Mutuality and difference in multireligious local communities: the politics of neighbourliness 
Karolina Bielenin-Lenczowska (University of Warsaw)
Glenn Bowman (University of Kent)
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Wednesday 27 August, 9:00-10:45, 11:00-12:45, 14:00-15:45 (UTC+0)

Short Abstract:

This workshop addresses the contemporaneously vital issue of what forces work for and which against inter-communal mutuality in multi-confessional societies. It invites researchers conducting ethnographic fieldwork on communities composed of groups variously affiliated to distinct religions to address both the local specifics of particular multi-confessional societies and more general queries about cultural strategies of neighbourliness.

Long Abstract

The workshop has a dual focus. On the one hand it is concerned with how and when situations of reciprocity between members of two or more communities occur, and with the ways such situations are sustained. In Balkan societies, for example, neighbourliness is often a compromise, in which similarities are emphasised and differences are concealed. Here there is a constant confirmation of peaceful intentions displayed by manifestations of reciprocity (exchange of ritual food, gifts, politeness, paying and receiving visits, etc). Hence it is clear that respective religious groups often perceive differences as a threat to non-violent coexistence and work to conceal or disarm these.

On the other hand, it addresses the ways in which agencies of identity politics, such as churches or ethnically-defined movements, interpret such inter-communal interaction and often work to undermine or disallow neighbourliness. Here, again, the Balkans provides salient examples of religious and nationalist movements attacking, both rhetorically and violently, manifestations of inter-communal co-operation in the pursuit of purity and authority. The issue of how local communities respond to such 'attacks' is salient to this panel and close attention will be paid to the ways in which local communities subsequently continue, modify, or cease practices which had brought ethnically or religiously diverse communities into degrees of communion.

Ethnographic fieldwork by anthropologists can provide grassroots knowledge about the ways in which multi-religious local communities use mutuality as a strategy of coping with the problem of difference. The ethnographic data to be discussed in this workshop will not only inform regional politicians, NGO activists, social workers and lawyers as to the character of the local communities they work with, but will also demonstrate -- contrary to the arguments of advocates of 'warring civilisations' -- that peoples of distinct confessional alliances not only can and do co-exist peacefully but also, in many cases, work to generate strategies allowing inter-communalism to be perpetuated despite pressures to dissolve it into warring elements.

Accepted papers: