One often hears the summer and autumn months as “conference season” but in recent years this hasn’t really been the case for me. You can put that down to a relative dearth of funding, concentrating on finishing the doctorate, and my brief sojourn out of academia to work for the Scottish Greens. That being said, I have always found the time and funds to attend the British Association for the Study of Religions (BASR) conference, which I have attended every year since 2011 (except 2014, when I was invited to represent the Religious Studies Project (RSP) at another conference which clashed with the BASR).
However, this year things are different. I am back in the academic game, with a generous research budget (thanks to the Leverhulme Trust) and have quite a busy schedule coming up. In fact, a couple of weeks ago I attended an excellent one-day conference on Ireland, Scotland and the Problem of English Nationalism: from Home Rule to Brexit at the University of St Andrews which was extremely relevant to my current project.
Here’s what I have coming up over the next few months:
16th Annual Conference of the European Association for the Study of Religions (EASR), 17-21 June 2018, Bern.
This is only the third EASR conference I will have attended (previously Budapest  and Liverpool ) and I am looking forward to not worrying about a presentation, to representing the BASR at various committee meetings, and to flying the flag for the RSP, along with Sammy Bishop and Tom White.
With the help of the inestimable Moritz Klenk, I shall (hopefully) be recording four podcasts for the RSP: with Susannah Crockford, Carmen Becker, Atko Remmel, and Marchus Moberg & Sofia Sjö. Hopefully we will also get a roundtable discussion recorded, and with the others’ help the RSP should be sitting around 10 podcasts up for the beginning of our 2018-2019 academic year.
5-6 July 2018, King’s College London. This is the first NSRN conference I will have been able to attend since 2012. I am not presenting, but am attending in a research capacity, as well as in my role as Co-Director of the NSRN. This conference is highly relevant to my current research, and I may even get a podcast or two recorded for the RSP.
BSA SocRel Annual Conference 2018 on “Religion and Education.” University of Strathclyde, 10–12 July 2018.
I am still swithering about whether to attend or not, but as this is just a short journey away (Glasgow) and as I haven’t been to a SOCREL conference since 2016, this would be a good opportunity to catch up with some colleagues, do a bit of networking, and record a podcast or two. Watch this space.
Joint Conference between the British Association for the Study of Religions and the Irish Society for the Academic Study of Religions, 3–5 September 2018, Queen’s University, Belfast
I am one of the co-organizers of this conference, so my attention shall be spread fairly thin. No podcasting for me! However, in addition to delivering the Treasurer’s report to the BASR AGM, and welcoming my real-life dad to a conference for the first time, I have also co-organized a double panel session on ‘Unbelief Across Borders‘ featuring Josh Bullock, David Herbert, Lois Lee, James Murphy, Rachael Shillitoe, Anna Strhan and Hugh Turpin. The panel abstract is pasted below, and the full session/s details are here are a PDF.
In recent years, scholars have highlighted the need to understand religious ‘unbelief’, nonreligion and secularity in settings beyond the boundaries of the region that generated these concepts and discourses, namely, the West. Yet there is also a wider need to understand how ‘unbeliefs’ and experiences of ‘unbelieving’ are regionally contingent, within the West as well as beyond. Atheism, and other forms of so-called unbelief in the West itself vary intra-nationally by region, as well as by country. As noted in the call for papers for this conference, the negotiation between different religious lifeworlds, worldviews, constructs and dogmas takes place across perceived borders, whether real or imagined. Thus, the content, style and social experience of ‘unbelieving’ is likely to vary according to context. It might vary, for example, according to the prevalence and prominence of inherited systems of supernatural belief in the local context, which might impact the integrity of the ‘sacred canopy’; or according to the nature of the local religious tradition(s) (whether Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox Christian; Sunni or Shi’a Muslim, or combination of traditions, etc.). The social experience of being an atheist or agnostic in rural Poland (with a relatively homogeneous and politicised Catholic culture) is likely to be different to that in Poland’s urban centres, as well as from an unbeliever in, say, the Netherlands (with its mixed, Catholic-Protestant heritage, advanced secularisation, history of pillarization etc.). This double panel explores the regional contingencies of being and articulating ‘unbelief’ of various kinds. It also investigates the potential of comparative approaches to generate new knowledge and (much needed) new theory in the study of unbelief, nonreligion and secularity, and provides an opportunity to explore the limits and margins, centres and peripheries of ‘unbelief’ in comparative local and international perspective.
Finally – for now – I will be attending and presenting at the EUREL, Formatting Nonreligion in Late Modern Societies – Institutional and Legal Perspectives conference, University of Oslo, 26-27 September 2018.
Paper title: Non-Religion as Religion-Related Discourse: An Empirical Invitation
I will begin by outlining and arguing for my preferred understanding of ‘non-religion’ as a form of religion-related discourse. Drawing upon extensive fieldwork in Edinburgh, and developing comparative work between Northern Ireland and Scotland, I will make three key points. First, the local and national particularity of a religion-related discursive field serves as more than a mere context or backdrop but actively participates in its construction, and thus in the positioning of phenomena and social actors as ‘religious’ or ‘non-religious’. Second, in many cases the ‘non-religious’ is implicit in the subject position of those actors utilizing religion-related discourse, and thus we should avoid taking naïve discourses on the insubstantial nature of ‘secularity’, ‘non-religion’ etc. at face value. Third, religion-related categories frequently serve as ‘power categories’, meaning that being positioned as ‘religious’ or ‘non-religious’ means more in certain circumstances than it does in others.
Using empirical examples, I will emphasize that ‘religion’ exerts enormous power in certain contexts in contemporary society, and that therefore certain positions are placed into conversation with religion, and might contextually considered to be ‘non-religious’. This approach avoids reifying ‘religion’ as in some way unique, whilst also fully incorporating religion-related subject positions—including the ‘non-religious’—into the academic study of religion. It is my hope that such work can act as a bridge between two increasingly entrenched positions in the contemporary study of religion-related phenomena—one that is interested in understanding ‘religion in the real world’, and the other in understanding the discursive processes by which that statement makes sense.
The diary for 2012 is sure filling up! I’ll be presenting the following paper at Lancaster University as part of the (New) Atheism, Scientism and Open-Mindedness Conference, 2-3 April 2012.
New Atheism, Open-Mindedness and Critical Thinking
Based upon prevalent emic and etic presentations of “New Atheism” in the media and online, it is unlikely that one would feel inclined to describe the dominant discourse as ‘open-minded’. However, as I have argued elsewhere, the situation is much more nuanced than such a superficial overview would suggest. One of the key criticisms levelled at “religion” by four illustrative exemplars of “New Atheism” – Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens – is that it stands in the way of knowledge and progress, and fosters a “totalitarian” atmosphere of submission to unquestionable authority. This portrayal of closed-minded “religion” is contrasted with one of the key aspects of the worldview they promote, where fully naturalistic and rational education is presented as essential for the good of humanity, allowing individuals – according to Dennett – “to make their own informed choices”.
Drawing upon William Hare’s extensive writings on the subject of “open-mindedness” and Harvey Siegel’s subsequent clarification of the relationship between “open-mindedness” and “critical thinking”, this paper shall consider the following three interrelated areas of “New Atheist” discourse: a) their critique of religion, b) the worldview they promote, and c) the framework within which these occur. I shall demonstrate that “critical thinking” – described by Siegel as a “sufficient (but not necessary) condition of open-mindedness” – is a key epistemic virtue extolled throughout the “New Atheist” texts. This contrasts markedly with the “religion” portrayed in their critique. I conclude, with reference to Thomas Kuhn’s idea of “paradigms” (adapted by Wayne Riggs), that the “New Atheist” position cannot be understood as “open-minded” (and neither, following Siegel, as involving “critical thinking”) through their apparent failure to engage with “religion” on its own terms, and the tendency towards propaganda and rhetoric inherent in their texts.
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>
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.
Nonreligion Panel at the European Association for the Study of Religions’ Conference, Budapest, 19 September
After a successful (I hope) first presentation at the British Association for the Study of Religions’ Conference in Durham this week, this is where I am off to next week:
New Movements in Religion, 10th EASR Conference, 18-22. September 2011. Budapest, Hungary
Location: Hungarian Culture Foundation, Budapest, Szentháromság tér 6.
See www. easr10.eu for more info.
Monday, 19. September 09.00 – 11.00 (Room: “Lecture I”)
Non-Religiosity, Identity and Ritual Chair: Kovács, Ábrahám
- Cotter, Christopher R.,: “Toward a Typology of ‘Nonreligion’: A Qualitative Analysis of Everyday Narratives of Scottish University Students”
- Mastiaux, Björn: “Non-Religious Identity and Attitudes toward Ritual of Members of Atheist / Secularist Organizations in Germany and the United States”
- Catto, Rebecca and Eccles, Janet: “Investigating Young People in Britain’s Active Non-Religious Identities”
- McKearney, Patrick: “What are you laughing at?” The Role of Ridicule in Non-religious Identity Formation”
- Quack, Johannes: “From Antyesti to Organ Transplantation: The Secularisation of Death in India (in Comparison to Developments in Europe)”
- Aechtner, Rebecca and Wesser, Grit: “Jugendweihe: A Non-religious Coming-of-age Ritual in Eastern Germany”
I would totally be attending this conference if I weren’t on my way to present at another conference in the US. For those in the UK, it will definitely be worth checking out!
Upcoming Conferences on Secularities, Information & Religion, Multi-Faith Spaces, and Antropology of Religion
Multiple Secularities and Global Interconnectedness, University of Leipzig, 13 – 15 October 2011
In this conference, we further the debate on secularism and secularity by focusing on the challenges arising from globalization and different forms of interconnectedness. Discussing these challenges from an interdisciplinary and comparative perspective, the conference addresses, amongst other topics, path dependencies and their transformations; vernacular secularities and the vexing question of translatability and interculturality; the usefulness of the ‘Multiple Modernities’ approach as well as the complex interfaces between secularism, colonialism and post-colonial culture.
The conference will start with an opening session on Thursday, 13 October, at 18:00 and end with a plenary session on Saturday, 15 October, at 17:00. The conference is open to all interested participants. Registration can be done through the conference website. The participation fee is 25euro, which includes coffee in the breaks.
Second Annual International Conference on Information & Religion
Theme: Preservation and Access: Facilitating Research in Information and Religion
Keynote: Carisse Berryhill, Ph.D., Special Collections Librarian, Abilene Christian University
May 18-19, 2012 ~ Kent State University, Kent, OH
Call for Papers and Posters
The Center for the Study of Information and Religion (CSIR) will host its Second Annual International Conference on Information and Religion in May 2012. This call for papers seeks original contributions in all areas related to information and religion. The conference theme invites participants to share their work in a variety of areas in which scholars are exploring the intersections of religion and information. Topics that might be addressed include but are not limited to the following:
- Preserving and making available religious texts and information objects associated with communities of faith;
- Social uses and appropriations made of these texts and objects;
- The information-seeking behavior of clergy;
- The role of the sermon as an influential communication medium in society; case studies in the sermon preparation task;
- Information in its application to local congregations as communities of practice;
- Faith and many types of intelligence (e.g., emotional intelligence);
- Dissemination of faith messages;
- Intersections of interests in the study of information and religion, where different disciplines might find it worthwhile to collaborate in research.
Prospective participants are encouraged to submit abstracts that report on recent research and scholarship. Contributions to this call for papers should not have been previously published. We also welcome proposals for poster presentations. There are no restrictions on research methodology.
Instructions for submitting refereed paper or poster extended abstracts: The abstract should be no longer than 250 words (including research question, methods, results). Include the title of the paper/poster, names, affiliations, and contact information of the authors (with one author to be designated as the contact for the paper). Submit abstracts in PDF or Word format by Dec. 31, 2011, to Dr. Rosemary Du Mont, CSIR Associate, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Notification of acceptance: February 1, 2012.
Papers accepted for presentation at the conference will be considered for publication in ASIR (Advances in the Study of Information and Religion). Details regarding submission of full papers will be given to those whose abstracts are accepted for conference presentation. Please note: Presenters are responsible for their own expenses related to the conference, including but not limited to registration fees, lodging, transportation and meals.
This conference will bring together key outputs from the three year research project Multi-Faith Spaces: Symptoms & Agents of Religious and Social Change, funded by the AHRC/ESRC under the Religion and Society Programme. The project considers how individuals from different religious and cultural backgrounds might be brought together, concretely, within new types of ‘faith space’ that are often simultaneously religious, spiritual and secular. The conference will coincide with the launch of a touring photographic exhibition.Further details can be found at: www.manchester.ac.uk/mfsIn addition to presenting our findings, we hope to encourage contributions from stakeholders within the extended project, alongside a number of individuals working in the area of multi-faith provision (from academic, professional or practitioner backgrounds). To facilitate conversations across disciplinary boundaries, we envisage a range of attendees and contributors from academia, architectural practice, chaplaincy, interior design, public policy, and a host of other fields.We are currently preparing our programme, and would welcome expressions of interest within the following areas (note: this list is not exhaustive, and other contributions are encouraged):– Multi-faith theologies and spatial practice– Theorising multi-faith space– The architecture of multi-faith space– Design and ‘best practice’ issues in multi-faith space– Public policy around multi-faith space– Multi-faith space as sacred space– The management of multi-faith spacePlease indicate whether you would be interested in:Contributing a long paper (20 min. presentation)Contributing a short paper (10 min. presentation)Taking part in a panelContributing to a workshopAttendance onlyFurther information regarding registration and programme will be sent in early October 2011. We currently envisage that there will be no cost for the conference itself, with limited bursaries for meals/refreshments, travel and accommodation, considered on a case-by-case basis.
When: October 18-19, 2011
Where: Aarhus Universitet
Website: http://aal.au.dk/antro/conference-2011-researching-religion/Invited speakers from abroad include:
- Joel Kahn, La Trobe University
- Joseph Bulbulia, Victoria University of Wellington
- Webb Keane, University of Michigan
- Ann Taves, University of California-Santa Barbara
- William Waldron, Middlebury College
- David Wulff, Wheaton College
- Michael Lambek, University of Toronto (keynote speaker)Local participants will likely include:
- Sally Anderson, Educational Anthropology
- Martijn van Beek, Anthropology
- Jørn Borup, Religion
- Nils Bubandt, Anthropology
- Marianne Qvortrup Fibiger, Religion
- Armin W. Geertz, Religion
- Else-Marie Jegindø, Religion
- Hans Jørgen Lundager Jensen, Theology and Religion
- Jeppe Sinding Jensen, Religion
- Maria Louw, Anthropology
- Anders Klostergaard Petersen, Religion
- Andreas Roepstorff, Anthropology
- Marianne Schleicher, Religion
- Jesper Sørensen, Religion
- Cameron David Warner, Anthropology
For more information, please contact Cameron David Warner, email@example.com