IAHR 2025


Open panels

When submitting an individual paper proposal to an open panel, please choose the panel’s number and title in the submission system.

List of XXIII IAHR World Congress open panels

1. Reimagining Religion, Rethinking Philosophy: Theories and Methods from Buddhist Sources

Convenor: Rafal Stepien (Austrian Academy of Sciences)

“Is Buddhism a philosophy or a religion?” is a question as “unimaginative” (Faure 2004) as it is revealing. For Buddhism, this tradition “in the European imagination… at once alien and familiar” (Masuzawa 2005), “embraced by the West as both an alternative religion and an alternative to religion” (Lopez 2005), confounds the conceptual categories and disciplinary boundaries still routinely imposed upon it. One facet of this disjunction that has become especially salient in relevant scholarship over recent years relates to the problematic that “in the Western tradition, philosophy has indeed very often defined itself in opposition to religion, and the fact that scholars of Buddhism may regard the subject of their studies as both a religion and a philosophy has then led to the most extraordinary misunderstanding and confusion” (Ruegg 2010). This panel, therefore, seeks to expose and interrogate standard assumptions as to what religion is, and how it relates to philosophy, through detailed explorations of alternative conceptions enjoined by the diverse Buddhisms of classical and contemporary Asia. In doing so, this panel furthermore seeks to problematize claims to universal reason and religiosity still avowed, implicitly if not explicitly, by philosophers and religious scholars respectively. In exploring these issues, this panel relates directly to the conference sub-themes of ‘Mapping’, ‘Understanding’, and ‘Crossing’ in that it retheorizes ‘religion’, and redraws religious studies’ historically contingent theoretical and methodological disciplinary identity in relation to ‘philosophy’, according to the paradigms of a distinctly non-Western/non-Christian, and historically both physically and conceptually colonized, Other.

2. Glocal Dynamics in Paganism: Global Influences and Local Adaptations

Convenors: Maria Papenfuss (University of Bayreuth), Joanna Malita-Król (Jagiellonian University in Kraków), Joseph Sedgwick (University of Edinburgh)

Although many forms of contemporary Paganism have their roots in Europe, these earth-centered religiosities have not only spread across the globe in recent decades, but from their beginnings have included influences from beyond Europe. In this panel we thus aim to explore the development of contemporary and historical Pagan religiosities, emphasizing the ‘glocal’ dynamics that shape practices, beliefs and identities. We analyse how ideas and influences beyond Europe have left indelible marks on Paganism, illustrating the complex interplay of global influences and local adaptations, and exploring the entwined web of the universal and the particular.

We will also consider how contemporary Paganism has been shaped by the broader ‘world religion’ paradigm itself and invite critical engagement with this and other contested concepts predominant in the academic study of Paganism. As the advent of the internet and social media have facilitated the creation of interconnected, global Pagan networks and introduced new possibilities for the exchange of religious content, we also address the role of digital communication in shaping pagan religiosities.

We would welcome papers that critically engage with:

  • Historical studies on the influences of non-European religious traditions on the creation of contemporary Paganism worldwide
  • Contemporary Pagan communities outside of Europe and the USA
  • Pagan’s use of non-European religious symbols, rituals and traditions, as well as issues of cultural appropriation and cross-cultural collaboration
  • The role that Religious Studies itself has played in the creation of contemporary Paganism
  • The interaction between Pagans and religious content from other cultures worldwide

3. Studying Religion(s), Motherhood and Mothering in Interconnected Worlds

Convenors: Florence Pasche Guignard (Université Laval), Giulia Pedrucci (University of Verona), Joanna Krotofil (Jagiellonian University in Kraków)

This (series of) panel(s) calls for papers that will relate religion with culture and society through a focus on motherhood (as an institution), mothering (as the specific experience of mothers and others who engage in mother work), maternal figures (divinities and other-than-human figures) and actual mothers, past and present. It aims at mapping the state of a burgeoning subfield in the study of religions, through featuring research that builds up on over forty years of scholarship on gender and religion, with a specific focus on “mothers” rather than “women” or “gender”. The panel(s) will be especially relevant to the goal of connecting the particular and the universal: key issues with motherhood often remain strongly tied to notions of biological and physiological embodiment (fertility, pregnancy, birth, lactation), and yet very diverse religious constructions are at work in discourses (myths, sacred narratives) and practices (rituals, prescriptions and restrictions for mothers specifically, etc.). While acknowledging the importance of both sex and gender, and of embodiment in relation to religious laws and rituals particularly, we also encourage papers that examine non-normative maternal roles, carried on by figures that can be female/feminine, male/masculine, animal, divine, abstract, technological, etc. Considering “mother” as a verb rather than as a feminine substantive only. The notion of crossing the boundaries of different approaches and methodologies in the academic study of religions will also be key in the panel(s) as we expect contributions based on a diversity of materials and sources (texts, images, artifacts, fieldwork, etc.) and with various approaches. 

4. Metaphors of Religion: How Religion Emerges in Language

Convenors: Tim Karis (Ruhr University Bochum), Volkhard Krech (Ruhr University Bochum)

While metaphors have long been a common subject in the study of religions, a new research center in Bochum, Germany now focuses on metaphoricity as the central principle of religious meaning-making. In metaphors, meaning is transferred from one semantic domain to another. Religion, which can never put its ultimate subject (the transcendent) directly into words, is especially dependent on this principle. The consortium seeks to more thoroughly understand this process theoretically and grasp it methodologically. In 14 subprojects ranging from the Ancient Near East, via the European Middle Ages, to the internet age, religious metaphors are studied comparatively from various disciplinary perspectives. In this way, the shapes religion takes as a socio-cultural phenomenon and central developments within specific religious traditionscome into view. The consortium thus contributes to both the historiography of religions and tackles systematic questions in the comparative study of religions, hence directly addressing the conference themes. 

We invite paper proposals on the following subjects:

  • Can metaphors be regarded as the main building blocks of religious language? What about other forms of non-literal language (paradoxes, alienation, etc.)?
  • Are there dominant metaphors in religious language across traditions (e.g., light-metaphors, way-metaphors, etc.)?
  • Which metaphors shape a particular religious tradition at a given time? Which metaphors are indicative of a particular religious thinker or text corpus?
  • How can we analyze metaphors not only in verbal language, but also in images and artefacts?

5. God(s) in Poems: Religion and Poetry in South Asia and Eastern Europe (1900–present)

Convenor: Istvan Keul (University of Bergen)

This open panel proposes to inquire into the various ways in which representations of and reflections on deities/God as well as other connected aspects of religion are included in literary works of (well-known and less well-known) modern and contemporary poets across Eastern Europe and South Asia (c.1900 to the present). It seeks to address the wider theme of the conceptualization of religion in the arts and reflect on the value of transdisciplinary approaches in the analysis of literary texts. Thus, the proposed panel is relevant for (at least) two subthemes of the conference: 1) examining the relation between religion and another cultural domain, and 2) crossing boundaries between disciplines (and geographical regions). The panel operates under the premise that the specific cultural competence and research perspectives of scholars working in the study of religions can be important assets in the interpretation and analysis of literature with subject matters pertaining to the field of religion. The panel opens for the submission of papers on South Asian and Eastern European poetry from a broad thematic and methodological spectrum, including work-immanent approaches, intertextual perspectives, reception history, as well as biographical, historical and/or social contextualizations.

6. Enactive, extended, embedded, and embodied approaches to religious cognition: Connecting mind, life, and culture within the study of religions

Convenors: Matylda Ciołkosz (Jagiellonian University), John Teehan (Hofra University), Eva Kundtová Klocová (Masaryk University)

For over three decades, cognitive science of religion (CSR) has been pursuing a naturalistic, evolutionary explanation of the emergence, persistence, and functions of religion. The main assumption in this  pursuit concerns the universality of certain cognitive processes that can account for the universality of religion and its key traits. Despite the impressive achievements of this approach, there are problems.

For example, years of empirical research within CSR have shown the  essential role of culture in shaping religious thought and behaviour. However, a model of cognition as processes performed within a brain-bound mind computing universal abstractions is ill-equipped to account for this constitutive role of culture.

An alternative framework is that of embodied, embedded, extended, and enactive (4E) cognition. Proponents of this framework see cognition as an activity of embodied agents,    situated within an environment, and involving continuous interaction between and co-specification of the cognising agent and its environment. An embodied being is coupled with its surroundings (including its social surroundings) which shape its cognition in fundamental ways.

In our panel, we want to encourage a discussion of how the 4E approach can contribute to a better understanding of religion, religious cognition and behavior, and how it can inspire new testable hypotheses leading towards cumulative knowledge in the discipline. We invite both theoretical and empirical contributions.

7. (Mis)understanding the religious in the Balkans: Problems and prejudices

Convenors: Ewelina Drzewiecka (Polish Academy of Science), Magdalena Lubańska (University of Warsaw)

If the category of religion is epistemologically biased, as shown by many historians and anthropologists, then our thinking about the religious phenomena should be reevaluated not only with regard to ‘out of Europe’ socio-cultural contexts, but it should also be sensitive toward heterogeneity of religious experience in Europe itself.When addressing insufficiency of the cognitive framework of the western-centric categorisations of religion, the region of the Balkans is particularly interesting due its ambiguous position in western scholarship. Despite a strong decolonial tendency to deconstruct the notion of it as ‘European other’, it prevails to be imagined as such. Religious cultures in the Balkans tend to be seen as problematic variants of their uncritically accepted ‘ideal types’ deeply embedded in religious and social studies. 

Taking seriously the postsecular notion that ‘the religious’ and ‘the secular’; are contextual, mutually dependent and escaping universalistic definitions, we would like to initiate a discussion on categories and concepts deriving from or applicable to various phenomena encountered in Balkan communities. Therefore, we are looking for the contributions that may enrich and challenge the scientific epistemological apparatus that defines the framework of what is ‘the religious’.
The panel invites scholars who wish to present insightful case studies and critically discuss the epistemological biases they face when dealing with the relationship between religion and other spheres in the Balkans.

The aim is to develop the epistemic approaches that emphasize the need of emically sensitive theoretical conceptualisations of indigenous imaginaries when researching, understanding and using the notion of ‘religion’.

8. Seditio in urbe: Religious Competition and Social Order in the Late Antique Mediterranean

Convenors: Mar Marcos (Universidad de Cantabria), Juana Torres (Universidad de Cantabria), Alessandro Saggioro (Sapienza Università di Roma), Gianmarco Grantaliano (Universidad de Cantabria)

Late Antiquity has been regarded as a particularly violent period, mainly due to religious motivations that gave rise to numerous episodes of social disorder. The issue has been much debated in recent scholarship, which is divided between those who argue that this idea is true (the number of episodes of violence is striking between the 4th and 5th centuries and unparalleled in earlier periods) and those who believe that it is a distortion caused by the nature of the sources, which, mostly Christian, emphasise accounts of violence to illustrate the triumph of Christianity and orthodoxy. But the violence of the late Antique cities in fact followed much of the classical patterns of conflict, with political, social and sometimes economic motivations. The aim of this panel is to reflect on the social and political dimension of urban religious conflict in the Late Antique Mediterranean, focusing on the agents of the conflict: who originates it, who participates and what strategies and measures were applied to resolve it.

Proposals on the next the following topics are welcome:

  • The nature and typology of religious conflict in the cities of Late Antiquity.
  • Was the intensity of religious violence in Late Antiquity different from classical urban violence?
  • Case studies to help identify the actors involved in the riots: bishops, emperor and his officials, local elites, and people. 
  • The discourses generated by these conflicts (heresiological, anti-pagan and anti-Jewish discourses), as the basis and expression of the rivalry between different religious and social groups.

9. Are the Gates Open? The Insider/Outsider Debate in the Study of Esotericism

Convenors: Adas Diržys (Vytautas Magnus University), Audrius Beinorius (Vilnius University)

Since the beginning of the critical study of esotericism the long way has been treaded with the coming of new case studies propositions as well as the methodological appropriations. It could be seen that one of the most prominent debate about the insider/outsider status situated in the field of the study of religions is starting to make an unavoidable intercision to the research of esotericism. The fluctuation of knowledge between academicians and practitioners, incorporation of scholarly inquiries into the practices, application of anthropological and ethnographic perspectives and the birth of a new category of a ‘scholar-practitioner’ are just a few of examples of relevancy for the deeper undertaking and the conceptual resituation of the insider/outsider debate in the study of esotericism. By turning attention towards the insider/outsider debate, the general questions about the researcher’s stance, limits of epistemological and disciplinary position, the establishment of different boundaries, the relationship between emic and etic perspectives could be formulated. Furthermore, esotericism invites to raise its own questions specific to the field regarding the relation between esoteric and exoteric knowledge, possibility of global esotericism, the place of religionism, etc. The panel will focus on the presentation of the particular case studies and methodological considerations engaging with the insider/outsider debate in the study of esotericism.

10. Contemporary monasticism – East and West

Convenor: Maciej Potz (University of Lodz)

 Monasticism, in one form or another, has proven one of the most durable religious phenomena in many religions worldwide. This may be because it expresses a desire, common to numerous religious traditions, to commit more fully or immerse more completely in an ultimate reality. Or, perhaps, it offered an alternative social space, insulated, to an extent, from the hierarchies, distinctions and inherited statuses of the “world”. 

  The panel aims at bringing together multiple perspectives on monasticism, from both religious studies and social science approaches. Within the former, we’ll seek to understand the status of monasticism in its wider religious tradition, its theological justification, its peculiar spirituality. Within the latter, we’ll look at religious orders as social organizations, and their organizational unit, the monastery – a commune of individuals sharing a common goal and subject to certain social dynamic. In particular: 

  • Is it justifiable to speak of monasticism as a single phenomenon across religious traditions? If so, what are its “essential” features? 
  • What forms has monasticism assumed and how they reflected broader processes within the religion and society?
  • What is the contemporary meaning and function of vows and other types of costly commitments? 
  • What has been the political role of monasticism? How is it affected by its ties with secular authorities (e.g., in Buddhism)? 
  • What are the internal systems of government of religious orders?

  The list is not exhaustive. Submissions from scholars from various disciplines and methodological backgrounds dealing with some aspects of, preferably contemporary, monasticism, are welcome. 

11. Mapping the field: The study of religion(s) worldwide. Institutional settings, theories and methods, communities of ‘practices.’

Convenor: Angela Bernardo (Sapienza University of Rome)

The study of religion(s) worldwide has been shaped by different cultural environments and the institutional settings where it has evolved. This diversity has led to distinct outcomes in how theories are approached, methodologies applied, and scientific communities formed. An example of this diversity are the different names given to disciplines within this field, varying from one context to another. These variations, coupled with ongoing theoretical debates, challenge the idea of a unified scientific community in the study of religions(s), shedding light on the intricate nature of the subject itself and of the profiles and activities of the actors involved.

Numerous communities devoted to the study of religion(s) contribute to and are influenced by the broader scientific landscape. This panel seeks to analyze these communities, considering their historical-cultural backgrounds, institutional settings, and the theoretical and methodological frameworks their members employ in their studies. Specifically, it aims to delve into: (a) how these communities shape their identities based on the dynamics and rhetorical strategies of their members, (b) the needs they voice and the ways they pursue these needs, considering their members’ agendas and positioning within this field of study, and (c) the relations existing within and among these communities both locally and globally, including the dialectic between theories and methodologies.

Case studies might include examining profiles of scientific communities (associations, ‘schools,’ etc.) studying religions and/or biographies of scholars within the contexts they work in. This panel aims to stimulate critical self-reflection among scholars in the field of the study of religion(s).

12. What is “Roman religion” today? The terms of recent and contemporary debate

Convenor: Giorgio Ferri (Sapienza University of Rome)

What is commonly referred to as ‘Roman religion’ has in recent decades been increasingly (and rightly) the subject of reconsideration and recontextualisation. Even if one were to propose as broad a definition as possible, e.g. as ‘a system of signs, beliefs, cults, rituals, myths and traditions of Roman citizens both living in Rome and in other Roman cities/territories’, the irreducibility of both its terms to generalisations and standardisations remains.

As for the first term (‘religion’), there have recently been important contributions that have traced its history in depth (Nongbri 2013; Barton & Boyarin 2016). As for the second term (‘Roman’), the questions do not diminish: in what sense ‘Roman’? Of the city of Rome alone, of part or all of the territory it controlled? And at what point in its history? How much and why do the alternative proposals clarify different aspects (e.g. ‘Roman religions’, ‘religion of the Romans’, ‘religion in Rome’)?

Beyond the terminological debate, the session also intends to consider the directions taken by studies in recent decades such as the emphasis on ‘lived’, ‘individual’ and ‘urban’ religion (Rüpke), on ‘orthopraxis’ (Scheid), as well as the consideration of the ‘authenticity’ of Roman religious experience (Champion; Driediger-Murphy) and the application of the cognitive approach to it (Mackey). Which recent perspectives are most interesting and fertile for further developments? What perspectives and methodologies need to be overcome and reconsidered?

Finally, the session is also open to papers on more general topics of ‘Roman religion’ (rites, priesthoods, places of worship, etc.).

13. The Divination of Technological Evolution – Transhumanism as a New Religious Universalism –

Convenor: Dimitry Okropiridze (Heidelberg University)

Ever since Elon Musk’s rise to international stardom it has become clear that individuals with transhumanist views are gaining political, cultural, and economic influence in our globalized world. Ideas ranging from digitally enhancing the minds and bodies of human beings to space colonization in order to prevent species extinction have been thrown around in the science fiction literature for well over a century. However, it is only in the last decades that technological advancements have gained such a convincing momentum that some transhumanist dreams are beginning to look more like forms of possible future realities than ever before. Many of these ideas are fundamentally connected to a metaphysical framework in which human evolution is replaced by radically evolving technological processes, transforming not only the bodies and minds of human beings, but radically altering human societies and their planetary environment, even with the possibility to bring about a new sentient species of Artificial Intelligence that would literally transcend humanity.

This contribution will make the case that contemporary transhumanist discourses are devising a religious universalism by replacing older religious traditions in their function to provide meaning in a contingent world. Transhumanism achieves this by – among other things – claiming to be based on scientific observations and offering partial instantiations of the promised metaphysical future through actual technological advances that are interpreted as offering today’s glimpses into an unfolding transformative tomorrow.

14. The critical study of religion as a human phenomenon

Convenor: Horst Junginger (Univeristy of Leipzig)

Research into religion as a human phenomenon gains momentum when the addition “to 100 percent” is endorsed. Terms such as God-forsakenness, godlessness, the word of God or blasphemy change their meaning under the premise of a purely anthropocentric view. Fearing god has a different rationale if it involves (nothing but) man-made thoughts instead of a real punisher from beyond. On the other hand, the atheistic labelling of blasphemy as a “victimless crime” is also misleading. It fails to recognise the human nature of religion and remains negatively tied to the pattern it rejects. Scholars of religion are more familiar with the categorical difference between scientific and religious theories of truth. But they often struggle to think through their epistemological foundations. Against this background, the panel attempts to re-evaluate the concept of criticism in the study of religion. Methodological agnosticism mistakenly appears here as the happy medium between religion and atheism. While its practical advantages are undeniable, thinking “as if” compromises the analytical rigour of science. All six headings of the conference theme are affected by the way how we apply the concept of critique in religious studies.

15. Religious Experience and Madness

Convenor: Ann Taves (University of California at Santa Barbara)

Historically, theorists of religion have sought to maintain a sharp conceptual boundary between religious experience and mental illness. Scholars of religions(s) find accounts of visions, voices and possessions marbled through their sources. Psychiatrists characterize such experiences as hallucinations and dissociation. The phenomenological overlap between religion and madness is recognizable. In Europe and North America, psychiatric systems of classifying mental illness have not only challenged traditional categories and interpretive frameworks, but have been used to debunk religious claims and reclassify them as pathological. Based on claims of validity, these psychiatric systems have been projected out of Europe and North America into a globalized context which crosses cultural boundaries. Practitioners relying on these psychiatric diagnostic manuals do not always agree with tradition-based spiritual discernment practices or the claims by individuals to have direct encounters with supernatural agents or otherworldly realities. What contribution can scholars of religion make to exploring the contested alternatives of traditional religious interpretations and contemporary psychiatry?  This call seeks papers that use various approaches to explore the interface between religious experience and madness in diverse global contexts. We are interested in how people (lay and/or experts) relate religion and madness, use or respond to psychiatric categories, and/or assess people’s claims to have directly experienced supernatural agents or realities.  If we receive a sufficient number of quality contributions, we will organize two panels, e.g., one that focuses on processes on the ground and another that focuses on conceptual, theoretical, and/or methodological issues. 

16. The process of the concept of religion in the Arab region

Convenor: Ezziani Bouchta (Moroccan Center for Social Sciences)

The Arabic term “dīn” holds a central position in the Islamic understanding of religion and possesses a complex historical background. In general, the conception of religion in the Arab region is shaped by historical, cultural, and societal influences, resulting in diverse interpretations and impacts in different contexts. The concept of religion in the Arab region has experienced substantial transformations over time. The increasing rates of modernization and globalization have led to a departure from religious, traditional, and ethnocentric values, towards more secular, liberal, and egalitarian ideals. However, it is noteworthy that the democratization movement in the Arab world has coincided with a process of re-Islamization of daily life and the emergence of Islamist parties. Religion continues to exert a significant influence on the future of Arab nations, as religious parties gain power and lay the groundwork for future theocratic states. Conversely, frequent exposure to the Internet has been shown to promote religious openness in the region, fostering greater acceptance of religious diversity and support for gender equality. These shifts in the perception of religion and its societal role are influenced by both external and internal factors, and they have implications for social relations and political stability in the Middle East region.

17. Religion and its critical academic reflections in (post)Yugoslav region

Convenor: Ales Crnic (University of Ljubljana)

This panel focuses on religion-related issues in the region that is geographically clearly part of Europe, but has usually been relegated to its symbolic fringes, and is in mainstream western views sometimes not even considered “proper Europe”. The very name of the region – Western Balkans, or especially »former Yugoslavia« – can cause discomfort. Here, more than in many other places, religious institutions have been controversially involved in political and other social processes, including the 1990s wars. In the socialist second half of 20th century the state’s negative attitude towards religion was prevalent. That said, one should not overlook the differences 1) between individual republics (some being predominantly Catholic, other Orthodox, and the third Muslim), and 2) with all other socialist European countries, which have had more radical attitude to religion. In our century, the region has been witnessing a sharp swing, after which religion has once again become a pivotal social and political actor.

Papers from various disciplines analysing religion-related issues (in particular country or the region as a whole) in critical academic manner are invited. The topics could include:

  • historical and contemporary processes associated with religion,
  • development of academic study of religion,
  • State-Church relations,
  • the role of religion in regional conflicts,
  • new religious movements,
  • irreligion past and present (in socialist and post-socialist period),

18. Debates about danger and wisdom in relation to contemporary spiritual practices in the western world

Convenor: Reet Hiiemae (Estonian Literary Museum)

This panel aims to map and analyse increasingly popular forms of contemporary religiosity / spirituality that tend to be called “dangerous” in public discourse but are viewed by the practitioners themselves as a way to achieve a more holistic, spiritual, and healthy self. For example, rituals and healing practices involving the use of the fly mushroom, peyote, ayahuasca or other psychedelic substances, or esoteric groups revolving around authoritarian leaders raise heavy public debates in many western countries. Negotiated vernacular representations and rhetoric that involve elements and keywords like ancient wisdom, intimate embodied connections with nature, and self-development on the one hand, and stupidity, alienation, addiction and danger on the other hand can be often observed. This panel welcomes topical case studies, theoretical discussions that analyse methods for researching such forms of spiritual involvement (e.g., personal experience, participant observation, interviews, media research, the angle of cultural appropriation) but also contemplations about the role of the researcher in this context. What messages related to such practices should we promote – messages of understanding or rejection, risk or hope?

19. Mobility, Monumentality and Urban Religion in the Ancient World

Convenors: Elisa Uusimäki (Aarhus University), Jorg Rüpke (Universität Erfurt)

This open panel explores the spatial and monumental features of urban religion in antiquity. The nexus between religion and the city has become a focal point in recent research. The question of ‘urban religion’ goes beyond the study of ‘religion in the city’: religion is not understood only as taking place within a city, but also as resulting from mobile actors, networks and processes operating beyond the city. Monumental buildings such as the Jerusalem temple or the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus were important sites of pilgrimage and other forms of transurban interaction at all stages of their lives. We invite papers that explore space and monumentality in (trans)urban religious contexts and in ancient religious texts, with topics including but not limited to:

  • The role of (in)voluntary movers in the creation and maintenance of urban space, and the role of visitors and ritual movement in the making of a city’s monumental space.
  • The social and geographical profiles of pilgrims and their different perceptions of urban space and its monuments because of factors such as regulated access to sacred sites.
  • Competing imaginaries of cities or rural spaces (or their inhabitants) in religious texts.
  • The role of withdrawal from the city in religious traditions, and the performance of “urban religion” in both “rural” spaces and “otherworldly” cities.
  • The role of the urban in the establishment and maintenance of transregional religious networks and connectivity (e.g., diasporization, colonization).

20. Political Regimes of religious Plurality – Focusing on the underlying Concepts of Religion

Convenor: Karsten Lehmann (KPH – Private University of Education Vienna / Krems)

Throughout the last two decades internationally renowned scholars of religion such as Charles Taylor, José Casanova and Karl Gabriel have extensively been working on what can be described as political regimes of religious plurality – e.g. regimes of coexistence, separation, consensus, assimilation and integration (Gabriel / Spieß / Winkler 2012, Taylor / Casanova 2010). In their publications they have been approaching the questions how political actors deal with religious plurality and how the resulting regimes of religious plurality affect religion.

In most cases, the respective empirical analyses and systematic reflections are, however, based upon rather traditional, substantive notions of religion. They rarely apply more advanced concepts of religion (i.e. functional, multidimensional, de-constructionist etc.) to approach the boundaries of regimes of religious pluralities (Chryssides / Whitehead 2023; Lehmann 2023; Yang 2006; Feil 2000). The proposed panel wants to add this frequently neglected dimension to the academic debate by explicitly focusing on the concepts of religion (or non-religion) that can be used for the analysis of political regimes of religious plurality. 

The organizers of this panel invite scholars from all member organizations of the IAHR – especially those working outside Europe and North America. We welcome theoretical as well as empirical papers that focus on the conceptual basis of regimes of religious plurality. The panel will be chaired on behalf of the Standing Working Group Religion and Politics (AKRelPol) of the German Association of the Study of Religion (DVRW).

21. Strengthening interdisciplinary bonds and new horizons: Latest developments in cognitive studies of religion.

Convenor: Antonia Franaszek-Traczewska (Jagiellonian University)

The goal of this panel is to provide a current cognitive perspective to modern discussions of religion. It aims to encourage metascientific reflection and discussions of interdisciplinarity with a focus on the relationship between studies of religion and cognitive science. Participants are encouraged to present their own research results or theoretical works related to following topics:

How can psychological knowledge inform frameworks used in religious studies, as well as the other way around? What are the most important findings of the cognitive field in recent years and what significance do they hold for religious scholars? Are there universal psychological components of religious practice across cultures? What psychological benefits are there to religious practices? Is mainstream psychology equipped to grasp idiosyncratic properties of faith? Do alternative psychological subfields – such as transcendental psychology – have a place in modern research? How can we implement research best practices and improve the quality of cognitive studies of religion? Finally, how can religious ideas affect our minds in the modern world, in the context of social media and algorythmization of information? What new tasks stand before cognitive religious scholars in the future?

22. Buddhism and Revolution

Convenor: Iselin Frydenlund (MF Norwegian School of Theology, Religion and Society)

Far from Western, Orientalist, or modernist constructions of Buddhism as non-political and non-violent, Buddhist traditions across Asia have shown themselves to be deeply entangled with state structures and political systems, including institutions of state violence. However, Buddhism also contains religious imaginaries and historical reservoirs that can be (re-) activated in struggles for new societal and political orders. In pre-modern Buddhist societies as well as under European colonial rule, there are clear links between peasant uprisings and cults of the future Buddha. Pre-modern Buddhist millenarian movements have sought social justice (for example against unjust kings) within existing religious frameworks but have not been seeking total societal transformation, for example by eradicating the institution of kingship. However, during the colonial period, but also in the postcolonial era, rebellion ideology has sought radical societal change and has been framed within Buddhist, nationalist or Marxist “coordinates”, or even a combination of all three. In the postcolonial period, on several occasions, Buddhism has been on the losing side of communist revolutionary projects. 

This panel invites papers that investigate the relationship between “revolution”, here defined as radical transformation of society and visions of new societal orders, and various Buddhist traditions. Papers can engage with historical, as well as contemporary materials, across time and space. Papers that analyse Buddhist forms of resistance to revolutionary projects are also welcome. 

23. Non-eurocentric religious education. Insights, comparison, and challenges from global contexts

Convenors: Karna Kjeldsen (Absalon University College/University of Southern Denmark), Giovanni Lapis (Ca’ Foscari University of Venice)

In the recent decades, the scholarship on religious education (RE) from a study-of-religion/s (SoR) point of view has been developing. Outside descriptive-analytical research on how religions are engaged in education, it also produced theoretical-normative studies on principles and methods for teaching about religions in school from a SoR perspective.

A common thread in both types of research are the critique and the overcoming of modern/Protestant-based understanding of religion and related categories. This panel, organized by the EASR working group on Religion in Public Education, aims at further deepen such (self-)deconstruction of eurocentrism by crossing borders and drawing upon “out of Europe” particularities and challenges. Inputs may be comparative (e.g., how SoR scholars of South Africa or Japan engage RE issues?); epistemological (e.g., how do we conceptualize religious affiliation in China?); content-related (e.g., how to narrate Christianity in a non-eurocentric fashion?); educative (e.g., which educational values can be universally upheld in RE? How about particular contexts?)

The panel invites contributions from area studies concerning both RE or general religious topics relevant to SoR-based RE. Scholars from extra-European regions are particularly welcome to share their research and reflections on RE and SoR-based RE. We encourage both RE scholars and practitioners who developed theoretical and practical approaches to overcome eurocentrism to present their insights. Finally, we also invite broad reflections on the relevance, for SoR-based RE, of the global fluxes of people and religious ideas in connection with other global dynamics of economic/political/ideological nature. 

24. Approaches in the Study of Religion and Politics

Convenors: Jere Kyyrö (University of Turku), Tuomas Äystö (University of Helsinki), Titus Hjelm (University of Helsinki)

The theme of religion and politics can be approached from various perspectives and with different types of data. For example: How is religion constructed or legitimated in parliamentary speeches or political manifestos? What are the ways religion becomes politicized? How do different types of religiosity affect voter behavior? Do religious actors or organizations take political stances or comment politics? Is religion addressed differently on different levels of politics? Is religion in politics conspicuous or implicit? How does the relation between religion and politics change throughout time?

We invite scholars to submit papers that showcase diverse theoretical frameworks, methodologies, and data types in addressing the multifaceted theme of religion and politics. We are interested both in papers that study the presence of religion in political culture as well as politics within religious contexts. Emphasis is placed on papers that integrate methodologies, such as qualitative analyses of political speeches and quantitative assessments of voter behavior. Submissions exploring how single theories, methods, or datasets can be used to study religion and politics are also welcomed, as are those that transcend and blend the boundaries between theoretical paradigms, methodologies, or types of data.

25. Computing Religion: Computational Approaches, Research Databases, and Quantitative Methodologies in the Study of Religions

Convenors: Tomas Glomb (Masaryk University), David Zbiral (Masaryk University), Tomas Hampejs (Masaryk University)

In recent years, quantitative and computational methods have taken hold in various branches of the social sciences and humanities. Approaches such as computational text analysis, social and spatial network analysis, geoinformatics, and temporal modeling are attracting increasing attention of scholars in the study of religions. Furthermore, the compilation and use of various databases destined for research into religion has increased its presence in the field and has showcased religion as a topic of quantitative, macrohistorical, and evolutionary approaches, thus paving the way towards establishing a computational science of religion. Focusing on computational approaches in the study of religions, the panel invites data-analytical and methodological papers crossing disciplinary boundaries and addressing topics from various historical eras and areas of interest, from pre-history to the present day, on different scales of analysis (micro, meso, or macro). Finally, the panel also invites programmatic papers that outline future directions for computational approaches in the study of religions, fostering interdisciplinary dialogues and methodological innovation within the field.

26. Enactive Approaches to Ancient Religious Texts

Convenor: Armin Geertz (Aarhus University)

Exciting developments have been occurring in cognitive humanities based on an expanded view of cognition as being embodied, embedded, extended, and enactive (the so-called 4E movement). Recently, scholars in literary studies have been developing an approach called “enactive reading” by which is meant analyses of texts based on our current neurocognitive and biological understandings of embodiment and somatosensory mechanisms. These studies indicate that the appeal of a text depends to a large extent on its ability to stimulate such mechanisms in readers (or in the case of oral traditions, in listeners) thus increasing the intensity of and immersion in a narrative. As with researchers, so too the original audiences, it is argued, experience narratives enactively. A growing number of scholars of ancient religious texts have been applying this new approach. This panel invites scholars of ancient religious texts to present their findings, projects, and/or reflections in an effort to identify the strengths and weaknesses of these developments and to further develop cognitive approaches to religion.

27. Methods for the Study of Religious Spaces and Their Transformations in Historical Contexts Outside Europe

Convenor: Yasmin Koppen (Leipzig University)

This Open Panel invites contributions on methodological approaches for the study of religious spaces specifically in historical contexts, with the acknowledgement of challenges such as the absence of direct observation, the loss of informants, and various layers of reinterpretative information which are topped upon the material evidence. All of which require innovative methods of analysis to grasp the different phases of historical context.
The (re-)configuration of religious spaces is not a background matter, it has catalyst function for changes on the embodied, social and political levels; it negotiates movements and settlements of people and attests that internationality was present in the world way before the ‘age of globalization’ (Relating). This panel hence encourages contributions addressing the creation, configuration, use, and transformation of religious spaces beyond Europe and in non-European contexts. It provides the opportunity to broaden the scope to include Asia and the Global South, aiming to rectify the overrepresentation of synagogue-church-mosque interactions in current studies.
Under the subtheme of Connecting, the panel addresses the reliance of religious spatiality research on context-specific case studies for understanding religious spatiality. It questions how to derive transferable assessments from diverse architectural, historical, and ethnographic data that spans from bareboned measurements over detailed site surveys to affective interpretations? The recent move to connect textual, material, and cognitive approaches promises innovative progress in the study of religious spatiality. This panel aims to showcase these methods to foster a collaborative scholarly network (Mapping).

28. The Making of the Contemporary City: Religion, Urban Policies, Management and Ecologies

Convenors: Natalia Zawiejska (Jagiellonian University), Łukasz Stypuła (Ośrodek Brama Grodzka – Teatr NN w Lublinie)

In this panel, we would like to gather contributions that reflect on the creative, structuring, forming, and also the rebellious role of religion in the making of contemporary cities (Simone 2022). If the post-secular approach (Mapril, Blanes, and Giumbelli, 2017; Cloke et al., 2019; Costa, 2022) challenges the understanding of simplified distinctions between secular and religious in contemporary urban spheres, imposing a rethinking of the urban public sphere, we would like to go a step further and reflect on religion as a driving force and crucial part of various urban ecologies (Simone 2011; Stringer, 2013). Such complex urban environments are not only managed by top-down urban policies but also find their ways to shape the city from below, utilizing alternative power distributions and resources. We would be interested in reflecting on how religion is formative, game-changing, and critical in social processes across various social movements, urban and social activism, heritage policies, urban citizenship formations, urban planning and development strategies. We want to debate the place of religion in contemporary urban governmentalities (Oosterbaan, 2014; Oosterbaan and Lanz, 2016; Niedźwiedź, 2019; Burchardt, 2019), including the instrumentalization of religion and voicing the absence of religion in urban management, as well as the claim of “the right to the city” (Harvey 2003) by suppressed or marginalized social groups. Our research experience is rooted in East Central Europe; however, we would like to invite papers dealing with various geopolitical and social locations to generalize the contemporary positionality of religion in urban developments and the future.

29. Strategies for Decolonizing the Study of South Asian Religions

Convenor: Tracy Pintchman (Loyola University Chicago)

This session invites papers from cholars eager to consider strategies for “decolonizing” the study of South Asian religions, with emphasis on the study of Hindu traditions.There are many calls to decolonize the study of religion in the academy, but what does that mean, and how might it be accomplished? José Cabezon has noted that the demographic and ideological hegemony of Christianity in the academic study of religion has led to a sense that religions other than Christianity continue to occupy for European and American academics “a preeminent position in the hierarchy of otherness” (Cabezon 2006, 27). He is especially interested in taking into consideration the larger theoretical, framing issues that are “operative in the religions we study” and in seeking to engage such religions at that level instead of just “grinding the data that is the Other through the mill of our own theoretical apparatuses.” The goal, says Cabezon, is to challenge what he considers to be a kind of “theoretical parochialism” in the academy (Cabezon 2006, 30). Similarly, Walter Mignolo emphasizes as an option in academic writing the practice of “epistemic disobedience” in the pursuit of theoretical decoloniality, by which he means “affirming the epistemic rights of the racially devalued” (Mignolo 2009,4). How might we continue the project foregrounding theories and frames of knowing that supplement those of European modernity?

30. Mapping Methods and Theories in Shiʿi Studies

Convenors: Mohammad Nabeel Jafri (University of Toronto), Candace Mixon (Reed College)

The trajectory of scholarship on Shiʿism is marked by two overarching influences. First, as the early Orientalists pored over and translated myriad Arabic and Persian texts in the 19th and 20th centuries, they accepted the normative claims offered by their objects of study as fact, relegating Shiʿism outside the purview of Islam. Second, nascent attempts at a systematic study of Shiʿa traditions can be dated to the 1970’s, where much of the scholarship produced was inspired by the then current political and social contexts of Iran. Today, the dual legacies of focusing on Sunni texts and Shiʿi politics can often be arthritic, foreclosing potential and productive avenues of inquiry. Under the Congress subtheme of Mapping, we invite analyses of recent trends in the field that challenge simple binaries of Sunni/Shiʿa, Arabic/Persian, and texts/practices, opting to consider their crossways and varied intersections. We welcome papers whose archives include languages and geographies underrepresented in the field, and whose methods are sensitive to the interplay of texts, practices, and materials in Shiʿi devotion. We especially encourage papers to think through not just the limitations of the oeuvre of Orientalist textual-philological works, but also possible and potential benefits that such scholarship enables, particularly since many of the Shiʿa devotees inhabit worlds as logocentric as the ones portrayed by early European scholars.

31. Rethinking the History of Religious Studies: Beyond Post-Colonialism and Eurocentrism

Convenor: Augusto Cosentino (Società Italiana di Storia delle Religioni)

A dominant trend in the field of religious studies criticizes its colonial and Eurocentric nature, arguing that traditional approaches have privileged Euro-American perspectives to the detriment of others. This criticism has led to questioning the notion itself of religion, as a Western construct unapplicable to non-Western cultures.

This panel aims to critically examine this position, challenging the idea of a monolithic essentialized West and arguing for “religion” as an analogous historical concept. It will also explore the potentially negative consequences of the adoption of critical theory or indiscriminate reflexivity for the discipline, implying the risk of fragmenting the study of religions and removing any attempt at comparison. Arguably, it is possible to preserve the epistemological validity of the religious historical (comparative ) approach while recognizing and enhancing the plurality and diversity of cultural traditions.

In sum. this panel intends to challenge traditional emic/etic dichotomies, arguing that both scholars and the phenomena they study, are involved in a historical reflective process. It will consider how other cultural traditions have developed alternative views and approaches applicable to religio-historical investigation.

Finally, we intend to contribute to the understanding of the concept of religion, following its variations throughout the diverse cultures and the history of religious historiography.

32. Bodies and Spaces in Religions and Regions Beyond Europe: Bridging Local Knowledge with Global Discourse

Convenors: George Pati (Valparaiso University), Adam Newman (University of Illinois Urbana Champaign)

Examining bodies and spaces in the study of religions necessitates employing multiple approaches and methods, including but not limited to anthropology, geography, psychology, and sociology. The dominant discourses in studying bodies and spaces heavily relied on approaches and methods developed within Europe. For example, Henri Lefebvre (1974) argues bodies are porously interacting with the spaces within which they exist, emphasizing it to be dynamic, processual, and agentive. Michel de Certeau (1984) examines everyday practices and argues that space is practiced and embodied and is a nexus. Kim Knott (2005) articulates a spatial methodology, suggesting ways to analyze the location of religion. Though these and other studies provide excellent insights for studying bodies and spaces, they were developed within the European context. This session invites papers exploring bodies and/or spaces “out of Europe,” employing multidisciplinary approaches and methodologies bridging local knowledge outside Europe with global discourses on bodies and spaces in the academic study of religions. The session is particularly interested in considering these questions: Can “out of Europe” approaches or methods to investigating bodies and spaces in religions and regions beyond Europe problematize ongoing dominant discourses on the body, space, and religion? Does employing “out of Europe” approaches or methods decolonize the study of religion? And does such an inquiry establish employing a multidisciplinary approach to enrich and emphasize the significance of interdisciplinarity in the academic study of religions?

33. Maintenance of Power in Catholicism – Strategies and Tensions

Convenors: Anne Koch (University of Freiburg), Katarzyna Zielińska (Jagiellonian University)

For more than 200 years democratic and liberal ideas and forms of governance have become successful in many countries around the world, in all their varieties. These dynamics have usually coincided with the ongoing secularization processes. Yet, despite such a democratic dynamic, the Roman Catholic Church retained the feudal hierarchy of the clergy and laity as their social structure. Furthermore, despite the Vatican Council II claims for aggiornamento and various movements demanding more participation within Catholicism, the tensions between the Church and modern state and society have persisted. In recent decades, we can observe the acceleration of such tensions on both sides of the secular/religious division.

Our panel aims to address these tensions. We invite submissions that focus on, but are not limited to the following questions: How does it come that antimodernism within Catholicism, can retain its political and/or social power until today? What are the strategies of power maintenance in European and global Catholicism? What are the emancipatory movements and how do counter-movements, i.e. anti-gender, anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ+, react to the success of the former? Can we detect the dynamics of interdependence between these movements and broader emancipatory social movements? What are the coalitions formed to strengthen the Catholic mobilizations present on both sides of the conflict?

34. Bengal, believes and bridges: Cultures and connections of communities since ancient to present time

Convenor: Ahmed Abidur Razzaque Khan (University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh)

Since the Vedic period, from the inscription of religious scripts, ancient Bengal was the site of several major kingdoms. The historical records ensure that based on its lucrative cotton muslin textiles, maritime trades and ports connected  ancient Bengal with the  Silk Road,  had strong trade links Persia, Arabia and the Mediterranean. Actually, the Bengal region has been a historical melting point, blending indigenous traditions with influences from its empires. 

At present the Bengalis are the dominant ethnolinguistic group in the world  located in South Asia, mainly the  Bangladesh and the Indian states of West Bengal and Tripura where Bengali/ Bangla  is the official and primary language. However a large number of Bengali people living outside their homeland who are diaspora including migrant workers and they are from different beliefs including cultures.  Bengal and Bengalis with its rich signature of  rich tradition of philosophy and music for example Baul’s tradition, art and architecture, indigenous performances and dances, language, dialects and literatures, empowered communities through development practices and   contributed to harmony, created culture of peace and tolerance in the world. 

Living in a connected world, researchers, writers, film makers, artists, content creators and development practitioners  are continuously redefining or rediscovering the Bengali tradition and beliefs within and out of their communities.  This panel would like to explore how beliefs and cultural practices, connections contribute or contradict/ confuse the communities of these language based communities. A creative methodological approach like performance, audio visual storytelling could be an added value of this open panel. 

35. Time for transformation? Criticism of the concept of religion as a challenge for non-confessional religious education

Convenor: Peden Thalen (University of Gävle)

A great challenge, but so far not much discussed in relation to non-confessional religious education (RE), is the far-reaching (intra-)academic criticism that has been levelled against Religious Studies (RS), namely, that its most central concept – the concept of religion – is not valid as an analytical category. If this criticism is sound, this entails that the knowledge generated in RS does not enjoy the self-evident scholarly validity that has been taken for granted, which in turn negatively affects RE, which has unquestioningly been able to rely on RS as its ‘supplier’ of specialised academic knowledge. There can thus be no doubt that RE is indeed vulnerable to the criticism, long been promulgated within RS, of the use of religion as an analytical category. The question that arises is instead: just how vulnerable?

Is it sufficient within RE to account for previous points of departure that have uncritically rested on the concept of religion, for example, by trying to abandon “the world religion paradigm”, or does RE need to take a step further by in some sense liberating itself from parts of RS, just as it freed itself from the national religion and certain forms of academic theology? But in that case what would this radical move involve? Does that not entail a dissolution of the idea of non-confessional religious education or, on the contrary, would it entail the freedom to recreate this concept on the basis of prevailing intellectual and cultural conditions?

36. Exploring Religious Spatialities: Advancements in the Study of Sacred Architecture through Digital Humanities

Convenors: Silvia Omenetto (Sapienza Università di Roma), Angelica Federici (Fondazione Bruno Kessler)

The last two decades have witnessed the advancement in the field of Religious Studies of an ever-widening reflection on the potential and use of the Digital Humanities. Specifically, there’s been a significant drive to incorporate digital technologies like 3D modeling, AI, machine learning, cloud computing, data tech, Geographic Information System (GIS), and VR/AR into Religious Studies. This shift has been well-documented, notably by scholars like Christopher Cantwell and Kristian Peterson (2021), highlighting how technologies have broadened research methodologies in Religious Studies, bridging traditional approaches and technical-scientific methods. This shift has also transformed research outcomes. Traditional scholarly outputs, such as books and articles, have been complemented or replaced by innovative forms of dissemination like 3D immersive media, podcasts, GIS maps, and online databases. For example, Cantwell and Peterson have highlighted the increasing emphasis on spatial analysis in digital humanities (DH) work, especially through the use of GIS (Goodchild 1991; Wright, Goodchild and Proctor 2004; Dixonm and Whitehead 2008). Such an emphasis has become so pronounced that some believe it merits recognition as its own distinct subfield within DH. 

Thanks to this panel, we want to build the state of the art on the study of religious spatialities through the use of a Digital Humanities (DH) methodology, collecting ongoing studies and research that have examined religious architecture.

37. Crossing the Boundaries in Esotericism (A Scandinavian Network for the Academic Study of Western Esotericism Panel)

Convenor: Tim Rudboeg (University of Copenhagen)

The academic study of esotericism has both fostered many significant perspectives on the plurality of religion and spirituality in European culture and contributed to important knowledge about occultism, magic, theosophy, kabbalah, hermeticism. More recently, however, the global has been more fully embraced in esotericism studies and local contexts hitherto unexplored have equally been given attention. Related to this, new methodological challenges have also emerged. Thus, a discussion and exploration of how we approach esotericism when it crosses boundaries is needed. These can be geographical, cultural, traditional or academic boarders and categories. This panel seeks to engage with examples of a variety of methodological approaches to different esoteric currents, ideas and practices in which esotericism has crossed boundaries. Some examples could be: When Theosophy became a part of Scandinavia, did it take on a particularly Scandinavian form, adapting to the societal structure and concerns at the time? Are the so-called occult arts a global phenomenon? Is occulture or aesthetic products inspired by esotericism a part of esotericism or only entangled with esotericism? Are OTO, Wiccan and Golden Dawn rituals taught and practiced in the same way in the Nordic countries, or around the world? Are normative perspectives regarding deviance, normalcy, gender, the environment and esotericism the same or different around the world? This panel hopes to explore such questions. While this SNASWE panel is particularly dedicated to studies on esotericism in a Nordic context and studies undertaken in Nordic contexts, it also seeks to explore the topic beyond those boundaries. 

38. Religion/s, Science/s, and the Public. An entangled history of popularisation, meaning-making, and social structures

Convenors: Elena Schaa (Trinity College Dublin), Annika Kraft (University of Münster)

The panel uses the lens of popularisation to look at the shared history of religion/s and science/s, including the humanities and social sciences. We aim to foster a cross-disciplinary discussion on science-and-religion. To do so, we focus on three areas: popularisation as a mechanism of meaning-making, religion as a medium of popularisation, and lastly popularisation as a practice of renegotiating social structures. 

The professionalisation of science was, from its beginning, accompanied by the popularisation of specialised knowledge. Different sides, media, and practices were involved in the popularisation of academic knowledge. In the last decades, documentaries, podcasts, YouTube videos, Social Media, seminars, or public protests complement the forms of popularisation established in the 19th Century, such as public lectures, monographs, newspapers, magazines, fairs, or museums. In many cases, meaning-making accompanies the processes of popularisation, which includes the (self-)study of the public. Furthermore, popularising academic knowledge is tied to social ideals, ranging from an educated public to secularism, or the empowerment of the people. As such, popularisation is explicitly tied to ideologies. Moreover, the communication of knowledge within and beyond academic disciplines is shaped by aesthetic ideologies shape, a prominent example being German Romanticism. Thus, popularisation is a powerful tool for shaping social realities, as well as the way the world is perceived and imagined. 

We welcome historical, theoretical, and ethnographic contributions on the dynamics between religion and science developed by the popularisation of academic knowledge. We encourage papers that ask how sex/gender and imperial ideals are transmitted, manifested, and challenged through popularisation.

39. Cognitive and evolutionary approaches to the origins, mechanisms, and functions of religion

Convenor: Eva Kundtová Klocová (The International Association for the Cognitive and Evolutionary Sciences of Religion)

This panel aims to present research pertaining to cognitive processes, evolutionary adaptations, and naturalistic approaches to the enduring role of religious beliefs and practices in human societies. The cognitive perspective delves into the workings of the human mind, exploring how mechanisms such as agency detection and theory of mind contribute to the formation and propagation of religious concepts. Concurrently, the evolutionary lens investigates how religious phenomena may have evolved as adaptive strategies addressing fundamental human needs like social cohesion and existential security. In this way, the panel aims to pinpoint universal human tendencies as they manifest in diverse expressions among variety of religious systems. 

The panel invites both empirical and theoretical papers.

40. Christian missions as metamorphic zones for the circulation of knowledge about “religion”? Cases from South Asia (19-20th centuries)

Convenors: Phillippe Bornet (University of Lausanne), Mukesh Kumar (EHTZ)

The panel explores the extent to which Christian missions in South Asia might have functioned as metamorphic zones for the circulation of knowledge about “religion” and “religions” in the 19th and 20th centuries. Missionaries arrived to their fieldwork with their own normative convictions about what “religion” was and how it had to be practiced. Their views on “religious otherness” were central to the definition of the “religious self”, so that one would expect that all difference would be reduced to sameness. Actual encounters in the field, however, seem to show a slightly more complicated picture.

Building on the works of T. Asad, M. Bergunder, D. Chidester and others, and focusing on specific cases of encounters, questions we would like to address include how concepts of “religion” developed in European contexts (especially Protestant theology, but also the scholarly context of the comparative study of religion) and mediated by missionaries contributed to both develop a local self-understanding of religion and to foster local scholarly initiatives; conversely, in what measure did missionaries refashion their conceptions about “religion” for themselves at home and for others in the field after encountering various forms of “religion” and its diverse meanings in South Asia? In sum, what role did such encounters play in a global religious history of late modernity ? Did they contribute to modify, enlarge or complexify the conceptual framework of all what “religion” can be? Or did they, on the contrary, contribute to polarize and reify the different religious identities in presence even more? 

41. Religion, Festivals and Communities: Formation of New Social Identities

Convenor: Moumita Dhar (IGNOU)

Religious belief often shapes the social structure of local communities. Festivals are deeply associated with religious practices and often considered as an intangible cultural expression of a community. Due to globalization, industrialization and human migration, the previous social structures have gone through drastic changes which has impacted the interpretation of religious beliefs. Previously, religious festivals were considered as auspicious and orthodox, but, now, the meaning of religious festivals are shifting towards more heterogenetic shared beliefs. Newly developed diverse societies are adding new values ​​to the pre-existent ideas behind the festivals and accepting different practices outside of their known religious faith. Festivals, rituals and gatherings have emerged as a means of co-existence and communal celebration attracting tourism and revenue. After the recent development in the information technology and social media platforms, people are drawn to the local cultural experiences as well as visual representation of an event. Along with the festivals, other local tangible and intangible practices such as food, textile, music, dance, literature and sports are getting popularized and boosting economy. This process of  change is not so recent, if we take a look back in time such parallel incidents have taken places throughout the historyin in different cultural and geographical zones.

In these panel different aspects of religious festivals and their influence on society, symbiotic relationship of religion and society, recent changes in cultural celebration and impact of festivals on tourism will be discussed. This panel also welcomes critical studies on similar topic from the historic context.

42. Analysing the Position of the Scholar

Convenor: Indrek Peedu (University of Tartu)

The positon of the scholar has been an ever-present topic of discussion in the study of religion. For a while its central focus was on distinguishing the study of religion from religious approaches. Often this was understood as a matter of method(ology). As a result, there has been much discussion on whether to conceptualize the scholar’s position as objective, neutral, methodological agnostic, methodological naturalist or otherwise. On the other hand, because of the postcolonial, deconstructive, discursive and other critical developments, it has become apparent that the issue of positioning is not limited solely to scholar’s relationship with the object of research. Other issues cannot be ignored either. This includes power relations, scholar’s possible roles as an expert, a public intellectual or as a social activist, or the seemingly inevitable biases ingrained in our conceptualisations of anything we choose to study. In light of these as well as other, unmentioned issues, the issue of positioning the scholar deserves and requires further analysis. This panel invites everybody to reflect on issues related to the position of the scholar, including, but not limited to questions such as:

  • How to conceptualize the position of the scholar? 
  • Is it possible to study religion in a properly impartial and unbiased way?
  • How does the position of the scholar (not) differ depending on whether one is studying texts, living people or artefacts?
  • What kind of roles can a scholar take on publicly and still maintain that it is a scholarly activity?

43. Bridging Boundaries: Digital Humanities and Religious Studies

Convenor: Frederik Elwert (Ruhr University Bochum)

The panel explores the impact of digital methods on the study of religion(s) by facilitating interdisciplinary collaboration, connecting diverse datasets, and promoting global scholarly engagement. Digital humanities methods can contextualize data, enrich academic exploration of religion(s), and provide a platform for collaborative research that transcends geographical and cultural constraints. Through case studies and methodological reflections, this panel aims to explore the complex relationship between data, technology, and the study of religion(s).

Aligned with thematic section 4, ‘Crossing the Boundaries: Approaches and Methodologies,’ the panel examines the impact of digital humanities on the study of religion. Papers discussing the practical applications of digital methods in religious studies are invited, as well as more conceptual/theoretical explorations. The panel aims to examine the challenges and opportunities presented by the digital turn in the study of religion(s), including the ethical implications and potential pitfalls of incorporating technology. The panel investigates how specific digital approaches, such as linked open data, computational text and image analysis, or annotation and data augmentation, can help bridge the gap between different disciplines and facilitate connections between scholars worldwide. Simultaneously, this panel pays attention to how these methodologies and their concrete implementations are themselves rooted in Western academia, and invites presentations of approaches from outside of Western academia.

44. Beyond Confessionalization: Early Modern Religious Identities in a Global Perspective

Convenor: Jana Valtrova (Masaryk University)

There has never been a universally applicable concept of ‘religion’ (J. Z. Smith), but numerous terms and concepts preceded our modern understanding (B. Nongbri) and were utilized in various contexts. The early modern era (late 15th to late 18th centuries) witnessed heightened global interconnectedness, prompting an increased need for terminology to describe and systemize ‘religions.’

How did these terms develop and intersect within diverse cultural contexts and societies? What cultural features constituted significant parts of ‘religious’ identities globally, and/or localy during the early modern period? Can we identify similarities in shaping ‘religion’ or ‘confession’ across early modern cultures? How were discourses of ‘religious selves’ connected, and did they interact cross-culturally (S. Subrahmanyam)? These questions guide our exploration.

A principal focus of this research is the historically and culturally specific discourses on religious plurality and difference in a global context. While the development of religious identities in early modern Europe is often framed as ‘confessionalization’ (Konfessionalizierung), beyond Europe, it is primarily a subject of postcolonial studies. Both discourses share a deep interest in negotiating authorities and handling diversity within their specific contexts.

This panel aims to stimulate an exchange of theoretical and methodological approaches contributing to a connected history of early modern religious identities. Papers on (self-)defining religious minorities, dissenting movements, inter-religious polemics, and religious identities in practice are welcomed in any cultural context of the early modern period.

45. A Comparative Religious History of Central-Eastern Europe, 1500-2000: Problems, Methods, Perspectives

Convenor: Eugen Ciurtin (Romanian Academy)

A decent amount of scholarly contributions from the first quarter of this century have highlighted the need for a global religious history of Europe. Following the masterly insights by Burkhard Gladigow (1939-2022), a first collective endeavour in defining an Europäische Religionsgeschichte | European History of Religions is due to Hans G. Kippenberg et al.Europäische Religionsgeschichte: ein mehrfacher Pluralismus (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht | UTB, 2009, 2 vols.), discussed in a previous EASR | IAHR Conference (Messina 2009). While firm advances were made towards a Western-Central European history of religions in post-Renaissance, little or for certain areas and topics quasi nothing was done for a comparative and generalist religious history of Central-Eastern Europe. This IAHR panel would contribute to this purpose, by selecting new approaches in dealing with the sophisticated diversity of previously unexplored religious landscapes of Central and Eastern Europe, from 1500 to 2000. Interactions, entanglements and confrontations between religious agencies will thus be privileged, along with pertinent questions on method and perspectives. New researches on past historians of religions working on such data and their inherited misconceptions may be included as well. 

46. Reconceptualizing religion towards the planetary future

Convenor: Diana Lunkwitz (Global Christianity and Religious Studies)

The global climate crisis affects religious communities in different parts of the world with varying degrees of severity. In the face of threats, people have repeatedly reconceptualized religion and dynamically developed it into the particularities of places. How to rethink established concepts of religion from ‘the West’ in order to meet the current climate challenges? How to be human in times when hierarchies of power determine life for the majority of the earth’s population? How to overcome colonial and neocolonial power structures in the study of religion and deepen a non-hegemonic production of knowledge about religion from the existentially affected places? How to reconceptualize religion interconnected for an uncertain future of our planet? The panel seeks to deal with a forward-looking and pioneering reconceptualization of religion in the face of the climate crisis and its consequences for the planetary future. The questions of locality, positionality and power should be addressed, especially from non-Eurocentric empirical, historical and conceptual perspectives. We therefore welcome contributions that:

  • focus on projects and topics which reveal the entanglements of decolonization, dismantling racism, and environmentalism,
  • challenge and/or complicate Eurocentric and hegemonic theoretical frameworks, terminologies, conceptual categories,
  • propose new approaches to facilitate a rethinking of concepts of religion for a sustainable study of religion in times of a global climate crisis that affects people locally.

47. Orthodox Christianity and Esotericism

Convenor: Ionut Daniel Bancila (Institute for the History of Religions)

Several factors are at work in shaping the profile of esotericism in Eastern Europe, among which the cultural heritage of Eastern Christianity plays an important role. Ancient esoteric terminology was eagerly imported in the conceptual laboratory of early Christianity, thus contributing to a sort of ‘open Esotericism’, without a nuanced counter-cultural bias. Furthermore, esoteric terminology got successively internalized in eastern Christian monasticism, which privileged „mysticism” and ascetic practice over the uses of imagination, as contrasted with the Western type of esotericism. Eastern Europe was also exposed from the modern era onwards also to the import of Western forms of esotericism, being able to issue local variants not only of esoteric organizations (such as the Russian Rosicrucian Freemasonry) but also indigenous variants of Enlightenment, in which morality and religion played a major role.To these one may add the „Orthodox occulture” – a complex and fluid phenomenon in which popular representations of Eastern Christianity are used by seekers of spiritual authority and legitimacy in order to enhance the credits of their worldviews, or esoteric and occult representations are integrated in the worldviews of people socialized in the rituals and traditions of Eastern Christianity (fringe Orthodox religious movements included).

The aim of this panel is to research and discuss the various points of intereference, adoption, transfer, indigenization and appropriation of esoteric discourses and practices in Orthodox Christianity, as well as of orthodox Christian traditions in global esotericism.

48. Alternative Religiosity in Communist and Post-Communist region: Orientalist Religious Movements and their Features, Manifestations and Transformations

Convenor: Rasa Pranskeviciute-Amoson (Vilnius University), Kristina Garalytė (Vilnius University), Deimantas Valančiūnas (Vilnius University)

The panel is set to explore the formation and spread of alternative orientalist religiosity during late Soviet period and its transformation during early post-Soviet period as well as ideas and worldview of their participants, their relationship with other religious communities and with the dominant political system. The object of the panel is various alternative religious and spiritual groups (Vaishnavas, Buddhists, yoga practitioners, etc.) that ground their believes and values in ideas stemming from the East. The adjective “orientalist” in this panel serves not as a geographical location but rather as an indication to the collection of various practices, phantasies and myths, that have been transplanted and adopted to new cultural context (Said 1979).

The panel invites various papers, focusing on the research of alternative orientalist religiosity during late Soviet period and its transformation during early post-Soviet period: reconstruction and documentation of the recent history and continuing living practices of the alternative orientalist religious movements in various countries; the interplay between religion, society and politics (relationship of alternative orientalist religious communities with the dominant political system and other religious groups); transformations of alternative orientalist religious ideas and movements in the early post-Soviet period in diverse countries in the broader context of sociopolitical change, etc.

49. Religion, Ecology, and Climate Change

Convenor: William French (Loyola University Chicago)

This panel focuses on the interface between religion and contemporary ecological concerns across borders. Across the last half century, humanity has become confronted with mounting concern about ecosystem disruption, species endangerment, and above all climate change. The rise of ecology has stressed both that the natural world is sustained through vast webs of interconnections and that human communities are thoroughly entangled with, and sustained by, the nonhuman natural world. Religious traditions and institutions are responding to the environmental crisis in various ways. For example, The Parliament of the World’s Religions calls for a “global ethic” which places ecological responsibility at the fore, and Pope Francis in his 2015 encyclical Laudato si’ calls all to push for climate change mitigation and for policies to relieve the suffering of the world’s poor. Arne Naess and others have called for a “deep ecology” movement that seeks a strong change in humanity’s core practices, but they accept that such change will be achieved only through sustained efforts at reformist steps. Naess holds that helpfully noted how ecological responsibility is a “big tent.” This open panel invites papers that address the intersection between religion and environmental concern across the globe. As such, if fits the sixth subtheme of the conference, relating religion with culture and society.

50. Motherhood, Religion and Nationalism in a Global Religious History

Convenors: Judith Bachmann (Heidelberg University), Jessica Albrecht, Anna Kirchner (Heidelberg University)

Motherhood has been discussed as a topic within the study of religion, mostly between the submission of women into conservative gender roles and their agency, especially within their respective religious traditions. Yet, until now, its global relevance, specifically in its relations with religion and nationalism, has not been sufficiently explored. So far, the focus has been on European contexts mainly. This exclusive focus on Europe makes the study of religion and motherhood susceptible to Eurocentrism. Global religious history approaches address this lacuna but so far, have not paid enough attention to gender as a constitutive aspect to religion. Following global religious history approaches, the panel wants to set its entry point in the present. Today, religion is practiced and professed all over the globe. It is a shared common place, yet the practices and understandings differ from each other. The panel wants to explore motherhood in the same vein, as a global discourse in which practices and understandings may still differ from each other, though they are entangled with each other. We invite specifically research projects with focus on non-European contexts to consider how ideas of motherhood stabilize specific practices of religion and nation, and vice versa. We are also interested in contributions that show how motherhood enables agency beyond the frequently made dichotomy of submission to or resistance against a certain image of motherhood.

51. Hermeneutics of Enchantment: Post-modern Magical Practice as a New Global Lifestyle

Convenors: Andrei Kapcar (Masaryk University), Tancredi Marrone (Masaryk University)

What does it mean when something is Esoteric? This term has been used in a variety of contexts, often associated with exclusive and hidden forces, controversial political, social and moral values and relegated to a corner of the world of religious studies. Both threatening and attractive Esotericism as a field has doubtlessly attracted a wide variety of cultural expressions. The continuous increase of the pursuit of personal religion as much as questioning religious institutions has given the discourse of Esotericism a particular status. With the popularization of Esotericism and esoteric practices a new paradigm and conceptualization of spirituality has emerged, sweeping the globe and fuelled by a pursuit of wonder and enchantment. This has resulted in the integration of multiple spiritual religious and magical traditions from numerous cultures and continents continuously reshaping the meaning of the Esoteric. In this panel we will explore a variety of esoteric expressions which will range from the artistic to the chemical the technological and the tribal including a variety of methodologies applied to this field. We will moreover explore what the value and meaning of Esotericism is for both practitioners and scholars alike, two perspectives that often overlap resulting occasionally in intellectual insight but also in horrendous mishaps.