Spirituality against religion: the role of gender and power

Anna Fedele (CRIA, University Institute of Lisbon)
Kim Knibbe (Groningen University)
Science PCT
Start time:
26 August, 2010 at 11:30
Session slots:

Short abstract:

We invite papers that discuss processes of (gendered) power among people who call themselves 'spiritual' rather than 'religious' and problematize the opposition between these two terms. What kinds of power can we discern despite people's assertions that they only follow 'their own inner voice'?

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.