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Method and Theory in Religious Studies II: Complexities and Blind Spots

B004
Session Chair: N.N. | Monday, August 24, 3:30-5:30 p.m. | Venue

Bernhard Lange

Mapping the Complex Dynamics of Religious Communities

Modelling the complex process of adaptation and change in religious communities can neither be done by linear nor by monocausal approaches. I propose to adapt the theory of complex adaptive systems, long prevalent in the natural sciences, to map the dynamic forces involved. By the example of Jewish communities in Zurich and Manchester, analysing both emic and etic historiography, and applying what I call causal dynamics, I can show that a map of relevant influences emerges. This map can be read in various perspectives, offering additional explanations for the data on hand, or cautiously suggesting possible tendencies of development. By abstracting the findings from its sociohistorical context the model can be generalized and applied to various cultural and historical settings, as I will attempt to demonstrate.

Kianoosh Rezania

The Economic Study of Ritual-Oriented Religions: The Neglect of Priesthood

The focus on belief-oriented religions, specifically Christianity, in the current economic study of religion, together with the abundance of sources from North-America in this field, leads scholars to pay less attention to ritual-oriented religions. This paper will discuss the above methodological limitations in current economic theories of religion, by illustrating it with a case-study on Zorostrian rituals. The paper will point out the importance of Zoroastrian priesthood for modelling economic theories of religion, taking into account that Zoroastrian priests and not fire temples must be considered the real producer of ritual products. This paper will show that, for the economic modeling of these religions, it is necessary to distinguish three types of households: lay-households (consumers), priest-households (producers) and ritual institutions, e. g. fire temples (suppliers). Finally, the paper will consider the economic connections between these three types of households.

Shawn Arthur

Lay Religions in China and What They Tell Us about Scholarship on ‘Religion’

During recent ethnographic research about contemporary religions in China, I have come to radically reinterpret my understanding of ‘religion,’ because I encountered a wide array of ways that lay persons spoke about their practice of religion – especially in terms of respect, relationships, mutual obligations, and gift-giving. Not only did this run counter to ‘official’ expectations and teachings, the root of these practices seemed to be an echo of Confucian teachings about harmonious social interactions and relationships. Additionally, I find that lay religion in China has the hallmark characteristics of Graham Harvey’s New Animism theory, which I find to be an insightful tool for thinking about China’s large-scale popular religion. As a result, I argue that scholarly understandings of ‘religion’ could be completely re-envisioned if we focused on the practices and goals of the majority of religious adherents (i.e., the laity) rather than the idealized perspectives of the few elite clergy.

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