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In the thirty-fourth number of Antropologicheskij forum / Forum for Anthropology and Culture, published by the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography of the Russian Academy of Sciences (Kunstkamera), the European University, St Petersburg, and the European Humanities Research Centre, University of Oxford, our ‘Forum’ (written round-table) will address recent debates in the anthropology of religion. We would like to invite you to respond to the questionnaire below.

You may, as you wish, directly address the questions presented here, or send in a text responding to one or some of them (or taking up some other issue that seems to you relevant). Whichever way, we would be grateful if you could keep your answers to a maximum of 10 pp. (1.5 spaced, 12-point type). Please use the author-date in-text citation system for any references in the format [Smith 2002: 12], appending a list of ‘References’ at the end with full publication details: Author, ‘article title’, journal title, vol. and/or no., (date), pp. (e.g. Smith M. A.,‘Visual Anthropology’, Ethnology, vol. 47, no. 3 (2002), pp. 47–58) or alternatively, Author, book title. Place: publisher, date. Page span (e.g. Smith M. A., Visual Anthropology. London: Anvil Press, 2002, 356 pp.). Please send replies by 30 April 2017 to forum.for.anthropology()gmail.com, with a copy to catriona.kelly()new.ox.ac.uk; your email address should be included in any attached file. We hope that the discussion will appear in the autumn of 2017.

 

Religion, anthropology, and the ‘anthropology of religion’

1. In recent decades, there have been claims in the social sciences that ‘religion’ has outlived its usefulness as a concept, with criticism coming from across the disciplinary range. Examples include the claim that ‘Religion is solely the creation of the scholar's study. It is created for the scholar’s analytic purposes’ [Smith 1982: ix], or Asad’s contention that ‘a transhistorical definition of religion is not viable’ [Asad 1993: 30], or Boyer and Bergstrom’s assertion that religion is 'a common prescientific category’[1] rather than a useful heuristic concept in scholarly enquiry. How significant and intellectually creditable do you consider the term ‘religion’? How helpful is it to your own research and writing? In what contexts would you use it? Do you consider that it is requisite to employ special methods and approaches in the study of ‘religious’ groups, practices, and movements?

2. In the anthropology of religion, there is particularly extensive attention to the personal standpoint of individual scholars and specifically of the extent of their involvement with the religious tradition under scrutiny. What, in your view, are the reasons for this? What does this heightened sensitivity to the identity of scholars tell us about the particularities of the religious ‘field’ (or ‘fields’)?

3. The characteristic practice of anthropological research is that the cultures under study are to a greater or less extent perceived as ‘other’. How significant in your own analytical work is the ‘defamiliarisation’ of the religious cultures that you observe, the preservation (or creation) of distance from the object in view? Or are such issues not of concern in your work?

4. Among the specificities of religious fieldwork is the high degree of ‘agency’ of our informants, as expressed especially in the efforts made by contacts in a particular religious group to convert the observer to their own beliefs. This is particularly the case when the groups concerned are anyway engaged in active proselytism, as with charismatic Christian groups, for instance [Harding 1987; Kormina 2013]. But this is by no means the only case where members of religious groups may make efforts to make the researcher ‘one of them’. Have you yourself encountered such efforts, and if so, did you follow the path of distance or assimilation? Which strategy is most effective, in your view? Have you ever encountered difficulties because of your refusal to undergo religious conversion of one kind or another?

5. In the contemporary world, the impact of electronic communication and particularly of the Internet means that it is in principle easy for our research findings to become accessible to members of the groups under study – and we may indeed ourselves pass on our publications and research papers to them. What impact does this have on our research into religious culture? Does the accessibility of research results to informants represent a problem for scholars, or an opportunity?

Thank you!

 

References

Kormina Zh. V. ‘“Gigiena serdtsa”: distsiplina i vera “zanovo rozhdennykh” kharismaticheskh khristian’ [“Hygiene of the Heart”: Discipline and Belief among ‘Born Again’ Charismatic Christians], Antropologicheskij forum, 2013, no. 18, pp. 300–320.

Asad T. Genealogies of Religion. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993.

Boyer P., Bergstrom B. ‘Evolutionary Perspectives on Religion’, Annual Review of Anthropology, 2008, vol. 37, pp. 111–130.

Harding S.‘Convicted by the Holy Spirit. The Rhetoric of Fundamental Baptist Conversion’, American Ethnologist, 1987, vol. 14, pp. 167–181.

Smith J. Z. Imagining Religion: From Babylon to Jonestown. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982.



[1] 'The term religion is to an evolutionary anthropologist what “tree” is to an evolutionary botanist, a common prescientific category that may need to be replaced with other, causally grounded, scientific categories’ [Boyer, Bergstrom 2008: 112].


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