On 25 October, the Centre for Religion and Heritage (CRH) will be officially opened during the ‘Religious Heritage in a Secular Age’ conference organized to celebrate the transformation of the Institute for Christian Religious Heritage into the more inclusive CRH.
The Centre for Religion and Heritage will study the role of pluralistic religious pasts in contemporary cultures, both in the Netherlands and abroad, in a more inclusive way than its predecessor. At the conference on Wednesday 25 October, lectures will be given by Dr Todd Weir, director of the CRH, as well as by church historian Professor Hugh McLeod (University of Birmingham), religious studies scholar Dr Ernst van den Hemel (Utrecht University) and three students. After the lectures, the Centre will be formally opened by F.J. Paas, the King’s Commissioner in Groningen.
Like its predecessor, the CRH will be part of the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies. The Centre’s three staff members are delighted to tell us a bit more about their roles in and aspirations for the new Centre.
Dr. Todd Weir, Director: ‘We are now expanding the focus beyond Christian heritage, and will draw on the research strengths of affiliated staff in ancient, Islamic, Jewish and Buddhist religious history as well as in theoretical investigations of secularism and the post-secular. The purpose of the CRH is to promote scholarly exchange, train future professionals and engage in public outreach work.’
He continues: ‘Heritage often has a conservative, backward-looking connotation. However, I find it a powerful analytical concept that pulls us into the future. Particularly in the Dutch context, the empty churches are begging to be filled with new meaning. This is a great challenge to the churches and to secular society alike. My hope for the Centre is that it can make a decisive contribution to helping society understand and meet this challenge. To this task I bring my own expertise and interest in the historical evolution of relations between the secular and the religious, between secularist movements and religious institutions.’
Dr. Mathilde van Dijk,, a specialist in the history of late Medieval reform movments, coordinates the ‘Appropriation: processes, strategies and tactics’ cluster. Van Dijk: ‘Heritage is always topical and relevant to society today. One example is how motifs from various religions are incorporated into popular culture. A film series like Star Wars, for example, uses elements from Christianity and Taoism, and the celebrities cults borrow elements from how Medieval saints were worshipped. Another aspect is the role that religious heritage plays in political discussions, for example when the Netherlands is described as forming part of ‘Jewish-Christian culture’. Quite aside from the fact that this concept is a very recent invention, it serves much too often as a means of excluding people.
Dr. Andrew Irving is a specialist in medieval manuscript description and in medieval Western liturgy. He convenes the Centre’s research clusters ‘Religion and Material Culture’ and ‘Ritual: Sources, Histories, and Practices’. What are his hopes for the new Centre? Irving: ‘I see the Centre as a kind of forum for the exchange of ideas and questions about heritage and religion. Here people from the various faculties of the University, from heritage institutions, religious communities, and local and international bodies and foundations can engage with the question, “What does it mean that religion is more than an abstract belief, and history is more than a subject taught in a book?” The Centre is uniquely positioned to bring these diverse stakeholders of our religious pasts into the kind of constructive dialogue urgently needed in today’s world. The change in the Centre’s name reflects a broadening of research focus to include all religions, and to examine heritage as an object of religious study.’
For more information and to register for the conference, please contact the Centre for Religion and Heritage at email@example.com
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