2021 Representation and the Analytical Study of Religion

Get the link for Alana Vincent’s workshop,”Constructing Acceptable Victims from the Archive of Popular Culture: Luke Cage, Menachim Begin, and Beyoncé” on Sunday 28 February 2021

In its 10th year and with an eye to major events in 2020-2021, SORAAAD will focus on representation and the analytical study of religion. Attention to representation in research design, including what factors into how we understand religion and conceive of what we should study, were among the workshop’s originating concerns. In its most basic terms, representation is a means of characterizing and accounting for elements in “a sample” from which we generalize in order to characterize phenomena. Representation conjures simultaneously the need to address the manufacture and designation of alterity and normativity (SORAAAD, 2012 PDF) , to cultivate a capacity to chart arrays of human expression and activity, to recognize and rectify voids, and to allow this work to change how we compare, explain, and conceptualize (Long, 1995; Moultrie, 2017, Compton et. al, 2017, Garland-Thomson, 2015). How do (and should) the various concerns associated with representation play out in the design of research on religion, our understanding of generalizability and extensibility of our concepts and findings, and the nexus of people, ideas, and institutions in our field of scholarly production?

Having discussed Comparison (2014 PDF),Canon (2015 PDF),Aesthetics (2016 PDF), Appropriation(2017 PDF), Race (2018), and Translation (2019), we hope to further chip away at the impacts of colonialism and christocentrism with a focus on common but under-represented human expressions associated with religion: Public Narratives, Reception History, Esotericism, Oral Cultures, and Sound. We will address how representation functions in the design of research on religion. How does representation operate in public spaces, media, museums, ‘official’ or ‘common sense’ narratives, children’s stories, and archives? How is such representation challenged and changed when previously silenced peoples deliberately retake those spaces, narratives, visuals, and artifacts? How do we talk about representation, governance, and labor in religious groups, organizations, and social aggregations? In any field of observation or archive, we must ask: who speaks for whom and with what stakes and resources? What contributions can qualitative researchers make to the public understanding of qualitative data that is manufactured (or systematically) destroyed by the state (e.g., the 2020 United States census; the Harper government’s deliberate destruction of Canadian environmental records; the destruction of immigration records in the UK’s Windrush Scandal )? In the year of a highly contested census in the United States, how do qualitative scholars interact with formal quantitative general surveys, and surveys focused on religion?

Across 2020-21, scholars will address long-identified problems in research traditions and organizations, and we hope thereby to help all participants develop or adapt tactics for contending with the impacts of misrepresentation and over-representation. This year SORAAAD will launch The Analytical Study of Oral Cultures and Sound Research Group, with Francis Stewart, George Archer, Jason Bivins. We accept that our field has been shaped by a disregard and pathologization of oral cultures and sound, but that solid research is being pursued and its emerging observations need a space for sustained work so that we can change how we conceptualize and analyze religion. SORAAAD is also launching the Religions, Representations and Premoderns Research Group with the support of Alana Vincent, Matthew Chalmers, Eva Mroczek, and James Crossley. Attention to representation in the case of premodern “religion” can rework how we understand the past. It also outfits us to reshape the study of religion in the present. This group has particular interests in examining uses and abuses of the premodern with respect to: disability, empire, gender,class, periodization, race, textuality, white supremacy and material religion. Both groups, with open ended mandates, will design talks, workshops, exchanges with scholars in adjacent disciplines, and resources for their wider communities of researchers. The workshop will announce additional events as they are scheduled.

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