EASA2014: Collaboration, Intimacy & Revolution


Religious trends toward intimacy and revolution

Location S-422
Date and Start Time 01 August, 2014 at 09:00


Thomas Reuter (University of Melbourne) email
Annette Hornbacher (University of Heidelberg) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

Religious innovations are adjustments to new experiences but also reflect struggles to maintain continuity. Two dynamics we explore stem from tensions between self-spiritualities and community-based religious practices, and between initiatives that seek to stabilise or replace the social order.

Long Abstract

Religious innovations today are adjustments the new and changing social experiences characteristic of the 21st century, but also reflect struggles to maintain a sense of identity and continuity in the face of social and economic and political disruption. Retaining a sense of continuity under rapidly changing circumstances does not allow for passivity, but also requires active innovation. In some cases, both agendas can overlap. The panel explores transformative and continuity-seeking innovations across a variety of cultures to identify underlying commonalities and trends.

There are two important dynamic tensions we hope to explore to better understand these trends.

One is the tension between private, self-development spiritualities and community-based religious practices. Local ritual traditions and cosmologies nowadays are often re-interpreted in terms of personal 'spiritual' experience, in line with a global self-spirituality or esoteric discourse. At the same time,, we see growth in global spiritual tourism to seek out allegedly authentic teachers and sacred places. In either case, 'religion' becomes a matter of intimate personal experience rather than traditional belief or practice.

The other major tension to be explored is between social initiatives that seek to stabilise societies in response to rapid change (e.g. interfaith dialogue, conservative revitalisation, cosmopolitanism), and other, more radical movements that politicize religion in an attempt to revolutionize and replace a current social order that is seen as irredeemable (e.g. revolutionary revitalisation, fundamentalism, new religious movements).

Chair: Thomas Reuter

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Conservative innovation in Balinese religion: a case study of highland Bali

Author: Thomas Reuter (University of Melbourne)  email

Short Abstract

A great ritual of world renewal was held at Bali’s most ancient spiritual sanctuary by an indigenous minority. Through this high-level ritual, the former state temple regained the patronage of a regent after a 600-year lapse. Revitalization thus may use innovation to advance conservative agendas.

Long Abstract

A series of extraordinary events culminated in 2010 in the celebration of an eleven-day ritual of world renewal at Bali's most ancient spiritual sanctuary, attracting more than one hundred thousand participants. This temple is located in the misty highlands of the island, home to an indigenous ethnic minority group, the Bali Aga. The celebration marked an astonishing renewal. The scale of the sacrifice was much greater than it is in the normal, annual temple festival, symbolising that a new 'king' had come to be associated with this ancient state temple after a lapse of more than six hundred years. Indeed, it was largely by celebrating this almost forgotten, high-level ritual that a member of the temple's Bali Aga congregation managed to install himself as the new ruler of the entire regency of Bangli, within which the temple is located.

Political liberalisation and decentralisation of the Indonesian state, from 1998 onward, has brought autonomy to the regions and triggered a tsunami of such revitalisation efforts. My aim in this paper is to show how these local movements shed light on a broader late modern phenomenon of cultural revitalisation, which has become an important trend with the advent of globalisation not just in Bali and in Indonesia but worldwide. Such movements often respond to a long history of poor governance or exclusion of ethnic minority groups from the political process of modern nation states. Their agenda is conservative, but nonetheless based firmly on cultural innovation.

Jesus as a revolutionary: religious symbolism inside a left-wing Protestant Church

Author: Tiago Duarte Dias (UFF)  email

Short Abstract

This ethnographical work was conducted in a self-identified left-wing Protestant church in Niterói. While Protestantism is growing steadily in Brazil, they're, for the most part, seen as a conservative force. This paper discusses how this community sees itself inside that perspective.

Long Abstract

The growth of a Brazilian Protestant church has been a trend wildly observable, both in the last census taken by the Brazilian state, and by the ever growing role that politicians identified with Evangelical churches (specially, the Neo-Penteconstalist movement) play in the country's politics through its growing participation inside the country's parliament. As those churches have an appeal as being a conservative force both socially and politically, specially through the importance they have inside the Brazilian media, they are, in no ways, the only political representation inside Protestantism in Brazil.

My fieldwork takes place inside a small church of 40 members in Niterói, one of the most affluent cities in the country. Igreja Batista do Caminho (Pathway Baptist Church) is a self-identified left-wing church, which emphasizes integration of minority groups and sees as a part of religious experience in itself, the construction of a social justice.

Pastored by a local politician from the Socialist Party, and made mainly from young member (ages between 18-45), my work inside this church tries to identify how this church sees itself inside the evangelical movement in Brazil and its role as a social organization inside the city that they are a part of.

The "religion" of comic books' superheroes: a modern religious trend or political propaganda?

Author: Georgios Gaitanos  email

Short Abstract

The paper focuses on the myth/religion of the superheroes of the comic books and their comparison with the heroes of ancient mythologies, since many people compare them either as modern gods or as a way of protest of young people against the social and political development in USA.

Long Abstract

In the paper is recorded how the "adoration" of the superheroes constitutes a particular recreational way for the new generations with political and social expediency. Substantially, through the comic books it was shaped a mythical frame around the superheroes, as they sought to resolve the problems of the society by applying liberal ideas and proposals. Thus, the story of the superheroes constituted most of the times a political tool and was used differently from political powers. Always, we should keep in our mind the one that is hidden behind the curtain, because a mythical story can link a society or a state, but it can also divide. This kind of mythical stories can be institution of ideologies and can bring peace and social stability or instability. At the same time, through the paper I will examine in what way the superheroes of the comic books could constitute a taxonomic category for the historian of religions as a part of a "modern religion", differentiated to a large extent from the characteristics and the cultic practices of organized religions.

Religious innovation in contemporary Cuba: the local encounter between New Age practices and Afro-Cuban religions

Author: Emma Gobin (Labex CAP)  email

Short Abstract

Based on a pragmatic approach, this paper focuses on ethnographical cases which highlight creative interactions between (local) Afro-Cuban religions and (exogenous) New Age rituals and cosmology. It attempts to “typologize” three modalities of the process of religious innovation at work here.

Long Abstract

During the last decade, in the context of important socio-economical changes and of the growing of persons' and information flows, new healing and spiritual practices stemming from Western self-development trends have developed in Cuba (reiki, so-called groups of meditation and « energy », neo-shamanism, etc.). They have gained numerous followers and practitioners among different sectors of the national population and are locally appropriated and actively reworked, adapted and adjust in a recurrent and protean entanglement with the Afro-Cuban religions which dominate the local religious field since decades. In a tension between these endogenous practices and the new exogenous ones (which may be generically termed as New Age), this process results in significant personal and collective socio-religious innovations deeply anchored in idiosyncratic, reflexive and intimate experiences of religion and the world. Through first-hand ethnographical data and an approach centred on the pragmatic aspects of religious experience, this paper proposes to examine several examples of these ritual innovations as well as the protean ways in which they articulate New Age cosmology and values with the "traditional" Afro-Cuban ones. It will argue that three main modalities of religious innovation are at work here which precisely involve differentiated forms of interaction and embedment between New Age and Afro-Cuban practices and cosmologies. Their exploration allow us to grasp better the active and reflexive role played by different agents (local "spiritual seekers", innovative healers but also Afro-Cuban priests) in these contemporary processes of socio-religious innovations.

In search of spirituality: aspects of individual experience in Balinese Hinduism

Author: Annette Hornbacher (University of Heidelberg)  email

Short Abstract

The paper investigates the desire for spiritual experience as a new and dynamic aspect of Balinese Hinduism, which was often described as a standardized ritual orthopraxy for which spiritual or philosophical immersion and other forms of intimate and individual experience were meaningless.

Long Abstract

Bali's religious traditions have been described as a set of highly standardized ritual practices for which philosophical immersion, personal belief or individual experience is irrelevant. According to this assumption, the original Balinese Hinduism can be described as an orthopraxy based on standardized ritual actions as opposed to the religious politics of the Indonesian government that forces its citizens to reinterpret their ritual and cosmological traditions in terms of a modern world religion and thus as a consistent monotheist doctrine. While some scholars expected that this may lead to a shift from Balinese orthopraxy to a scriptural Hindu orthodoxy the Balinese perform their rituals more fervently than ever even though they subscribe to an allegedly universal Hindu religion. I argue therefore that the analytical alternative cannot adequately describe current religious changes in Bali because it ignores the role of individual agency and especially the desire for spiritual experience that has become a crucial aspect of current religious dynamics in Bali.

In my paper I will analyze some aspects of this shift towards spirituality in view of Balinese pilgrimage tours to India and to one of the newly established Balinese ashrams that offer new techniques of individual experience, philosophical studies, personal advice or healing. All of these innovations are usually referred to as 'spiritual'. I will describe these largely ignored aspects of individual religious experience and agency as a new form of religious intimacy that displays a critical stance against both: standardized ritual traditions and a universal Hindu orthodoxy.

Challenges to religious identity: Catholicism vis-a-vis non-confessional practices in Lithuania

Author: Jolanta Kuznecoviene (University of Vytautas Magnus)  email

Short Abstract

The presentation has a twofold aim – to explore the development of religious identities via identifying main dimensions of their transformation and anchors of retention and to show the ways were traditionalism and religious innovations intersects.

Long Abstract

The presentation has a twofold aim - to explore the development of religious identities via identifying main dimensions of their transformation and anchors of retention and to show the ways were traditionalism and religious innovations intersects. The paper is based on the data of the research project conducted in 2010-2012 in Lithuania.

Although the research data shows that majority of Lithuanian population in construction of their personal religious identities combine non-institutional practices and spiritual beliefs, they also hold on Catholic identity. Informants' choices in the religious field could be interpreted as a response to the field structure that provides certain resources and imply specific habitus. Institutionalized religion remains important for informants by fulfilling meaningful social functions. Catholicism is perceived as an almost inherited trait, affiliating the individual with Lithuanian-ness and Lithuanian traditions as the way to transmit and retain them. "Catholic" becomes a mark of cultural, rather than religious identity. This identity is chosen not as a mark of religious, but of cultural affiliation. Such identity illustrates the overlapping of cultural and religious meanings, marks certain way of life and frames as well as challenges the cultural identity in the context of rapid social changes.

Traditional institutions in motion: a feminine Benedictine monastery facing transformations

Author: Anna Clot Garrell (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona)  email

Short Abstract

This paper examines transformations of a traditional institution: a Benedictine monastery. Drawing on the fieldwork in a feminine community, it discusses the modification and accommodation of monastic practices in relation and tension to the religious tradition and the late-modern societal dynamics.

Long Abstract

In the contemporary social scenario marked by the imperative of change and detraditionalisation dynamics which undermine plausibility structures for collective institutions (Hervieu-Léger, 2000), a question emerges: how monasticism remains as an institution and as a religious life option today?. This paper aims to analyse transformations of a traditional Benedictine monastery which represents an exception in the Catalan context due to its intergenerational community and openness towards society at large. Particularly, the attention will be devoted to the processes through which this monastery, so as to keep a new generation of nuns who entered in 1990s, has progressively modified and accommodated its traditional monastic practices and principles yet in continuity with the Benedictine heritage that it represents. In this regard, and focusing on concrete aspects derived from the fieldwork conducted in this feminine community -such as the holistic-spiritual activities in the guest quarters, the changes in the conception of individual, authority or enclosure-, the presentation will explore the ways through which this monastery, as a traditional and communal institution, critically relates with respect to the religious tradition and the present socioreligious Catalan context. The paper will conclude by showing the need for overcoming general scholar oppositions between adaptation versus innovation, individualised versus communal-collective practices and institutional versus alternative religious expressions, in order to develop a more inclusive analysis able to cope with the complexities of current religious transformations.

Genealogies of spiritual empowerment: Roma communities facing the neo-liberal ghettoization of poverty

Author: Sorin Gog (Babes-Bolyai University)  email

Short Abstract

My paper focuses on the massive conversion of Roma to Pentecostalism in present-day Romania and on the religious songs, prophecies and new technologies of the self that are employed in order to deal with the neo-liberal disempowerment and marginalization of Roma in Central and Eastern Europe.

Long Abstract

My paper focuses on the massive conversion of Roma to Pentecostalism in present-day Romania and on the religious songs, prophecies and new technologies of the self that are employed in order to deal with the neo-liberal disempowerment and marginalization of Roma throughout Central and Eastern Europe. I am analyzing the specific ways in which the religious assemblies emerging within the ghettos are generating institutional and symbolic resources which enable a new form of community-building and religious narratives of ethnic identity. Drawing on Foucault's work on bio-politics and the new technologies of power that have their genealogy in the formation of an ordo-liberal state, on Agamben's work on Homo Sacer (state of exception and the politics of bare life) and on the recent scholarship focusing on the role of trans-national capitalism in the expansion EU towards East - I show that the post-communist period has inaugurated a new dramatic form of excluding the Roma which is inscribed in state structures and prevailing market ideologies. This is not something new for neo-liberal regimes: as Wacquant has shown in the case of US, at the core of 'liberal-democratic' state lays a cluster of devices that correlate the market reforms with the retrenchment of welfare and the penalization and ghettoization of poor people. Relying on extensive ethnographies of marginalized communities, my paper analyzes the way Roma make use of religious narratives, millenarian visions and mobilizing sermons to face the recent trends towards a neo-liberal ghettoization of poverty.

Continuity and innovation in Old Believers' religious practices

Author: Cristina Clopot (Heriot Watt University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper proposes an analysis of themes of continuity and innovation related to the religious practices of Old Believers in Romania and beyond. It particularly focuses on the establishment of a new religious hierarchy outside Russia through the appointment of Bishop Ambrose.

Long Abstract

Scholars researching Eastern Christianity noted an emphasis on continuity (Hann and Goltz 2010) in religious practices. Theoretically, continuity has mostly been presented in a dialectic relation to innovation. In this paper I aim to challenge these assumptions by discussing how certain 'unorthodox' movements might add new layers to such an argument and how continuity and change might co-exist in religious traditions, as commended by different factors outside religion.

I will particularly focus on the Old Belief and its complex history starting in Russia in the XVIIth century with the Schism in the Russian Orthodox Church. Their religious practices placed a great emphasis on continuity with a form of Orthodoxy preserved since the Christianization of Russia in the IXth century. Through these claims they opposed the Orthodox Russian Church innovations, rejecting Greek elements introduced by religious leaders in the 1600s. Following a period of persecutions due to their resistance to changes, devotees of the Old Belief left Russia, spreading around the world. While resisting hegemonic changes inland, they soon saw themselves forced to accept innovation to be able to preserve religious practices outside Russia that would allow ordaining new priests. Thus, a new hierarchy was officially created in the XIXth century at Belaya Krinitsa (currently in Ukraine), later moved to Braila, Romania.

In this paper I will thus explore the tensions between claims to continuity and the adoption or rejection of such changes as well as their consequences in shaping different trajectories for Old Believers communities around the world.

The spiritual search and 'places of power' in Russian New Age movement 'Anastasia'

Author: Julia Andreeva (Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography RAS)  email

Short Abstract

My paper is concerned with Russian New Age spiritual movement, which is an example of a New Age culture, with different readers finding different meanings in the same books. Despite the tendency to gain life outside institutional structures, they have a wish of being part of the community.

Long Abstract

My paper is concerned with Russian New Age spiritual movement, which emerged in mid-1990-s after books about Anastasia ("The Ringing Cedars of Russia") had been published. The author of these books - Vladimir Megre - describes the story of acquaintance in the Siberian taiga with young woman, who told him her knowledge about different things and asked him to transmit them through the books. The Anastasia movement is an example of a New Age culture, with different readers finding different meanings in one and the same book. The individual ideas of Anastasia's philosophy have various forms depending on peculiarities of the particular social milieu. In its self-presentation and self-understanding, the Anastasia movement is based on the critique of the modern technocratic society, and an ambition to get autonomy establishing alternative lifestyles. The central idea of this movement is to construct a new ideal world in which all people would live in harmony with nature.

The research strategies with these religious phenomena always encounter the tensions with demarcation of community limitations. The problem lies in the controversies between individuals' self-spirituality and their need of communication with like-minded people. Despite the tendency to gain religious (or spiritual) life outside institutional structures, they have a wish of being a part of the community. I would like to pay attention to specific practices of Anastasians - a new kind of spiritual trip to the native sacred objects - the Caucasian dolmens. These trips for getting esoteric knowledge uncover both elements - individual interpretations and organizational practices.

Intimacy and diversity within alternative spiritualities: the informal religious field in Lithuania

Author: Rasa Pranskevičiūtė (Lithuanian University of Health Sciences)  email

Short Abstract

This presentation discusses alternative religious movements, concerning search and maintain of intimacy within and outside particular religious subculture and expressions of informal religious activities in cultural underground and in this way forming a common field of spiritual alternatives.

Long Abstract

Presentation focuses on a research into contemporary cultic milieu and main manifestations of general search for alternative spirituality in Lithuania. It discusses diverse alternative religious and spiritual movements which mainly emerged in Lithuania in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union, concerning orientation into search and maintain of intimacy within and outside particular religious subculture and expressions of informal religious activities in cultural underground.

Here, contemporary Lithuanian cultic milieu is being studied in a way how subcultural ideas of diverse alternative religious groups transcend borders of particular religious movements and form common field of spiritual alternatives. In such a situation, orientation into intimacy constitutes relationships and networks among individuals. Also informality arises as an absence of a precise form, presence of openness and willingness for a change, a possibility to be influenced by various currents of often distinct worldviews. Individual worldview often transcends a sociocultural framework of separate subcultural or other groups and expresses more a belonging to a common field of ideological spiritual alternative. In this case, an individual is uplifted - he is being surrounded by diverse worldviews and life-styles within particular religions, and possibilities to choose and change them. The borders of religious and spiritual groups overflow, whereas alternative sociocultural context influences a formation of permanently changing alternative religious identity.

The findings are based on data obtained from fieldwork during 2004-2014, including participant observation and interviews with respondents of diverse alternative religious groups (i.e., New Age spirituality, Hinduistic, Buddhist, Pagan and other groups) in Lithuania.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.