SIEF2019 14th Congress: Santiago de Compostela, Spain
14-17 April 2019

(Reli04)
Fluidity and transformation in contemporary religiosity: re-tracking the sacred in a changing world.
Location
Date and Start Time [TBD] at [TBD]
Sessions [TBD]

Convenors

  • Eugenia Roussou (CRIA/ISCTE-IUL) email
  • Denise Lombardi (GSRL / Université de Lorraine) email

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Short abstract

This panel aims to explore the complex symbolic, ritual, and sociocultural mobility of contemporary religiosity, and how the notion of the sacred can be reconfigured and re-tracked, through ethnographically-based papers.

Long abstract

Placing particular emphasis on the study of the so-called "alternative spiritualities", this panel seeks to explore the notion of the sacred, as it is perceived, reconfigured and re-tracked in the changing landscape of (western) contemporary religiosity. Recent and current socio-economic and political changes have shaped the practice of contemporary religiosity both at a sociocultural and at a personal level. Observing contemporary spiritual practices, one can see how the notion of the sacred has migrated from ontological instances to individual perceptions. In this panel we aim to track the variety of pathways, deviations or even dead-ends that practitioners of alternative spirituality follow or reject in various sociocultural contexts, how they construct their own itineraries of religious belonging, focusing on the multiple and at times fluid ways in which they re-imagine and re-track the 'sacred'. We therefore invite the submission of ethnographically-based papers that explore these diverse, fluid and complex mobilities; we are especially interested in receiving contributions that focus on the study of practices involving a communication with spiritual beings (such as angels, spirits of the dead and Christian figures), which can range from practices that belong to the so-called 'New Age' phenomenon, to shamanism, and to performances of holistic healing.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

"The Upper Room": The Fluidity of Vernacular Religiosity in a University Dormitory Space

Author: Leonard Norman Primiano (Cabrini University) email
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Short abstract

An American university student has constructed in his dormitory room a sacred space compatible with his conservative Roman Catholic spirituality. This single room has been religiously re-imagined as a soothing and supportive shrine-like sanctuary, which also contests the peers living around him.

Long abstract

The study of vernacular religion (Primiano 1995; 2012) has assisted a switch in emphasis from former scholarly concentrations on polarities of "official" and "unofficial" religion and their conflicts and influences to reflections on the centrality and relationship between the individual and community in the fluid and transformative creation, recreation, and negotiation of religious beliefs and practices in everyday life. This paper is centered on that fluid relationship and tension within the life of a contemporary conservatively religious American Roman Catholic undergraduate university student who resists what he sees is the secularizing, non-devout, non-observant, and irreligious life styles and personal choices of same-age peers residing in community around him. Responding to his perception of the non-traditionalist dimensions of twenty-first century post Vatican II Catholicism, this student has constructed in his dormitory room a sacred space conforming to and compatible with his lifestyle and spirituality, what one friend responding to its preponderance of saintly religious imagery and objects has deemed "the Upper Room." This student's single dorm room accommodation in the midst of a traditional American collegiate residence has been religiously re-imagined as a sacred monastic or shrine-like sanctuary which soothes and supports with Catholic iconography from a personal heavenly pantheon while also protesting and contesting the behaviors and sinful choices of his peers living around him. Images of the space will accompany this ethnographic study and interview perspectives of my consultant.

'Transnational' spirituality and the 'sacred self': an ethnographic account of 'alternative' healing in southern Europe.

Author: Eugenia Roussou (CRIA/ISCTE-IUL) email
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Short abstract

This paper focuses on the role of transnational spirituality as a form of negotiating health and well-being, exploring how the (re)adaptation of diverse therapeutic routes lead to novel sociocultural transformations and the creation of a 'sacred self', through alternative healing.

Long abstract

Despite a renewed interest in 'transnationalism' (Vertovec 2001), little attention has been paid on the sociocultural implications it has within the context of spiritual belonging and/or of spirituality as healing. Drawing on long-term ethnographic fieldwork on 'New Age' spirituality and 'alternative' healing in southern Europe (Portugal, Greece), this paper will place emphasis on the role of transnational spirituality as a creative form of negotiating health, well-being and the creation of a 'sacred self'(Csordas 1997). Analytical attention will be cast upon people's everyday engagement with the sacred through different religio-spiritual traditions - such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Kardecian spiritism and (neo)shamanism - in an attempt to track the various itineraries or even dead-ends that are followed in their search for alternative forms of healing. The aim of this paper is to show how the sacred is approached through the implementation of transnational negotiations of spirituality and healing; how globalized spiritual traditions are adopted, adapted and re-adapted, creating a dynamic field of personal, spiritual, medical and sociocultural transformations; and how practices of different spiritual traditions are amalgamated in everyday therapeutic practices, creating novel forms of spiritual belonging and healing pathways, which are indicative of how people in Lisbon and Athens today approach their health, illness, trans/national identity and spirituality and the sacred in a sociocultural context that is moving towards new directions.

Afrocuban Religions in Barcelona. Processes of Cult Transformation: From Sacrificial Blood to "Breaking the Egg"

Author: Marta Pons Raga (University of Barcelona) email
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Short abstract

The contemporary European scenario has become the perfect milieu for the proliferation of new religions and new definitions of spirituality, as the Neosantería; in which practitioners re-create their cult to make it fit into the modern secularist context and to establish it as the authentical one.

Long abstract

The contemporary European scenario is based on highly differentiated logics, deepened into modern secularism, individualism, and authentification-driven strategies. Europe has thus become the perfect milieu for the proliferation of new religions coupled with the re-creation of spirituality definitions and cult practices. One of these new religions is what I propose to call Neosantería, which intend to overcome the so considered traditional afrocuban religions and to establish itself as the authentical religion by claiming its pristine past.

Due to the huge heterogeneity of ways of practicing afrocuban religions, I will focus on a group of practitioners who are deliberately and consciously transforming their religion. More precisely, to find legitimacy in the contemporary European context, they have rejected the sacrifice—so important for the traditional practice of these religions in Cuba and elsewhere— and have proposed the "rompimiento del huevo" (breaking the egg) instead. Built upon a discourse of a supposed return to the origin of these religions, these practitioners have thus created a religion that perfectly fits into the modern secularist parameters as well as the New Age Movement, spread out across Europe.

In conclusion, I propose to understand afrocuban religions in Barcelona as a synergic network submerged in a continuous process of evolution. A process that both entails the production of new religious and social realities underpinned by new discourses of an authentical past and intends to meddle in a contemporary European present where sacrificial blood is replaced by breaking the egg.

Animals as entities in contemporary spiritual practices in Western societies

Author: Denise Lombardi (GSRL / Université de Lorraine) email
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Short abstract

The purpose of this investigation is to understand how the participants to neo-shamanic practices can connect with a pantheon animated by different entities that are presented as animals belonging to the shamanic cosmology.

Long abstract

This investigation, which focuses more on the "native point of view", the European participants, rather than on the shamans' point of view, is aimed at understanding how the participants to neo-shamanic practices can connect with a pantheon animated by different entities that are presented as animals belonging to the shamanic cosmology. We can use the distinction proposed by Ingold (2013) between "non-human animals" and "human animals" in order to differentiate animal-entities from participants who take part to the neo-shamanic practices. We observe the group learning to approach the animal entities belonging to the upper or to the lower world as shaped by the shamanic cosmology. Non-human animals are more complex than entities belonging to a religious system such as a divinity. They are generated both by means of the shaman's indication and through the intentionality of the practitioner. However non-human animals still need to retain their own individual properties as real animals. During the shared verbal elaboration of the experience, the participants describe the totem animal with a richness of details that contribute to define a kinesthetic experience, perceived and lived through both the imaginary and sensorial apparatus. During the neo-shamanic sessions, participants achieve their personal objectives through the contact with the animal entities that do not belong to any particular cultural statement. This paper will represent an opportunity to reflect upon the reasons that move a "human animal" (the subject) to create a link with an imaginative (but real) non-human animal in order to reach his own ontological humanity.

Intimacy with the invisible: new categories of recognition?

Author: Terhi Utriainen (University of Turku) email
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Short abstract

Drawing on ethnography with Finnish women engaging with otherworldly "energies", the paper discusses the promises and limits of the categories of spirituality and enchantment and their relation to 'the sacred' in approaching and intimate encounters with the invisible within contemporary society.

Long abstract

Both spontaneous and sought for emotional and effective intimacy with invisible others and energies has traditionally most often been approached and conceived through the notions of religious experience and ritual. When approached under the category of religion, intimate and emotional contacts with the invisible has been rendered comprehensible and more or less recognized and legitimate (sacred), by powerful institutions and respected traditions and, thus, at least somewhat stabilized in culture. Due to secularization and social change, these kinds of intimate encounters, and their potential sacredness, are today perhaps much more unstable than before. They are now in a process of seeking new categorizations and recognition within peer-groups as well as the larger society, including academic society. Two presently quite popular social and cultural categories promising some positive place and recognition for intimacies with the invisible are spirituality and enchantment. Drawing on ethnography among Finnish women engaging in encounters with angels and other otherworldly "energies", the paper will discuss the promises and limits of these two categories. Even if they are related and often used in the same discourses, they are however not identical in their theoretical underpinnings in approaching and positioning intimate encounters with the invisible within contemporary society and its potential understandings of the sacred.

Pre-historic heritage, medieval monks and 21st century neo-shamans: Portuguese identity, religious freedom and the sacralization of the Sintra UNESCO heritage park in Portugal

Author: Clara Saraiva (FLUL-University of Lisbon) email
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Short abstract

The Sintra Unesco heritage park is used by different religious groups, and its use is not consensual. What is hidden to the public and what is shown in a country where religious freedom is supposed to be the norm?

Long abstract

Heritage involves an explicitly secular gaze that sacralizes non-religious aspects of religious sites, objects and practices in a cultural, historical, or secular, immanent frame. Drawing on a on-going HERA (Humanities in the European Research Council) project, this paper will use ethnographical research to explore the relation and tensions between heritage and religion, and between religious and secular sacralizations and uses. It will draw on one of the case-studies in the project to discuss these notions: the famous Sintra Park (near Lisbon), classified by UNESCO as both material (due to the many castles and palaces) and natural heritage site (it is part of a Protected Natural Park), which is part of Portuguese identity. Classified as heritage, Sintra has also enjoyed a reputation for having a mystical religious aura and energy. If already in the 13th century it was the place for meditation and implantation of many religious orders, it is nowadays widely used by different religions (neo-pentecostals, Afro-Brazilian, neo-shamans, neo-druids, neo-pagans, etc.) for their gatherings and rituals. How do these different ideas of heritage in motion across time and religious affiliations get along in a zone increasingly touristified, where often people complain about the "strange" offerings they come across walking through the park? How do the Park authorities manage these tensions, in a country where religious freedom is consecrated in the Constitution, and a Commission for religious Freedom acts as its safeguard?

Shamanic spirituality in contemporary Japan

Author: SILVIA RIVADOSSI (Ca' Foscari University of Venice) email
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Short abstract

This paper aims to explore the characteristics of Japanese shamanic spirituality by showing how Japanese practitioners are (re-)creating their role in the urban context. Moreover, it will contribute to the understanding of how contemporary religiosity is being shaped all over the world.

Long abstract

This paper seeks to explore the main elements that constitute contemporary Japanese shamanic spirituality.

First, drawing on recent studies on the topic, the notion of spirituality will be examined with specific reference to the Japanese context, tracking its main characteristics and the main threads that practitioners and their clients/patients follow.

Second, case-studies of Japanese urban shamans will be presented and discussed. This analysis will show how practitioners are constructing their own definition of what a shaman is and their personal way to perform the shamanic role, entering the field of what can be defined as shamanic spirituality. It will be clear how the 'sacred' is perceived and re-imagined in this context and how communication with spiritual beings - often vaguely defined - is sought and realized in order to achieve specific goals.

In conclusion, this paper has three main aims intertwined with each other. It will shed light on how Japanese practitioners are (re-)creating and playing their role in the urban context. In doing so, it will trace the characteristics of the shamanic spirituality they contribute to build and connect them to the larger landscape of contemporary spirituality. At the same time, it will contribute to the understanding of how contemporary religiosity is being shaped all over the world following various - but also similar - paths.

Spirituality. Epistemological and Terminological Questions from fieldwork

Author: Stefania Palmisano (University of Turin) email
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Short abstract

In this talk I shall present my personal thesis about the religion-spirituality relationship. My aim - based on an ethnographical study of two Italian cases, the New Age community of Damanhur and the female spirituality of the Red Tent - is to legitimise the analytical category of spirituality.

Long abstract

In this talk I shall present my personal thesis about the religion-spirituality relationship. My aim - based on an ethnographical study of two Italian cases, the New Age community of Damanhur and the female spirituality of the Red Tent - is to legitimise the analytical category of spirituality and to demonstrate its heuristic usefulness for the study of the contemporary sacred.

Any observer of the religious phenomena is bound to notice that, to give but one example, attending Mass and channelling spirits in Stonehenge are very different practices depending on very different attitudes towards the sacred. This intuitively reveals the distance between traditional religion and contemporary spirituality, and suggests the usefulness of distinguishing between them on an analytical level. Nevertheless, although religion and spirituality should be distinguished on the theoretical level, I believe that they are not autonomous in practice. On the contrary, they have a dialectical relationship. Both historical analysis and contemporary reality reveal that the two concepts, both being present in the same social field, enjoy continuous exchange and exercise reciprocal influence. On the one hand, religion influences spirituality and, on the other, (even extra-ecclesial) spirituality is influenced by religion. Damanhur and the Red Tent are good examples of these reciprocal influences.

But defending the use of the spirituality category is not the same as adhering to its theoretical, epistemological development as carried out by the sociology of spirituality. In using this concept, I take my distance from the previous approach for some reasons which I shall explain.

The Amazon meets Iceland: On "Mother Ayahuasca", Mountain Spirits and Ravens.

Author: Elsa Ósk Alfreðsdóttir (University of Iceland) email
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Short abstract

How is an Amazonian ritual, known as the "Ayahuasca Ceremony", being transformed and practised in Iceland; how is the Amazonian concept of spirits being related to old Icelandic beliefs in an animate nature and considerations on how shamanic reinventions are taking place in Iceland.

Long abstract

In recent years an Amazonian plant medicine ritual, known as the "Ayahuasca Ceremony", has been gaining increasing attention throughout Europe. This has caused a rise in Ayahuasca tourism. In Iceland the psychedelic brew based on the plant is still illegal but has nonetheless been taken up by several neo shamanistic groups and those who seek wisdom and healing. The brew, which is considered to be a transformative and healing gift from the Amazonian jungle, is frequently referred to under the name of its animate spirit, "Mother Aya". The concept of natural spirits is rich in Icelandic folk belief and legend with numerous accounts of sacred sites which are believed to be populated by land spirits and other spirits connected with mountains, rivers and ravens. It seems that to some extent, these spirits and beliefs are being integrated in the local Ayahuasca ceremonies, something which deserves special consideration in relation to the types of shamanic reinvention that are taking place in Iceland.

This paper will focus on several things: how an Amazonian ritual (seen as a form of spiritual pilgrimage) is being transformed and practised in Iceland; how the Amazonian concept of spirits is related to old Icelandic beliefs in an animate nature; and how these experiences are then integrated into the spiritual pilgrim's being, beliefs and everyday life. This research will involve qualitative research; interviews with Icelandic people that have experienced one or more Ayahuasca healing ceremonies, and fieldwork undertaken at the ceremonial site and during such a ritual.

Tracking the sacred through healing experiences: the case of alternative therapists in Southwest France

Author: Clara Lemonnier (CNRS UMR 5319 Passages) email
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Short abstract

Drawn from an ethnography of therapeutic pluralism in Southwest France (2011-2016), itineraries of therapists who belong to the New-Age phenomenon will be presented, to enlighten how they develop their representations of the sacred and how they experience it through their healing experiences.

Long abstract

Based on an ethnography of therapeutic pluralism in various areas of southwest of France (2011-2016), this communication will focus on the spiritual itineraries of alternative medicines' therapists who belong to the New-Age phenomenon. These tracks enlighten how they develop their representations of the sacred and their relationship with it through their healing experiences.

These therapists share a strong feeling of religiosity, whereas they distance religious places and discourses perceived as too dogmatic (most of the interviewed therapists grew up in catholic families). These people are opened to esoteric knowledges and oriental spiritualities. They read books of "self-improvement" and are interested in ritual practices promoting the nature and the living, drawn from neo-paganistic and neo-shamanistic movements. This process of distancing/appropriating elements from different spiritual repositories, contribute to redesign the conceptions of the sacred.

In parallel, this process relies on the adoption of dedicated practices, supposed to enable the therapists to experience the sacred through their healing activities and to mobilize it in a therapeutical way. During the therapeutical interaction with their patients, therapists try to capture and interpret different signs felt in their own bodies, sometimes with the help of spiritual beings. For the therapists, these perceived signs are conceived as messages, allowing them to identify the etiology of illness and sickness of their patients. Becoming healer implies to expand his capacities of (extra)sensorial perceptions and more generally, to create his proper connection with the sacred, source of therapeutical energy, power and protection.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.