EASA, 2010: EASA2010: Crisis and imagination

Maynooth, 24/08/2010 – 27/08/2010

(W014)

Spirituality against religion: the role of gender and power

Location Science PCT
Date and Start Time 26 Aug, 2010 at 11:30

Convenors

Anna Fedele (Instituto Universitário de Lisboa (ISCTE-IUL), CRIA, Lisboa, Portugal) email
Kim Knibbe (Rijks Universiteit Groningen) email
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Long Abstract

In social sciences, the debates about the increasing popularity of alternative spiritualities and the fate of religion in Europe and Northern America has in the past few years been dominated by the thesis that posits a 'shift' from religion, recognizing a transcendent authority outside the self, to spirituality, focused on the inner self as the ultimate authority. This shift is furthermore linked to a broad array of attitudes (Paul Heelas et al. 2005, Peter Berger et al. 2008: 14-15). However, we might wonder whether this thesis does not in fact replicate the internal discourses of alternative spiritualities, obscuring the ways in which the fields of alternative spiritualities are themselves socially structured and the role of various kinds of power in them. What kinds of critique are embedded within the distinction between 'religion' and 'spirituality'? How can we theorize about power in these settings? Gender, for example, is one issue that is hardly addressed except descriptively. Although people might be searching for a 'religion without power', from a social scientific point of view there is no such thing as religion without power.

In this panel we want to address the question how the categories 'religion' and 'spirituality' are constructed, how this relates to gender and what theories of power to bring to this field. We invite papers rooted in ethnographic research that explicitly discuss processes of (gendered) power in "New Age" or Neopagan movements or other social and religious movements using the distinction/opposition between religion and spirituality.

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Spirituality within religion: gendered responses to a Greek spiritual revolution

Author: Eugenia Roussou (CRIA/FCSH-Universidade NOVA de Lisboa)  email
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Long Abstract

It has been argued that alternative spiritualities are gradually taking over traditional forms of religion in the contemporary world. In most of Europe and North America this shift to spirituality is accompanied by a more articulated renunciation of the dominant religion and dramatic decrease of church attendance. Greece, however, seems to go through a different 'spiritual revolution' (Heelas and Woodhead 2005). New Age spirituality, which has recently appeared in the contemporary Greek religioscape, is mostly accommodated within the prevailing religion of the country, Orthodox Christianity. My paper offers an ethnographic and theoretical account of a distinctive movement in Greece, where religion and spirituality appear to be corresponding to rather than resisting one another. I aim to present a unique case of spiritual amalgamation between Orthodox Christian religion and New Age spirituality, while investigating the diverse forms of power that are involved, and the role which gendered identity plays in the process.

Authority in alternative spiritualities: fact or fiction?

Author: Austin Buscher (Claremont Graduate University)  email
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Long Abstract

In alternative spiritualities, the locus of authority is frequently taken from the supernatural realm and placed within the believer's hands. The freedom which comes from this inversion brings with it a number of problems. Namely, who is in charge if everyone has equal authority? Thus, a power structure becomes necessary within the traditions of alternative spiritualities, whether formally recognized or not. However, how authority is created varies from group to group.

This paper will look at the formation of various power structures, based on field research performed in the greater Los Angeles area, and examine them through feminist theoretical critiques, through sociological theories found in Charles Taylor's A Secular Age, and through psychological methodology based on the work of Jonathan Haidt. By looking at the way in which power structures are formed in "power-less" religions, we can better understand the way in which gender plays a role in this construction.

Spirituality, charisma and gender in a Jewish spiritual renewal community in Israel

Author: Rachel Werczberger (University of Pennsylvania )  email
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Long Abstract

On May 2006, Rabbi David V., the leader of Ruch-Halev community - a Jewish Spiritual Renewal community based in Israel, was accused of abusing several of the community's female workers and students. Consequently, Rabbi David was fired from his position as leader and teacher of the community.

Prior to the scandal, Rabbi David was also known among the Jewish Renewal circles for his engagement with issues of Eros and sexuality. Using pervasive Kabbalistic imagery of feminine spirituality (the Shechinah), Rabbi David emphasized the importance of physical and sensual pleasure coupled with spiritual development for a Jewish renewal.

Using my ethnography on Ruch-Halev, my lecture will discuss the inherent contradictions between contemporary spirituality's discourse on gender equality and feminine spirituality and the actual dynamics of charismatic leadership and male dominance, in a community which attempted to integrate between NA spirituality and Jewish religious traditions.

Cultivating the sacred: gender, power and ritualisation in women's-only spaces

Author: Asa Trulsson  email
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Long Abstract

Contemporary scholars of ritual stress the fact that ritualisation always involves negotiations of power and further authority. Yet, scholars of alternative spirituality have rarely devoted space to strategic processes of ritualisation, but rather pursued text-oriented approaches which focus on discourses of participants. This paper argues for a practice-oriented approach, where primacy is given to ritualisation and the power inherited in such processes, and uses example from my own fieldwork in women-only workshops in England. I argue that even though women are involved in critique towards mainstream religious institutions, their actual interaction differs little from religious life outside normative confines of theological exegesis. In fact, if religion and spirituality is regarded less as a coherent system of beliefs and instead located in practice, the opposition between the two dissolves. The paper will however discuss how certain practices are authorised as religious, how dispositions are cultivated, power negotiated and certain schemes embodied.

Astro TV in Holland: spirituality, power, and gender

Author: Frans Jespers (Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen)  email
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Long Abstract

In Holland and other European countries, since some years daily commercial services are broadcasted in a show called Astro TV. Clients dial, and a psychic offers an advice derived from spirits or signs of the zodiac. Spirituality has here two senses: care for one's psychological balance ('reinforcement'), and contacts with energies or spirits from beyond. Although it does not look like established religion, it requires a strong belief in secret knowledge and higher forces. I use the theory of Bourdieu to trace power aspects, and that of Woodhead for gender. I analyse the biographies of the psychics and the idea of enjoying spirituality. 'Power' is exercised on two levels: (1) psychics treating clients; (2) strong symbolical influence of the producers. Most participants are women, because of the holistic view of life, corporeal symbolism, emotional treatment, and the ideals of independence and enjoyment.

The power of submission: personal growth and the issue of power among Umbanda practitioners in Paris

Author: Viola Teisenhoffer (LESC (CNRS) / Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense)  email
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Long Abstract

n France, Umbanda represents an attractive religious alternative for French weary of catholicism who undertake a spiritual quest enrolling in New Age practices in order to achieve what they call spiritual development. Participants seek to achieve well-being and balance, or health in its broadest sense, conveyed by mediumistic development which is, in this context, equivalent to spiritual growth. Although devotees intend to integrate an egalitarian spiritual brotherhood, field data shows that spiritual growth defines power relations within the shrine house. It is what determines the groups' particular organization, as well as the modalities of the transmission of ritual and theological knowledge, the former being characterized by a permanent tension between submission and empowerment, and the latter by that of encouragement and coercion. This paper aims to analyze the intricate relations between these antinomies in order to show that submission is the token of power among French Umbanda practitioners.

The power of the Goddess in the city

Author: Victoria Hegner (Göttingen University)  email
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Long Abstract

The paper will concentrate on contemporary solitary witchcraft within the urban context of Berlin. It will explicate the practices and concepts of magic and the underlying notions of power. The paper will particularly draw attention to individuals and loosely knitted together groups that clearly position themselves as feminist activists.

By ethnographically portraying different forms of witchcraft magic and their interplay with feminism I will distinguish between ideas and structures of power that have to be understood within Freudo-Marxist terms and those that have to more adequately be analyzed within Foucauldian terms. There, I want to indicate the importance of the local context - the city - that brings about those fluid practice of magic and power and thus of spirituality. Spirituality there, forms an analytical axis with religion. Hence, feminist witchcraft, as I look upon it - puts forward a specific form spirituality in terms of a great transcendence (Luckmann (1991), Knoblauch (2009)). In doing so, witchcraft has to be understood as a religion (founding myth, differentiated, dynamic cosmology, syncretism) (Hutton(1999)).

Gender and power: Brahma Kumaris spirituality and Hinduism in Portugal

Author: Inês Lourenço (CRIA-ISCTE/IUL)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper relies on a compared ethnography on the Gujarati Hindu diaspora in Portugal and on the Portuguese stream of the international movement of Indian origin Brahma Kumaris. This comparison allows an analysis of the key role played by women in the construction of gender identities.

Gujarati Hindu women in Portugal are ascribed new status through religion, as the perpetuators of what is perceived as traditional knowledge, seen as the depositories of traditional wisdom through spiritual and ritual experience that they have acquired over the years. Furthermore, they guarantee the upholding of a patriarchal ideology within transnational networks framed by a conservative ideology in the process of negotiation of cultural and religious belonging.

On the other hand, women who converted to the Brahma Kumaris movement in Portugal redefined their gender roles, challenging traditional social and familiar patterns of womanhood, and achieving new female identities based on power and agency.

The pursuit of spirituality toward membership and community participation: biographies of Soka Gakkai members in Spain

Author: Monica Cornejo (Universidad Complutense de Madrid)  email
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Long Abstract

Many contemporary spiritual biographies seem to be motivated by the individualist pursuit of spirituality. This is commonplace in the discourses about the "New Age" and also among members of the Soka Gakkai. Many of them represent their own practices and beliefs as a result of a personal process through several holistic disciplines, spiritual ideologies, body techniques, esoteric knowledge and so on. Nonetheless, these processes flow into the community-based experience of Buddhism, re-framing the memory of and sense of individualistic search for spirituality. Taking these biographies as a starting point, I set out to explore the thesis of Heelas and Woodhead on the opposition between "subjective-life model" and "life-as model". Special attention will be given to the tension between individualistic pursuit and community-based experience, focusing on some common elements of these biographies, such as the empowerment of the individual and the Catholic background of many of those followers of Nichiren Buddhism in Spain.

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.