EASA, 2010: EASA2010: Crisis and imagination

Maynooth, 24/08/2010 – 27/08/2010


Crisis in church? Religious authority and religious experience

Location Arts Classhall B
Date and Start Time 26 Aug, 2010 at 11:30


Agnieszka Halemba (University of Warsaw) email
Richard Irvine (University of Cambridge) email
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Long Abstract

Despite recurrent critiques of dichotomising categorisations, anthropologists and other social scientists time and again return to the idea that religion encompasses two very different sets of dynamics: from Max Weber's differentiation between routinisation and charisma; through Jack Goody's difference between literate and non-literate religions; Ioan Lewis's central and peripheral cults; Frederik Barth's guru regimes versus conjurer regimes; to the most recent doctrinal versus imagistic modes of religiosity proposed by Harvey Whitehouse.

One of the central features that lead researchers to create such categorisations is the relationship between the nature of religious experience and the role of religious authority in maintaining the unity and cohesion of the religious group. Certain forms of religious experience are often viewed as highly individualised. How do hierarchies or other religious structures maintain orthodoxy in the face of such these experiences? What is the relationship, for example, between the experience of mystics and the doctrinal teaching of the church? What threats and opportunities might such experiences pose for the hierarchy of a religion? It is also well known that even the most centralised religious traditions, such as Catholicism, do encompass plenty of emotionally arousing religious practices and experiences - among the most obvious here are exorcisms and visions. Our question is: how are such practices received within institutionalised or centralised religions? What is their position? Can we say that some types of religious experiences, ritual practices and religious imageries are more readily accepted by institutionalised religious traditions than others?

Chair: Agnieszka Halemba

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.


The quest for the human self in times of religious syncretisms: about the redefinition of individuality and the liberation from ideological contraints

Author: Sarah Kohlmaier (University of Vienna)  email
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Long Abstract

"Religious belief" has nowadays become a concept which has to be placed within a vast variety of religious doctrines, charismatic gurus, individual experiences of spirituality and rationalism and religious criticism since the Enlightement on the other hand. This has not only challenged religious authorities, but also a person´s ability to position himself within a vast variety of belief- systems.

To what extent is religious pluralism within an individualisticly orientated society significant for people´s selfconsciousness? By referring to my empirical studies (Kohlmaier, Sarah (2009) "Auf der Suche nach dem Selbst- Strategien spiritueller Selbsterfahrung und religiöse Pluralität in Wien, Diplomarbeit. Wien) that concentrate on "self- finding seminars" in Vienna, the proposed paper explores needs, reasons and strategies of selfdefinition within a vast range of belief- systems. By concentrating on personal responsabilities and through the recognition of personal abilities and spiritual experiences,"finding oneself" can be interpreted as a way out of a personal crisis and an experienced heteronomy in favour of the creation of a personal identity.

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Young adults, religious authorities and sexuality: a multifaith discussion

Authors: Michael Keenan (Nottingham Trent University)  email
Sarah-Jane Page (University of Nottingham)  email
Andrew Yip (University of Nottingham)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper will explore the negotiations which arise for young religious adults in connecting their individual experiences and religious identities with institutional religious structures and authorities. The paper explores these negotiations with particular reference to young peoples' sexual identities, practices and choices. Whether religious young people are becoming 'acceptably' or 'unacceptably' sexual in the eyes of their institutional religion they do this with the need to reference beyond religious authority due to the continued silencing of the sexual often found within institutional religions. Using data from the online questionnaire and semi-structured interview stage of the 'Religion, Youth and Sexuality: A multi-faith exploration' this paper reflects on young adults aged 18-25 from 6 different religions opinions and understandings of their religious authorities. The paper argues that young religious people imaginatively construct their lives as religious and sexual adults with reference to a combination of religious tradition, cultural values and everyday experience.

'To dive in Christ': a topography of religious experience

Authors: Agnieszka Poźniak (Uniwersytet Jagiellonski / Jagiellonian University)  email
Anna Kapusta (Jagiellonian University)  email
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Long Abstract

During fieldwork in a polish village Rybno, we observed a new cloistered women's order. One of the essential phenomena was, that the charism of this convent is created and constructed as the answer to the "postmodern" "civilization disease" - a depression. The activities of the nuns aim to give pilgrims a unique religious experience, which, the sisters hope, would help settle pilgrims private lives and defeat the depression. Rybno, as the goal of postmodern peregrination towards personal spirituality, is characterized by a specific topography of individual religious experience. This place becomes a catalyst of the postmodern experience of sacrum.

In our paper we will present verbalization of religious experience. As a source we chose the contents of the Mass. For the other central points in this analysis, we are going to analyze the phenomenon of "The Rest in the Holy Spirit" as the expression of the deepest individual religious experience.

The Ephrata Cloister: piety and power in Pennsylvania

Author: Elizabeth Lewis-Pardoe (Northwestern University)  email
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Long Abstract

The Ephrata Cloister presented a paradox: a Protestant pietist commune of celibate, tonsured, mystics. Their authoritarian and charismatic leader, Conrad Beisel, won an array of men and women into his fold. They divorced their spouses and accepted an ascetic existence of minimal food and maximum prayer. Unfortunately for Beisel, those drawn to his Cloister were similarly literate, independent, men and women. Those who challenged his authority shared much of his biography: orphaned migrants from Germany, who sought success and spiritual solace in their new home. The problem came in their varied definitions of success and their willingness to defend their own spiritual experiences as equally valid bases for authority with Beisel's own. Men like Conrad Weiser, Ezechiel Sangmeister, and the Eckerlin brothers, ultimately rejected Beisel's claims to spiritual authority and thus undermined his ability to enforce orthodoxy of belief and action in his cloister.

Spiritual individualism and the experience of prayer

Author: Richard Irvine (University of Cambridge)  email
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Long Abstract

Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in an English Benedictine monastery, this paper aims to provide an account of the relationship between contemplative prayer and sources of authority in the Catholic Church. A strong tradition of private prayer is understood to be an important part of English Benedictine identity. This tradition is understood as 'contemplative', in the sense that it aims towards a non-conceptual and non-imagistic approach to prayer. This approach makes communication about the experience of prayer difficult, and limits the role of spiritual guidance, therefore granting the monks a sphere of independence from authority. Through the importance placed upon private prayer, it appears that the monks are granted considerable individualistic freedom in their spiritual lives. But if the experience of prayer is inexpressible, does this run the risk of isolating the individual in an ineffable inner world that can never be adequately connected with the experience of others?

'But please, don't write what we told you': priestly characters in a Polish rural community

Author: Agnieszka Pasieka (University of Vienna)  email
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Long Abstract

The paper explores the dynamics of Catholicism in rural Poland by focusing on the relations among priests and parishioners. My aim is to depict the intersection between national and local levels of religion, between Church as a universal (Catholicus) institution and Church understood as folk religiosity. I argue that a good exemplification of this 'crossroad' is the authority of Roman Catholic priests and that studying the priests-parishioners relations is crucial for understanding the phenomenon of Catholicism in Poland. I will enquire on these relations by presenting my informants' images of the priests and distinguishing different roles of priests (e.g. priest as 'moral person', 'performer of rituals', 'representative of elites', 'member of the local community'). I will attempt to demonstrate that there is a tension inherent in the performance of all these different roles; tension between hierarchical and equalitarian patterns of priests' behaviours, between national and local patterns of religiosity, and between orthodox teaching and parishioners' experiences.

From Virgin Mary as Patroness of Hungary to the Goddess of Hungarians

Author: István Povedák (Hungarian Academy of Sciences - University of Szeged)  email
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Long Abstract

In Hungarian society the cult of Virgin Mary has gained a prominent role. The veneration of Virgin Mary commenced with the founding of the Hungarian state (11th century) and this cult was built on an assumed ancient Goddess figure. The Baroque period in the 18th century emphasized the Patroness of Hungary (Patrona Hungariae) character of Virgin Mary which is still present in public thinking today.

The veneration of Virgin Mary radically changed in the past two decades. Besides the traditional forms, the vernacular religious cult of Mary incorporated several pagan, esoteric and nationalist attributes and most significant of all, the Goddess character. This can be well observed at the emerging new pilgrimage sites and in the symbolism and the visual representation of the Blessed Virgin after the political changes of the 1990s.

In my presentation I investigate the relation and functional similarities/differences of the cult of these "two Maries".

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.