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sief2011 coverSIEF2015 12th Congress
Zagreb, Croatia
21-25 June 2015


The heritagization of religious and spiritual practices: the effects of grassroots and top-down policies (SIEF Ethnology of Religion Working Group)

Location A227
Date and Start Time 22 June, 2015 at 10:30


Anna Niedźwiedź (Jagiellonian University) email
Clara Saraiva (CRIA Centro em Rede de Investigação em Antropologia) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

Numerous analyses of heritagization processes in various cultural contexts reveal their twofold dynamics between grassroots activities and implemented policies. We propose to problematize how these processes work within the religious and spiritual domains of contemporary and historical societies.

Long Abstract

An idea of the 'past' seems to be endlessly popular and valued in various religious contexts. Institutionalized and well-established religious systems eagerly call upon the concepts of the 'past' and 'heritage' to justify their contemporary practices and ideologies. Also numerous emergent religious and spiritual movements within much more ephemeral and less institutionalized spheres inscribe themselves into heritagization processes.

This panel aims to enhance understanding of how 'heritage' as process works in the religious-spiritual domains of contemporary as well as historical societies. We are interested in how heritage is invented, adopted and adapted within specific cultural, social and historical frames, and how it is embraced by or attached to religious-spiritual practices. Is heritagization instigated by grassroots, spontaneous activities, or top-down policies operating on regional, national, trans-national or global levels, or a combination of both?Are there any conflicting visions of 'heritage(s)' between these two - bottom-up and top-down - perspectives? How does religious-spiritual heritagization situate itself in relation to dominant political circumstances, economic conditions and the spread of new media? Is heritagization perceived as a positive value or as an obstacle from an emic viewpoint of religious-spiritual movements and their participants? Does heritage relate to ossified behaviors and practices or can it perhaps engender innovation in religious-spiritual life?

We welcome discussion of these and other questions relating to heritagization of religious and spiritual practices during this panel. Papers which combine ethnographic case studies with theoretical approaches are especially encouraged.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


The feast of pentecost in Vilnius Calvary: from regional universality to local sacredness

Author: Jonas Mardosa (Lithuanian University of Educational Sciences)  email

Short Abstract

The feast of Pentecost in Vilnius Calvary and visiting believers the Stations of the Cross during feast is one of the most significant factors in Vilnius religious life and the most distinct place for the folk to practice their regional devotion.

Long Abstract

The Calvary Route of the Cross in Vilnius Verkiai suburb in the middle of the 17th century and it focused on visiting the Stations of the Cross during feast the Pentacost. It was not only the sacred content of the very ritual of visiting the Cross Route distinguished, but folk piety as well. The feast of Pentecost in Vilnius Calvary, was a universal centre of devotion shared by Lithuanian, Byelorussian, Ukrainian and Polish Catholics. After World War II worshippers were prevented from walking the Route of the Cross in Vilnius Calvary. Consequently, almost all the chapels on the Route of the Cross were blown up in 1962. However, in 1989 a free celebration of the feast of Pentecost started. Moreover, in 2002 the chapels were rebuilt and the feast of Pentecost renewed. The succession of the traditions of folk piety is observed only in hymns and rituals at the chapels. Owing to this, observations of the rituals and the survey of worshippers prove that religious aspirations are becoming the most significant in the contemporary process of walking the Route of the Cross. Summing up, it may be deduced that the modernisation of the society and the strengthening of its secular layer have ensured a much more purified religious form for the tradition of the feast of Pentecost revived in Vilnius Calvary. The focus of folk piety, however, is becoming of minor importance

Confirming and contesting tradition: the discourses of LGBT Christian groupings in the UK

Author: Stephen Hunt (University of the West of England)  email

Short Abstract

This paper seeks to provide an account of the endeavour by LGBT Christian cadres to challenge majority traditional Christian attitudes towards sexual diversity on the one hand and simultaneously appealing to ‘hidden’ traditional tolerance on the other.

Long Abstract

There can be little doubt that the broad subject of sexual diversity and, more specifically, LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Transgendered/Sexual) rights constitutes a major issue of debate and contention in the Christian churches worldwide. These issues have helped generate grass-root LGBT Christian minority groupings in a good number of the major denominations, as well as independent LGBT churches and organizations. Many remain ostracised at worse or marginalised at best.

This paper seeks to provide a sociological account of the endeavour by LGBT Christian cadres to construct a distinct collective identity in the setting of a liberal democracy and against a cultural backdrop which could arguably be described as 'post-Christian', namely, the United Kingdom. The approach is sociological in the sense that it attempts to comprehend how such groupings express collective identity and construct corporalities through social action and ideological formations. This venture entails, among other things, reconstructing conventional theologies and forging accompanying discourses which challenge majority traditional Christian attitudes towards sexual diversity on the one hand and simultaneously appealing to 'hidden' traditional tolerance on the other, while at the same time appealing to more 'progressive' motifs. The methodology utilized in this study is founded on the analysis of official 'position statements', relevant documentation, and web-site postings produced by Christian LGBT groupings aimed at both their membership and for public consumption.

'This is our tradition!': contemporary Ghanaian Catholics and the heritagization of 'African traditional religion'

Author: Anna Niedźwiedź (Jagiellonian University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper will discuss the interface between so-called ‘African traditional religion’ and contemporary Catholic practices in Ghana. Focus will be on heritagization processes that transform elements of contested ‘traditional religion’ into ‘our tradition’ appreciated and valued by local Christians.

Long Abstract

Based on ethnographic research in central Ghana, this paper will discuss the interface between so-called 'African traditional religion' and Catholic practices. Focus will be on heritagization processes that transform elements of 'traditional religion' (usually contested by local Christians) into a concept of 'our tradition' and 'our heritage' (which seems to be appreciated and highly valued irrespective of religious affiliation).

Firstly, I am interested in which elements of 'traditional religion' happen to be labeled by today's Catholics as 'tradition' and in which circumstances the labelling occurs. Family feasts (outdooring, funerals) and local 'traditional' festivals (Yam Festival, local shrine's festivals) appear as important interfaces where Christian identity is confronted with 'traditional religion'. However, numerous elements of 'traditional religion' are accepted and practiced by Christians, while labelled by them as 'our tradition'.

Secondly, the process of heritagization of 'traditional religion' reveals itself also within today's Catholic religious practices. Numerous 'traditional' symbols and rites are getting 'inculturated' into 'Christian way' of life and worship. In the course of this process 'traditional religion' happens to be inscribed into an image of the past, thus valued as historical 'heritage'. These processes are of a twofold nature. On the one hand they are supported by an official stance of the Catholic church and its turn toward 'inculturation'. On the other hand, numerous grassroots activities appear, sometimes conflicting with these initiated by clergy.

Finally, in the multi-religious environment of central Ghana 'our tradition' seems to provide shared symbolic language enabling interactions among people belonging to various religious denominations.

Whose past is it? Urban witchcraft and the negotiation of a "pagan heritage" within and of the city of Berlin

Author: Victoria Hegner (Göttingen University)  email

Short Abstract

The paper explores the ways Neopagan witches in Berlin “reclaim” and thus construct a “pagan heritage” within the urban realm. Their notion of heritage is contested by dominant theologies and German historical self understand. Yet, it intensely relates to Berlin`s staged urban culture of liberalism.

Long Abstract

Based on ethnographic research the paper focuses on Neopagan witches in Berlin (Germany) and the highly complex way they make use of pre-Christian pantheons and symbols, (i.e. the Teutonic Alphabet), in their spiritual/religious practice and thus aim to "reclaim" an ancient "pagan heritage" within and of the city of Berlin. "Pagan Heritage", as it is conceptionalized by modern witches is bound to territory and grounded in a holistic experience of an immanent divine power. It is seen as rooted in a "matriarchal past" and in that it represents an ancient forerunner of modern feminism. Not only do those ideas on "heritage" challenge dominant theologies, (mainly Christian, Jewish, Islamic). Out of the collective remembrance of the Nazi-time, the use of supposedly geographically related - "Germanic" - symbols carries notion of dangerous nationalism.

Through thick description of rituals within the urban realm as well as by closely analyzing the recent controversity raised by some Neopagan witches over the locale of the House of One - a future common prayer house for Christians, Moslems and Jews in (East)Berlin`s city center -it will be shown how the witches "navigate" through the different political as well religious contestations and thereby "excavate" a peculiar pagan past of Berlin. Not only that, in trying to "popularize" (Knoblauch) the latter by staging rituals as joyful "events", welcoming people from "all" walks of live, they turn it into a "heritage" that is part of Berlin`s ascribed and staged political as well cultural liberalism.

Heritagization of religion, secularization of the spirits? The case of spirit possession in Vietnam

Author: Oscar Salemink (University of Copenhagen)  email

Short Abstract

The referent object of many cultural heritage sites, objects and practices are religious in nature, but we approach these differently if defined as religious or as heritage. I explore this paradoxical separation with reference to spirit possession practices in Vietnam.

Long Abstract

When Shia and Sunni Sufi shrines are threatened by the advance of ISIS in Iraq, UNESCO and the AAA decry not the threat to religion but the loss of heritage. The referent objects of much cultural heritage are religious in nature, both sites (temples, churches), museum objects, and ritual practices glossed as intangible cultural heritage. In the 2001 destruction of the Buddhas of Bhamiyan as an act of religious purification we sense the problems created by categorical ambiguity of objects that are simultaneously regarded as religious and as heritage: Their religious classification as idols and their secular classification as world heritage are part of separate discursive registers that speak past each other.

If much cultural heritage has the ontologically same referent object as 'religion', then why are we seeing and approaching these as different things, both scientifically and politically? Currently, anything defined as religious is cordoned off along a clear-cut secular-religious divide, from which the state should - in Western/Westphalian thinking - be absent ("separation church-state", "freedom of religion"). If defined as heritage, it is seen with a secular gaze, inviting state interventions for conservation management. I will explore this paradoxical separation of one set of sites, objects or practices into religious and heritage aspects with reference to a number of religious/ritual/heritage practices in Vietnam. In particular, I will analyze divergent attempts to lobby the state to officially recognize a specific spirit possession practice - lên đồng - associated with mother goddess worship - đạo mẫu - as a Vietnamese religion respectively Vietnamese heritage.

Alternative centres: Jewish heritage policies in Morocco

Author: Maria Cardeira da Silva (FCHS-UNL / CRIA)  email

Short Abstract

Following current Jewish heritage tours in Morocco I will try to show how Moroccan heritage policies try to incorporate new and diversified trends of pilgrimage within the Jewish diaspora, creating alternative centres «out there».

Long Abstract

A great many Jews from several European countries, Canada, Israel, the USA and South America, go to Morocco. Moroccan-born Jews often come for the hillulot - the annual festivals around tombs of tsaddiqim (saints). Tour operators take advantage of the longing for this 'centre out there' (Turner 1973) and promote heritage tours that mix hagiographic experiences with tourist performances. Positions are divided as to whether their ritualistic performances diverge or sustain the idea of Israel as a State and Aliyah as a pilgrimage. Jews from other provenances seem to be looking for an unsullied Judaism, unconcerned about the tainted history of dissentions and conflicts. The Moroccan state, which includes in its highest echelon representatives of the Jewish, offers special protection to pilgrims and tourists. The State finances research into 'Jewish culture and its artistic, literary and scientific heritage' and sponsors festivals where the encounter between religions is celebrated. Although we could include all these within the framework global system of patrimonialisation, and we know how processes of diasporisation act as the most powerful triggers of memory and nostalgia, we cannot but note the imbalance between the quantities of renovation projects associated with Judaism and the recent decline in the Jewish population. Morocco is a roots tourism destiny or place of pilgrimage for different Jewish groups and where different historical origins and different classes intermingle. The attitude of the Moroccan government seems to favour this position by exploring the rhetoric of co-existence, inspired in part by the legendary Andalusian convivenza.

Politics of the sacred in the heritagization of Churches and Christian Sites in Japan

Author: Tinka Delakorda Kawashima (Faculty of Arts University of Ljubljana)  email

Short Abstract

This paper examines the strategies of various interested actors, such as local governments, tourism associations and religious groups in the process of choosing the component assets of the Christian heritage in Japan to be inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites List.

Long Abstract

In 2007 a group of churches and other Christian sites in Nagasaki first appeared on UNESCO's Tentative List of World Heritage candidates. This nomination prompted efforts of regional administrations and tourism associations across Kyushu to have "their" Christian heritage inscribed/added into the list. This paper examines the "politics of the sacred" in the processes of choosing the component assets on the basis of fieldwork conducted in Hirado and Sotome areas in Nagasaki. Both areas contain many important assets that have been determined to be valuable on the regional and national levels. I focus on the assets of the so-called "hidden Christians". "Hidden Christians" have played a crucial role in the history of Christianity in Japan. During 250 years of severe persecution of Christians in Japan, they kept practicing Christianity in secret. However, when the Catholic Church has returned to Japan, many of the hidden Christians did not reunite with it, thus became viewed as "heretics" from the stance of the Catholic Church. In the paper I analyse their sacred sites and items that were included and excluded from the Tentative list, based on the top-down (governmental and Church) determination of the sacred worthy of a global recognition.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.