EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

Unity in diversity? Anthropological reflections on interreligious devotion and dialogue in Europe [Anthropology of Religion Network]
Location U6-3
Date and Start Time 23 July, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 2


  • Anna Fedele (Instituto Universitário de Lisboa (ISCTE-IUL), CRIA, Lisboa, Portugal) email
  • Günther Rautz (EURAC) email

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Short Abstract

This panel explores ethnographic examples in which religion fosters social cohesion. We analyze the usefulness of the concept of unity in diversity and call for papers exploring interreligious devotion and multi-faith pilgrimage sites in Europe.

Long Abstract

At a historical moment in which the European Union is experiencing a profound institutional crisis and the terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015 have fueled debates about religion as a source of conflict, in this panel we want to explore ethnographic examples that show how religion can foster social cohesion and offer positive models for peaceful coexistence in Europe. We are particularly interested in exploring the concept of unity in diversity, employed among others by medieval philosopher Nicholas of Cusa and currently adapted and used in different political and religious contexts. We want to understand if this concept is useful to understand how specific cultures and religions can coexist and communicate within an interacting system that reunites them.

We therefore call for papers that analyze how and to what extent interreligious devotion in general and interreligious pilgrimage sites in particular can offer positive examples for policy making in Europe and suggest strategies for fostering intercultural dialogue. These are some of the questions we propose to address:

How are sacred sites in Europe currently used by members of different religious groups (e.g. Lourdes, Medjugorje, Stonehenge)? What are the strategies used to allow co-existence and dialogue at these sites? How to analyze rituals that reunite symbols and gestures from different religious traditions or imply the participation of various religious groups? How do these rituals foster interreligious dialogue and understanding? Do these examples of interreligious dialogue support the concept of unity in diversity as a tool that enhances European integration?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Imaginations and utopias of togetherness

Authors: Mar Griera (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona)  email
Marian Burchardt (Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity)  email

Short Abstract

This paper investigates the histories, memories and projected futures of interreligious encounters attached to emblematic multireligious buildings and the subsequent framing processes of political representation, deliberation in civil society and tourist consumption.

Long Abstract

Based on an ongoing research project, this paper investigates the histories, memories and projected futures of interreligious encounters attached to emblematic multireligious buildings and the subsequent framing processes of political representation, deliberation in civil society and tourist consumption. More specifically, the paper examines how notions of religious diversity, interfaith and inter-religious dialogues are materially represented, shaped and contested concretely in the building of multi-faith buildings and multi-faith rooms. By analysing the process of configuration of "socially approved knowledge" (Schütz) on the interreligious realm we reflect on how representations of commonality across religious difference are expressed and how religious heritage is re-interpreted in the light of current religious pluralism and appropriated by the actors involved

Cusanus' conceptual figure in the current European Diversity Debate

Author: Günther Rautz (EURAC)  email

Short Abstract

The EU institutional crisis requires a change of perspective. The concept of 'spiritus conexionis' connects diversity within a supranational identity. The paper shows how European integration process and Cusanus' figure of spirit of union can emphasize dialogue in Europe.

Long Abstract

Nicholas of Cusa's (1401-1464) spiritus conexionis connects diversity of specific cultures and religions within an interacting superior system. This dynamic connecting figure is an ongoing process comparable with a pilgrimage way. The infinite connections interwoven along history have created common interreligious sites. The European perception of "Unity in diversity" and interreligious symbols are tools to create meaningful social relations and social cohesion.

We are living in a historic period, in which the modern nation state to integrate diversity is no longer tenable and a new supranational system like the EU is at the risk to fail. This paper explores how European integration has managed to connect the different parts of Europe with the whole over the last few decades.

The paper is exploring if interreligious dialogue supports unity in diversity as tool that creates further harmonization and enhances legitimacy for further European integration. Does this connection among minds, cultures and religious assets have the potential to empower a common European society?

Cusanus' spirit of union unites and harmonizes the individual in a dynamic process of unification. This union does not mean a process of commingling. For Cusanus it means that the diversity of religious rites and cultures must be retained and peace founded in faith.

Managing diversity: the sharing economy of British interfaith dialogue practices

Author: Marcy Brink-Danan (Hebrew University)  email

Short Abstract

Ethnographic study of British interfaith dialogue practices documents interfaith communication as a source of anxiety. Religious “diversity talk” creates new kinds of global linguistic value, whereby becoming an expert in talking across difference is considered a skill to be shared, not hoarded.

Long Abstract

Based on linguistic anthropological research conducted among British interfaith dialogue advocates since 2011, this talk analyzes the changing value of "diversity talk" in the UK, highlighting new understandings of global religion as a source of communication anxiety. The rise of diversity talk has been observed among US university administrators (Urciuoli, 2010), agents of neighborhood gentrification (Modan, 2008) and EU supra-state agents (Gal, 2011; Moore, 2011). Similarly, studies of language and diversity (or super-diversity) (Vertovec, 2007; Blommaert and Rampton, 2011) increasingly attend to questions of scale (Blommaert, 2007; Coupland, 2011; Fairclough, 2006), emphasizing a capitalist logic that seems to drive the "upscaling" of diversity talk (Park, 2013). When considering the linguistic management of religious diversity, however, one might also account for what I call, following Hannerz (1989), the global ecumenical scale (that is, all the inhabited earth). Paradoxically, British interfaith dialogue advocates promote Taylorist linguistic prescriptions for religious diversity management across the globe, yet flout the social stratification inherent in managerial logic. My findings reveal how the widespread promotion of interfaith dialogue practices allow us to track a shift in how people living in European urban centers reconfigure their place in the city and, perhaps more tellingly, their cities' place in the world. The shifting understanding of the increasing scales (geographic and interpersonal) across which one must communicate leads interfaith dialogue advocates to remap social (and linguistic) obligations to family, community, city, state, the world and - for some subjects - God.

Will an ecological Virgin Mary ever appear? Devotion and ecology in contemporary European Catholicism

Author: Alexandre Grandjean (University of Lausanne)  email

Short Abstract

Contemporary marian devotion and marian pilgrimages seem to be alien to the current ecological imprint. Considering the recent "greening" of the Catholic Church as a new institutional trend, could we expect to observe new kinds of Virgins appearing and promoting ecological values?

Long Abstract

European pilgrimages such as those to Lourdes, Fatima and Medjugorje, are places where former Church social doctrines may be reenacted through the devotional figure of the Virgin Mary and the messages she is said to have delivered. On the one hand, in some of these places, the religious communities or the institution in charge of the site still tend to promote antimodernist, antiliberal and/or anticommunist contents. On the other hand, in more mainstream pilgrimages like Lourdes or Fatima, new elaborations in terms of a spirituality of the self and well-being can be observed. However, what seems to be absent in contemporary marian devotions and pilgrimages is an ecological imprint. One explanation could be that another less apologetical and more "up-to-date" devotional figure, Francis of Assisi patron of ecologists, has already come to personalize the new "green" values inside and outside the Church. It has also come to symbolize unity in diversity as the interreligious encounters held in Assisi exemplify it. Starting from data collected through ethnographic fieldworks in Lourdes, Medjugorje and in several marian devotion movements in Switzerland (2009-2015), we shall first define some of the devotional modalities observed in marian devotions. Then recent observations made out of an ongoing research project on the involvement of churches on ecological issues in Switzerland (2015-2016) shall be used to define the "green" trend in Catholic Church. In conclusion, we shall theoretically discuss the probability of a merging between contemporary marian devotion modalities and ecological investments observed in the Catholic Church.

Christian Holy Land pilgrimage as interreligious dialogue

Author: Jackie Feldman (Ben Gurion University of the Negev)  email

Short Abstract

Christian pilgrimage to the Holy Land may serve not only as a confirmation of faith, but as the setting for a Judeo-Christian inter-religious and intercultural encounter between guides and pilgrims. The shared sites provide the security that enables mutual questioning of taken-for-granted assumptions.

Long Abstract

Pilgrim itineraries often promote the Holy Land voyages so that pilgrims may "see Jesus", make the Bible more real and strengthen their Christian faith. I suggest, however, that Christian pilgrimage may also be seen as an inter-religious and intercultural encounter. The environmental bubble of the guided group pilgrimage encloses not only the Christian pilgrim and his pastor, but also the Jewish-Israeli guide, and the Palestinian (Muslim or Christian) driver. Christian pilgrims' initial religious and political views may be confirmed through the guide's presentation of Christian Holy sites, the Bible, current politics and his own life story. Jewish-Israeli guides, on the other hand, struggle with the seductions of Christianity and their own Jewish commitments in the course of shepherding pilgrims through the Land.

Based on three decades of experience guiding Christian groups and interviews with guides, pastors and pilgrims, I demonstrate how Christian pilgrims and Jewish guides negotiate their expectations and commitments through performance in the charged landscape of the Holy Land and at shared Jewish/Christian places of worship, such as Mount Zion and the Western and Southern Walls of the Temple Mount.

While the convergence of Christian pilgrims and Jewish guides over the significance of the land and its sites creates avenues for shared discourse, the developing conversation often questions the taken-for-granted nature of Christian/Jewish understandings of the land and the Bible. By citing several examples of this interaction in differing power/authority situations, I hope to offer new perspectives on pilgrimage, interfaith dialogue and the performativity of the Bible.

Interreligious pilgrimage sites, the veneration of saints, and random fractal dynamics of inter-ritual relations in Hatay, Turkey

Author: Jens Kreinath (Wichita State University)  email

Short Abstract

This contribution accounts for the dynamics of saint veneration at pilgrimage sites shared among Orthodox Christians, Alawites, and Sunni Muslims in Hatay. The objective is to propose random fractal dynamics as a model for analyzing the unity and diversity of in the practice of saint veneration.

Long Abstract

Visit at shared pilgrimage sites is a phenomenon that still exists in rural areas of Hatay, Turkey. The aim of this contribution is to account for the local and global dynamics of the veneration of saints at these sites and to propose a theoretical model that can explain this dynamics. Focusing on Orthodox Christians, Alawites, and Sunni Muslims in the Southern-most part of Turkey, attention will be given on how interreligious relations are shaped by rituals of saint veneration. To map inter-rituality as related to shared pilgrimage sites, the aim is to analyze the ethnographic material within a theoretical framework of cybernetics that would allow more specifically to explore the fractal dynamics of interreligious encounters. It will be shown that, depending on the context and situation, devotees adjust and legitimize their ritual acts. The objective is to provide evidence for the multiple agendas involved in the visits to shared pilgrimage sites and the ways in which the actual worship is negotiated. This diversification of religious practice through random fractal dynamics will allow to question unified notions of religion and possibly to deconstruct the very notion of religion as being based on specific theologies and doctrines. This paper shows what happens at the margins of tradition in lived religions inquiring into how devotees develop their own theologies of individual religiosity in justifying their actual practice of saint veneration.

Afro-Brazilian religions, New Age and Catolicism: inter-religious crossroads at the westmostpoint of Europe

Authors: Clara Saraiva (CRIA Centro em Rede de Investigação em Antropologia and CEC UL)  email
Eugenia Roussou (CRIA/FCSH-Universidade NOVA de Lisboa)  email

Short Abstract

In present day Portugal Afro-Brazilian religions co-exist with New Age practices, shamanism and Catholicism, not always in a peaceful way. This paper discusses the adaptations and conflicts involved, and the existence (or the non-existence) of interreligious dialogue within Portuguese civil society.

Long Abstract

Afro-Brazilian religions have been exported to Portugal in the last twenty years and have become quite popular among the Portuguese. Umbanda is more expanded than Candomblé, since individuals think that they adept more easily to Umbanda , conceptualized as closer to the Portuguese Catholic religious matrix (Frijerio 2004). This allows followers to keep their catholic practices (such as attending mass on Sunday), which is something also widely accepted by the Afro-Brazilian religious leaders. At the same time, several of these leaders in the Lisbon area are also tarot card readers, reiki masters, feng-shui instructors, practice aromatherapy, etc.. Several of them add shamanism and Celtic practices (such as the Celtic feast of Samhain) to this. But the possibility and effectiveness of this religious potential dialogue also carries drawbacks. The area around the Sintra hills and Cabo da Roca (the westmost point of Europe) is considered by all these new religious tendencies as a magical zone, full of special energies and powers. Offers made to the diverse spiritual entities are often placed at the entrances of the Sintra natural park, causing disturbances, shocking the more conservative Catholics and triggering complaints to the national guard in charge of such ecological sanctuaries. Based on field work carried out in Portugal, this paper will discuss the transnational character of the importation of these religions, the adaptations and conflicts involved, and the existence (or the non-existence) of interreligious dialogue within Portuguese civil society.

Lord Ganesha's Flamenco: economy, belief and rituals of/for convivencia in Ceuta, a multicultural Spanish enclave in Morocco.

Author: Brian Campbell (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology)  email

Short Abstract

Ceuta’s ideology of convivencia describes its Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Jewish communities as all viably Spanish. I describe how convivencia is constituted through an elaborate government-sponsored economy of sharing and merging religious rituals that commit participants to mutual trust.

Long Abstract

Public media often depicts the Spanish enclave of Ceuta as a 'watch-dog' of Europe. Less attention has been devoted to the Christians, Muslims, Jews and Hindus that call Ceuta home. Ceuta's inhabitants are using the notion of convivencia to manage the enclave's mounting ethno-religious tensions by challenging the idea that only Christian-Castilians are truly Spaniards. Convivencia rather presents Ceuta, to outsiders and itself, as a 'melting pot' whose ethno-religious 'culturas' are all validly Spanish. This paper analyses how this re-imagining of Ceuta's demography is achieved through a system of ritual backed by a profitable economy of sponsorship. Ceuta's government encourages the culturas to form comunidades: property-owning institutions with formal membership. Comunidades receive funding if they invite the Ceutan public to take part in their religious rituals (e.g. Diwali, Semana Santa), maintain each others' shrines or merge different rites together. Ceuta's calendar is thus dotted with fantastic festivals that celebrate the religious compatibility of its culturas and commit participants to further foster inter-cultura 'understanding' and 'trust'. These rituals of/for convivencia discursively transform potentially divisive rituals into the rich, playful, diverse, heritage that belongs to - and constitutes - all Ceutans. Ceutans routinely question whether belief in other cosmologies is required for convivencia and worry how its many internal contradictions often collapse into political crisis. However, they also insist convivencia remains the only real model that averts the dangers of mono-cultural Spanishness while securing steady funding from Madrid's government, convinced that globalizing Spain can only profit from Ceuta's experiments with multiculturalism.

Surveying the shrine of the healing stones: spiritual readings on the megalithic landscape of Carnac, France

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

Short Abstract

This paper on Western esoteric practices in France explores how a group of individuals with different religious beliefs understand Carnac as a sacred landscape. Attention will be paid to the rituals they execute to unleash the healing energy, both telluric and cosmic, located under local 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 a multireligious group founded in 2008, who hold monthly meetings in Carnac in order to apply the spiritual knowledge of the ancient civilisation that built the local megalithic landscape. Through the analysis of their eclectic energy rituals, I will show that people of different spiritual traditions use archaeological sites as 'power places' in order to develop their spiritual welfare.

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, leading to the perception of Carnac as a 'naturally sacred landscape' that contains underground telluric energies. In Carnac, traditional and modern spiritual practices come together in the form of ritual interactions with the archaeological landscape.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.