The study of religion has used a succession of binary terms to distinguish between normative, officially sanctioned practice and religion on the ground: orthodoxy vs. heterodoxy, elite vs. folk, official vs. popular, and so on. Although some of these terms have served as a useful conceptual tool, the use of binary distinctions is problematic. There is an ever-present danger of confusing example with exemplum—of privileging those individuals, institutions, and practices most closely aligned with the sources of power or our own world-view. Binarization begets valorization. This endless parade of new terminology suggests that the drive to dichotomize is to blame. Even the recent attempts to resolve this issue under the headings “lived religion” or “everyday religion” retain polarizing antonyms that obscure some aspects of religion.
In order to problematize the cycle of successive binary oppositions, this conference aims to interrogate the middle space between these conceptual extremes. We invite participants to consider religious action and authority as a fluid continuum—a network of overlapping spheres of religious influence. In this model, every religious actor—from the Israelite high priest to a Shinto shrine maiden, from the Dalai Lama to a streetcorner evangelist—is a potential source of religious authority, differing only in the degree to which they can attract and channel the flow of religious power within society. Here, authority is a shifting current rather than a stagnant pool. We encourage participants to explore the possibility of mapping previous binaries onto a continuum model and retaining these distinctions as “ideal types” in order to organize the data and focus the scholar’s attention.
This conference is purposely eclectic: We welcome papers critiquing binary models as well as those treating religious actors from all time periods and cultures as situated within a continuum model. Such actors include, but are not limited to: faith healers, mediums, temple personnel, prophets, religious reformers, pilgrims, exorcists, breeders of sacrificial animals, vendors of religious paraphernalia, and mendicant preachers. Participants are encouraged to show how evidence from their areas of specialization can inform a more general dialogue about the problem of binary categories and contribute to the development of a new theoretical approach to the study of religion.
Please send paper titles and abstracts (300 words or less) to firstname.lastname@example.org by November 27th, 2012. Please include your name, institutional and departmental affiliation, and email address.
We hope to publish the results of the conference in some form.
The keynote speakers for this conference are:
Professor David Brakke
Joe R. Engle Chair in the History of Christianity at The Ohio State University
Professor Kevin Trainor
Professor of Religion at the University of Vermont
Sponsors: The Department of Religious Studies, The Graduate School at The University of Texas at Austin, The Center for Middle Eastern Studies, The Institute for the Study of Antiquity and Christian Origins, The Department of Middle Eastern Studies, The Department of Asian Studies
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