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Charisma, Conversion, Atmospheres: Social Dynamics

Session Chair: N.N. | Friday, August 28, 3:30-5:30 p.m. | Venue

Leon van Gulik

"You could cut the sacred with a knife": Towards a theory of atmospheres in the context of religious change

Atmospheres are the implicitly experienced background qualities that co-occur with our encounters with people, objects, and situations. Our level of conscious perception of these atmospheres depends on our frame of mind. The notion of atmospheres is beginning to attract attention in areas as diverse as psychology, cultural anthropology and the cognitive sciences. The time has come to also put it on the map of religious studies. In fact, in the domain of the sacred atmospheres surface most poignantly, since appropriate actions, objects, spaces, words, and music literally deal with ultimate endings, so that our associations, proclivities, and intentions will come under scrutiny. In this paper I will advance thoughts on what these affective entities we call atmospheres are, how they become embodied by religious objects, and why conflicting practices may simultaneously serve to create, mystify, disperse, confront, embrace or dispel them or their material carriers.

Ofelia Perez

New Religious Movements in Cuba. Innovation or Tradition? A Reality for Debate

A new face has invaded the Cuban religious scenario. It came about in response to backward and out of context discourses and religious practices in Cuba, mainly in groups that broke away from existing ones, while unknown but charismatic leaders appeared suddenly and established themselves with great appeal for followers, in ever increasing scenarios. Small structures multiply at high speed horizontally through our society, while larger ones which attract more followers unite the smaller ones in an interesting combination of community action and verticality. More attractive and innovative mechanisms, mainly for young people, often cover up more orthodox fundamentalist discourses and practices than the allegedly criticized ones, a call for an intimate relationship with God.

Martin Ackermann

Charisma-Networks Around Gurus

Charisma, defined as the attribution of the "extraordinary", is a purely relational construct. In the paper I will discuss the terminology and concept around charisma by implementing the perspective of social network analysis (SNA). Instead of speaking of charismatic actors, I suggest to reserve the term charismatic for relationships and networks only. When speaking about actors, however, the terms charismatizing and charismatized will be suggested. By using the example of the guru Amma (Mata Amritanandamayi) and her following, further light will be shed on the constitution of charisma-networks. I will present key processes of network diffusion and network consolidation by analyzing the practice of charismatization and the negotiation of the (above mentioned) extraordinary. These processes arguably guarantee the guru's centrality in her following.

Marco Lazzarotti

"Because the Shaman told me". Experiences of Conversion in Taiwan

Many disciplines – Religion, History, Psychology, Anthropology, Sociology, and Theology – are involved in studying the phenomenon called conversion. Usually the models proposed by Social Sciences are focused on three dimensions of conversion: the converted individual, the religious group to which the individual converts, and society, as a “silent” or indirect partner of the conversion process. It seems to me necessary to take the previous system of belief of the converted individuals into account. In this paper I describe some cases of conversion from Chinese Folk Religion to Catholicism in Taiwan. These cases should be considerate among the Chinese Folk Religion system of belief in order to give them a social value and to better understand the individual choice of conversion. The converted individuals were not “faith-searcher” and they did not receive any particular pressure by the social and familiar context. We can only understand their conversion using their previous religion parameters.


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Thematic Outline

University Map (pdf, 192 KB)