Author Archives: David Robertson

Hanging out with my former PhD supervisor, David Bebbington (photo J. Maiden)

Quadrilaterals in Waco: reflections on the ‘Evangelicals and the Bible’ symposium

By John Maiden

On 19-20 September I visited Baylor University in Waco, Texas, for a symposium on ‘Evangelicals and the Bible’ in history. The event was to honour the contribution of Professor David Bebbington to the historical study of evangelicalism following his “retirement” (inverted commas explained below). I studied my doctorate under Bebbington and his work has been an important influence on my research. He is particularly known for the ‘Bebbington Quadrilateral’ of the four characteristics which have marked evangelicals: Biblicism (emphasis on the authority of Scripture); Crucicentricism (centrality of the atonement); Conversionism; and activism (e.g. in evangelism; on issues of social justice). The quadrilateral, as Bebbington explained, was never intended as a wider ‘definition’ of evangelicalism, and it first appeared in the context of a book specifically on British evangelicalism. However, it has since been taken up by various scholars of North American evangelicalism, and even global evangelicalism. The symposium consisted of three plenaries (including one from the Man himself), various panels, tributes and a Q and A. During the latter, it was announced that Bebbington is to be Director of a new initiative for scholars of global evangelicalism, which will involve an annual conference at Baylor – next year, on evangelicalism in Latin America.

George W. Truett Theological Seminary, Waco (photo: J. Maiden)

George W. Truett Theological Seminary, Waco (photo: J. Maiden)

Not surprisingly, one theme was the ‘state of the Quadrilateral’ itself. Brian Stanley’s excellent plenary on the applicability of the Quadrilateral to Global South evangelicalism in the twentieth century argued persuasively for its ongoing utility for researchers. In the discussion, though, I suggested that Pneumatism (which I define as emphasis on the Spirit’s post-conversion work and empowering presence, and the reality of a supernatural ‘alive world’) has been for many Global South evangelicals a ‘fifth mark’, as important as the other four. In my own paper on charismatic renewal and the Bible in Britain and New Zealand I argued also that pneumatism has commonly been a fifth important mark of post-1945 evangelical charismatics in the Global North. I suggested that pneumatism might be deployed flexibly as an alternative, additional fifth characteristic, one which is relevant not only to charismatics and Pentecostals, but also, for example, Holiness evangelicalism, and strains of more Reformed Calvinistic evangelicalism. But could the argument for a fifth characteristic be made even more widely? Is it applicable to early Evangelicalism? Bruce Hindmarsh’s recent work may indicate that certain ‘spirited’ aspects of eighteenth-century evangelicalism deserve greater emphasis.  That is, of course, a much bigger question!

Bebbington’s Quadrilateral, like so much of his work, continues to define the study of evangelicalism and the questions that people are asking about it.

David Robertson at the DVRW

On 5 September 2019, David Robertson and his colleague from the Religious Studies Project, Chris Cotter, delivered the opening lecture at the XXXIII Jahrestagung der Deutschen Vereinigung für Religionswissenschaft (DVRW 2019) in Hannover. Or, rather, they were stuck between flights in Amsterdam, and so recorded the lecture in advance. Here it is. Thanks to the organizers for inviting us, and allowing us to share.

Conference website: https://www.dvrw2019.uni-hannover.de/

Abstract: What happens to the study of religion when the comparative categories upon which it is founded fall away? Can we reconceptualize the field? Should we? ‘After World Religions’ (2016) attempted to show some ways in which we might address this in our teaching practise, but it also showed how hegemonic categories like “world religions” continue to be in public discourse and in the institutional logic of the modern Religious Studies department. The growth of studies into the non-religious and embodied vernacular practices may suggest the broader relevance of our approach(es), but also represent a defence of categories like “religion” against these criticisms. This input paper will discuss and critically assess some possible ways forward for Religious Studies after World Religions.

The OU at 50: Religious Studies

By Gwilym Beckerlegge

I had just been appointed as a part-time OU tutor (now known as an Associate Lecturer) to teach a new module, ‘Man’s Religious Quest’. My first tutorial was about to take place in Bolton in February 1978. The night before, I received a phone call from one of the students I would meet on the following evening. He could not easily get to Bolton so would I pick him up as I would be driving through Wigan? We were consequently locked together in a shared car journey during which time he grilled me, not about the arcane mysteries of the study of religions, but about whether the new module had been placed on the right level, whether its assignments were appropriate to this level, substitution regulations, and about OU life and its demands in general. The problem was that he seemed to speak fluently in a language made up almost entirely of acronyms, which he assumed I, as an OU tutor, would understand. It got little better once in the presence of my new class, all of whom seemed to have strong views about the demands of the new module, backed up, I am sure, with persuasive comparisons with other modules they had taken to date, all unfamiliar territory to me at that time. Before long, they were thoroughly immersed in what they agreed was one of the most fascinating modules they had taken. Simultaneously, I and my family became immersed in the OU and fluent in ‘OU-speak’ as that first tutorial was succeeded by many more over the following sixteen years as I taught a succession of Religious Studies modules.

What I saw of our students over the sixteen years of being a tutor more than convinced me of the worth of the OU and the value of its social mission. Apart from meeting some amazing and gifted people, in addition to taking regular tutorials, the OU gave me the opportunity to develop my skills in commenting on students’ work, supporting students with disabilities (then done through one-to-one tutorials in the student’s home) and students taking modules in prison whom I also visited. I came to realize what the potential reach of the OU could offer my own subject, Religious Studies, one that has not always attracted the attention it deserves in the school curriculum, despite the best efforts of many gifted RE teachers. Consequently, I seized the opportunity to become a full-time, OU regional academic in 1993, which took me into a new role, working with the team of Arts tutors in the region where I lived. Many, together with some of my full-time regional colleagues, became the colleagues with whom I worked most closely and over the longest period of my career. By then, the OU had won the battle to establish itself as a university in the eyes of government, other academics, employers, and the wider public. So many students wanted to register for the Arts level 1 module in the early years of the OU that many ended up in a queue for the following year. I always retained a respect for the generation of academics who had built the OU when the outcome of this new venture, and thus the effect on their careers, was far less certain. In the same year I joined the OU, Religious Studies was granted departmental status within the OU Faculty of Arts.

When I began to apply to universities for admission, like many others in the 1960s whose families had no previous experience of higher education, I knew very little about university courses and what they would involve. I simply wanted to pursue my interest in the study of religion, just like any other Humanities subject. Not knowing at that time how else to pursue the academic study of religion, I embarked on an undergraduate Theology degree in 1968. Once into my first term – yes, that quickly – it began to dawn on me how large the mismatch was between the curriculum of my chosen degree and my emerging interests. Had I but known, the first autonomous department of Religious Studies in the UK (one unconnected to an overarching department or faculty of Theology) was established at the University of Lancaster in 1967. This department, under the leadership of Professor Ninian Smart, exercised a considerable influence on the growth of interest in the study of religions in the 1970s through its involvement in projects to strengthen RE in schools and a prestigious BBC TV series on different religious traditions. My degree in Theology did enable me to take options in the history of religions, including the Hindu tradition. It thus helped me to discover that I wanted to study Hindu movements in India from the nineteenth century to the present-day, and I moved to Lancaster to continue postgraduate study there. Strongly influenced by my experience at Lancaster, I wanted to play a part in promoting the study of religions of the kind associated with Religious Studies. My professional life at the OU has been closely intertwined with the fortunes of Religious Studies.

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FASS Showcase: Religion, Philosophy and Ethics

Want to know what’s in R45, our brand new honours degree course on Religion, Philosophy and Ethics? Here’s Graham Harvey and Carolyn Price to give you a taster.

They discuss what students will gain from studying this degree – what skills will you develop? How might studying this qualification be valuable at work or elsewhere? Why are these good subjects to study together? We’ll also talk about the content of the modules, the connections between the Religious Studies and Philosophy modules, and how ethics fits in.

Exploring Immortality [Audio]

To mark the new BA (Hons) qualification in Religion, Philosophy and Ethics (R45), Suzanne Newcombe and Carolyn Price discuss how researchers in Religious Studies and Philosophy investigate immortality.

Research into physical immortality is big business. Just try searching Google for the CEO of Apple Computers and biotech firm Genentech founded Calico (est. 2013). It’s a company backed by a billion dollars of investment which aims to ‘devise interventions that slow aging and counteract age‑related diseases.’ However, the potential of immortality raises significant ethical concerns.

Find out more – listen to their discussion (which includes a full transcription). And find out more about the Religion, Philosophy and Ethics degree here.

Global Catholicism and the Catholic Charismatic Movement

By Dr John Maiden

Last Friday (18 June) at Universita Ca’ Foscaria, Venice, along with scholars from Italy, France, United States and Australia, I was one of the presenters at a symposium on Charismatic Renewal and global Catholicism (full programme here). The panel to which I contributed, on global charisma, produced a fascinating discussion on the different ways of reading the origins and development of the movement.

On one hand, there is clearly an important organisational/institutional story to be told, which begins in the American Upper Midwest in 1967, and then, as Valentina Ciciliot explained, sees CCR undergo a process of ‘Romanization’, for example with the international gathering in Rome in 1975. On the other hand, when CCR is observed from the “margins” (e.g. Australia and England), the heterogeneity and “glocality” of the movement comes into clear sight. This is a movement which emerged from the late 1960s in a variety of different countries through convergences of various examples of spiritual ‘potential’ (e.g. the Legion of Mary, Cursillo, and various other sources of mysticism and communitarianism) and in response to various local contexts.

CCR remains a movement which is understudied, and this conference has helped to crystalize a range of research questions which can be advanced in the coming years. I’m very grateful to the organiser, Dr Valentina Ciciliot, for her leadership in bringing the symposium together (and in such a wonderful setting!).

An Economy of Gnosticism in Los Angeles

Los Angeles, California, is the only place in the world today that all four gnostic religions are active. I recently had the chance to do some fieldwork there. Contemporary gnostic religions have had little attention from scholars. By “gnostic religions”, I mean, quite simply, groups who describe themselves as both “gnostic” and a “religion”. I’m sure many scholars will disagree with both of these designations, but it’s a complicated question and so I’ll address this in a future post. For now, the four groups I am talking about are the Ecclesia Gnostica, the Apostolic Johannite Church, the Ordo Templi Orientis and the Gnostic Movement of Samael Aun Weor.

If I were a certain kind of scholar, I might speculate that there is so much gnosticism in LA because Hollywood is the symbolic centre of the archonic media matrix where the illusory world of the demiurge is created. More prosaically, LA has long been a centre for religious innovation due to being multicultural, liberal and relatively cheap. People were going West in search of new ways of life long before the Hippies emerged from Haight-Ashbury to catalyse the spiritual revolution of the New Age movement. Moreover, contemporary gnostics mix esoteric ideas with Christianity, and so appeal much more to American Baby Boomers than to their relatively secularised European counterparts.

For example, the Ecclesia Gnostica performs a Gnostic Mass weekly in the Besant Lodge of the Theosophical Society, a converted silent movie theatre underneath the Hollywood sign. If you didn’t look closely at the portraits of Theosophical founders on the wall, or recognise the Jungian additions to the liturgy, you might not realise this wasn’t a regular Anglican ceremony. Services have been performed weekly by Bishop Stephan Hoeller, now aged 87, since 1977. Hoeller’s gnosticism is a formalisation of the ideas of depth psychologist Carl Jung, a process of reuniting with the divine aspect of the self.

While they have some associated groups, the Ecclesia Gnostica is largely confined to Los Angeles. This isn’t the case with the other groups. The Apostolic Johannite Church, for example, have a number of branches around North America, though they are currently strongest in Canada. They also focus on a liturgical mixture of Christian and esoteric traditions, though here the focus is more on a Rosicrucian rather than Jungian tradition. Interestingly, their presence in LA is not as strong as in other major US cities, probably because the Ecclesia Gnostica has been so successful there. The Apostolic Johannites are keen to stress their appreciation for and connection with the Ecclesia Gnostica, but this is not reciprocated.

The high degree of competition in the gnostic marketplace also affects the Gnostic Movement, a loosely connected constellation of groups stemming from the teachings of Columbian teacher Samael Aun Weor in the 1960s and early 1970s. Although relatively recent in comparison, and originating in Spanish-speaking areas, the Aun Weor groups have been the most successful in spreading internationally, with small but constant presence in many European countries. Last year, I undertook their First Chamber (a series of 33 introductory lectures) with a group in Edinburgh, which also deserves its own post. But in LA, these groups cater in the main to a Hispanic clientele, which is a large proportion of the population of this bilingual city. In Europe, most Gnostic Movement groups present the material in a form more appealing to a New Age or individualised spirituality discourse, though there is always a clear Christian aspect, and indeed there are some groups which perform the Gnostic Mass and dress in vestments just like the Ecclesia Gnostica (notably the Igreja Gnostica do Brazil). So perhaps the adaptive framing of the Gnostic Movement is the reason it has spread in the Americas and Europe, unlike the other contemporary gnostic religions.

The fourth and final example is least likely to be accepted as a gnostic religion, by scholars and the other groups, in large part as a result of its infamous founder, Aleister Crowley. Yet the Ordo Templi Orientis, or rather its ecclesiastical wing, the Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica, has many features in common with them: performance of the Gnostic Mass, roots in late Victorian occultism and claims of apostolic succession – that is, a direct lineage of bishops back to St Peter. The Pasadena branch, the Star Sapphire Lodge, put on public performances of Crowley’s version of the Gnostic Mass weekly. Yet, as with the Gnostic Movement, the modern OTO is more concerned with legitimising themselves among competing Thelemic groups through connections to their founder, rather than apostolic succession, as with the Ecclesia Gnostics and the Apostolic Johannites. However, it is clear that their use of sexual magic is as much of a problem, however, and there is open hostility towards the OTO and the Gnostic Movement from the apostolic gnostic religions.

Los Angeles, then, is a microcosm of contemporary gnostic religion. More, it is a microcosm of the complex genealogy of the term gnosticism with its Christian and esoteric usages, the influence of Jung and other perennialist scholars, and its selective but enduring charm.

2 Minutes Silence at Amsterdam Airport

By Marion Bowman

I’ve just been part of an interesting event at Amsterdam Airport.

From about 7.45pm there were announcements in a variety of European languages that at 20.00 there would be 2 minutes silence.

So the KLM staff at this Transfer area for example came out from behind their desks and stood in line just before 8. At 8, Last Post sounded over loudspeakers and most people did indeed just stop, then at the end of the 2 minutes the national anthem was played and some sang along.

I’ve had a few conversations with various KLM staff since and it was explained that this is the commemoration of the people of the Netherlands (and one person specifically said also all the Jewish people ) who died in WW2. Tomorrow there will be celebrations of the liberation but tonight is for remembering. All I spoke to – quite an age range – said it was important and moving, and actually even as an outsider, it was rather moving.

And as part of my last conversation when checking in at gate for Bristol flight, one of the group of 3 women asked if I was from UK and made the point that they were liberated by the British and the Canadians and they were very grateful!

All very fascinating!

Disciplines and Dialogues: the present and future of Yoga Studies

By Theo Wildcroft

It’s a busy time for yoga scholars and writers at the moment. Next week sees the UK launch of independent scholar Matthew Remski’s new book: Practice and all is coming: abuse, cult dynamics, and healing in yoga and beyond, and last week saw the combination of two significant academic events: the SOAS Yoga Studies Week , and a two-day reading workshop for a future Routledge Handbook of Yoga and Meditation Studies, co-sponsored by SOAS and the Open University.

Sadly, it was a busy working week for me, so I missed much of the Yoga Studies Week, but it kicked off strongly with the Open University’s own Suzanne Newcombe and Karen O’Brien-Kop (SOAS), giving a lecture on new and interesting trends in yoga research. Apparently, my own research was highlighted, so I’m even sadder to have missed it! Other lectures I’d liked to have seen included Finnian Gerety (Brown University, USA), talking about sound and silence in yoga and meditation, Andrea Jain (Indiana University, USA) talking about yoga and neoliberalism, and Gudrun Bühnemann (University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA), whose work on yoga-related visual media is always fascinating.

Yoga Studies is a small but growing field, and highly interdisciplinary in nature, including Sanskritists and other philologists, Indologists, health scientists and the full range of arts, humanities, and social sciences found at your average Religious Studies conference! This means that Yoga Studies events are intellectually stimulating, but also a rare chance to hang out with friends one doesn’t see very often. The workshop was entitled Disciplines and Dialogue: The Future of Yoga and  Meditation Studies. The aim of the Handbook’s editors, Suzanne Newcombe and Karen O-Brien-Kop again, was to take each draft chapter and discuss it in turn in live peer review. I haven’t worked on a proposed text like this before, and it was a thoughtful and thought-provoking experience. Each chapter had a reader, separate from any blind peer reviewer already assigned. The reader summarised the chapter so far, with suggestions and comments, the writer responded, and then the group as a whole discussed how the chapter might evolve, and how it might sit within the greater volume. As the workshop title suggested, it was also a chance to have wider discussions about the field and future possibilities.

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