Aesthetics and the Analytical Study of Religion SORAAAD 2016 Friday, November 18, San Antonio, Texas


by Jens Kreinath, Ipsita Chatterjea and the SORAAAD workshop

The coherence without apparent intention and the unity without an immediately visible unifying principle of all the cultural realities that are informed by a quasi-natural logic … are the product of the age-old application of the same schemes of action and perception. (Bourdieu 1990: 13)

Taste classifies, and it classes the classifier. Social subjects, classified by their classifications, distinguish themselves by the distinctions they make, between the beautiful and the ugly, the distinguished and the vulgar in which their position in the objective classification is expressed or betrayed. (Bourdieu 1984: 6)

I … cannot directly perceive a worshipper’s experience of beauty, nor can he describe the actual feeling of beauty to me, but we can talk about the things that makes something beautiful for him. In addition, as a participant observer, I myself can experience something as beautiful and compare notes, as it were, with him about what made it beautiful; I can then use ethnographic writing to try to transmit not only the interpretive worldview but also my own grasp of that beauty to the reader. (McRoberts 2004: 200)

In its sixth year, SORAAAD, in partnership with the German Arbeitskreis Religionsästhetik, will focus on aesthetics as an analytical concept – and the deployment of sensory data – in the study of religion. We do so with two valences in mind. First, we ask: More than thirty years after Bourdieu’s statements on schemes of action and perception, and on taste as a classifier of social subjects, how does aesthetics function as an artifact of power and social designation? Second, in keeping with McRoberts’ assertion that aesthetics and sensation need to figure into our accountings of religious experiences: How do we deploy aesthetics as a valance of research design on religion? How do we broaden the capacity of social scientists to observe, analyze, and represent human sensation? This year, Birgit Meyer, Alexandra Greiser, Jason Bivins, Josef Sorrett, Annette Wilke, David Feltmate, Deborah Green, Michael Houseman and Jens Kreinath will address aesthetics as both data and lens for the study of: religious pluralism and conflict, race and sexuality, ritual, dance, sound, jazz, animation, and media.

Centering on the scholarly direction of the Arbeitskreis Religionsästhetik, the 2016 SORAAAD Workshop presupposes a fundamentally revised understanding of aesthetics, which is not confined to a philosophy of art or an elite ideology of beauty, but is rather conceptualized in holistic terms by referring to the Greek notion of aesthesis or sensory perception (Cancik & Mohr 1988). While coming to terms with the politics and cultural impacts of the legacy of aesthetics in various turns in the study of religion, the aesthetic approach to religion engages with semiotic and sensuous proposals and challenges theories of human agency and perception (Taussig 1992; Gell 1998). Elaborating on the methodologies and results of different disciplines, including literary studies, mimetic theory, and art history (Iser 1993; Gebauer & Wulf 1996; Belting 2003), it offers a more systematic, comprehensive, and inclusive framework for studying how religion is based on the sensory design of the human body and how different religions cultivate and discipline the ways in which humans perceive, evaluate, and make sense of their life-worlds. The scholars presenting at the workshop will explore: the history and theory of the aesthetics of religion; the study of sound and sight in the aesthetics of religion; aesthetic study of genres in transmission and commemoration of religious traditions; somatic approaches to the aesthetics of ritual efficacy; and media, emotion, and imagination in the aesthetics of religion.

In the study of religion, a field still occupied with texts and centered on logocentrisms, this workshop asks how we can forge a more holistic approach to the aesthetics of religion that could systematically integrate aesthetic notation in ethnography, the collection of sensual data in structured interviews, visual analysis in sensuous scholarship, and perceptions of religious experiences mediated through discourse analysis. How can instances of reproducible visual, sonic, or even gustatory data sets allow us to develop parameters for critical analysis through comparison and contrast? How is aesthetic creation, imposition, and contestation meaningful for those we study?

Participants and panelists in this year’s workshop will explore questions crucial both to their areas of specialization, corollary fields, and the study of religion as an analytical discipline. We will discuss the understandings of aesthetics we deploy in designing research as well as at the impacts of such depictions, representations, and classifications.

“Aesthetics and the Analytical Study of Religion,” based around exemplary case studies, will be interest to scholars who already enact social science and critical humanities research methodologies; to those who want to develop techniques to denaturalize aesthetics, or open up their work to recognizing, observing and communicating aesthetics components of the people, settings, and elements of their research; and to anyone who wants to rethink how aesthetics materialize, function, and are used to normalize specific power structures. The workshop will be particularly relevant for graduate students and scholars working in the following areas of research: history of religion, comparative religion, anthropology of religion, l’histoire des mentalités, conceptual history or historical semantics, art history, anthropology of the senses, ritual studies, spatial studies, museum studies, and gender studies.

Through this interactive work, we want to build bridges between the analytical study of religion and the aesthetics of religion. Re-energizing long standing concerns about research design, we aim to join the analysis of sensory data with the sorts of questions the workshop has asked in years past with respect to canon, comparison, norms and values.

The SORAAAD Workshop Committee David Walker, William Arnal, Jens Kreinath, Ipsita Chatterjea Rebecca Raphael, Randall Styers, Emma Wasserman and Ed Silver.

The SORAAAD workshop is underwritten by the University of Regina Department of Religious Studies. We thank William Arnal, Head of Department, for his and his Department’s support since 2014.

SORAAAD’s committee would like to thank Matt Sheedy and The Bulletin for the Study of Religion blog for their ongoing support of the workshop.

Registration Opens Monday June 15, 2016. Please send an email to [email protected]. Place “registration” in the subject line, and include your name, indication of rank (independent scholar, graduate student, professor etc.) in the body of the email.

Registration is free.

Registration Limit: 50

SORAAAD is on Social Media

As some of the suggested readings are posted on this network by the authors, we encourage all participants, panelists and those interested in the topic to use and to list Study of Religion as an Analytical Discipline as a research interest.

This announcement is available as a PDF, all updates including the final program will posted to the same URL. We recommend downloading the PDF for smart phones and tablets.

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