Category Archives: events

Looking Back at 50 Years as an RS Tutor

By Jeff Horner

Image: Jeff (central, sideways) at his socially-distanced farewell gathering.

As I retire after 50 years as an AL in Religious Studies at the Open University, I have been asked to write something about what it was like in the early days. I can talk only of modules I have taught, of course; I never taught at Level 3.

I was appointed as tutor in November 1970, and the first courses started in February 1971. My first course (they were called courses, not modules, then) was A100. It had a small piece of RS—two weeks looking at Mark’s Gospel. I remember the word “pericope” figured prominently! So, this was a bit like the sort of thing I had studied in my first degree in Theology. I think there was an assignment on Mark’s gospel, but I am not certain about that. And certainly, RS did not figure in the exam at the end of the module, nor (at least in any major way) in the programme for the Summer School. (All students—nearly—then went for a week’s residential study at Bath, Keele, Stirling…) However, in a later Level 1 module (A102, I think,) religion played a big part in the study of Mid-Victorian Britain, and students generally loved that, particularly at Summer School.

In 1972, I started teaching A201 Renaissance and Reformation as well. There was a four-week block on the Reformation—Luther, Calvin, etc. My theology degree came in useful again! A201 was one of the best courses the Arts faculty ever produced, and the students loved it. In the exam, students did an inter-disciplinary question, and then (I think) two out of six options, one being the Reformation. The course team obviously thought ‘No-one is religious’; so they appointed teams of three or four markers for the other questions, but for the Reformation question they only appointed me. Out of 600 students taking the exam, 396 did the Reformation question. So much for making assumptions about students!

The first ‘proper’ RS course started in 1978—AD208 Man’s Religious Quest (no thought of gender bias then). It included an introduction to different approaches to studying religion, sociology of religion, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, African religion, Greek and Roman religion, Zoroastrianism, secular alternatives to religion, and “inter-religious encounter”. It was hard (I thought it was more like a Level 3 course than Level 2), but it included the opportunity to visit places of worship and that really brought it to life for many students. The students nearly all loved it and as I remember drop-out was very low. Many students talked about how it changed their perceptions, and in either the first or second year one student decamped to India to live in an ashram. I have no idea whether she ever came back!

After AD208 came three modules: A228 The Religious Quest (not so sexist)—a 30-point module, basically half of AD208, covering six world religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam)—followed by A213 and A217. These last two continued the same approach, studying the beliefs and practices of six religions, but with some extra themes. Incidentally, A217 had 7 TMAs, five of which were on five of the religions, but not Sikhism, which was a large part of the exam.

I taught two other modules, both 30 points. A231 (30 points) looked at religious diversity in Britain in the second half of the 20th century. Most students liked it, but it did not have large numbers and was not replaced at the end of its life. The other was AD252, Islam in the West. It was quite hard, but it appealed to quite a number of Muslim students and was generally liked. However, it ran only for four years and was also not replaced.

Numbers started high on the 60 point modules. I think on AD208 there were three groups in Region 08 (the North West), but by the end of A217 there was just one. And when A227 started I was the tutor for the North West and Yorkshire. It has become much more common for people to drop out than in the early days. I am not sure why this is, but I am pretty certain it is not the content of the modules that puts people off, though I will come back to that in a minute. I think the nature of our student body has changed a lot. For the first twenty years or so the OU was very much a ‘second chance’ university. Our students were largely people who had missed out on university in their teens, and were doing it partly out of interest and partly to prove to themselves that they were capable. For more of our students now the motivation is much more to do with career development, and that means that minority subjects find it more difficult to attract students. As to the higher drop-out, I am not really sure, I think the reasons must be complex and varied, but one factor is surely that there are so many more demands now on students’ time that OU study quite often has to be put on the back burner for a while.

I said I would come back to the content of the modules. Up until three years ago, all the Level 2 60 point modules were ‘world religions’ courses. The presentation differed but the content was largely similar. Many people (I was not one of them) came to see that as rather limited. So with A227 we have moved to a ‘lived religion’ approach. In my experience most students enjoy the module, but many say to me that it was not what they expected. They use different words for these expectations (‘theology’ or whatever) but a lot of them were expecting something like A217. In the past we had ‘Conditional Registration’ events. It was one of my favourite evenings each year. As tutor counsellor (don’t ask!) I would invite all my students (roughly 50, at all levels) to an evening at a study centre to look at course materials and discuss choices. So I could say to one student considering a module, ’Go and talk to Gladys – she did it last year’. There is far less chance to do that now, so I think it is more likely students will arrive expecting something other than they are going to get.

As regards A227, I have just discovered the OU’s ‘Why Religion Matters’ course on FutureLearn. It is short, so obviously has limitations, but it is a good way of starting to understand the approach on A227. I think all potential students should be encouraged to take it (it is free). Indeed, there are arguments for making it compulsory, though no doubt that would create lots of administrative problems.

Thanks for putting up with me while I have wandered down memory lane. I have loved almost every minute of the last fifty years.

Graham Harvey on Davi Kopenawa at Oxford University

By Graham Harvey

Recently, at the invitation of Laura Rival, Professor of Anthropology at Oxford University, I was privileged to join in a roundtable discussion with an Amazonian shaman, anthropologists, physicists, an ethnographic film maker, an international development scholar, a linguist and a vice-president of Oxford University’s student union. We met at the Maison Française d’Oxford to discuss “art, science and diplomacy for a plural world on a challenged planet”. Like most of the audience, the panellists were most eager to hear what the shaman, Indigenous diplomat and scholar, Davi Kopenawa Yanomami, had to say.

Davi Kopenawa is a co-author (with Bruce Albert) of The Falling Sky (2013) and an eloquent representative of his people, the Yanomami, and of other Amazonian Indigenous nations. His homeland (crossing the borders of what is now Brazil and Venesuela) has been invaded with appalling violence and destruction. Incursions by white people began in the early twentieth century and intensified in the 1970s. Diseases to which Yanomami had no immunity swept through villages throughout the forest. Deliberate acts of attempted genocide by gold miners and murderous assaults by loggers and others were accompanied by cultural assaults by Christian missionaries and functionaries of the settler states who sought to “pacify” Indigenous peoples.

The current Brazilian regime is encouraging a new wave of extractivism which is destroying forest ecosystems and communities. In a recent move, Brazil has appointed an evangelical Christian missionary to target remote Indigenous communities for greater integration and assimilation. This is the context for Davi Kopenawa’s visit to the UK and for the roundtable in Oxford. He had joined other Amazonian leaders, including his son, Dario, in presenting a petition calling on the prime minister to condemn recent actions by Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro.

At our event in Oxford I was privileged to speak first after the introductions. In addition to offering Davi Kopenawa and Dario gifts from my homeland, I acknowledged the great influence Davi has had on scholars in a variety of disciplines internationally. His presentation of Yanomami knowledges has been inspirational for anthropologists, sociologists, scholars of religion and others involved in the “ontological turn”, seeking to understand how people relate to the world. In particular Davi’s scholarship has encouraged a rethinking of the “culture/nature” distinction which structures so much of modern Western thought and life (including the separation of “natural sciences” from “social sciences” and “humanities”). He has reinforced an emphasis on relationality – which was addressed by the theoretical and quantum physicists on the panel as they spoke about the vital importance of attending to interactions rather than to seemingly discrete particles and other objects. In this context it is almost incidental that Davi has provided exciting new perspectives on shamanism and forest ecologies. It seems remarkable that this was the first time Davi Kopenawa had been invited to speak and engage with academics in Europe. I am honoured to have been part of that gathering.

 

12th International Holocaust Remembrance Day in the Podkarpackie Province, Poland

By sr Katarzyna Kowalska NDS (PhD Candidate, Religious Studies)

Thanks to the efforts of Prof. Waclaw Wierzbieniec and the Jewish History and Culture Department of University of Rzeszów’s Institute of History, with the support of local authorities and institutions, over 30 towns of the Podkarpackie Province honoured the 12th International Holocaust Remembrance Day with commemoration ceremonies that took place between 2nd January and 22 Feburary 2020. These days are unique and unmatched by any other region, as they are often organised by grass-root level organisations and initiatives in various institutions such as schools, town halls, cultural centres, parishes, village administrators etc, which get involved in the annual ceremonies’ organization.

Sr Anna Bodzinska NDS and Sr Katarzyna Kowalska NDS (born in the region) participated in commemorating events in various towns and villages: Rzeszów, Przemyśl, Leżańsk, Gniewczyna Leżańska, Dynów, Tyczyn, Kraczkowa, Jasionka,  Pruchnik, Jarosław, and others. You can read the complete program of the 10th International Holocaust Remembrance Day (#HDR2020) here. This blog looks at a few examples of what such commemorations look like.

The 27th January ceremony commemorating the Holocaust victims in Rzeszów began with prayers at the Jewish Cemetery, including prayers recited by Rabbi Shalom Ben Stambler of Chabad-Lubavitch. There were also lectures, meetings and a concert of cymbals (a Jewish Polish instrument). Students had an opportunity to listen to and meet with Jewish Polish Holocaust Survivors, with the presence of Lucia Retman (now living in Haifa, Israel), who lived in this region before and during WWII. The commemoration in Rzeszów ended with a prayer in Fara Church, where names of those who were killed – Polish Jews and Christians – were read by Polish and Jewish representatives.

A commemoration at the Jewish Cemetery in Rzeszow

On the 29th of January, commemorations took place in in the primary school in Jasionka. Sr Katarzyna spoke to  young students (13-18) about why it is important today to come and be part of Holocaust Memorial Days. A talk concerning the Kahane brothers followed.  

In Jasionka: Students with sr Katarzyna NDS, learning about Sr Marie Francia NDS and other Righteous among the Nations

Tyczyn prepared a full day’s programme (30th of January), which students and locals were invited to take part in. Twelve candles were lit at the Jewish Cemetery by students to remember 1200 Jews from Tyczyn who were deported and killed. Tyczyn had counted 3000 inhabitants before WWII. The cemetary commemoration was followed by a visit to a church and cemetery where several Righteous Among the Nations are buried. Students heard stories of courage and the difficult choices that locals had to face during the Nazi occupation. The cultural centre prepared a programme of meetings with Jewish visitors and guests of HRD, as well as music performance and exhibitions.

Tyczyn – lighting the candles at the Jewish Cemetery

HRD in Przemyśl lasted two days (29-30 January). It began with a commemoration event to remember those who perished in Przemyśl ghetto. Students and locals had meetings with Holocaust survivors and several presentations concerning the Holocaust and Jewish and Polish history and culture.

The 12th Holocaust Remembrance Days in Podkarpacie went unnoticed in wider world media. However, it is an initiative that deserves attention as shows that grass root work is taking place in Poland concerning the Holocaust, history, memory and dialogue, and that there are many places in Podkarpacie where the Jewish past is not forgotten but, rather, is seen as integral to Polish history and Holocaust education.

 

 

 

 

Critical Religious Literacy: Education and Empowerment

By Paul-François Tremlett

[What follows is an edited version of the paper I presented at the 8th IARS conference at the University of East London this January 29th, which was on the theme of violent youth radicalisation in Europe.]

Religious education in Britain has seen itself as contributing to the wider social aims of education, such as instilling tolerance, respect for difference and building social cohesion. However, in recent years religious education has been in something of a crisis. First has been the general suggestion that religious education is failing to meet its social aims, because it is failing to represent religions accurately. According to Barnes, “…current representations of religion in British religious education are limited in their capacity to challenge racism and religious intolerance, chiefly because they are conceptually ill-equipped to develop respect for difference” (2006, p. 396), while according to Panjwani and Revell, representations of Islam in textbooks, examinations and syllabi are essentialized “leading to stereotypes and unsubstantiated generalizations” (2018, p. 269).

Second is the ongoing decline in the numbers of pupils taking Religious Education at GCSE and A-Level in England and Wales and in the recruitment of students to undergraduate courses and qualifications in Religious Studies. For example, a recent report by the Religious Education Council found that entries for GCSE RS (combined short and full courses) in England and Wales had peaked in 2011 at 461,795: today’s figures show a decline in entries of 42.6% in eight years with almost 200,000 fewer pupils achieving a qualification in RS at the end of KS4. Moreover, according to a report by the British Academy, there were around 6,500 fewer students on Theology and Religious Studies courses in higher education institutions in 2017/18 than there were in 2011/12.

In light of this crisis in teaching and in recruitment, a report by the Commission on Religious Education report titled ‘Religion and Worldviews: The Way Forward: A National Plan For RE’, aimed at revitalising the subject area in schools, drew the following response from the association of departments of Theology and Religious Studies in the UK (TRS-UK):

We consider the subject as crucial for all pupils, for their understanding of themselves and others, and of local and global realities. The current decline in religious literacy is already resulting in prejudice, discrimination, fear, hatred, and an impoverished public discourse. Education about religion and worldviews is important for all citizens, whether they are themselves religious or not. The unique combination of skills fostered by the subject is essential in the workplace, in the media, and in politics (local, national and international), and all pupils deserve to be well taught in this subject (link).

TRS-UK draw a causal link between declining “religious literacy” and instances of “prejudice, discrimination, fear, hatred, and an impoverished public discourse”. But what is religious literacy and how can it empower young people against prejudice and discrimination?

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Divine Saving

Reblogged from https://www.openmaterialreligion.org/resources-1/2019/12/17/divine-saving

Dr Theodora Jim visited the The Baron Thyssen Centre for the Study of Ancient Material Religion on the 21st November 2019, to give a paper entitled “Divine Saving and ‘Votive’ Religion in Ancient Greece”. After the seminar, Jessica Hughes and Theodora Jim were joined by John Maiden and Emma-Jayne Graham to record an audio discussion about understandings of divine saving in antiquity and beyond. The discussion also features the voice of Dr Sara Patterson, on Salvation Mountain in California.

Programme structure and timecodes:

0.00 Introduction; 0.43 Theodora Jim on the challenges of translating the word soteria, and the evidence for cults of ‘saviour gods’ in ancient Greece; 6.20 Emma-Jayne Graham on votive offerings from early Roman Italy, and their possible links to understandings of divine saving; 12.25 John Maiden on divine saving in Christianity, including the textual traditions of the Old and New Testaments, and the practice of dedicating ex-votos in Mexico; 19.50 Sara Patterson on Salvation Mountain; 28.17 Studio responses to Sara Patterson; 34.10 Theodora Jim on a votive relief from the Asklepeieon at Athens; 36.38 Emma-Jayne Graham on the votive ‘open torso’ busts from early Roman Italy; 38.51 John Maiden on the Exodus narrative.

Further reading and resources:

Graham, Emma-Jayne (2020) ‘Hand in hand: Rethinking anatomical votives as material things’, in V. Gasparini, M. Patzelt, R. Raja, A-K. Rieger, J. Rüpke, E. Urciuoli (eds). Lived Religion in the Ancient Mediterranean World: Approaching Religious Transformations from Archaeology, History and Classics. Berlin, De Gruyter (Open Access).

Graham, Emma-Jayne (2017) ‘Partible humans and permeable gods: enacting human-divine personhood in the sanctuaries of Hellenistic Italy’, in J. Draycott and E-J. Graham (eds) Bodies of Evidence: Ancient Anatomical Votives Past, Present and Future, Routledge, 45-62.

Graziano, Frank (2016) Miraculous Images and Votive Offerings in Mexico, Oxford University Press.

Hughes, Jessica (2016) ‘Fractured Narratives: Writing the Biography of a Votive Offering‘, in I. Weinryb (ed) Ex Voto: Votive Giving Across Cultures, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 23-48.

Jim, Theodora, S. F. (2017) ‘“Salvation” and Ancient Mystery Cults’, Archiv für Religionsgeschichte 18, 255-281.

Jim, Theodora, S. F.  (2015) ‘Can Soteira be Named? The Problem of the Bare Trans-divine Epithet’Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik. 195, 63-74.

Jim, Theodora, S. F. (2014) Sharing with the Gods: Aparchai and Dekatai in Ancient Greece, Oxford University Press.

Maiden, John (2019) ‘The emergence of Catholic Charismatic Renewal ‘in a country’: Australia and transnational Catholic Charismatic Renewal’ Studies in World Christianity (in press).

Maiden, John (2016)  ‘Renewing the body of Christ: Sharing of Ministries Abroad (SOMA) USA and transnational charismatic Anglicanism, 1978-1998’, Journal of American Studies, 51.4: 1243–1266.

Patterson, Sara M. (2016) Middle of Nowhere: Religion, Art and Pop Culture at Salvation Mountain, University of New Mexico Press.

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.

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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Ancient Material Religion

By Jessica Hughes, Senior Lecturer in Classical Studies

This Spring sees the launch of a new research centre at The Open University, which involves some exciting collaborations between the Departments of Classical Studies and Religious Studies. The Baron Thyssen Centre for the Study of Ancient Material Religion builds on a long tradition of OU research in the areas of material religion and lived religion, as well as sensory approaches to sacred spaces and rituals. The Centre is based in the Department of Classical Studies, so its main focus will be ancient Greek, Roman and Etruscan material religion: nevertheless, one of our primary aims is to bring this ancient Mediterranean evidence into a productive dialogue with work on religious material culture in other periods and places, so we’ll be working closely with colleagues in Religious Studies and Art History, in order to gain a deeper understanding of the ways in which religion happens though material things – including objects, bodies and places.

Left to right: Professor James Robson (Head of School of Arts & Cultures, and member of the new Centre steering committee); Dr Jessica Hughes (Centre director); Professor Maureen Carroll (our guest speaker for the inaugural seminar of the Baron Thyssen Centre for the Study of Ancient Material Religion).

The Centre’s inaugural seminar last month was a fantastic start to our activities, and already showed how valuable such cross-disciplinary dialogue can be. Professor Maureen Carroll from the University of Sheffield joined us in Milton Keynes to give a talk on ‘Mater Matuta and her Sisters: Exploring Fertility Cults and Associated Votives in Early Roman Religion’. This seminar presented some of the results of Professor Carroll’s recent fellowship at the British School at Rome, including a new interpretation of the famous tufa statues from the sanctuary at Capua in Southern Italy. Afterwards, we recorded a panel discussion about votive offerings related to fertility and early infancy, featuring Dr Emma-Jayne Graham from Classical Studies (who talked about anatomical votives from sites in ancient Italy), Dr Marion Bowman from Religious Studies (who shared her research on the cult of St Gerard Majella in Newfoundland), and the artist Tabitha Moses, whose work has drawn powerfully on the imagery and concept of votive offerings. As well as sharing material from our own research or artistic practice, we explored how votives related to the broader themes of relationality and materiality, and how these objects help(ed) people to forge relationships – both with divine beings, and with each other – during the often anxious times of pregnancy and childbirth.

The recording of this discussion is available on the Centre website and embedded below, and we will be sharing more resources like this over the coming months. The Centre website also lists our upcoming events, including our official launch celebration, which will take place in Senate House in London on the evening of Monday 25th March. The programme for the evening features a keynote talk by Professor Esther Eidinow entitled “Magic: mind, material, metaphor”, and a joint presentation about the Centre’s work by members of the steering committee. Like all our events, this one is free to attend, and open to everyone, and we really hope that some readers of this blog will be able to join us! Also this month we will host a seminar in Milton Keynes by Dr Jody Cundy of Oxford University, who will be talking about votive offerings in Greek literary texts and inscriptions (21st March), and a ‘networking day’ in Camden Town, London (3rd April), which has a packed programme of talks and round table discussions, including a session led by Professor Graham Harvey and Dr Ailsa Hunt entitled ‘Ancient Trees, Contemporary Rivers: what does animism have to do with our environmental crisis?’.

We are very grateful to Baron Lorne Thyssen-Bornemisza for his generous support of the Centre, and we look forward to sharing more news of our research activities with you all in the future. Please do come and join any of our seminars or workshops, or tune into the website and Twitter account (@OpenMatRel) to follow our progress and discover our latest multimedia resources.