Thursday, October 23, 2008

Day Conference on Belief

Next year the Religion Graduate Students Association of Columbia University, New York, will host a day conference entitled "Belief Matters: Reconceptualising Belief and Its Use." Here's the blurb and why I'm sorely tempted - even though its only a day!

"In recent decades, sociologically- and anthropologically-minded scholars of religion have attempted to shift scholarly attention away from belief and doctrine to rituals, practices, identities, and institutions. This turn away from belief-as-doctrine has helped scholars see religion as a dynamic phenomenon that exists beyond the confines of peoples' heads. At the same time, however, has this shift kept scholars from examining other ways in which belief and believing remain central to how people conceptualize what religion is and how it operates in the world? By re-examining what it means to "believe," this conference explores if and how belief matters.

"We invite paper submissions (400-500 words) related to any of the following themes:

"Belief vs. Practice
"Papers on this theme might sharpen the critique of belief-centered paradigms, or defend their importance. Are ritual and practice better ways of conceiving religion and identity? Should belief play a role in studies of religious practice? Papers might address the ambiguous (and sometimes seemingly inconsistent) relationship between belief and behavior.

"Belief in People and Places
"Papers on this theme might focus on the notion of believing in something--as opposed to believing that something is true. Objects of belief may include charismatic leaders, saints (hagiography), and sacred places (e.g., pilgrimage sites).

"Ways of Believing
"Papers on this theme might focus on cultural, historical, and sectarian differences or developments in what it means to believe. Papers may examine, for example, post-enlightenment developments in western notions of belief and believing, the role of law in structuring acceptable ways of believing and belonging, or issues relating to how groups and individuals conceive and present their "beliefs"--including varying uses of such terms as "spiritual" and "religious." Papers might address atheism, science, or nationalism as alternative modes ofbelief.

"Conflict, Cosmopolitanism, and Social Reform
"Papers might address the rhetoric about belief and believing that governments and political and humanitarian groups use to justify or engender support for their policies or actions. How have groups in various cultural contexts situated their own beliefs or those of others in relation to "universal" human rights? How have social reformers in various historical contexts used language about beliefs in tactical ways?

"Counting Believers
"Papers on this theme might discuss questions about the role of belief in determining community membership--both from the perspective of practitioners and scholars. Papers might focus not just on modern communities (who, for example, count as "evangelical Christians"?) but also on communities from the distant past (who, for example, count as "early Christians"?).

"Belief and Science
"Scientific critiques of "religion" often frame their critiques in general terms but in fact focus their criticism on certain beliefs or modes of belief. How do alternate ways of thinking about belief unsettle conventional oppositions between religious belief and science?

"Belief and Ethics
"How does belief and believing inform decisions regarding right and wrong conduct in the world?"

Submission deadline: Monday, December 1st.

This conference has piqued my interest because recently I've been thinking about the aspects of my doctoral thesis which I would like to develop into my next research project. One of these possibilities is the way in which the nature of "belief" is shifting. Paul Heelas has been chatting to me recently about this, thinking about how belief in something inarticulated or inarticulatable is emerging - in contrast to determinable belief in some doctrine, person, place or thing. This dovetails quite interestingly with some of my research findings, partcularly how "belief" functions within communities which emphasise either "holding beliefs lightly" or "belief in the undecidability of belief." I'd like to do my next project on the ways in which the new nature of belief makes academic a/theology possible to practice "on the ground," and how this changes the ways in which ritual and particularly prayer are conceptualised and function. So this conference on belief might be a good starting point. Gonna REALLY be in trouble for money by April next year so we'll have to see!!!


Anonymous said...

'holding beliefs lightly'

One day somewhere we must have a face to face coffee/pint or whatever and discuss this most INACCURATE, MISUSED and IDIOTIC phrase!!!!!!!!

BTW your proposed research project sounds fascinating - you should post more of your thoughts on this.


Katharine Moody said...

You're on! Coffee it is!!! Seriously, I'll definitely let you know the next time I'm in Belfast. Another face-to-face should be on the cards!

And thanks for the encouraging words about my next thoughts. I'll let you know what comes of them!

Katharine Moody said...

So you won't tell me here why "holding beliefs lightly" is an "INACCURATE, MISUSED and IDIOTIC phrase"?