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The Category of “Religion” in Public Life: Empirical Cases and Theoretical Considerations

Panel Chair: Teemu Taira | Thursday, August 27, 9-11 a.m. | Venue

James Beckford has suggested that “disputes about what counts as religion, and attempts to devise new ways of controlling what is permitted under the label of religion have all increased.” If the analysis is correct, more attention needs to be paid to recent negotiations and demarcations over what counts as religious or faith-based in various public institutions and see how, where and why the disputes take place. This panel examines empirical cases in which “religiosity” of groups or practices has been negotiated and demarcated. Empirical cases from England, Scotland and Finland focusing on legal processes, the media, parliament rituals and scholarly involvement provide material for theoretical considerations regarding the ways in which the category of ”religion” functions in public life. Papers address what are the implications for the dynamics of various groups and the roles of scholars in reproducing and challenging discourses on “religion”.

Suzanne Owen

Druids and the Category of Religion: The Debate Continues

In 2010, The Druid Network successfully registered as a charity in England and Wales for the advancement of religion after much negotiation over the definition of religion in charity law and whether 'nature' could be viewed as a ‘supreme being’. A few years later, The Druid Network applied to become a member of The Inter Faith Network for the UK but were rejected by some representatives of Christian groups, opening up the debate about the category of religion once again. This paper will examine the rhetorical strategies taken by The Druid Network to be accepted as a 'religion' and objections to this in public debates.

Teemu Taira

The Art of Becoming a Religion: Law, Media and Scholars of Religion

In early 2013 the application of Finnish group Karhun kansa – whose aim is to rehabilitate pre-Christian Finnish folk beliefs and practices – to become a registered religious community was initially rejected. Their second application was successful and they became a registered religious community almost a year later. This paper focuses on what happened between the two applying rounds and how the group that was first not considered a religious one was later regarded as religious by the same expert committee. Attention will be paid on how scholars of religion were involved in the case and in the media before the final decision. This raises questions on the public role scholars of religion have on how society organises itself by negotiating the boundaries of the category of “religion”.

Steven Sutcliffe

Managing ‘faith’ in a modern state assembly: the ritual of ‘Time for Reflection’ in the Scottish parliament

This paper analyses the representation of the category ‘faith’ in a ritualized address called ‘Time for Reflection’ in the Scottish Parliament. TfR is a four-minute public address given by an individual to the weekly plenary session of parliament since devolution in 1999. I provide a brief ethnography of the event, a history of its formation, an indicative content analysis of its early deliveries, and a discussion of the ways in which this modest yet symbolically powerful ritual can be seen to ‘manage’ an item of public behaviour on behalf of post-devolution civil society in Scotland. I will argue that the ritual can be understood as a classic liberal solution to the problem of representing religious plurality in a modern state assembly, yet at the same time an expression of both power and anxiety in respect of defining and ‘managing’ an apparently liminal category of behaviour in modern western civil society.

Tuomas Äystö

Religion Crimes and the Category of Religion: The Case of Unregistered Islamic Community in Finland

In 2006 a man spilled blood over a mosque in the city of Kajaani, Finland. He was found guilty of criminal damage and breach of the sanctity of religion by District Court of Kainuu. However, the Court of Appeal of Eastern Finland overruled the religion crime verdict on the basis that the Islamic community, which used the mosque, was a not a registered religious association at the time. Formally, the breach of the sanctity of religion section pertains only to Finnish national churches and registered religious associations. This paper examines the arguments in the court’s rulings and the ways in which the categories of religion and Islam were understood. It also briefly examines the Finnish penalization of blasphemy and defamation of religion, as religion crime convictions have become more prevalent in the 21st century.


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