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Nurturing the Pious Body. Diet Patterns and the Dynamics of Religion and Culture

Panel Chair: Bernadett Bigalke | Friday, August 28, 1:30-3 p.m. | Venue

Bodies of different condition need to be nurtured in a certain way, be it the bodies of communities or those of individuals. Instead of presenting diet rules and habits as part of specific religions we will take into account a broader variety of factors and situations which necessitate negotiations in the relationship between food and religion. This panel proposes to contribute to the growing research field of “food and religion” by examining the relationship between diet patterns and emerging dynamics fueled by tensions between the demand for an exclusive pious lifestyle and efforts to be included in wider strata, i.e. struggles concerning group formation. Our aim is to challenge typical contrasts such as pure / impure and ethically prescribed / condemned by studying the dynamics of diet and religion. The examples illustrating these dynamics are based on conflicts over food taboos, foodways and commensality.

Bernadett Bigalke

Theosophical bodies and the horrors of slaughterhouses

Using the example of the Theosophical Societies around 1900 I will present how their spokespersons argued for a vegetarian diet with direct reference to physical aspects of theosophical anthropology, especially the concept of multi-layered bodies. Notwithstanding the ostensible use of Indian body concepts, this mix of ethical and “occult” argumentation and practical advice was written by Westerners for Westerners. Somatic, energetic and dietetic concepts merge here into one another. Living as a vegetarian was expected of a veritable theosophist at that time or was a goal to strive for. This ideal practice was used to set apart the “new men” of the coming “new age” from ordinary people.

Jörg Albrecht

„Vegetarians are Murderers!” – Alternative Diets and Cultural Dynamics

The popularity of contemporary alternative diets like vegetarianism, veganism, whole food and organically produced food consumption has grown tremendously throughout the last decades. To date no consensus has been found with regard to the question whether the character of these dietary practices and related conceptions is religious, quasi-religious or „essentially non-religious” (M. Hamilton). They did, however, originate in what one might call the „cultic milieu” (C. Campbell), a cultural underground of society which covers multiple, related elements ranging from unorthodox science and medicine to alternative religions and spirituality. In my talk, I will outline some basic analytical layers of diet in general which enfold more dimensions than just consumption of food. They will be used to examine processes of „diffusion of innovations” (E. M. Rogers) in alternative dietary conceptions and practices in order to understand how they helped to establish new values, social structures and procedures and thus contributed to cultural change and diversification.

Thomas Krutak

Troubles with the „Holy Cow“? – Diet management among Indian Christians

The bitter altercation in regard to cow slaughter and cow protection in India has been studied as a major issue in triggering riots and as a factor in constituting Hindu and Muslim respective identities due to confrontational national aspirations. Less attention has been given to its impact on the Christian community. Since Christians are basically neither bound to any command of animal or flower sacrifice nor restricted in meat consumption, there is no prima facie answer as to whether they should obey the social and legal demands concerning cow protection or not. So is there no space left for a distinctly Christian diet position? To examine diet restrictions among Christians in India I will concentrate on examples demonstrating how food habits trouble Christian converts and distinguish them from other communities. This will reveal the use of diet patterns for status management and making of boundaries.


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Open Sessions

Thematic Outline

University Map (pdf, 192 KB)