Programme for the study of religion and non-religion

The Programme for the study of religion and non-religion encourages work on, and discussion of, relevant matters in cross-cultural and global perspective

The Programme for the Study of Religion and Non-Religion, based in the Department of Anthropology, aims to bring together staff and research students from across LSE, and within the wider academic and policy communities, working on issues to do with religion, secularism, and “non-religious” practices, beliefs, and traditions.

Overview

The role of religion in public life and contemporary society has been increasingly highlighted in the past decade. This has been spurred in part by international politics but, equally, recognition that a strong version of secularization theory, in which modernity and the decline of religion are thought to go hand in hand, is more problematic than once thought. Even within the United Kingdom, where church attendance and other such markers of religiosity are low, scholars have shown belief and other markers of enchantment to be malleable, durable, and multifaceted.

In relation to these observations and insights, the longstanding scholarly interest in secularism has changed. These days, studying secularism is not only about tracing the triumph of liberal democracy, or the scientific method; it is about exploring the ways in which “religion” and “the secular” are mutually constitutive terms, and how their deployment has shaped our understandings of ostensibly religious concepts (faith, belief, spirituality), political ideals and social projects (human rights, equality, freedom of speech, environmental activism), and, even, the nature and position of humanity (as expressed in debates over stem cell research and assisted dying, or animal rights and medical testing). Equally, for scholars of religion, it is not possible to treat “religion” as something distinct and bounded, separated out as a private concern or matter of personal belief. In many non-Western contexts, furthermore, religion has never been bracketed out. To talk about religion is to talk about politics, economy, kinship, law.

Discussions within the public square and the academy are now outpacing the conceptual terminology at our disposal. In recent years, we have seen the emergence of a new framework, one that hinges not on the religious/secular divide but, rather, a more comprehensive religious/non-religious one. Atheism and humanism in particular have come to the fore, and the extent to which people identify as “non-religious” or having “no religion” is garnering both academic and public attention.

The Programme for the Study of Religion and Non-Religion is devoted to the exploration of these developments, trajectories, and trends. And while the Programme recognizes the importance of current debates—not least in the UK—it also stresses the fact that debates have histories and cultural specificities. As such, and building on the long-standing strengths of the Anthropology Department, the Programme encourages work on, and discussion of, these matters in cross-cultural and global perspective. “Religion” itself is a term with a history, and it can only be properly understood in this and its “non-religious” invocations with that in mind. 

The Programme is supported by a generous grant from the LSE Annual Fund.

Aims

The main aims of the Programme are to:

  • Foster and provide a framework for primary research
  • Facilitate academic and public discussions on issues relevant to religion, atheism, secularism, humanism and post-humanism
  • Provide a platform for researchers and stakeholders to showcase and communicate their findings to broader academic, public, and public policy audiences

People

There are staff and research students throughout the School working on religion, secularism, and related topics. The list below includes those directly involved in Programme and Forum on Religion activities.

Professor Rita Astuti
 is an expert in the anthropology of Madagascar. Her research aims to integrate the study of culture and cognition and to showcase the unique contribution that anthropology can make to cognitive science. She has an interest in the cognitive science of religion and has contributed to on-going debates on the origins of afterlife beliefs.

Professor Eileen Barker
 (Advisory Board) is the Professor Emeritus of Sociology with special reference to the study of religion. Her main research interest over the past 30 years has been, and continues to be, 'cults', 'sects' and new religious movements – and the social reactions to which they give rise; but since 1989 she has spent much of her time investigating changes in the religious situation in Eastern Europe. She is also the Chair and Honorary Director of Inform, an NGO based at LSE which supplies information on minority religions. See INFORM for more information.

Dr Gregorio Bettiza is a Max Weber Fellow at the European University Institute and an LSE IDEAS Transatlantic Relations Programme Research Associate. He is particularly interested in issues of culture, religion and identity in international relations. His recently completed thesis explored the shifting boundaries between secular and religious norms and practices in American foreign policy in the context of the global resurgence of religion.

Dr Fenella Cannell is an expert in the anthropology of Christian practice, who has conducted research in the Philippines, the US and the UK. Special themes in her work include Catholicism, Mormonism, the “secular” and the relationship between religion and kinship. Her books include Power and intimacy in the Christian Philippines (CUP 2000); The anthropology of Christianity (ed., Duke 2006) and; Vital relations: modernity and the persistent life of kinship, co-edited with Susan McKinnon (in press). 

Professor Matthew Engelke (Programme co-ordinator) is an anthropologist of religion. He has carried out fieldwork on African Christian religious movements in Zimbabwe and on Christian evangelicals in England. He has just completed an ESRC project on humanists and atheists in Britain. He is the author of A Problem of Presence: Beyond Scripture in an African Church (California 2007) and the co-editor of, most recently, Global Christianity, Global Critique (SAQ 2010).

Professor Kevin Featherstone (Advisory Board) is the Director of the Hellenic Observatory at the European Institute. His research interests cover the politics of the European integration process and contemporary politics in Greece. He has a keen interest in the relationship between religion and policymaking in the UK and in Europe. He has recently headed a new research project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council of the UK, examining the position of the Muslim/Turkish minority in Western Thrace in the 1940s. 

Katharine Fletcher
 is a PhD student in the Department of Anthropology at the LSE. Her research focuses on the evangelical Christian ‘emerging church’ movement. She is currently undertaking an ethnographic field project in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, which is looking at discursive practice and community formation among the city’s ‘emerging’-style congregations. 

Dr Effie Fokas
 (Advisory Board) was the Founding Director of the Forum on Religion and is a Visiting Fellow to the European Institute. Her research interests include the relationship between religion, national identity and nationalism; and the sociology of religion in a European perspective, with a special focus on Islam and Christian Orthodoxy. She is co-editor (with Aziz al-Azmeh) of Islam in Europe: Diversity, Identity and Influence(2007, CUP), and co-author (with Peter Berger and Grace Davie) of Religious America, Secular Europe? A theme and variations (2008, Ashgate).

Very Reverend Alexander Fostiropoulos (Advisory Board) is the Orthodox chaplain of the University of London. He studied architecture at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London in the 1970s and was ordained a priest in 1985 since when he has served as a parish priest and chaplain in London. Fr. Alexander maintains an active presence in the academic life of the LSE as well as of King's College London. He is also an active participant in interfaith events and maintains close contact with leaders of a broad range of faith communities. 

Professor Conor Gearty (Advisory Board) is the Professor of Human Rights Law in the Department of Law. He has published widely on terrorism, civil liberties and human rights. His books include Terror (Faber, 1990) and two books with K D Ewing, Freedom under Thatcher (1989) and The Struggle for Civil Liberties (2000). His Principles of Human Rights Adjudication is a study of the place of the Human Rights Act in Britain's constitutional order. His Hamlyn lectures in 2005, Can Human Rights Survive?, have been published by Cambridge University Press. His publications include Civil Liberties (OUP, 2007), Essays on Human Rights and Terrorism (Cameron May, 2008) and Debating Social Rights (with Virginia Mantouvalou, 2011). His Liberty and Security for All will be published by Polity at the end of 2012, and his co-edited (with Costas Douzinas) Cambridge Companion to Human Rights Law will also be published at the end of the year.

Professor Simon Glendinning (Advisory Board) is the Director of the Forum for European Philosophy and a Reader in European Philosophy at the European Institute. His research focuses on the philosophy of Europe. His latest publications explore the rootedness of European secularity in Christian conceptual resources. He is interested in both the naivety of the classical secularisation thesis and the exaggeration in the idea of the revival of religion. Under the auspices of the Forum on European Philosophy he was closely involved in the organisation of a recent series of talks at LSE on secularism.  

John Madeley (Advisory Board) is a lecturer in the Government Department. His principal research interests and expertise relate to church-state relations in Europe and the relationship between religion and politics. His publications include the reader Religion and Politics (Ashgate, 2003), Church and State in Contemporary Europe: the Chimera of Neutrality (co-edited with Z Enyedi, Cass, 2003) and Religion, Politics and Law in the European Union (co-edited with Lucien Leustean, Routledge, 2009).

Meadhbh McIvor is working towards her PhD in the Department of Anthropology. Her research focuses on the lived experience of Christianity in today’s Britain, with a particular emphasis on Christians’ engagement with the politics of religious discrimination. In July 2012 she started her fieldwork at a legal aid centre.

Dr Mathijs Pelkmans is a specialist in the anthropology of the Caucasus and Central Asia. His research concentrates on the socio-political dimensions of religion as revealed in conversion dynamics, missionary encounters, and the intersection between religion and secular power on the “post-atheist” frontier between Islam and Christianity. His most recent (edited) book is titled Ethnographies of Doubt (in press). 

Dr Marina Sapritsky is a Visiting Fellow affiliated with the Programme for the Study of Religion and Non-Religion and the Anthropology Department.  Her research focuses on the former Soviet Union (specifically Ukraine) and on migrant communities of ex-Soviets abroad.  She is particularly interested in transformations of Jewish identities and the process of religious revival and community-building efforts that took place in the aftermath of the Soviet regime. Her current project looks at the experiences of Russian-speaking Jewry in London and their connections with Russian culture and language and engagements with local Jewish life.  

Dr Michael W. Scott studies Oceania with a primary focus on Melanesia. He is chiefly interested in the anthropology of ontology (being), a subfield that encompasses both long-standing anthropological interests in indigenous cosmologies, myth, and practice and contemporary developments such as the 'new animism', 'perspectivism', 'non-dualism', and the study of human-nonhuman relations. His current research explores experiences of confusion, fear, and wonder as indices of ontological crisis and transformation. He has also published on the anthropology of Christianity.

Professor Charles Stafford is an anthropologist of China and Taiwan, and a specialist in issues related to learning, cognition and child development. He has carried out research on Chinese popular religion as part of broader studies on childhood (The Roads of Chinese Childhood, 1995, CUP), and on the formation of individual and collective identity (Separation and Reunion in Modern China, 2000, CUP). More recently, his work has focused on moral and ethical life in rural China (Ordinary Ethics in China, 2013, Berg).

The Revd Dr James Walters (Advisory Board) is the LSE's Anglican Chaplain and Faith Advisor. His research interests include systematic theology, political theory and continental philosophy. He is an Executive member of the Society for the Study of Theology and is particularly interested in the interface between theology and secular disciplines. He has various roles
in religious education and interfaith dialogue at LSE and beyond. 

Events

John-Bowen

On British Islam: Religion, Law and Everyday Practice in Shari`a Councils

10 May 2016, 6.30pm, Wolfson Theatre, New Academic Building, LSE

Speaker: John Bowen (Washington University in St Louis)
Chair: Esra Ozyurek (LSE, European Institute)

Podcast

Tanya Luhrmann

Local Theory of Mind: why people experience the same God differently in different parts of the world

Tuesday 19 January 2016, 6.30pm, Wolfson Theatre, New Academic Building

Speaker: Professor Tanya Luhrmann
Chair: Professor Rita Astuti (LSE)

Iracema Dulley

Personal Names, Protestants Missions, and Colonial Rule in Angola (1900-1975)

Wednesday, 25 November 2015, 5.00pm, OLD 6.05 (Seligman Library), 6th Floor, Old Building, Houghton Street, LSE

Speaker: Dr Iracema Dulley

Arthur Bradley

St Paul, Wonder and World: an Encounter between Theologians and Anthropologists

Tuesday 19 May 2015, 2pm, Virginia Woolf Building (22 Kingsway), Room VB 3.01

This was the second in the Social Science and Theology seminar series, co-organized by King’s College London’s Department of Theology and Religious Studies and the LSE’s Programme for the Study of Religion and Nonreligion, supported by London Arts and Humanities Partnership.

Noted critical theorist, Prof. Arthur Bradley (Lancaster University) presented a paper on political theories of radical social change in relation to the writings of St Paul

LauraBear

Forum on Religion and Department of Anthropology Public Discussion

Money and its redemption

Thursday 7 May 2015, 6.30pm, Hong Kong Theatre, Clement House

Speakers: Dr Laura Bear, Professor David Graeber, Professor Bill Maurer
Chair: Reverend Dr Giles Fraser

Podcast

Seminar series

Special Seminar Series Michaelmas 2013

Dates: Every Wednesday, 16 October – 11 December 2013
Time: 4.30 pm – 6.30 pm
Venue: Seligman Library, 6th Floor, Old Building, Houghton Street

“Religion,” Cognition and the State
Professor Maurice Bloch (LSE)

The seminar series will deal with two issues. One concerns the specificity of human sociality as it contrasts with that of other primates. The second deals with what has been called the anthropology of religion. The central argument will be that many of the specificities of what has been called “religion” appear to be merely aspects of the general nature of human sociality.

The discussion of sociality will focus on the way humans have created apparently time resistant, stable representations of social relations. The discussion will thus start with a consideration of the temporal aspects of all concepts, but will concentrate on social concepts. The human capacity for what has been called “time travel” will be a recurrent theme. Among the theoretical topics considered will be essentialism, pretend play in children, ritual, deference and performatives. Examples will concern social roles and institutions. Incidentally I shall discuss why gay marriage is such an issue especially in France.

The discussion of the anthropology of religion will concentrate on explaining under what historical circumstances the kind of phenomenon that the English word religion evokes arise. In Max Gluckman’s terms, I shall seek to show how and when religion becomes “disembedded.” This will involve a consideration of the state and kingship in Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt, Peru and Madagascar. Then the significance of the collapse of divine states in Africa, the Indian sub-continent, ancient Israel and ancient Rome will be examined. Finally there will be a discussion of Shamanism and spirit possession in the light of the earlier discussion.

Maurice Bloch, emeritus professor of anthropology at LSE, is one of the most influential anthropologists of the past 40 years. His work on ritual and religion is foundational to several discussions in anthropology and related fields, most notably, in recent years, cognitive science and experimental psychology. He is a fellow of the British Academy and was appointed European Professor at the Collège de France in 2005.

For more information contact Dr Matthew Engelke, m.engelke@lse.ac.uk 

Contact

Programme for the Study of Religion and Non-Religion
London School of Economics
Department of Anthropology
Houghton Street
London WC2A 2AE

Email: religionforum@lse.ac.uk

Coordinator: Matthew Engelke  

Tel: +44 (0)20 7955 6775

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