EASA, 2006: EASA06: Europe and the world

Bristol, UK, 18/09/2006 – 21/09/2006


Diffusion, religion and secularism

Location Victoria LT
Date and Start Time 21 Sep, 2006 at 09:00


David Shankland (Royal Anthropological Institute) email
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Short Abstract

This plenary examines religion in Europe in the light of diffusion and secularism; advocating the importance of both these concepts for our theoretical understanding.

Long Abstract

This panel considers the general problem of the relationship between religion and institutions, diffusionism and secularism in Europe from the anthropological point of view. It is obvious that there are connections between the broad religious cultures in Europe, and that part of this overlap may be traced through common attitudes to gender and creation, yet equally they have been divided and interleaved by political and cultural fissures of various kinds, often very complicated. The central question that faces this plenary is, how we can see this historical complexity in the light of the trans-nationalism and migration which characterises Europe today? Do we now need to re-incoprorate pre-modern characterisations of culture and diffusion in order to understand how these contemporary movements may come about? Do we need perhaps to develop a more self-conscious awareness of the importance of secularism to European culture - secularism perhaps not so much as an analytical tool, but more simply as a crucial cultural characteristic, even if a complex one, of the way that Europe has developed?


Religion and the Europeans: diffusion as an openness

Author: Nigel Rapport (St. Andrews University)  email
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Long Abstract

There is something cosmopolitan about diffusion. Ironically, in its first, nineteenth-century appearance the concept was written into a role which opposed the psychic unity of humankind. Creativity, social change and development --‘progress’ in the teleological framing of the time-- was either regarded as a matter of independent invention and evolution in many different places, thus evincing a universal human capacity for an equivalent creativeness; or else social change was the result of exogenous influences reaching different parts of the world from one or more cultural centres. Globalism now makes the distinction moot: it is the psychic unity of humankind which enables cultural traits and social practices to be exported, taken up, interpreted and transformed in any place, every place.

We are adjured to recognise the advantages of again deploying diffusion as an analytical concept. It might add to our apprehension of migration, transnationalism and diaspora. In this paper diffusion is treated as a value as well as a practice: diffusion as a version of openness. It can signal a human, intellectual and emotional capacity to engage with radical otherness --that which is alien in origin or provenance-- and a social and political willingness to do so. Diffusion is one way in which such variety enters a social space. Evolution, revolution, is another. Again, the dichotomy does not hold. The contrasting shapes of diffusion and evolution remain good to think with, however: drift as against thrust.

The argument of the paper builds in a kind of diffusionist style. I have recourse to important lectures from the past from which I borrow ideas, and between which I trace themes, in plotting my own course. Religion, morale, pedagogy, morality and Europe are the major landmarks connected together in formulating a position on the possible or necessary relationships between orthodoxy and societal vitality; between education and innovation; between morality and a free space which exists beyond social structure. The paper ends with a discussion concerning secular values: the viability of codifying irony as a moral practice and of promoting respect for societal processes whose truths are procedural rather than substantive.

Gender, diffusion and secularism in the Abrahamic religions

Author: Carol Delaney (Brown University)  email
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Long Abstract

The influx of millions of Muslims, and thus the diffusion of Islam, into a Europe that had considered itself predominantly secular though heavily influenced by Christianity, has brought the issue of religion into public discourse. Rather than an alien religion, Islam shares much with Judaism and Christianity including the foundational story of Abraham. My paper discusses the different expressions of very similar concepts of gender in the three monotheistic religions and speculates on some of the cross-cutting influences that modify or reinforce the notions of gender.

Moments of secularisation: diffusion, religion and charity

Author: Jon Mitchell (Sussex University)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper calls attention to the significance within the history of European ideas, of moments when particular ­ often marginal ­ religious ideas become taken up by influential thinkers or institutions, and diffused to a wider population, as secular. Calling them ‘Moments of Secularisation’, the paper focuses on two such moments, each of which generate projects ‘alternative’ to prevailing capitalist modernity; and each of which have strongly influenced Europe’s relationships with the rest of the world. The first is communism, which transformed the ‘other-worldly utopianism’ of Mormons, Mennonites and others into a revolutionary political project. The second is contemporary International Development Charity, which transformed the ‘this-worldly aceticism’ of non-conformists, and particularly Quakers, into a model for moral economic engagement with the world. The paper examines the relationship between Quakerism and the influential charity Oxfam, which was founded in the 1940s in Oxford, and developed a particular, pioneering attitude towards the relationship between charity and business, and towards development rather than aid. These attitudes ­ now part of Development orthodoxy ­ can be traced back to Quaker thought and the critical moment of its secularisation from 1940s to 1960s.