SIEF2017 13th Congress: Göttingen, Germany
26-30 March 2017

Building personal religiosity as ways of dwelling religion. From spiritual seekers to faithful believers. (SIEF Ethnology of Religion Working Group Panel)
Location KWZ 1.601
Date and Start Time 27 March, 2017 at 08:30
Sessions 2


  • István Povedák (Hungarian Academy of Sciences - University of Szeged) email
  • Leonard Norman Primiano (Cabrini University) email
  • Marion Bowman (The Open University) email

Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

This panel aims to bring a better understanding of how believers and spiritual seekers or 'in-betweeners' create the feeling of home and safety through religious traditions.

Long Abstract

During the past decades the research of 'lived' or 'vernacular religiosity' has gained growing interest. By focusing on the axiomatic fact that every person is the creative craftsman of his/her individual beliefs researchers mostly investigated how believers constructed their private religiosity, while less attention has been paid to those who are in between institutionalized believers and agnostics. Similarly to 'vernacular religiosity' of believers, these 'in-betweeners' often amalgamate divergent religious/spiritual traditions and mundane concepts.

This panel aims to bring a better understanding of how believers and spiritual seekers or 'in-betweeners' create the feeling of home and safety through religious traditions. We are interested in proposals that investigate the way individuals and communities of individuals use religious traditions as enclosures for the expression of art, anxiety, fear, experience, etc. in the twenty-first century. We look at how originally non-religious idea can replace the traditional, institutional religion in private life and (re)structure everyday life and homes (both physically and non-physically) for believers and 'in-betweeners'? How (non-)religious people 'find home' in religion/spirituality and how does it happen during economic/cultural crisis? Instead of focusing on religious ideas and concepts this panel is committed to the analysis of the way religiosity is being constructed through art, objects and behaviors.

These and other questions relating to how the 'feeling of home' is created through religious/spiritual art/objects/symbols even by non-believers are welcomed to be discussed during this panel. Papers which combine ethnographic case studies with theoretical approaches are especially encouraged.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


How to be a fundamentalist? (an anthropological discourse analysis)

Author: László Koppány Csáji (PTE (University of Pécs), Hungary)  email

Short Abstract

I study how the conversion happens in a Central European fundamentalist new religious movement, focusing on the reception of the main concepts. I analyze the emotions and narratives called forth in speech events in which they are alluded (the process how the vernacular religions overlap each-other).

Long Abstract

I analyze the process how a dwelling place is constructed for a fundamentalist faith. The conversion to a new religious movement is based on the convergence of the subjective meanings - engraving a set of narratives, values and attitudes. This Christian fundamentalist movement (with emic term the "shines") has members from Romania, Serbia, Hungary, Austria and Slovakia. I focus on the concept of the Holy Spirit: its shape, its symbol, its dwelling, how its heavenly incarnations (the "angels") can be settled in our homes and witnessed. The ideas of "Prophet Dénes" (leader of the new religious movement) are sometimes quite far from the vernacular concepts of his followers. Cognitive semantics and discourse analysis method can help us - with the revised notion of "knowledge" and "meaning" - to systematize the field-notes and records collected during the research. The time and sequence should be interpreted together with the observed attitudes. Which notions and emotions are called forth by mentioning "Holy Spirit" in the speech events? It is a dynamic and complex process where the personal, vernacular religions - within the discourse of the NRM - start to overlap each-other. Long term participant observation can give an access for the researcher to several repetitive variants of narratives in a particular group, observing how interpretations, narratives and values are transforming in the participants' life-worlds. The recognition of local, educational, occupational, religious etc. discourse levels can give ground to trace a model of discourse spaces, where the theoretical discourse field is divided into several relatively dissevered interpretive communities.

'The stones want to be touched': exploring meaningful engagements with a 'living' megalithic landscape located in Brittany, France

Author: Yael Dansac (EHESS École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales)  email

Short Abstract

This paper on contemporary animistic practices in France explores how believers and spiritual seekers create meaningful relationships with the community of spirits who are believed to inhabit trees and megaliths.

Long Abstract

In recent decades, the multicultural, multiracial and multireligious dimensions of contemporary France have been the background for the awakening of different spiritual practices, some of them notably related to the New Age wave originating in the United States in the 60s. Among these practices, the one related to the energy healings surrounding French megaliths has drawn our attention. In order to explore this religious phenomenon, we have commenced doctoral research on the subject.

This paper is based on ethnographic fieldwork among the members of several groups who hold regular meetings in Carnac Archaeological Site in order to celebrate nature and communicate with the genius loci or 'spirits of the place', who are believed to inhabit every organic and inorganic elements located in this landscape: the Neolithic megaliths, the trees, the rivers, the wind and the ground, among others.

These individuals visit Carnac in order to develop their spiritual and physical welfare; executed rituals blend science, indigenous beliefs and local folklore. Brittany, the region where Carnac is settled, has a strong Celtic heritage and maintains a fierce local identity. For centuries, the population of this rural territory has reproduced oral traditions portraying the megaliths as healing stones capable of curing various diseases such as infertility, fever, meningitis and deafness. Through our research we have stated that these local beliefs have been entangled with James Lovelock's Gaia hypothesis and other New Age beliefs, leading to the perception of Carnac as a 'power place' and a 'naturally sacred landscape'.

DIY religiosity

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

Short Abstract

The paper aims to analyze how the syncretic ethno-pagan personal religiosity is constructed in contemporary Hungary.

Long Abstract

Since the fall of Socialism the warehouse of contemporary mythologies - especially those dealing with the origin of Hungarians - have become unexpectedly vivid in Hungary. Sometimes these mythologies intermingle with Christianity and contemporary paganism at once, creating a syncretic ethno-pagan belief system. The whole process of creation can be well detected and thus analyzed, however, researchers have only dealt with the theoretical and the ideological/ritual/narrative/artistic dimensions of the phenomena, while basically no efforts have been made to analyze the individual level. Based on in-depth interviews my paper aims to introduce how different individuals get connected with Hungarian ethno-paganism and how they build up their own personal belief system.

Seekership as a socially constructed activity

Author: Claire Wanless (Open University )  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores collaboration between spiritual seekers as a way of developing not only their own individual spiritualities but also a socially constructed sense of connection within the local environment and community that provides a means for ongoing religious transmission.

Long Abstract

This paper draws on fieldwork from an ethnographic study exploring religious transmission among spiritual seekers located around Hebden Bridge, a former mill town and prominent centre of alternative religion in Yorkshire, UK. One of the ways these seekers frame their religious practice is through the local landscape. Many are incomers to the area, who actively collaborate with one another on an ongoing basis to develop their own individual spiritualities. This is achieved in part through socially constructed sets of resources such as myths, rituals and shared experiences. These serve to provide not only self-directed religious paths for the individuals concerned, but also a sense of connection within the local environment and community. This paper will argue that the creation and ongoing use of such resources by spiritual seekers provides a way that transmission of religious ideas and practices successfully occurs in the absence of traditional religious hierarchies and doctrines.

Dwelling in afterlife: traditional beliefs compared with beliefs expressed on the Internet

Author: Anders Gustavsson (University of Oslo, Norway)  email

Short Abstract

The study aims at answering the following research questions:

What types of popular beliefs can be traced in the pre-industrial society?

What types of beliefs appear in the present-day society?

Which differences and similarities can be found in belief narratives of these periods?

Long Abstract

My aim is to examine beliefs regarding dwelling in afterlife in Sweden, partly from the late 1800s on, partly from the 2000s. The data from two different periods are not analysed in terms of a diachronic study of developments but in a contrastive perspective.

The study aims at answering the following questions:

What types of popular beliefs can be traced in the pre-industrial society?

What types of beliefs appear in the present-day society, presented on memorial websites on the Internet?

Which differences and similarities can be found between belief narratives of these periods?

The data analysed here includes: the 1800s narratives collected in folklore archives, inscriptions on grave memorials, and memorial websites on the Internet.

The Swedish folklore archives contain much information about beliefs related to death. The majority of respondents were born in the latter part of the 1800s.

The records evidence a widespread belief that there was a double exit from the earthly life; one could acquire either a good or evil existence.

The concept that the deceased come to heaven is common on the memorial websites. A new fellowship is believed to take place after death.

In older times the folk belief always differentiated between a blessed and an unblessed exit from this life. This, however, cannot be observed in the present-day internet messages. The older beliefs have been replaced by exclusively positive ideas about afterlife existence.

The most obvious similarity between these two periods is the common belief in a continued existence after death.

The birth of 'the new urban shaman's oracle' card deck: the crafting and creation of a contemporary oracle for personal and community healing and transformation

Authors: Athanasios Barmpalexis (University of Aberdeen)  email
Terry Mace (The School of New Urban Shamanism)  email

Short Abstract

This paper will look into the background, the creation process and functions of an oracle deck crafted by an urban shaman in Scotland. Inspired by the Greek socio-political and financial struggles, Terry Mace uses his deck not for divination, but with the intention to inspire and raise awareness.

Long Abstract

Tarot and oracle cards have become a common part of many contemporary New-Age and Neo-pagan practices, rituals and ceremonies, offering everything from personal guidance to basic divination. Terry Mace is a 'New Urban Shaman' living and working in the North-East of Scotland who crafted his own 'New Urban Shaman's Oracle', from years of work as a shaman, psychoanalyst, life coach and spiritual mediator. His inspiration came after a vision he had at the Oracle of Delphi, Greece, during attendance at the ISARS Conference in Delphi, in October 2015, and the socio-political and financial struggles he witnessed while in Athens. Mace crafted his Oracle deck based upon photos he took of graffiti, street art and objects in Athens. However, the deck is not meant to be used for divination or spiritual affirmation, but rather for personal consultancy, transformation and community change. It is crafted and designed to challenge the individuals using them and to raise their awareness so that they can find home within themselves and their sacred place within the societies they live.

Drawing upon participatory ethnographic fieldwork, interviews and video recordings, this paper will present the background for the birth of this Oracle, the motivations and inspirations of the artisan and its creative crafting process, as well as its aims, objectives and functions. It will also examine the reactions of the individuals who have used them for their own reasons and purposes.

The fatima message and art performances

Author: Maria Santa Montez (Univ. Lusófona)  email

Short Abstract

This paper discusses the culture around the three "Fatima secrets" in Portugal for both believers and non-believers , giving examples of artistic performances who continue to express a potent sense and site of cultural religiosity, based on the mysterious phenomena of the Fatima apparitions.

Long Abstract

2017 is the 100th anniversary of Fatima apparitions in Portugal when 3 young shephard children reported seeing and receiving messages from the Virgin Mary at Cova da Iria, in 1917. A sun lightening phenomena was also witnessed by a large crowd. The apparition site developed over the century into a major internationally-known destination for pilgrimage and devotion. A provocative element of the Fatima narrative for believers and non-believers alike was the communication by the Virgin of three so-called "Fatima secrets" to the children, prognosticating future apocalyptic events to take place in Portugal and the wider world. Though part of the last of these secrets was only "revealed" by the Pope in 2000 , while the visionary children said it could be disclosed in 1960, the institutional Church's refusal to make this information known publically for many years led to frequent speculation about its content and meaning. This paper discusses the culture surrounding these secrets in Portugal and its tropism for both naif believers and non-believers . With specific attention to the contemporary generation of non-believers, I explain through a case study how artistic performances continue to express a potent sense and site of cultural religiosity, national pride, the feeling of home and personal spirituality based on the mysterious and controversial phenomena of the Fatima apparitions.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.