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Social Sciences and Religion

Social Sciences and Religion seminar

Convener: Dr Daniel Nilsson DeHanas

Many manifestations of religion in the contemporary world challenge our assumptions about how religion is or should be lived, believed, and practiced. This seminar series provides an opportunity to get an insight into how social scientists approach the challenging issues through empirical research and theoretical analysis.

Seminars are open to all students and members of staff.

Time and venue:

Tuesday, 17:30-19:00, Room 3.01 (Virginia Woolf Building).

Seminars 2018-19

Semester Two (Spring Term)

15 January 2019
Madawi Al-Rasheed (LSE)
The future of Islamism in Saudi Arabia

ABSTRACT: The 2011 Arab uprisings  alarmed the Saudi regime and triggered a pervasive repression campaign against Islamists. The presentation  explains why the Saudi regime fears Islamists given that the state itself was founded on a coalition with the Wahhabis. It also explores why the Arab uprisings prompted the Saudi authorities to criminalise Islamist parties such as the Muslim Brotherhood, which resulted in the detention of hundreds of activists in the country.


5 February 2019
Daan Beekers (University of Edinburgh)
A converted church: religious heritage, memory and the matter of home in Amsterdam

ABSTRACT: In this paper I will examine the widespread abandonment and conversion of church-buildings in the Netherlands. It is estimated that, on average, as many as two to four churches close down every week. These closures, and the often uncertain fate of these buildings, tend to spark emotionally charged debates in local settings. My paper looks at one particularly striking case: the early twentieth century Roman Catholic Chassé Church, which has been recently converted into the Chassé Dance Studios and Hotel. Its abandonment and repurposing involved a long and contentious process. Based on anthropological fieldwork conducted at the site, I argue that the local debates and discourses about this abandoned church are substantially informed by notions of home and by desires for feeling at home – albeit in diverse ways for different groups of people. For many local residents the building signifies local belonging and togetherness, yet in ways that diverge from its original religious function. If the building is still ‘read’ religiously, this tends to be in terms of cultural heritage. Paradoxically, and similarly to other local debates around closed church buildings, those advocating the preservation of the Chassé Church as a site of religious heritage have perceived Catholic organisations as jeopardising this aim. Closed and repurposed church buildings like this, then, are much more than abandoned piles of stone.  They are focal points for debates about the place of religion in today’s ‘unchurched’ society. 


12 February 2019
Mirjam Künkler (Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study) &
John Madeley (LSE)
Secularity beyond the West: the continued prevalence of ‘the marker state’

ABSTRACT: The editors of the book A Secular Age beyond the West: Religion, Law and the State in Asia, the Middle East and North Africa will explain how it traces the experiences of religion and secularity in eleven countries not primarily shaped by Western Christianity (Japan, China, Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Iran, Russia, Turkey, Israel, Egypt, and Morocco), and examines how the status of religion and the emergence of secularity have evolved in the course of the 20th century in these societies. All the chapters do so in conversation with Charles Taylor’s grand narrative of the North Atlantic World in his A Secular Age (2007). The case studies indicate that in all eleven cases, the state – building on colonial and/or imperial legacies – highly conditions religious experience by variably regulating religious belief, practice, property, education and/or law. The book identifies the major critical junctures and path dependencies that have led to the different levels and modes of state regulation of religion and discusses the consequences of these for the possible emergence of something approaching Taylor’s core condition of secularity – namely, the social and cultural acceptance of open religious unbelief and switching between religious affiliations (Secularity III).


26 March 2019
Jörg Haustein (SOAS)
Christianity and the interrelations of religion and development: towards a long history

ABSTRACT: The burgeoning literature on international development and religion tends to set out with the premise that the development project was born out of a post-Second World War secular modernism. This perception is based on a two-fold forgetfulness of history. On the one hand, one needs to consider the genealogical roots of development in colonialism and the “civilising mission,” which had decisive Christian inputs. On the other hand, the notion of secular modernity, conceals the intricate history of religion and secularity in the West, which needs to be analysed with much more precision, especially with regard to the neo-classical secularisation theories and the more recent “return of God” master narratives, and their relation with the development project.

Drawing out the contours of a long history of international development, from the Victorian abolitionist movements to the recent demarcation of “faith-based organisations”, the article argues that scholarship needs to move beyond the simple diagnoses of the presence or absence of religion in the development project, but highlight how the ideology of development has tended to follow religion-related master narratives about progress and values in Christian donor countries. From this vantage point the current re-discovery of faith-based actors in international development funding and practice is only the latest turn in a longer and mostly Euro-American debate about the role of church and state in society.

Semester One (Autumn Term)

23 October 2018
Gordon Lynch (University of Kent)
Transitional justice and the Catholic Church: the case of post-war UK child migration to Australia

ABSTRACT: The post-war migration of around 4,000 unaccompanied children from the United Kingdom to Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the former Southern Rhodesia has been the focus of numerous reports and inquiries since 1997, including a recent investigation by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse which recommended that the UK Government urgently establish a national compensation scheme for all surviving child migrants. After providing a brief overview of the history and systemic failures within this child migration work, the seminar will go on to focus specifically on the involvement of Catholic organisations in post-war child migration noting specific ways in which their work fell below accepted standards of the day as well as the ways in which the practices of these organisations reflected a particular understanding of child migration as moral rescue. It will raise initial questions as to whether concepts drawn from the field of transitional justice might usefully be applied to the involvement of religious organisations in historic institutional abuse, and in doing so raises broader issues about how religious organisations might engage with appropriate forms of moral accountability for histories of past wrong.


6 November 2018
Teodor Zidaru (LSE)
On help and other evils: (mis)trust, accusations, and the politics of envy in the Gusii highlands, Kenya

ABSTRACT: Local demographic pressures and uneven socioeconomic development have brought envy and mistrust to the fore of social life in rural Gusiiland in southwestern Kenya—even as people continue to depend on help from others to pursue their aspirations. With education replacing agriculture as the paramount domain of attainment, paying school and university fees is usually a collective endeavour, but also one that brings local inequalities into sharp relief: those that need the most help can command the least. In this tiered structure of social support, accusations of envy and cognate emotions unsettle the terms through which help is given, sought and expected, thus raising the problem of vulnerability vis-à-vis untrustworthy but socially proximate others. By drawing on fieldwork with families and their extended networks of neighbours and kin, at church, village fundraisers and in microfinance groups, this paper documents how such accusations are voiced, by whom, and to what ends. A concerted focus on the generativity of dark affects and emotions in constituting relations of trust and mistrust serves two aims. First, it allows for constructive engagement with recent revisionist Africanist scholarship on witchcraft, which has both breathed new life into the anthropology of trust but has also courted an understanding of mistrust as reducible to witchcraft. More importantly, it moves beyond the question of whether envy is either destructive or constructive to focus on its political affordances in broader economic and existential struggles.


13 November 2018
Shanon Shah (King's College London)
BOOK LAUCH: The Making of a Gay Muslim

ABSTRACT: This event will mark the launch Shanon Shah's new book The Making of a Gay Muslim: Religion, Sexuality and Identity in Malaysia and Britain (Palgrave 2018). The book highlights the lived experiences of gay Muslims in Malaysia, where Islam is the majority and official religion, and in Britain, where Muslims form a religious minority. By exploring how they negotiate their religious and sexual identities, Shah challenges the notion that Islam is inherently homophobic and that there is an unbridgeable divide between ‘Islam’ and the ‘West’. Shah also gained access to gay Muslim networks and individuals for his in-depth research in both countries, and the book investigates the different ways that they respond to everyday anti-homosexual or anti-Muslim sentiments. Amid the many challenges they confront, the gay Muslims whom Shah encountered find innovative and meaningful ways to integrate Islam and gay identity into their lives. The book launch will include a talk from Shanon Shah, brief words from a panel of respondents, and refreshments with an opportunity to purchase the book.


20 November 2018
Judith Bovensiepen (University of Kent)
Fiat infrastructure: on the illocutionary power of mega oil development

Joint seminar with REDCARU (Religious and Ethnic Diversity in China and Asia Research Unit)

ABSTRACT: Much of the literature on extractive industries tends to posit a stark difference between the modernist assumptions of corporations and state-planners on the one hand, and indigenous logics of affected communities, on the other hand. Examining the planning and implementation of a gigantic oil development project in Timor-Leste, this paper seeks to complicate this binary distinction by showing how government officials employ animist techniques to accelerate the progress of extractivist development. They not only mobilize the sacred potency of place to expedite land expropriation, they also employ techniques commonly used by ritual specialists to bring about a reality named in ritual speech. This analysis is used to develop the concept of “fiat infrastructure”, where oil development itself becomes the means of bringing into being an imagined or desired future reality. 

Seminars 2016-17

Semester Two (Spring Term)
17 January 2017
Timothy Carroll (University College London)
Looking into Heaven: Ethics, affect, and making people

ABSTRACT: Situated in the contexts of the daily ritual practices of Eastern Orthodox Christians, this paper draws indigenous theological musings into dialogue with James Faubion’s work on the autopoiesis (self-formation) of the ethical subject. The paper looks at the materials and body practices involved in highly routinized and quotidian ritual practices, focusing on how the individual Orthodox Christian moves within these material ecologies as a means of developing intimate relationships with the saints and cultivating their own religious subjecthood. Bringing into dialogue the ethical and affective stance that Orthodox Christians take toward the ritual paraphernalia and the role these materials play in their religious formation, the paper unpacks the important ways that material culture help Orthodox Christians in their religious devotion.

7 February 2017 
Catherine Loy (Roehampton University)
‘The Giver and the Receiver: The powerful and the powerless?’

ABSTRACT: Partnership is a contested, yet much-lauded, concept in faith-based international development. In partnering to deliver development projects, organisations such as Christian Aid UK work by funding smaller organisations to deliver long-term development projects in-country. This article examines whether a partnership between a giver and a receiver in this context can be characterised as mutually beneficial and can claim to embody equality. In examining one particular faith-based international development organisation, Christian Aid, this article looks at the competing influences which have shaped an approach to partnership which aspires to equality, mutuality and reciprocity, but which more often is reduced to the transfer of funds and to the entrenched roles of giver and receiver which result.

February 14 Anabel Inge
'The Making of a Salafi Woman: Young Muslims' Conversion to Conservative Islam’. 

ABSTRACT. The spread of Salafism – a highly conservative version of Islam often called ‘Wahhabism’ – has triggered major public concern in Britain since 9/11. Yet here, growing numbers of young women (and men) have embraced Salafism, despite its widely perceived association with ‘radical’ religious practices, such as the niqab (face veil). Anabel Inge spent more than two years doing fieldwork in Salafi women’s groups in London, where she interviewed women from both Muslim and non-Muslim backgrounds. In this seminar, she will discuss the nature of the Salafi conversion process, as well as evidence of disengagement.

February 28  Suzanne Newcombe (Open University) 
'Immorality and the Medical Interventions of Sadhus' 

ABSTRACT: This talk will explore the overlaps between religious beliefs, life extension and pain relief in the context of Indian sadhus in the modern period. It will consider ways in which religious ascetics are seen as virtuosi of longevity practices and the                                                                        multiple ways meanings claims of extreme life are understood. After outlining some specific examples of claims of extreme life extension and elucidating the related beliefs, I will argue that sadhus and beliefs about immortality may play a more significant                                                          role in the health care milieu of India than has previously been considered, and that the language they use could be understood as being performative analgesic which allows for the possibility of alternative experiences of suffering.

March 7  David Herbert (Kingston University)
'The Dynamics of Religious Publicisation: Community Cohesion and the Public Sphere in Post-Multicultural Europe'

ABSTRACT.  This seminar will trace Professor Herbert’s interest in religion in the public sphere of contemporary societies from his PhD thesis on the consequences for community relations of the controversy over Salman Rushdie’s novel The Satanic   Verses in the UK in the early 1990s, through his work on religion and politics in Eastern Europe and the Middle East (Religion and Civil Society, 2003) to his more recent reflections and research on the implications of changing media and   communications conditions for both the cultural transmission of religious traditions and the politics of multiculturalism (Social Media and Religion, co-ed, 2013, Creating Community Cohesion, 2013 and Cultural Conflict 2.0 project, 2014-18). Reflecting on these works and contemporary conditions it will ask, how can we best build solidarity between people from diverse religions and cultures in post-multicultural Europe?  

Semester One (Autumn Term)
 25 October
Anna-Riikka Kauppinen (LSE)
God’s Start-ups: spiritpreneurs, Christian professionalism and the making of ‘ethics-commodity’ in Accra, Ghana
15 November
Alana Harris (King’s College London)
‘For those with hardened hearts’: Female mysticism, masculine piety and the Divine Mercy devotion
29 November
Reza Gholami (Keele University)
Secularism and Identity: Non-Islamiosity in the Iranian Diaspora
6 December
Méadhbh McIvor (University College London)
Separating ‘sheep from goats’ in Christian Britain: rhetorics of hell and judgment among evangelical activists

Seminars 2015-16

Semester Two (Spring Term)

January 25
Liana Chua, Brunel University
'If God is with us, who can be against us?' Christianity, cosmopolitics and living with difference in Malaysian Borneo

February 1
Dr Veronique Altglas, St Mary University of Belfast
Religious Exoticism and Bricolage in Contemporary Euro-American Societies

February 15
Dr Richard Irvine, University of Cambridge
In saecula saeculorum: the Time Depth of Religious Life

February 29
Prof James Beckford, University of Warwick
The Post-Secular: a Case of Wishful Thinking about Religion?

March 14
Prof Emma Tomalin, University of Leeds
Buddhist Buildings in England: the Construction of 'Under-Represented' Faith Heritages in a Post-Secular and Post-Christian Setting

Semester One (Autumn Term)

October 19
Dr. Anna Strhan, University of Kent
Negotiating the Public and Private in Everyday Evangelicalism

November 2
Dr. Titus Hjelm, University College London
Is God Back? Reconsidering the New Visibility of Religion

November 16
Ruma Bose, King’s College London
Pilgrimage, Desire, and Everyday Life in Eastern Bihar (India)

November 30 (jointly with King’s Russia Institute)
(17.00 – 19.00, Room K3.11, King’s Building, Strand Campus)
Dr. Marat Shterin, King’s College London  
Faith and Frontline: Religion in the Russian Ukrainian Conflict 

Seminars 2014-15

Semester Two (Spring Term)

13 January
Prof Grace Davie, Exeter University
Religion in Britain 1994-2015: Continuity and Change

27 January
Prof Magnus Marsden, University of Sussex
From Trader to Talib: Islam and Youth in Northern Afghanistan

10 February
Dr Istvan Praet, Roehampton University
Animism and the Question of Life

24 February
Dr Beth Singler, Cambridge University
The Indigo Children: New Age Concepts of the Self and the

10 March
Dr Ruth Sheldon, Birkbeck College/London University  
Jewish Ethnography and the Sociology of Religion

March 24
Prof Matthew Engelke, London School of Economics
‘Good without God’: Happiness and Wellbeing Among the Humanists




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