Archive for September, 2014

UCSIA Summer Seminar (2014): Religion and Culture in a Globalized World

For almost a decade, the Universitair Centrum Sint Ignatius Antwerpen (UCSIA) has been organising a summer school on Religion, Culture and Society. It invites more than twenty young researchers to come to Antwerp (Belgium) and participate in a week long intense intellectual discussion on the role of religion in modern society.


While the major theme is related to Religion, each year’s summer school deals with a particular topic such as, Multiculturalism (2008), Religion and Politics (2009), Religion and International Relations (2011), Secularism(s) and Religion in Society (2012), and Religion, Reform and the Challenge of Plurality (2013).

This year (2014), the UCSIA organisers decided to bring back some of the alumni of the summer school to discuss the theme: Religion and Culture in a Globalized World: Questioning our Research Frames. It was held during 3-5 September 2014. The objective was to discuss ‘how to research religions in a global world taking into account the various disciplinary perspectives and cultural-religious contexts: What new research questions arise in a space that allows for these diversities?’


Some of the important questions were: How do plural societies affect religions towards changing their own attitudes with regard to one another and revising their role in society? How do religious convictions and perspectives on citizenship relate to one another? Can one ‘belong’ to various cultures and religions?

The UCSIA had invited 6 distinguished professors of religion and culture from various universities of the world to engage with the above mentioned theme.


Robert Hefner, Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Institute on Culture, Religion and World Affairs at Boston University, spoke about “Deep Pluralism: Secularism, Revival, and the Challenge of Pluralist Co-Existence”. In this talk, Hefner discussed ‘the challenge of pluralist co-existence in a post-secularist age’. For him, the secularization hypothesis, which assumed that religion will decline or become privatized as societies modernize, has proven wrong. Today religion is, except Western Europe, very vibrant and resurgent in the global south.


Roger Finke, Professor of Sociology and Religious Studies, Department of Sociology and Religious Studies and Director of the Association of Religion Data Archives, Pennsylvania State University, gave a talk on “Going Global: Testing Theories with International Data”. Professor Finke talked about the usefulness of quantitative methods and large-scale data in research on religion. He particularly discussed the advantages of Association of Religion Data Archives and how it can be used to complement qualitative and anthropological research on religion in globalizing world.


Dick Houtman, Professor of Sociology of Culture and Religion at the University of Leuven, and Faculty Fellow at the Centre for Cultural Sociology, Yale University, talked about “Pure Religion and Real Sacrality: Authenticating Religion beyond Institutions and Traditions”. In this lecture Houtman addressed processes of religious change in Western Europe since the mid-twentieth century. In so doing, he discussed the decline of religion and the privatization of religion as argued by Peter Berger and Thomas Luckman. The question for him was how culture has changed and how the de-traditionalization and anti-institutionalism has given rise to holism and self-spirituality. In addition, Houtman also spoke about the New Age Religious Movements in Europe that argue that “thou shall not accept religious authority”. For future research, Houtman pointed out two major themes: (1) studying religiousness of new age – what roles do shared beliefs, socialization processes, and social control play in the spiritual milieu, and (2) studying the spirituality of the Christian religion.


Thijl Sunier, Professor Cultural Anthropology and Chair ‘Islam in European societies’ at the VU University Amsterdam, spoke about “Making Islam Work: religious ethics and every-day experiences”. Following Robert Putnam, Sunier talked about the various stakeholders of making Islam work in the Western context. He spoke about various agents such as the Muslims, the State and the native Europeans and their role in creating a more tolerant society. He introduced two basic concepts (1) everyday religion, and (2) religious authority in understanding the religious landscape of Europe.


Jacob Olupona, Professor of African Religious Traditions, and Professor of African and African American Studies in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard Divinity School, addressed the audience on “the Changing Role of Religion in Contemporary Nigeria”. In this talk, Professor Olupona talked about the Yoruba understanding of sacred authority. For him, traditional religions, symbolizing the “pure” African spirit, were the ideal building blocks for the new identity in Nigeria. But the spread of Pentecostal Christianity among the Yoruba has transformed the religious landscape. As a result, Nigeria is witnessing a shift from pluralism of the post-independence period to plurality dominated by Pentecostal-Charismatic discourse.


The final lecture was given by Juliane Schober, Professor of Anthropology of Religion and Director of the Centre for Asian Research and Professor of Religious Studies at Arizona State University. The title of her lecture was “Buddhist-Muslim Tensions and the Genealogy of ‘Political Monks’ in Myanmar”. In this lecture, Professor Schober traced the genealogies of monastic engagement with politics in Myanmar. She emphasised that sources of reality lies in the social context. Contrary to the population imagination associated with Buddhism as a religion of peace and harmony, professor Schober showed how Buddhist monks in Myanmar have turned violent and even often justified anti-Muslim riots. For her, secularism is a weak tradition in Myanmar because of the long-established military rule and lack of a proper Constitution. In this talk she looked at religion as historical discourse to invoke universal claims and moral practices and locate the voices of Burmese Buddhist monks within social moments to show how religious identities emerge from – or are submerged by – larger political and ethnic convergences.

Besides these six wonderful and theoretically informative lectures, the summer seminar also brought together 11 papers by the alumni.


Sarah A. Tobin, Carnegie Visiting Scholar and Assistant Director of the Boston Consortium for Arab Region Studies North-eastern University, Boston, spoke about the Debates about Modernity, Religious Plurality and Islamic Banking and Finance. The central question was: Is Islamic Banking and Finance Modern? Sarah provided a historico-anthropological account of the Islamic banking and finance and compared it in countries like Pakistan, Malaysia, and Jordan. Islamic Banking is, Sarah noted, the fastest growing industries in the world today.


Inna Naletova, GIZ Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH, Bonn-Eschborn, GIZ-office in Duschanbe, talked about Multiple Modernities in Tajikistan. For her, the central question was: Is a Religious Modernity Desirable in Tajikistan? In so doing, she narrated the story of the “bibiotoun” who are the female teacher of Islam. Inna also talked about the deep pluralities in the market place and the factors that stand as challenges to pluralism. For Inna, the central idea behind Tajiki modernity is the recognition of plurality.


Renny Thomas, PhD Candidate in Sociology and Social Anthropology, Centre for the Study of Social Systems, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, discussed ‘Being Religious Being Scientific’: Science, Religion, and Atheism in Contemporary India. For Renny, the boundaries between religion and culture are blurred. It is in this context Renny brings out the idea that how the Indian scientists celebrate certain religious functions and justify their celebration by portraying them as cultural. Renny also talked about the act of scientific rationalism and the act of culturalization. This shows that Indian nationalism has hegemonically been Hindu.


Norah Karrouche, Visiting Researcher, Centre Jacques Berque pour les Etudes en Sciences Humaines et Sociales au Maroc, talked about Changing Places: Appropriation and the Interpretation of Berber Activists’ Narratives. Norah beautifully presented the dilemmas of doing research and also about many of the moral and ethical questions that the researcher faces in the field. While discussing the Berber activism, Norah touched upon issues like recognition of rights, their culture, history and identity and also the issues of religious and democratic values.


Saira Bano Orakzai, Visiting Fellow, School of Advanced Study, University of London presented on Religion and Historical Narratives: Islam-West Historical Encounters and Its Impact in the Post 9/11 period. Saira discussed the construction of history and narrative in the FATA autnomous region of Pakistan by addressing issues of British colonialism, grievances, victimhood and developmental discrimination. For her, it was important to understand the relationship between the meta-narratives and the local grienvances in order to understand the encounters between Islam and the West. In a sense she advocated for a discourse of complementarity. Saira also emphasised that it is important to reframe conflict by including not just the identity narratives but also the local discourse in the meta-narrative.

Fakhereh Khatibi Jafari, Teaching Assistant, Faculty of Education Studies, University Putra Malaysia, discussed Religious Socialization in Iranian Islamic Girls’ School. She took the experiences of the children who have finished their school years and discussed their ideas and engagement with Islam and everyday religiosity in Iran. For Fakhereh, many of the Iranian parents prefer to send their children to private schools with the belief that such schools are effective in socializing their students toward the Islamic-Shiite religious worldview. Fakhereh’s study provided lights on how attending private Islamic schools in Iran impacts on the construction of students’ religious beliefs and attitudes.


Sarbeswar Sahoo, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, India, gave a talk on Spreading like Fire: Growth of Pentecostal Christianity among the Tribals of North India. According to Sahoo, the secularization hypothesis, which assumed that religion will decline or become privatised with the spread of modernity and techno-scientific rationality, has proven ineffective in the Asian context. There seems to be a religious revival in Asia, particularly in the Indian context and the Pentecostal Christianity is increasingly spreading amongst the tribals or indigenous peoples of north India. Compared to the so-called “mainline” churches, the Pentecostals have come to be more effective in transforming the religious experience of the people at the margins and provided them with better alternatives.


Osman Sahin, PhD candidate, Department of Political Science, Sabanci University, Turkey (co-author of the paper: Dr. Sema Akboga, Department of History, Koc University), gave a talk on The Rule of Law and Democracy in Turkey: The Impact of Identity on Perception. Osman tried to discuss how the Western understanding of democracy is quite abstract and theoretical. Through a survey of what democracy means to people in Turkey Osman tried to discover some concrete dimensions and everyday manifestations of democracy. For him, what is necessary is not an elite driven, theoretical model of democracy but a more people centred approach which will be able to capture the everyday problems that the citizens face in a democratic set up and how they engage with those problems through the rule of law.


Sandra M. Rios Oyola, PhD in Sociology, Department of Sociology, Aberdeen University, gave a talk on The Study of Dignity as a Religious Emotion. For Sandra, dignity can be understood as people’s sense of self-worth as human beings and contrary to the feeling of humiliation. Humiliation can be considered as an attack against the person’s dignity. In the context where the dignity is violated, the important question is how to restore the dignity and self-worth of the person. What are the mechanisms through which human dignity can be restored? Sandra explains this through emotional sources such as trust, hope, and empathy, which she believes, have their root in religion.


Mentor Mustafa, Lecturer at the Summer School & at the Metropolitan College, Boston University & PhD candidate, Department of Anthropology, Boston University, gave a talk on From the Ashes of Atheism: The Reconstitution of Religious Life in Post-socialist Albania. In this talk, Mentor discussed the reconstitution of religious experience of the Bektashi community during the post-socialist period. For him, there is clear decline of religious experience and he goes on to argue that the legacy of communism in Albania shattered the late nineteenth century pattern of religious authority and popular religiosity. He also discussed the challenges to the rebuilding of the religious community in Albania.


Hector Guazon, Assistant Curator, Saint Louis University- Baguio City Senior Lecturer, University of the Philippines-Diliman discussed the Shifting Socio-moral World of the Filipino Catholic in Brussels, Belgium. The central question was: how socially differentiated Filipino migrants intimately explore Roman Catholicism’s meanings and values as they create the Filipino Chaplaincy within their unstable diasporic context? Hector argued that among the Roman Catholic principles and concomitant resources that Filipino Catholics appropriate, along with their fellow Filipinos in Brussels, “standing for the marginalized” becomes a potent force for church authorities as well as Filipino religious and civic leader’s claim to cooperation, leadership, and dejection.