”Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine”: Reflections on the European Academy of Religion

by Teemu Taira

Have you seen the recent conference announcement by the European Academy of Religion (EuARe)? If you haven’t, I would strongly suggest that you have a look at the list of announced keynotes for the conference that takes place in Bologna in March 2018 and think what it might tell us about the scholarly profile of the organization. If you have, I assume that your reaction depends on which disciplinary area you identify with. I happen to work in the Study of Religion and reading the conference announcement made me write this post.

So far there are seven announced keynotes for the conference. I visited the webpages of all seven presenters who are said to give lectiones magistrales and the result was not surprising. They are experts in different areas, but none of them can be said to be a scholar in the Study of Religion. They represent the following areas: Systematic Theology (two keynotes), Islamic and Interreligious Studies, Medieval History, Historical Theology and Theology / Ancient Christianity. In addition, one of the keynotes is Theologian and Metropolitan of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. More information about the conference and its lectiones magistrales is available here.

Let me be clear: I am in no way suggesting that the invited keynotes are not excellent scholars. They may well be in their own areas; it is not up to me to evaluate. However, none of them have much to do with the Study of Religion, neither on the basis of their institutional affiliation nor on the basis of their publications. Given this situation, it is confusing that Alberto Melloni, who is the mastermind behind EuARe, is, or pretends to be, surprised about the less than enthusiastic reaction of Study of Religion scholars regarding the European Academy of Religion.

The relationship between the European Association for the Study of Religions (EASR), founded in 2000 and dominated by scholars of religion, and recently founded European Academy of Religion has not been a love affair. The leaders of the EASR published a statement in May 2017 in which they made clear that the EASR does not support EuARe. At the most recent annual EASR conference in Leuven, Belgium, in September 2017, the EuAre was widely discussed. I wrote earlier about that with my colleague Suzanne Owen in a conference report, so I won’t repeat it here.

What to make of this? Should scholars of religion be invited to have a visible role in EuARe conferences or is there something in this situation to be happy about?

On the one hand, getting involved in EuARe and its annual conferences might be a good opportunity for Study of Religion scholars to demonstrate their worth in an organization that gathers academics from selected areas, particularly theologians, and apparently has contacts with politicians and other interested parties outside academia.

On the other hand, the absence of Study of Religion scholars may be a good thing in the long run. At least it signals that what the EuARe does has very little to do with the scholarship done in the disciplinary area of the Study of Religion (whatever the exact title of the department and no matter whether you wish to call Study of Religion a discipline or a field of study).

Whichever option you prefer, the challenge for scholars of religion, particularly in the European context, is that they should make them seen and heard in public and demonstrate beyond their own disciplinary area and even beyond academia how their work is relevant.

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