Public Panel: Abstracts
Natalie Zemon Davis
"Difference, Likeness, and Exchange"
This paper will consider different models for thinking about religions in contact with each other. These models emerge both from the ways historians, anthropologists, and other scholars have analysed religions in the past and present and from the varied stances adopted by religions themselves. One set of models stress differences and clear borders. These can be related to times of war and violence, but also can provide an argument for multiculturalism. Another set of models stress likeness or equivalences between different religions. These can be used to argue for ecumenical coexistence but also for a hegemonic world religion. A third model looks to patterns of exchange, crossovers, and entanglement. This model offers no guarantee against asymmetries of power, but has the advantage of incorporating change and continuing movement into the picture. It also may encourage some helpful ways of thinking about the meeting of different religious communities in spaces held in common in modern times, such as media or legal and other public institutions.
"Before Identity: When Religions Were Customs and Ceremonies"
Before religion became a matter of beliefs, cosmologies, and worldviews, what we now call "religion" was recognized by Europeans as traditions of rites, ceremonies, and customs. Today, these visible acts and observances tend to be relegated to a secondary status and considered as derivative and exterior expressions of something more essential and less tangible: spiritual principles, cosmogonic theories, sacralized rules of conduct, etc. I propose to consider some of the ramifications of these two broadly divergent conceptions of religion, i.e., religion as a tradition of rites and ceremonies, and religion as a belief-system. I will suggest that religion as a ground for identity as we understand it today—i.e., in the sense of a particular cognitive, moral, and aesthetic determination of personhood—is largely predicated on the latter conception.
"After Pluralism" offers opportunities to raise questions. One set of challenges asks us to "re-imagine interaction" and religious transformations in historical and in contemporary settings. My contribution tends to the historical. I will explore religious and cultural dynamism in the early modern Spanish world, with an eye to conversations to be had with other regions and times. In the Spanish Americas in particular, it has until very recently been easy -- too easy -- to argue for the interpretative potential of "syncretism," "mestizo processes" and even the "incorporation" of originally non-Christian peoples within an expanding whole of Catholic Christianity, and then essentially to leave matters there. Creative mixture and fusions, the evidence says yes, but just what and whom were acting and changing, and just how? I want to give priority to interaction and mobility – to the ways in which very different people's ideas and actions were constituted through their relationships and mediation with others.
I will endeavour to capture the fruitions of "religious commonsense" which developed through the interactions and transformations of many kinds of people in a variety of Catholic Christian microcosms across the Spanish world. I discuss a multi-ethnic array of thinkers, promoters and mobilisers around the cult of the saints in particular, operating on different planes, in different ways, many of which were unintended. Some of the participant clergy upon whose records we depend feared and persecuted as "error" the very fusions they and their fellows helped bring to life, and of which they partook. But all participated in a vibrant circulation of religious ideas, forms and practices around the images of Christ and the saints, and, together, they brought about an incomplete and emerging interculture.
Workshop Papers: Abstracts
"Aporias of Secularism"
In this paper I discuss the modern, postcolonial impasse of secularism and democracy from a cross-cultural perspective. The impasse is marked by the secularist recourse to and defense of a certain understanding of "history" to authorize democratic forms of being and belonging. The defense of history is akin to a defense of (secular) rights and law. My argument is that so long as secularism appeals to such a sense of history, it cannot take political risks and imagine new domains of the political. The future of the political is irreducible to history, rights, law, or justice. Thinking about the question of the political will require forsaking not only the cherished assumptions about history but also the belief that the health of the democratic future rests on improving our existing notions of law and justice. Forsaking such a belief, which is what I call "desecularizing" secularism, may help us think of new political futures in which (religious) difference and otherness cannot be numbered by the calculus of the state.
"Religious normality and otherness outside and inside Eastern German prisons"
The aim of this paper is to present some research hypotheses and first results of a project concerned with the narratives and practices that accompany the process of social and moral rehabilitation of persons (mostly men but also women) after long-term imprisonment in eastern Germany. It is known in general that religious practice and conversion are more frequent in prison, but this is ignored in official discourses hold by secular institutions and religious networks providing help to ex-convicts in eastern Germany. This project fills the knowledge gap existing about what happens to converted inmates once released, whether religious conversion impacts on their life-choices then, if this impact varies according to confession/religion and vice-versa, whether their religiosity changes in the outer society, or whether there is a significant difference in terms of recidivism between religiously committed and secular / atheist inmates. Since foreigners constitute a huge part of this population, specific attention is reserved to them. This projects points out the necessity of rethinking the theoretical framework of secularisation by using the notions of recognition and theological-political complex from the point of view of "otherness".
"The Cultural Limits of Legal Tolerance"
The prevailing juridical wisdom in Canada is that freedom of religion is a hallmark of the liberal constitutional order established through the legal tools of tolerance and the proper definition of rights. Legal issues such as legalization of same-sex marriage, regulation of schools and public school curriculum, and demands for "Shari'a courts" as a binding means of settling family law disputes have posed challenges for this view. Recognizing some of the frailties in this focus upon rights-based discourse and bare claims to tolerance, academic commentators have offered alternative models for conceiving of law and cultural pluralism, in terms of 'recognition', 'self-realization', or 'jurisdiction'.
This paper argues that these models misunderstand constitutional law by imagining that it enjoys a form of autonomy from culture, and by ignoring that the terms of religious pluralism are always already settled. Whenever religious groups are before the law, issues of cultural difference and power are salient. Concepts of coercion and transformation, rather than pluralism and accommodation, provide the basis for a more satisfying account of the interaction of law and religion.
"Whose Islam? Colonial and Local Understandings in Mid-20th Century Sudan"
In 1898, Britain, aided by Egypt, defeated the Muslim regime that had been established in Sudan by the Mahdi, Mohammad Ahmad, in 1885. Fearing further religious unrest, Protestant colonial officials set out to become champions of conformist Sunni Islam. To wean Sudanese away from charismatic forms of the faith, they brought in Egyptian religious scholars from the Al-Azhar, facilitated the pilgrimage to Mecca, and provided funds to build new mosques. They forbade Christian proselytizing in Muslim areas in order to gain people's trust. Yet Christian values underlay their efforts to educate youth away from 'superstition' and suppress practices 'erroneously' if firmly linked to Islam in local thought. This paper explores the religious dynamics of one such project, the attempt to abolish pharaonic [female] circumcision between 1920 and 1946.
"When Beruriah Met Aisha: An Exploration of Jewish and Muslim Women's Textual Interactions"
For centuries, Jewish and Muslim women were virtually locked out of the study and interpretation of sacred scriptures. Keeping in mind this shared history of exclusion in traditions where religious law and interpretation are intricately linked to practice, my paper will analyze the complex ambivalences of Jewish and Muslim women's relationships with traditional sources. My paper will involve a comparative analysis of women's hermeneutical strategies in the textual commentaries women write and within the Jewish-Muslim text-study groups that women join. I will attend to the ways that texts orient and challenge women's religious, gender, and political identities.
"A Matter of Interpretation: Dreams, Islam, and Psychology in Contemporary Egypt"
Analyzing the interplay between religious and Freudian discourses, this paper considers the ongoing remaking of the Islamic tradition of dream interpretation in contemporary Egypt. I suggest that, besides drawing on classical texts, contemporary dream interpreters are also in constant dialogue with imported psychological dream-models. My paper examines epistemological incompatibilities, claims to authority and expertise, and subtle processes of resignification. Through pointing to the interplay of different epistemologies and concepts of self by way of dream interpretations, I aim at deconstructing notions of clash-like oppositional encounters or unambiguous displacements that presuppose two hermetically sealed, unchanging belief systems.
Greece gained statehood in 1832 after nearly 400 years of Ottoman rule. Independence from one colonial power was followed by a long period of Western quasi-colonialism during which the European powers tutored the Greeks in how to live up to their ancient ancestors and become proper Europeans. The Ottomans had allowed Orthodox Christians authority over the internal organization of their Church; they could protect the boundaries of Orthodoxy. Under the Catholic, Bavarian King Otto the early Greek State nationalized the Orthodox Church. With statehood secured, the internal boundaries of the Church became more vulnerable -- a classic example of reterritorialization and deterritorialization. Catholic and Protestant notions got insinuated over the years via increasing contact with western Europe. Muslims are a more significant minority percentage wise and in terms of recent migration, yet people are more worried about the inroads made by Christian denominations. The Neo-Orthodox movement, which arose in the 1970s, seeks to eliminate foreign influences. This paper will focus on this movement and general Orthodox resistance to outside religions. I will examine the 'identity card' imbroglio of a few years ago in which protesters demanded that religious identity be included on EU identity cards. I will also examine the lines of resistance between Orthodoxy and the adoption of western medical advances such as birth control and psychiatry.
"Theatrical Liberalism: Acting Jewish on a Secular Stage"
In The Gay Science, Nietzsche claims that the Jews are "a people possessing the art of adaptability par excellence." He equates acting with the condition of being a Jew: "what good actor today is not – a Jew?" My presentation for "After Pluralism", drawn from my book project entitled Theatrical Liberalism, explores this peculiar and insistent relationship between Jews and performance in post-Enlightenment Europe and North America. Theatricality – in a wide variety of forms -- is central to understanding the complexity of the Jewish encounter with cosmopolitan, liberal Protestant societies. Emerging from traditional societies which asserted the primacy of ritual and deed over declarations of faith, immigrant Jews confronted in the United States the oppositional force (and seductive energy) of a secular political and social model that granted freedom of belief and freedom of speech, but not necessarily the political or cultural freedom to act on those beliefs. I argue that immigrant Jews and their descendants became Americans by creating a public and tacitly secular sphere which relocated the Jewish spiritual urge to perfect behavior, to act in the world, from an Old World religious context to a legitimately American arena, the world of popular entertainment. In the cultural products they created, Jewish writers and artists articulated a set of American Jewish principles and behaviors -- collected here under the name of theatrical liberalism – which responded to and renegotiated the Jewish relationship to Protestant enlightenment liberalism.