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Contemporary religion in historical perspective: engaging outside academia

15 May 13

Open University, Walton Hall, 15-16 May 2013

What is the relevance of research on historical and contemporary religion for today? How might such research inform current debates on religion, and the practice and self-understanding of religious groups and practitioners? What might historical perspective bring to research on contemporary religion? This conference will address such issues under the broad theme of ‘contemporary religion and historical perspective’. There will be two parallel streams. The first is ‘engaging with the past to inform the present’ and the relevance of religious history for the contemporary context. The second is ‘the public value of research on contemporary religion’; here papers on cross-cultural identities and new religions and popular spiritualities are particularly welcomed.

The backdrop for this conference is the growing acknowledgement that Religious Studies and other disciplines must engage with the wider society. Public ‘engagement’ takes many forms - from extensive projects to ad hoc engagement and involving diverse activities such as media work, lectures, workshops and online engagement. This conference will include practitioner perspectives on different themes, and reflect also on the ways in which academic research on religion might engage with communities of interest and place and private; interact with public and third sector institutions and organisations; and influence public discourse and the social, cultural and environmental well-being of society.

We invite paper and panel proposals for either stream. Papers could include case studies of previous or ongoing outreach, knowledge exchange or public engagement. Topics discussed might include (but are not limited to):

o integrating ‘religious history’ and contemporary religious practitioners;

o the relevance of historical research on religion for contemporary debates on religion; and for present-day religious groups, organisations and institutions;

o intersections between research on contemporary religion and present-day contemporary understanding and practice of religion;

o the idea of ‘applied’ or ‘public’ Religious Studies;

o methodological, theoretical and ethical issues relating to Religious Studies and knowledge exchange;

o relationships between academic and practitioner, or academic institution(s) and nonacademic

‘partner’ and their implications and challenges.

Confirmed speakers include Ronald Hutton (Bristol), Steven Sutcliffe (Edinburgh), David Voas (Essex) and John Wolffe (Open University).

The conference is organised by the Open University’s Religious Studies Department.

Cost: £20 per day + £20 for conference dinner on the evening of 15 May. Lunch and refreshments (except conference dinner) are included in the day cost; but we ask attendees to book/fund their own accommodation (advice on local hotels and B&Bs available on request).

Please send proposals to Dr John Maiden (j.maiden@open.ac.uk) by 25 January 2013. To book, please contact Taj Bilkhu (t.bilkhu@open.ac.uk) by 23 March 2013.

  • Steven Sutcliffe has been Co-Investigator on the Religion and Society large grant Theology and Therapy. Click here to hear more about the project.
  • Visit British Religion in Numbers set up by David Voas with funding from Religion and Society: http://www.brin.ac.uk/ and listen to him presenting at a recent Religion and Society workshop here.
  • Professor Wolffe supervised Noami Stanton's collaborative studentship 'From Sunday schools to Christian youth work' supported by Religion and Society which you can listen to her discussing here. He also co-authored the chapter on Christianity in Programme book Religion and Change in Modern Britain.

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