May 11-15, NGG-EASR Conference, “Religion and Pluralities of Knowledge,” Netherlands

The joint conference of the Dutch Association for the Study of Religion (NGG) and the European Association for the Study of Religions (EASR) — also ranked as special conference of the International Association for the History of Religions (IAHR) — on the theme of “Religion and Pluralities of Knowledge,” will be held 11-15 May, 2014 at the University of Groningen, The Netherlands.

Outline of the conference theme
In 2014, the University of Groningen will celebrate its 400th Anniversary. The joint conference of the EASR, IAHR, and the NGG will be held immediately before the official celebration weeks of the University will commence. The conference theme, too, is related to the 400th anniversary, as it focuses on various ways in which European universities have engaged the topic of religion since the Middle Ages and the Reformation. The place of religion in the global ‘entangled histories’ today, as well as the formation of the academic study of religion, have been determined by pluralities of knowledge in many ways.

The religious landscape in Europe is characterized by a pluralism of religious traditions, identities, and communities—forms of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam have competed with one another. Memories and reconstructions of Greek, Roman, and other pre-Christian European traditions have also served as alternatives in a spectrum of religious identifications. Migration and globalization have further enhanced these multi-religious dynamics since the nineteenth century.

In addition to the pluralism of religious traditions, a pluralism of societal and cultural systems has formed the European discourse on religion since the Middle Ages. In critical distinction, as well as in transfer processes, philosophy, philology, law, the natural sciences, economy, politics, art, and other systems have exerted tremendous influence on the place of religion in Europe and the perception of religion worldwide.

The conference will address these forms of pluralism with a special attention to categories of knowledge that are intrinsically linked to them. Knowledge is a constitutive social value within modern societies. How knowledge is distinguished from belief, how both are mediated, and what counts as religious knowledge or as its derivates and alternatives, are core questions in understanding the role of religion in contemporary societies, but also in earlier periods. The process of attaining shared knowledge in a society is closely linked to the attribution, legitimization, and negotiation of meaning systems. These processes can be scrutinized from historical and cross-cultural perspectives. The focus on knowledge and knowledge claims can provide a deeper understanding of pluralistic cultural processes.

Like pluralism, knowledge has become an important concept in the understanding of culture. Moving beyond Enlightenment notions of ratio and reason and considering everyday knowledge, as well as its media and its social and individual conditions, the concept of knowledge has been theorized in various disciplines, including philosophy, sociology of knowledge, anthropology, and history. Cognitive and psychological perspectives have also provided important new insights. Reconstructing the ‘archaeologies of knowledge’ pertaining to religion suggests that what is regarded as legitimate knowledge changes from one region to another and from one historical context to another. Notions of ‘tacit knowledge,’ ‘embodied knowledge,’ local versus universal knowledge, but also the relationship between ‘knowing how’ and ‘knowing that’ have proven to be relevant categories. The conference topic invites critical investigation and further exploration of these analytical concepts related to the study of religion.

Linking the notion of knowledge to the pluralistic understanding of religious dynamics also implies an analysis of collisions of knowledge claims and polemics of knowledge. These dimensions of the conference theme can be applied to contemporary issues, such as questions of multiculturalism, migration, radical religious claims, atheism, or juridical and cultural conflicts pertaining to freedom of religion and speech.

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