Accepted Paper:

Managing diversity: the sharing economy of British interfaith dialogue practices  
Marcy Brink-Danan (Hebrew University)

Paper 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.

Paper 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.

Panel P130
Unity in diversity? Anthropological reflections on interreligious devotion and dialogue in Europe [Anthropology of Religion Network]