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Conference: How religion becomes effective - Aesthetics as a connective concept for the study of religion

When:We 06-03-2013 at 16:00
Where:University of Groningen, the Netherlands

“How religion becomes effective” – Aesthetics as a connective concept for the study of religion

International conference, University of Groningen, the Netherlands
6, 7 and 8 March 2013

Cooperation between: Dept. of Comparative and Historical Study of Religion(Groningen),Dept. of Religious Studies and Theology (Utrecht) & Arbeitskreis Religionsästhetik of the German Association for the Study of Religion (DVRW)

Outline of the Conference Topic

Over the past few decades, the role of the body and the senses has become a crucial objective within the study of religion, striving to overcome biased categories, which confined religion either to texts and abstract beliefs, or to an indisputable sui generis mode of experience. A critically revised understanding of aesthetics has been introduced, referring to the meaning of sensory perception (aisthesis) rather than to a philosophy of art. As an analytical framework, the focus on perception sheds light on the many ways in which religion becomes ‘effective’, on an individual as well as a societal level. Related approaches start from the question how religion stimulates and governs the body and the senses, how this is linked to meaning-making and cultural symbolic systems, and, in turn, how religious world making comes to influence social aesthetics in a larger culture.

Seeing religion as a multi-facetted cultural phenomenon, which creates convincing and ‘immediate’ perceptions of reality, it is obvious that diverse approaches are necessary to scrutinize its dimensions. Instead of opposing historical, sensory, or interpretive approaches, it should be considered whether aesthetics could serve as a “connective concept” in several ways: by allowing us to recognize a broader range of sources and media by which religions create a ‘panorama of perception’; by offering a link between perception and the history of aesthetic forms, and between individual practice and cultural ideologies; by enabling scholars to question dualist notions of body and mind, or spirit and matter; and by paving the way to critically engaging diverse academic knowledge cultures – not least the polarized debate on cognition and culture – and claims regarding how we can and how we should understand religion.

The main goal of this conference is to exchange approaches, material, and concepts and to explore the potential of an aesthetic approach for adequately describing religion as a sensory and mediated practice. A preliminary version of the conference program can be found on the following pages.

The format of the conference aims at intensive exchange and developing the aesthetic approach to religion. Every speaker has 20 minutes, plus ten minutes for direct questions and remarks. Preferably, your papers are shorter rather than longer than 20 minutes, and the discussions will benefit from focusing on the conference topic. Afterwards, we will have time for a plenary discussion about each unit. In the program, you will find the function of the ‘observer’. Since we do not have time for elaborate responses, we think this to be a good way of communicating what has happened in the parallel sessions, and of creating a reflective and dynamic way of communication.

Unfortunately, we only have limited space and resources. If you want to participate, please contact

Further information

> Program & schedule

> Practical information

> All information in one document