divorcing the sacred, cultural, and historical). Utilizing Levine’s term of vituperation as a hermeneutic ‘point of departure’ — bringing to light issues of black music appropriation, musical meaning, and narratological analysis, the gospel shed can point to a unique emancipatory discourse that is rooted in black spirituality and transcendence.
and biography » Daniel Stadnicki (BFA Hon. Music, York University) is currently studying at Carleton University in the Music and Culture MA Program. His thesis will examine ideologies of cyberspace and their potential implications within musicological discourse. The majority of his writings concern issues in popular and world music studies, focusing on the topics of race, cultural appropriation, post-colonial rhetoric, and the ideals of multiculturalism. Throughout his academic career, Daniel has performed and recorded as a professional drummer across North America. Upon completing his masters, he will pursue doctoral studies with the intention of eventually teaching at the post- secondary level.
Caroline Starkey (University of Leeds)
Gender, Buddhism and Education: Dhamma, Empowerment and Social Transformation within the Theravada Tradition
Full abstract » This paper is a condensed version of a chapter in a forthcoming book, ‘Gender, Religion and Education in a Post-Modern World’ (2011). In this paper, we will explore the role that Buddhism plays in maintaining gender disparity in education, as well as promoting agendas for reform and empowerment for women. Our focus is on three ‘types’ of interrelated education that have a relevance to contemporary Buddhist practice and societies: the role of education within a monastic setting; the significance of religious education within lay Buddhism; and the role that Buddhist education can play in social transformation. In particular, our aim will be to reflect upon the ways in which each of these types of education are gendered and the implications of this for female Buddhists, both in terms of their spiritual as well as their social development. While these three aspects of education are relevant across different Buddhist traditions and within different Buddhist locations, we will only consider them within Theravada Buddhism, and will particularly focus on women’s experiences in Thailand and Cambodia. In this paper we argue that although education plays an important role within Buddhist traditions and the aim of Buddhist teaching is to educate the individual, either male or female, to overcome suffering (dukkha), in practice, women have had less opportunity to learn and practice the dhamma (Buddhist teachings). We argue that this has nothing to do with women’s ability to practice Buddhism but instead is to be seen as part of a trajectory found in many religious traditions whereby women are often denied access to institutions that are typically occupied by men. An important element of this paper is the exploration of different discourses about the role of bhikkhuni and mae chi, through an examination of their relationship to monastic and lay female education. Ultimately, we ask, what is the relationship between this reassertion of women’s traditional ordination rights and female empowerment?
and biography » Caroline Starkey is a PhD student in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Leeds. My PhD research, which is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, explores how the context of Buddhism in Britain has shaped the (often) controversial practice of female ordination. I am particularly interested in the relationship that ordained British Buddhist women have with feminism, notions of empowerment and Buddhist tradition.
Arne Steinforth (University of Munster)
State Presidents and the Spirit of the Land: Cosmology, Poverty and Political Legitimacy in Malawi
Full abstract » In rural Southern Malawi, the idea of climatic change has an increasing impact on people’s perception of their environment. In many cases, however, drought and natural disaster are addressed in idioms of social evil, i.e. of illicit ritual practices or displeased ancestor spirits. Both of these concepts are based on a powerful social discourse that decries recent processes of economic liberalization while, at the same time, defining political leaders as those responsible for maintaining and/or re-establishing mutually beneficent socio-cosmological relationships. In such a scenario, any direct reference to the sacred – such as the public performance of ancestor rituals – creates a space for redefining the cast of actors involved in public misfortune and sets the stage for local interpretation.
In rural Southern Malawi, the idea of climatic change has an increasing impact on people’s perception of their environment. In many cases, however, drought and natural disaster are addressed in idioms of social evil, i.e. of illicit ritual practices or displeased ancestor spirits. Both of these concepts are based on a powerful social discourse that decries recent processes of economic liberalization while, at the same time, defining political leaders as those responsible for maintaining and/or re-establishing mutually beneficent socio-cosmological relationships. In such a scenario, any direct reference to the sacred – such as the public performance of ancestor rituals – creates a space for redefining the cast of actors involved in public misfortune and sets the stage for local interpretation.
and biography » Dr. Arne Steinforth is a social anthropologist based in Münster, Germany. Currently, he works as a researcher at the Cluster of Excellence “Religion and Politics in Pre-Modern and Modern Cultures” while teaching social anthropology at the Institute of Ethnology, Wetfälische Wilhelms-University Münster. He has conducted research in Malawi and other parts of Southern Africa with a focus on medical anthropology, anthropology of religion and, more recently, political anthropology. His current research project investigates local concepts of power and authority within the spheres of politics and religion in Malawi.
Vijaya Subramani (University of Lancaster)
Embodying Representation of the Unrepresentable in Classical Indian Dance
Full abstract » In this paper through ethnographic reportage, I will look at how some of the leading classical Bharatanatyam dancers ─ rooted in the Indian, non-dualistic aesthetic tradition of Rasa ─ are able to easily speak about representation of the unrepresentable in their artistic expressions. For this purpose, I consider the ideas of some leading contemporary dancers of international fame.
Bharatanatyam originated in the temples and being devotional in its character, the dancers are aware that they are in fact representing the unrepresentable. We do not confuse between the form and formless aspects of the divine. Krishna has myriad forms but he is essentially “the one whose body is made up of beingness alone (sattamatra sarira).” Dance is poetry of movements; its language is structured through gesticular representation (mudras) and specific dance steps (karanas). These make representations possible but all representations must lead the viewers towards the unrepresentable.
Thus, the success of a dance recital lies in its ability to take the audience beyond the representations towards the unrepresentable. These artistes seem to live and breathe in an antithetical world, experiencing coincidences of opposites and constantly harmonizing polarities of various kinds. I have reportage of conversations with a family of dancers, septuagenarian Prof. C. V Chandrasekhar (1935), his wife Mrs. Jaya Chardrasekhar and their daughter Manjari Chandrasekhar. The other artistes that I consider in this discussion are: Prof. Sudharani Raghupati, Dr. Padma Subramaniam, Chitra Visweswaran and Anita Ratnam. 2 In conversation with me.
and biography » Vijaya Subramani; Final year PhD: Lancaster University UK. Educational qualifications: MA: (Thesis based) Religious Studies, University of Calgary, Canada (2006) MA: (Thesis based) Classical Sanskrit Literature (Second in the order of merit) India BA: Sanskrit, Fine Arts, Music (Vocal), General English (First in the order of merit) B Mus: Classical Hindustani Music Vocal (First in the order of merit) India Teaching Experience I have over all eight years of teaching experience at various levels from High School to Graduate programme. One of my published papers is “Transcending the Subjective-Objective Duality in Indian Philosophy and Aesthetics,” is published in the book Saundarya: Perception of Beauty in India edited by Makarand Paranjape and Harsh Dehejia.
Lyrica Taylor (University of Maryland)
Women and Artistic Agency in Interwar British Religious Painting: Winifred Knights at the British School at Rome, 1920-1925
Full abstract » My paper explores the artwork of Winifred Knights (1899-1947), who contributed considerably to a modern British interwar revival of religious painting and who was the first woman to win a Scholarship to the British School at Rome (1920-1925). Founded in 1901, the School provided the first permanent institution in Italy for British visiting classical scholars, artists, and architects. Critically, during the interwar years of 1920 to 1939, the School embraced a new progressive commitment to international fine arts education for British women, commencing a unique artistic community of women artists. Winifred Knights’s artistic modernism particularly represents the innovative interwar years of the women artists at the School. Knights contributed to the modern rediscovery of the religious paintings of the Renaissance artist Piero della Francesca (1416-1492) and emulated the work of other fifteenth-century Italian Renaissance artists, including Donatello (c.1386-1466), Verrocchio (1435-1488), and Masaccio (1401-1428). In her major religious paintings such as The Deluge (1920, Tate Britain), The Marriage at Cana (1922, National Museum of New Zealand), and The Saint Martin Altarpiece (1933, Canterbury Cathedral), she drew on her experiences of participating in contemporary Italian pilgrimages and situated the biblical stories in a contemporary setting. Knights included her self-portrait prominently in each work, thus exploring her artistic agency and her role as an active woman participant in a biblical narrative. Knights’s mentor in Rome, Eugenie Strong (1860-1943), Assistant Director of the School (1909-1925) and pioneering woman archaeological scholar who had graduated from the first college of the University of Cambridge to admit women, played an active role in Knights’s religious artistic imagination, including Strong’s reflections on her own return to the Roman Catholic faith. This interdisciplinary paper draws from the fields of art history, Anglo-Italian studies, women’s history, and religious studies.
and biography » As a Ph.D. student in the Department of Art History and Archaeology at the University of Maryland, College Park, my dissertation in the history of modern British art focuses on Winifred Knights and interwar British artists working at the British School at Rome during the 1920s. I have completed fellowships and internships at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, the Huntington Library, and the National Endowment for the Arts, and have taught undergraduate art history courses at the University of Maryland. Recent conference participation includes papers given at the University of Oxford, the University of Edinburgh, and the College Art Association.
Emma Tomalin (University of Leeds)
International Development Engages with Religion: Positive or Negative Outcomes for Women?
Full abstract » TBA and biography » Emma Tomalin is a Senior Lecturer in the department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Leeds. Her teaching and research are mainly focused on the relationships between religions and considerations of gender, international development and environmentalism. Her new book ‘Religions and Development’ (Routledge) will be published in 2012.
Dot Tuer (OCAD University, Toronto)
What are the Signs of the Sacred? Alterity and the Transmutation of the Spiritual Realm in Guarani Indigenous Resistance to Colonial Rule in Rio de la Plata: 1579-1730
Full abstract » By the labours of two centuries, the Guaranies, formerly wandering cannibals and obstinate enemies to the Spaniards, have been reduced to civilization, to religion, and to the sceptre of the Catholic King. With what labour, with what expense of lives the Jesuits have affected this—how infinitely these thirty towns surpass the other American tribes in the number of their inhabitants, in Christian morality, in the splendor of their churches, in their prompt loyalty, in mechanical skill, in arts, and in military activity. — Martin Dobrizhoffer, An Account of the Abipones, 1784.
As stupid as they are at inventing, they are skilled at imitating, provided you give them a model. — – Antón Sepp, Relación de viaje de las misiones jesuíticas, 1691.
From the early 1600s until their expulsion from the Río de la Plata in 1767, the Jesuits reduced the Guaraní indigenous people of Paraguay and north-east Argentina into a network of mission settlements, in which religious processions and plays were performed, mass sung, catechisms repeated, and religious carvings produced in a style that the Paraguayan art historian Josefina Plá termed the Hispanic-Guaraní baroque. The Jesuits who worked in and wrote about these Paraguayan missions, including Antonio Ruiz de Montoya, Nicholas Del Techo, Antón Sepp, Pedro Lozano, José Cardiel, José Manuel Peramás and Martin Dobrizhoffer, ascribed the Guaraní’s remarkable receptivity to Christianity to their childlike, submissive nature, and their embrace of religious iconography to their facility as perfect copiers.
This paper interrogates the historical inheritance bequeathed by the Jesuits of the Guaraní as the passive receptors of the Catholic faith by analyzing how their facility for mimicry also produced active resistance to colonial rule through inversions and conflations of Christian doctrine with shamanistic practices. The paper presents two case studies in which elements of Christianity were appropriated by the Guaraní to assert indigenous agency. The first is the Oberá Rebellion of 1579, which preceded the arrival of the Jesuits in the region. Led by a shaman-cacique who proclaimed himself the Son of God born of the Virgin Mary, the Oberá Rebellion demonstrates how the convergence of kinship and warrior norms with Christian and shamanistic beliefs reveal the formation of a spiritual mestizaje that anticipates later confrontations of Jesuit priests and Guaraní shamans in the 1620s. The second is the establishment of a palenque by fugitive mission Guaraní in the wetlands of Iberá, Corrientes, in the 1730s. The Guaraní’s construction of spiritual practices that both mirrored and inverted the rituals of the Jesuit missions demonstrates how the Guaraní were empowered through the sacred realm in the later colonial period.
Through an analysis of the relation of mimicry and alterity in both case studies, the paper argues for an understanding of the realm of the sacred in colonial history as a site of cultural slippage and coercion between divergent worldviews in which spiritual difference is performed, processed, and negotiated.
and biography » Dot Tuer is a cultural historian and Professor of Art History and Humanities at OCAD University in Toronto, Canada whose research and writings focus on political agency, postcolonialism, and transculturation. Her historical research focuses on indigenous-European encounters in the Americas and the role of art and the sacred realm as a social imaginary for the transmission and contestation of colonial memory. She is the author of numerous catalogue essays, book chapters, and critical texts on Canadian and Latin American art and history. A collection of her writings, Mining the Media Archive: Essays on Art, Technology, and Cultural Resistance, was published in 2005. Recent publications include “Transculturality and the Colonial Legacy of Popular Belief in North-East Argentina” (Transcultural Americas /Amériques transculturelles, University of Ottawa Press, 2010); “Between Image and Remembrance: The Psychic Residences of Body Missing” (Prefix Photo 19 2009) and the “Politics of Recognition” (Condé and Beveridge: Class Works, NASCAD Press, 2008).
Tehri Utrainen (Abo Akademi University, Finland)
Angelically Resources: Young Finnish Women working with Michael and Co
Full abstract » Religions/spiritualities can be powerful resources in modern life. My present research builds up a case that explores in what ways these resources can be used – both imaginatively and practically – to create important openings and possibilities for agency within contemporary post-secular situation. The paper investigates how young Finnish women work with angels in the midst of their everyday life. These women come from different religious backgrounds that range from Lutheranism and revivalist movements to secularism. They have found angel practices via individual paths available in the Finnish society in 2000s. The interviews I have conducted with them revolve around such themes and notions as healing, purity and learning. One central theme is emotions.
For these women, angels are sources of power present and available potentially in all activities and situations. From helping to find a parking place and lost objects, angels provide feeling of security and confidence in multiple precarious and unpredictable situations of today’s work and family life. Angels are pictured as giving the women self-respect, self-love and courage. Often these mostly masculine angels are contacted initially in situations of emotional crisis such as divorce and burn-out. They are depicted in very intimate terms as therapists, best friends and soul mates. The empowering love of angels is unconditional and devoid of all criticism.
Resourced with angelic energy and love these young women manage their often hectic schedules, heterogeneous relationships and – most importantly – complex emotions. Regulation of emotions, as Riis and Woodhead (2010) write, is central in all religion. Since emotions are historically and politically sensitive and potentially explosive material, the particular ways they are worked with as well as the aims of this work require careful empirical close reading. So, what do women do with angels today?
and biography » Terhi Utriainen, PhD, is Senior Lecturer in the Study of Religions and Adjunct Professor in Gender Studies at the Department of World Cultures, University of Helsinki. Presently she works in the project “Post-secular Culture and a Changing Religious Landscape in Finland” at Åbo Akademi University. She has researched in care for the dying, suffering, embodiment and women’s everyday religiosity. Her latest publications include “Agents of De-differentiation: Finnish Women Care-givers for the Dying” in Journal for Contemporary Religion 25 (3) and “Ethics and Embodiment in Ethnographic Interactions” in Pilgrimage of Life, ed. Riku Hämäläinen et al. Finnish Society of Sciences and Letters 2010.
Jonathon Vickery (University of Warwick)
Communities of Resistance: Faith as the New Cultural Avant-Garde?
Full abstract » This paper emerges from research into what Oliver Bennett has called ‘implicit cultural policy’. Religious groups, for example, often exhibit the ‘products’ of cultural policy but without explicit policy codification. Their strategic management and regulatory frameworks do not normally feature ‘culture’ as an abstract concept, as the creative and social are bound in a ‘way of life’ (Williams), or, more accurately, a life of faith. The enduring character of faith communities in the West is perhaps in part the way they embody a critique of both modernity and postmodernity in unifying the torn segments of life in an ethical pragmatics of ‘wholeness’. However, that faith groups are often commercially significant organs cultural production, the contemporary church or mosque is not routinely classified as part of the cultural or creative economy, and their organizational innovation as much as their cultural management is usually ignored by mainstream cultural research. With reference to the theory of avant-garde art, I explain how some contemporary faith communities structure their organizational life through ‘rhetorics of resistance’; such rhetorics not merely having the power to structure micro-public spheres (Hauser) but generate models of cultural production (art, music, pedagogies, communication networks,etc,). Like the avant-garde art movements from the 1920s, 30s and then 1960s, they can be movement-manifesto driven, base-community oriented, creative in their cultural expression of belief and identity, and while not explicitly political in ideology they potentially threaten the equilibrium of the public sphere with radical visions of future transformation.
This paper will ask the following: In what sense are faith communities a cultural avant-garde, forging an alternative model of cultural production? Second, after the work of Bennett and Ahearne (2009,2011), and the American experience of faith groups (R.H. Williams, etc.), are these communities de facto exclusive and counter-public, or co-agents of resistance against future threats of demagogy, hegemony or monoculture?
and biography » Jonathan Vickery is Associate Professor (senior lecturer) in the Centre for Cultural Policy Studies at the University of Warwick. He has published on art theory, creative organization and urban culture. He was executive editorial board member of Aesthesis: International.
Roy Ward (University of Leeds)
Jack Kerouac’s “Wake-Up” and the Creation of Beat Buddhism
Full abstract » The American ‘Beat Generation’ writers of the 1950s and 1960s were fascinated by Eastern religions and, in particular, by Buddhism. Out of all of these writers, Jack Kerouac is one of the best known, and also one of the most intriguing in terms of his interaction with Buddhism. In 1955 Kerouac wrote Wake Up, his own version of the life story of the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama. In his account of the biography of Shakyamuni, Kerouac draws upon a variety of centuries-old canonical Buddhist texts, rewriting them and adding to them. The text was finally published in 2008, and as such, little to no scholarship exists which examines how it can shed light on the ways in which Kerouac reinterpreted Buddhism and shaped his own understanding of it.
Many scholars have stressed the importance of recognising that the term Buddhism does not refer to a monolithic entity with one singular viewpoint, but instead refers to a plurality of distinct schools. Buddhism adapts and changes as it moves into different cultures, and Buddhism’s arrival in the United States of America was no exception. The Beat subculture embraced sexual promiscuity, heterosexual or otherwise, and drug use, neither of which can be easily reconciled with many forms of Buddhism, but writers such as Kerouac and Ginsberg achieved a certain amount of success in creating a new, ‘Beat Buddhism’ which married aspects of Buddhist teachings with aspects of liberal, Western ‘Beat’ values.
Many scholars have stressed the importance of recognising that the term Buddhism does not refer to a monolithic entity with one singular viewpoint, but instead refers to a plurality of distinct schools. Buddhism adapts and changes as it moves into different cultures, and Buddhism’s arrival in the United States of America was no exception. The Beat subculture embraced sexual promiscuity, heterosexual or otherwise, and drug use, neither of which can be easily reconciled with many forms of Buddhism, but writers such as Kerouac and Ginsberg achieved a certain amount of success in creating a new, ‘Beat Buddhism’ which married aspects of Buddhist teachings with aspects of liberal, Western ‘Beat’ values.
and biography » Roy Ward is a student at the University of Leeds, reading for an MA in American Literature and Culture. His BA, also at the University of Leeds, was in English and Philosophy. His research interests include dystopian and speculative fiction, Buddhism, Queer Theory and Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. He is currently writing his Masters dissertation on the role of Buddhism in the writings of the American ‘Beat Generation’ writers Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder, looking particularly at the ways in which Buddhist philosophy impacted on and informed those writers’ attitudes to sexuality.
Jana Weiß (University of Munster)
Civil Religion as a Rhetorical Instrument of Empowerment: The Martin Luther King Day in the United States
Full abstract » The paper argues that the analysis of the Martin Luther King Day with respect to its civil religious dimension is highly suitable for explaining the interfaces and transformations of empowerment and the sacred in the political sphere of the United States. While previous studies have mainly focused on the impact of King’s religio-political rhetoric during the civil rights era (David Garrow; Clayborne Carson), the proposed paper opens up new vistas by drawing on empirical analysis of his holiday covering the period from his death until the federal as well as official recognition by all states (1983, 2000). The further development of an African-American rhetoric of empowerment by blending civil-religious elements with King’s rhetorical legacy thus illustrates the vital role civil religion plays in political (counter-) discourses of cultural identity, race and class.
The U.S.-American civil religion, defined as “a genuine apprehension of universal and transcendent religious reality […] revealed through the experience of the American people” (Robert Bellah), has developed a specific code, creed and cult partially drawing on Enlightenment values, the English Puritan national heritage and historically evolved symbols. Especially on patriotic holidays – understood as invented traditions (Eric Hobsbawm) and ceremonial forms of communication with staged symbols, myths, and rituals anchoring collectivities in space and time (Jan Assmann) – civil religion is used as a rhetorical instrument of empowerment both integrating citizens into the nation and legitimating certain policies via a religious interpretation of the past, present and future constructing an “imagined community” (Benedict Anderson).
Since civil religion is interpreted according to the prevailing historio-political circumstances and national self-perceptions, African-Americans were – at least spiritually – integrated into society by portraying King as the “Apostle of Reconciliation” (Washington Post) – between the races, the rich and poor and for a society shattered by the Vietnam War. Moreover, the civil religion’s critical-prophetic function serving as a moral backdrop against which the actions and goals of the prevailing interest groups are measured, enabled them to rhetorically empower themselves by protesting against domestic policies concerning the cutting of social welfare programs via the same civil-religious language used by political elites but with differing interpretations to legitimate their policy initiatives.
and biography » Jana Weiß obtained her degree in History, English Language and Linguistics (First State Examination) at the University of Bremen (Germany) in 2008. Currently she is a research fellow at the University of Münster (Germany), North American History Department, and since 2009 at the Cluster of Excellence “Religion and Politics” working on her PhD project “Religion and ‘Civil Religion’ in US American Patriotic Holidays, 1945−1992”. Her research interests include the political, religious and social history of North America. She has given several research talks and published articles on her PhD topic, among others on the debate about civil religion from both a North American as well as a transcultural perspective and on the civil-religious dimension of the Martin Luther King Day.