Archive | December 2011

An International Journal on Charms, Charmers and Charming

Not that I have time to read it… this journal sounded so bizarre that I had to share it with you. It’s open access so I’d be interested to hear what is contained therein!

INCANTATIO 
An International Journal on Charms, Charmers and Charming
Issue 1, 2011

General Editor: Mare Kõiva
Guest Editor: Jonathan Roper

To buy this issue, contact the editors. You can see the issue here (PDF) or click on article titles for individual PDF files.

CONTENTS

  • Introduction
    P. 6
  • Secrecy and Ritual Restrictions on Verbal Charms Transmission in Greek Traditional Culture
    Haralampos Passalis
    Pp. 7-24The paper focuses on the ritual restrictions and taboos surrounding verbal charms transmission in Greek traditional culture. These restrictions and taboos which are closely connected with a strategy of secrecy based on the wide-spread belief that revealing the verbal part of charm renders the ritual ineffective, aim at protecting the transmission of verbal part which is considered as the main part of the ritual performance. Moreover, they can cast light on issues as the social status of performer, the owned state of magic, the problem of collecting charms in fieldwork, and even on the way of performance (the verbal part has to be recited in such a way so that it is not heard). Special attention is given to how this strategy of secrecy affects the construction of the verbal part by way permitting transformations, innovations substitutions, omissions, even texts which lack logical coherence without disturbing the efficacy of the rituals themselves.
    Key words: Greek traditional culture, performative context, restrictions, secrecy, taboos, transmission, verbal charms
  • Practical Texts in Difficult Situations: Bulgarian Medieval Charms as Apocrypha andFachliteratur
    Svetlana Tsonkova
    Pp. 25-35The objects of this article are medieval Bulgarian charms, written in Old Church Slavonic language and preserved in manuscripts. The article is focused on two issues. Firstly, it deals with the charms as specialized texts, as a specific kind of Fachliteratur, with important practical function in coping daily life challenges and problems. The main purpose of these charms was to meet and solve the crucial quotidian issues, like health problems, provision of good luck and protection against evil forces. Secondly, the article refers to the position of the charms among the canonical Orthodox Christian texts. This position is examined in the context of practicality and of the historical changes in the society. This is also a question of the relations between the content of the charms and the content of the other texts from the same manuscript. In this respect the medieval Bulgarian charms are an interesting phenomenon, as they intermingle among canonical Orthodox Christian books, as service books and books of needs.
    Key words: apocrypha, apotropaic magic, daily life, medieval Bulgarian charms, medievalFachliteratur, oral and written transmission of charms, practical magic
  • Immateria Medica: Charmers and their Communities in Newfoundland
    Martin Lovelace
    Pp. 36-47This paper offers a typology of charmers in Newfoundland, Canada. The ability to charm may be transmitted, often cross-sex, or may be ascribed by the community and adopted as a role by an individual who falls into the recognized categories of being a posthumous child, or a woman who marries a man who shares her own family name. Seventh sons and priests are ascribed the widest range of healing competency and are at the apex of a conceptual pyramid of power. Material is drawn from fieldwork conducted in 2010 and a review of holdings on charming contained in MUNFLA, the Memorial University Folklore and Language Archive. It is argued that it may be premature to conclude that charmers have lost their healing and social roles in Newfoundland communities and that in the case of wart charming, and blood stopping, the tradition continues.
    Key words: Ascribed healing roles, charming, folklore archives and appraisal of sources, Newfoundland, scarcity of verbal charms.
  • The Three Good Brothers Charm: Some Historical Points
    Lea Olsan
    Pp. 48-78The charm for wounds beginning “Three good brothers were going/walking” has been documented in written and spoken sources in various languages across the European continent from the medieval period. Ferdinand Ohrt’s article in the Handwörterbuch des deutschen Aberglaubens contained many examples of the formula from Northern European manuscript sources. There remain many more examples to be assembled from English manuscripts and from other cultural traditions This paper (including the Appendices) does not attempt to offer a comprehensive collection of Three Good Brothers charms. Rather, it seeks to understand and interpret selected instances of the charm’s appearance from the evidence of selected manuscript contexts. The phrase ‘Historical Points’ in the title of this paper signals my attempt to elucidate the cultural contexts for the use of this wound charm at specific moments during, before and after its popularity in the manuscript culture of the medieval period.
    Key words: Tres boni fratresLonginusNeque doluit neque tumuit, encounter charm, Christ as healer.
  • Genre and Authority in the Scholarly Construction of Charm and Prayer: A View from the Margins
    James A. Kapaló
    Pp. 79-101This paper presents a critique and some theoretical reflections on the relationship between the genres of charm and prayer in folklore and religions scholarship. I draw special attention to the construction of the liminal genre of ‘archaic prayer’ in Hungarian scholarship and its relationship to magic and the ‘charm’ genre as elucidated in the work ethnographers Éva Pócs, Zsuzsanna Erdélyi and Irén Lovász amongst others. It is commonly recognised that scholarly distinctions between genres cut across emic categories and insider knowledge structures. Drawing on the work of Pierre Bourdieu, this paper critiques the discourse on archaic prayer in relation to the dichotomy between magic and religion and the emic/etic distinction through a focus on power/knowledge relations and the politics of language in the religious field.
    Key words: Bourdieu, charms, folklore, folk prayer, genre, folk religion

BOOK REVIEW
Successful and Fruitful Model – Lithuanian Charms Collection as a Contribution to the Research of Verbal Magic, pp. 102-103
A New Generation Study on Lithuanian Incantations, pp. 104-106

CONFERENCE REPORT
Charms, Charmers and Charming. International Conference at the Romanian Academy (Bucharest, June, 24–25, 2010), pp. 107-109

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NSRN Launch New Website!

I have been working on this website for months now, and launch day has finally happened! It would be great if you could all take a look and let me know what you think :)

NSRN Launch New Website!.

The thrill of seeing your name in print!

The thrill of seeing your name in print :)

Underground Student Atheist Groups

Something which might be of interest, from Kimberly Winston @ USA Today:

Late one night over pizza, University of Dayton students Branden King and Nick Haynes discovered neither of them believed in God. Surely, they thought, they couldn’t be the only unbelievers at the Roman Catholic college.

Last year, King and Haynes and a couple of other like-minded students applied to the administration to form the Society of Freethinkers, a student club based on matters of unbelief.

The university rejected their application — and rejected them again in September. Without university approval, the group cannot meet on campus, tap a student activities fund, participate in campus events or use campus media.

For now, they meet at a Panera cafe off campus, relying on word-of-mouth to draw members, up to about 15 now. And they are appealing the rejection.

“A religious campus can be a lonely place for someone who doesn’t subscribe to faith,” said King, now 23 and a graduate student in biology. “We want to reach out to these people.”

The Dayton students are not alone. The Secular Student Alliance, a national organization of nontheistic students with 320 campus chapters, reports at least two other religious universities —Notre Dame and Baylor — have rejected clubs for atheist, agnostic, humanist and other nontheistic students. Students at Duquesne, a Catholic school, say they have little hope of approval on their first application this year.

All the schools say they rejected the clubs because they conflict with their Christian mission _ which perplexes some students who note that Duquesne, Dayton and Notre Dame approved Muslim and Jewish student clubs. Dayton and Duquesne have also approved gay student groups.

“The only difference between us and them is our club’s agenda does not assume the existence of the Judeo-Christian God,” said Stephen Love, 21, a Notre Dame student whose application was rejected twice. “I think those clubs should be allowed, but if they are going to use that line of reasoning to reject us they should be consistent.”

The Rev. James Fitz, Dayton’s vice president, said the school can support a gay student club without condoning the members’ sexual orientation. Approving non-Catholic religious clubs is acceptable, too, because faith in God is involved.

“As a Marianist university we aspire ‘to educate for formation in faith,”‘ he wrote in an email, quoting Marianist principles.

Many students say their peers are supportive of their nontheistic clubs. Others have asked why, if they do not believe in God, they chose a religious school in the first place.

Haynes and King came to Dayton after attending Catholic high schools. Andrew Tripp, president of DePaul University’s Alliance for Free Thought, liked DePaul’s urban setting and its service to Chicago’s poor. Brandi Stepp said as an atheist she worried about choosing DePaul, but was drawn to its theater department’s reputation.

“I thought I might have to keep my mouth shut about a lot of things,” she said. “I was really interested in finding a community of like-minded people. I saw the SSA ad, showed up and had a great time.”

Not all religious schools reject nontheist clubs. California Lutheran University has an active group that regularly cooperates with religious groups on campus, and DePaul has a thriving group that meets with administration support.

“Once they realized we were not going to march on the president’s office demanding the de-Catholization of the university they were very amenable to our goals,” said Tripp.

Suzanne Kilgannon, director of DePaul’s Office of Student Involvement, said the club’s goal of open inquiry into matters of faith — and non-faith — conforms to the school’s Catholic mission.

“We looked at it as we are the marketplace of ideas, so how could we not have an organization like this?” she said. “Because it is important to study all sides of the subject — regardless of the subject — we felt like this club belonged here.”

Other religious schools have arrived at the same conclusion. There are sanctioned Secular Student Alliance chapters at Southern Methodist University, Luther College, Presbyterian College and Iowa’s Central College as well.

Jesse Galef, SSA’s communications director, said some religious universities misunderstand the purpose of nontheist clubs. It isn’t to promote atheism, he said, but to provide “a safe place” for students exploring nonbelief.

“Secular student groups promote discussion, and community and compassion,” Galef said. “If the University of Dayton and other schools value these things they need to stop refusing secular students the same rights religious students have.”

Galef has heard from Baylor students who said they felt threatened with expulsion because of their lack of faith. The Baylor Atheist/Agnostic Society, continues to meet, organizing through a private Facebook page with 69 members. No one in the group agreed to be interviewed.

Nick Shadowen, a philosophy major who proposed a secular society at Duquesne and is currently awaiting the administration’s decision, sees a gap between religious and nonreligious students.

“A lot of students come from small, conservative towns centered around church where there is not a lot of discussion about atheists and so they are sort of forced to keep their opinion to themselves,” he said. “This group is a chance to show the rest of the student body we are just like everyone else.”

Toward a Typology of Nonreligion (Parts 1 and 2)

I’ve decided to enter the world of YouTube. Not because I had any burning desire to do so, but because I had some material and thought it couldn’t hurt to share it. The following two videos are audio recordings with the accompanying PowerPoint presentation of a paper I presented at the European Association for the Study of Religions’ Annual Conference in Budapest on 19 September 2011. I’m not in the habit of recording my presentations, but as I am writing a conference report on our panel session for the Nonreligion and Secularity Research Network, it made sense for me to record the full panel. Unfortunately I cannot share the full six-paper panel, or the ensuing discussion, as that would be a breach of privacy/copyright etc etc.

If you have 15 minutes… have a listen. Tell me what you think… and if you would like to read something more substantial, I can send through the full 25,000-word thesis. Feel free to cite this as you will – if you do can you use the following format:

Cotter, Christopher R. 2011. “Toward a Typology of Nonreligion: A Qualitative Analysis of Everyday Narratives of Scottish University Students”, European Association for the Study of Religions Annual Conference, 19 September. Budapest. Available here: <URL>

Enjoy!

 

 

(Non)Religion and (In)Equalities in an Age of Austerity

As I have had a couple of abstracts accepted for conferences in the New Year, I thought I would share them with you so that you’d know what I’m up to. I am also currently working on editing an audio recording and powerpoint presentation together so that you can hear the presentation I delivered at the European Association for the Study of Religions in Budapest last September.

The first conference is the British Sociological Association’s Sociology of Religion Study Group Conference on ‘Religion and (In)Equalities’, University of Chester, UK, 28 – 30 March 2012.

Here I shall be presenting the following paper:

The Inherent Inequalities of the Religion-Nonreligion Dichotomy: A Narrative Approach to Individual (Non-)Religiosity

Scholars of religion tend to focus upon individuals and/or communities that are demonstrably religious. However, existing relevant scholarly literature on the non- or non-traditionally religious in contemporary society portrays a complex system of mutual experiences of marginalisation and boundary demarcation amongst both the religious and the nonreligious (cf. Edgell, Gerteis, and Hartmann 2006; Cotter 2011a; Amarasingam 2010). This paper builds upon these observations, utilising empirical narrative evidence from a yearlong MSc project (Cotter 2011b) amongst the student body of the University of Edinburgh, focussing on ‘nonreligious’ undergraduates – whether explicitly irreligious/undecided, those occupying the ‘fuzzy middle’ (Voas 2009), or those potentially termed ‘nominal’ believers (cf. Day 2009; Davie 1994).

Firstly, I shall demonstrate that the academic study of religion institutionally marginalises the nonreligious – and unjustifiably so (cf. Fitzgerald 2000). Secondly, I shall show how an approach which allows individuals to present their (non)religious identity in their own terms presents a complex process of identity negotiation. Many students pragmatically ‘altered’ their (non)religious self-representations in a manner which suggested the maintenance of differentiated narratives in multiple internally demarcated habitūs, contained within an overarching narrative framework. Many of these fluctuations appear to be motivated by subjective experiences of belonging and marginalisation, and also testify to the limited usefulness and potentially inequality-creating effects of census-type survey methods (Day 2009; 2011). Finally, I propose that in every case the student’s personal (non)religious self-description was subordinated to other overarching ideals implicit throughout their narratives. When ‘religion’ is perceived to interact with these students’ narrative frameworks, it becomes the ‘other’ against which their personal perceptions of some disparate-yet-unified ‘nonreligious’ stance is defined. This suggests an alternative approach which takes individuals and groups on their own terms, and which avoids dichotomisation into majority/minority groups, whilst highlighting the important locations in which inequalities can emerge.

The next conference is the main conference of the British Sociological Association, entitled ‘Sociology in an Age of Austerity‘, University of Leeds, UK, 11–13 April 2012.

Here I shall be presenting the following paper:

Relocating Religion: An Alternative Perspective based on the Narratives of ‘Nonreligious’ Students

This paper builds upon my yearlong project amongst the student body of the University of Edinburgh focusing on (broadly defined) ‘nonreligious’ undergraduates. Through questionnaires and in-depth interviews, I explored this neglected area, and demonstrated that the limited number of current typologies of nonreligion – based on internally and/or externally selected and defined nonreligious identity labels – tend to be inadequate and inaccurate. In this paper, I show that nonreligious students are highly aware of the subjectivity of their interpretations of key self-descriptors, and in many cases maintain multiple self-representations simultaneously, in a situational and pragmatic fashion. Using their narrative frameworks, I propose a more nuanced typology of nonreligion, which both cuts across and is independent of ‘religious’ categories, and is rooted in the specificities of what individuals considered as important and significant in their lives. I demonstrate that these particular young people are neither indifferent to religion, nor overtly religious or nonreligious: ‘religion’ was not invested with any significant ‘meaning‘ in-and-of itself. However, when it was perceived to interact with their narrative frameworks, it became the ‘other‘ against which their personal stance is defined. This raises the possibility of a new approach to ‘religion’ which aims to understand individuals according to the narrative frameworks by which they articulate what really matters. In this ‘Age of Austerity’, this shift in focus to the different ways in which individuals are (or aren’t) religious could have profound implications upon how we approach social interactions and ‘religious’ conflict in a religiously diverse United Kingdom.

What do you read when studying religion (and nonreligion)?

Many people seem to think that I am a bit of a paradox as far as religion is concerned. Maybe this is true, maybe this isn’t. But I thought it would be amusing to share photographs of the bookshelf immediately above my desk – this should give you an idea of the sort of things that I read, or am meant to be reading at the moment. Of course, there are hundreds of journal articles and library books… but these  I actually ‘own’ myself. What do you think? Have you read any? Am I missing any classics? Answers on a postcard…

 

Atheist Aesthetics

A blog post from Ken Chitwood, featuring my friend Katie from the NSRN. I would add my own comments but I don’t have time right now… a couple of academics and I were talking in the pub yesterday about how atheism is largely responsible for the apparent resurgence of religion these days, and how humanism is basically religion devoid of the belief but attempting to maintain the ritual. I am sure I could construct that into a response… but I’ll leave that to you.

Enjoy. You can read the original post here.

Atheists Trade in Traditional Christian Symbols, Create Meaningful Icons of their Own

It’s that time of year again. The Holiday season is upon us, and with it comes classic Yuletide traditions such as eggnog, carols, the lighting of menorahs and decorating a Christmas tree. Ah yes, the Christmas tree, bedecked in lights, garnished with care and topped with…a flying spaghetti monster?

Instead of a star or an angel on top of ye ole Christmas tree this year, many atheists might surprise their family and friends with a proudly placed personified representation of a mound of spaghetti and meatballs atop their tree.

Why you might ask?

Katie Aston, a PhD candidate at Goldsmiths University in London researching atheist aesthetics and material cultures, suggests that such non-religious symbols, taken at face value as a joke, may serve similar purposes to explicitly religious images.

“The visual in a non-religious worldview, is of great importance,” Aston said, “it forms a vehicle for a number of ideas which either express or support the practice of a non-religious life and on occasion outwardly reject the religious images offered.”

The latter might very well be the case with the Flying Spaghetti Monster tree decoration or a number of other well-known atheist symbols and visual aids.

Take for example the “Darwin Fish.” Often found on the back of cars in mock comparison to the ICTHYS fish found on the bumpers of Christians, the Darwinian alternative is intended to promote evolution and to show unequivocally that the owner of the vehicle is not Christian, not a creationist and most definitely does not believe in a deity.

It might be said that the symbol’s strength is found in its resemblance to a common Christian sign.

Similarly, the Flying Spaghetti Monster, a parodic deity meant to challenge Christian beliefs in God, is placed on top of the tree instead of an angel or a “Bethlehem star” pointing to Jesus’ nativity.

These atheist symbols use Christian images or icons and replace them with their own to establish a contra-identity. At times this re-branding, as it were, can prove provocative.

The annual American Atheist “Christ-myth” billboard campaign plays on commonly known Christian symbols and challenges their veracity. Furthermore, the billboard campaign itself is overtly evangelistic and along with its British counterpart, the atheist bus ad campaign, are taken straight from the page of proselytizing believers.

So why do atheists convert otherwise religious icons into secular symbols? Often times for impact.

“The use of a simple symbol in a film, a book or an advertisement says far more than any wordy explanation ever could” wrote Adele Nozedar in The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Signs and Symbols, “Signs and symbols, our invention of them and understanding of them, transcend the barriers of written language and are the very heart of our existence as human beings.”

And so, these secular symbols and icons of the non-religious communicate what it means to be an atheist or agnostic. They are defiant and often juxtaposed to classic religious symbols. But this only tells half the story, it only establishes what atheists and agnostics do not believe or who they are not.

“While atheism is the absence of religion, it is not only a negative category” said Aston, “the atheist identity culture generates images which reference both the negative worldview and the positive/existent worldview of rationalism, scientific empiricism and humanism.”

These positive symbols, rather than drawing on established religious images, are creative instead of ironic, meaningful on their own instead of mocking. They tell us what atheists are, in lieu of only what they are not.

Some of these symbols include the American Atheist’s atom, symbolizing the idea that science is the source of true knowledge and human advancement. Nazadar suggests the open ended loop at the bottom “represents the idea that there are questions yet to be asked and yet to be answered.”

Aston proposed that Carl Sagan’s “pale blue dot” image and accompanying text might be another example of a “positive” atheist icon.

Whether the symbols tell us what atheists think or what they don’t believe, whether they be “negative” or “positive,” they provide a window into a non-religious identity culture that is continuously emerging in modern Western society.

On the back of vehicles, tee shirts, billboards or even atop Christmas trees these images are intimations of what it means to be atheist in a world full of religious signs and symbols. They provide identity, meaning and comfort to the world’s non-religious.

As Aston concluded, “images used in ‘non-religious’ realms, can produce a similar sense of awe, a sense of the enormity of which we cannot know and a material, shared reference point for members of a community with similar world views.”