Category Archives: Books and conferences

John Ogden (1941-2021) 

I went to the funeral of some friends’ father a few months ago. John Ogden was a good person. He was a giant of a man in humaneness, intelligence, and capacity; loved by his family and friends; and a lover of Manchester City (everyone has their blind spots…). He had a unique sense of humour which would easily have held its own with stand-up comics. If you spent time with John, you laughed, almost cathartically. His absence is going to be felt deeply, and by many, amongst his family and in the Christian congregation he helped lead over decades.  

John had been a leader in a church in Salford, northern England. The congregation was a Brethren assembly when John and his wife Gwyn joined in 1973. However, the church, like various other Brethren assemblies in places such as the UK, New Zealand (see Peter Lineham’s scholarly work) and Australia, became increasingly “charismatic” – as in emphasising the reality and power of the Holy Spirit – from the 1980s. There appears to be something about Brethren spirituality which seems to predispose a desire to seek the presence and embodied experience of God. John, with others, steered the congregation in a charismatic direction. In the 1990s, he and other leaders from Salford, and tens of thousands of others worldwide, visited a new global node for charismatic Christianity: the Toronto Airport Vineyard Church. It was said that here was a new ‘move’ or ‘blessing’ of the Spirit, a distinctive experience of God’s love.   

The funeral included something I had never seen before. In 1960, John started to keep a reading diary. Every book he read, of whatever genre, was recorded. The long list of all these texts was placed on the wall of the chapel, for our interest.  

His reading tastes – over 1,700 books – were eclectic. Indeed, even the first two books on the list offer quite the juxtaposition: Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking (1952) and A. J. P. Taylor’s The Hapsburg Monarchy: 1980-1918 (1941).  The list revealed interests as wide-ranging as Christian theology and testimony, country music, military history, local Manchester and Salford history, the National Football League (NFL), Russian travel, and cricket. He covered impressive ground in modern novels. After retirement, in particular, he was a voracious reader. To see the list on display at the funeral was an insight into the interior life of a man – his intellectual and emotional formation – over many decades.  

For a historian of Christianity, the list is a unique, rare source. For nearly a decade, I have been researching charismatic, or ‘Spirit-filled’, media and networks. What does the list tell us? 

Certainly, it underlines it is all too easy to make straightforward assumptions about charismatic spirituality. John read, of course, classic charismatic and pentecostal texts. Indeed, from around 1987, like many other British Christians, he was devouring them: Dennis Bennett, Arthur Wallis, Derek Prince, Jamie Buckingham etc., all the luminaries of the charismatic renewal. But the list indicates also how textual influences on John’s spirituality varied and changed over time. From the 1990s, one of the most consistent spiritual influences in John’s reading life became the Puritan divines: Richard Sibbes, Thomas Goodwin, John Flavell, John Owen, and others. Indeed, outside of an academic theology department, you would struggle to find a Christian as well read in Puritan spirituality. (In the final months of John’s Life, he read the Puritans deeply, including, and movingly, Richard Sibbes Let Not Your Hearts Be Troubled, Joseph Alleine’s A Sure Guide to Heaven and William Perkins’ A Salve for a Sick Man). In the 1990s, also, John was turning to the medieval mystics, Teresa of Avilla, Julian of Norwich, and others. At the end of the decade, numerous works by contemporary Catholic twentieth century contemplative and devotional writers, such as the American Trappist Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen, appear. Spiritual influences were broadening and deepening.  

As a young undergraduate student in the late 1990s, I remember hearing John preach on the Old Testament book of Song of Songs. He read the text allegorically. The sermon was an articulate and heartfelt case for ‘spiritual union with Christ’. The congregation was at this stage impacted by the Toronto Airport Vineyard Church phenomenon, and I observed around me a collective eagerness to ‘soak’ in the love of God. John had visited Toronto: but who was John reading at this stage? The list reveals he was drawing on historic works on Song of Songs: the works of Madame Guyon and Bernard of Clairvoux and others. The jet-age meets medieval mysticism. 

What might John’s reading list tell a historian of Christianity? First, it hints at the diverse and complex lineages – for example, contemplative, mystic, Reformed and pentecostal – which have contributed to charismatic spirituality. These influences, of course, have varied markedly across church traditions and between individuals. The story of these individual Christians – the ‘thick detail’ of ordinary leaders and laity, rather than the ‘big names’ of the charismatic world – are a rich mine of information for understanding ‘Spirit-filled’ movements in their everyday context.  Second, to merely suggest that charismatics such as John were ‘revival-chasers’ (e.g. to Toronto), would be to overlook the significant, text-constructed, intellectual and experiential thought-world which could provide a spiritual framework, and which in John’s case was both consistent and extendable. Third, John’s patterns of devotion in reading point towards a much larger charismatic theme: of resourcement. While charismatic Christians will often emphasise the ‘new wine’ that God is offering – they are ‘presentist’ in this sense – they have, as John did in the 1990s, often referred to historic writings, the resources of the Christian tradition, the words of the Christian dead, to situate their experiences.  

A meta-theme of John Ogden’s spirituality was the idea of the Christian as ‘beloved’ (indeed, he would, tongue-in-cheek, refer to himself as ‘the disciple who Jesus loved’). I suspect that through his reading, he became convinced that the ‘new thing’ of Toronto was an ‘old thing’ – a mystical experience of divine love within Christian spirituality. 

Dr John Maiden is the author of Age of the Spirit: Charismatic Renewal, the Anglo-world and Global Christianity, 1945-1980 (forthcoming from Oxford University Press). 

Black Majority Churches and the transformation of British Christianity

By John Maiden – our second post marking Black History Month (see first post here).

What has been the impact of the ‘Black Majority Churches’ (BMCs) on post-1945 British Christianity? Why is it imperative we address a lacuna in the literature on British religious history? I had the privilege today of trying to address these questions in an (online…of course!) lecture for Black History Month in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at The Open University. It was an opportunity to talk about research which I’ve recently published on in two places: Evangelicalism and Dissent in Modern England and Wales (edited by David Bebbington and David Ceri Jones) and in an article for Twentieth Century British History journal.

Evangelicalism and Dissent in Modern England and Wales  book coverIt is particularly problematic, I argued, that the ‘early’ Black Majority Churches, those which appeared in the United Kingdom in the decades immediately after Windrush (though thanks to David Killingray and others, we now know something of antecedent congregations in the first half of the century), are largely, if with some notable exceptions, absent in the otherwise booming historiography of secularisation or ‘religious change’ in the 1960s and 1970s. The observations of some contemporary Christian leaders and commentators during the early 1970s were that (as the sociologist Congregationalist pastor Dr Clifford Hill put it in 1971) an ‘urban evangelical explosion’ was underway. These have in some respects been proved right. Without proper discussion of this ‘new nonconformity’ we are left with an incomplete picture of a reconfiguration of the British religious landscape.

New Publication | Ritual and Democracy: Protests, Publics and Performances

Senior Lecturer Paul-Francois Tremlett was one of the editors of the new Equinox volume, Ritual and Democracy: Protests, Publics and Performances, along with Sarah M. Pike (California State University) and Jone Salomonsen (University of Oslo). Ritual and Democracy explores the complex intersections of ritual and democracy in a range of contemporary, cultural and geographic contexts.

This transdisciplinary and theoretically innovative volume emerged out of a workshop held at the Open University in London, organized as part of the inter­national research project, “Reassembling Democracy: Ritual as Cultural Resource”, funded by the Norwegian Research Council and led by Jone Salomonsen. The seven research-led chapters presented here document entanglements of the religious and the secular in political assembly and iconoclastic protest, of affect and belonging in pilgrimage and church ritual, and politics and identity in performances of self and culture. Across the essays emerges a conception of ritual less as scripts for generating stability than as improvisational spaces and as catalysts for change.

The book grew out of the Norwegian Research Council funded project “Reassembling Democracy: Ritual as Cultural Resource”, to which several OU RS staff contributed. As well as Paul-Francois’ chapter, “A Tale of Two Energies: The Political Agency of Things”, it includes a chapter by Graham Harvey, entitled “Trans-Indigenous Festivals: Democracy and Emplacement”,

Equinox are offering a 25% discount. Go to https://www.equinoxpub.com/home/ritual-democracy/, and enter the code RELIGION at checkout.

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Invisible Histories

Over the holidays I read The Way Out: Invisible Insurrections and Radical Imaginaries in the UK Underground, 1961-1991, by Kasper Opstrup. I was drawn to the book because it covered the Scottish writer, Situationist and junky, Alexander Trocci, who I’ve been interested in since reading his manifesto Invisible Insurrection of a Million Minds as a few years back. 

Like many of my interests, I discovered the Situationists through music: reading Greil Marcus’ Lipstick Traces, maybe twenty years ago, which traced the connections between the Sex Pistols and the Dadaist movement – and their later outgrowth, the Situationsist International. The Situationists were a sort of the political wing of Dada, and were looking for ways to “live not as an object but as a subject of history” (1997, 6). Dada was already both an artistic and philosophical movement, and Situationism made the Marxist political aspects of the movement more apparent. With Trocci’s work, this went in a more anarcho-syndicalist direction, and his attempts to found alternative communities and universities are described in Ostrup’s book, along with those of William Burroughs and later Genesis P-Orridge. I’d been aware that Trocci had connections to the Beats, but I wasn’t aware of his later connections to the later 1990s occult scene; from Trocci we go to Burroughs, with whom he collaborated in a number of projects that influenced Robert Anton Wilson, and through him influenced the Chaos Magic scene in the 1980s and ‘90s, including musician Genesis P-Orridge’s Temple of Psychick Youth. And thus we’re back to music again.

 The practices described in The Way Out have similarities to some that we tend to think of as being drawn from Eastern religion and esoteric traditions. Techniques like cut-ups, automatic drawing and sigil magic were intended to break through habitual modes of thinking by destabilising language, and ultimately to escape the spectacle of capitalist society. This is similar to Zen koans or the Tao Te Ching, some of G.I. Gurdjieff’s exercises in developing concentration and awareness, and perhaps most obviously the sort of mindfulness books which are so popular today. Rather than making us more resilient in a late capitalist society, however, the aim was to create a new form of everyday life in which art and practical living were aligned, eventually creating new communities and finally a new society overthrowing the capitalist order of the day. For early Situationists like Guy Debord and Raoul Vaneigem, the creation of ‘situations’ – moments deliberately set up to facilitate immediate, conscious, authentic experience – was intended to lead to a “revolution of everyday life”. 

Trocci in 1967. By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29770194

It’s worth noting that the case studies in this book of the period covered by this book are pre-Internet, or at least prior to the all-encompassing influence on the counterculture that the Internet assumed during the 2000s. All of which makes the history captured in this book the more interesting, because I think more ephemeral groups – like the Temple of Psychick Youth or Trocci’s sigma movement – will leave more easily traced footprints in the future, due to the internet’s endless archive. Nevertheless, these histories and chains of influence are vitally important for us to record; the case studies here are recent – between 6o and 30 years ago – and yet they are already difficult to trace. This subtle transmission of ideas, short-lived and loosely organised groups and often mercurial individuals suggests an epidemiology of ideas and practices through the cultic milieu which is certainly typical of such fringe ideas. Yet they are also at play in more formal and institutionalised groups too, and those further in the past. 

The author seems to have been writing as something of an insider, as the concluding chapter is a call to action and a restatement of the authors’ need for alternative communities and perhaps an invisible insurrection leading to a revolution of everyday life. I don’t disagree with this, but the rich material here could have been used to marshall a more focused argument, or perhaps simply a clearer historical account. Nevertheless I enjoyed reading it, and it has only reawakened my interest in Situationism and its under-researched legacy. There is certainly I need for more work on these kind of subjects which in some ways straddle the boundaries between studies of religion and culture, and so tend to fall between the gaps as a result.

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.

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!).

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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Conference schedule and booking details

The page for our 2018 conference has been updated with a full schedule, including details of the panels, keynotes and timetables. you can also download a pdf here.

We are now accepting online booking, via Eventbright: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/contemporary-religion-in-historical-perspective-publics-and-performances-tickets-41013559661. Please email ours@open.ac.uk if you require a different form of payment.

Ticket price for the full 3 days: £255 (including B&B and evening meals). Day rates for Tuesday: £90 (not including an evening meal) / £110 (including meal).

Durkheim, Energy and Contagion

Just published on the blog of Oxford University Press is a piece by Paul-Francois Tremlett taking a fresh look at the work of foundational sociologist, Emilé Durkheim. He argues that we have tended to overlook some of his ideas, and looks at two examples – energy and contagion – from 1912’s The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life:

According to Durkheim, the performance of ritual supplied so-called aboriginal society with the resources it needed to ensure the right balance between the generation of energy on the one hand, and the consumption of energy on the other. Durkheim, of course, could not have known how apposite this line of thought would be to we humans of the Anthropocene, a term coined to mark that moment in Earth’s history when human impact on eco-systems (notably the extraction of resources for generating energy) now threatens the sustainability of all human societies.

You can read the full article here.

Don’t forget that Paul-Francois was also one of the editors (along with our own Graham Harvey and Liam T. Sutherland of the University of Edinburgh) of a recent book which also re-assesses the work of a seminal early figure in the study of religion, Edward Burnett Tylor. Watch out for a video discussion on Tylor in the New Year, recorded at the BASR conference in Chester this September.