Category Archives: Videos

Sacrifices | A new film about tattoos, religion and pain

Theo Wildcroft and Alison Robertson are current and former PhD candidates in the Religious Studies Department. In 2017 they had their first co-written article published for the new ‘Body and Religion’ journal. The article is titled “Sacrifices at the Altar of Transformation”, and it discusses the many and varied reasons why people might choose to include painful practices as part of their religious activity.

A first peer-reviewed publication is an important milestone in any academic career, and given the subject matter, their choice of celebration was always going to be unusual. In this short film, they reveal their journey, from first conversations, to Lillyink Tattoo studio in Reading, and back to the BASR conference where it all began. Along the way, they speculate on what the study of such practices can tell us about how human beings understand suffering.

Film by David Robertson and Theo Wildcroft. Featuring Steve from Lillyink Reading and Professor Graham Harvey as doctoral supervisor.

Philip Williamson | Remembrance Day: the British Churches and National Commemoration of the War Dead since 1914

Here’s the third and final keynote from our Contemporary Religion in Historical Perspective conference, recorded Feb 21st 2018. Philip Williamson (Durham University) gives a timely presentation entitled Remembrance Day: the British Churches and National Commemoration of the War Dead since 1914.

Most historical work on commemoration emphasises the civil creations from 1919 onwards: Armistice day, the two-minutes silence, the Cenotaph, the War Graves Commission and war memorials, and the British Legion.  Aside from the burial of the Unknown Warrior, the churches are treated almost as adjuncts. Yet British church leaders had been involved with remembrance since 1914, and from 1919 they created their own religious commemoration of Remembrance day, which in 1946 replaced Armistice day as the official occasion for national commemoration.  Against the supposed trends towards secularisation, the churches acquired and retain a leading part in remembrance of the war dead. Yet some tension always existed between the civil and religious commemorations, and what secured the place of the churches in national rituals also brought compromises. This paper will consider how the protestant churches created a new religious commemoration of the war dead; how remembrance contributed to co-operation between leaders of the various British churches; how the character of Remembrance has changed; and how in national commemoration the churches and the state arrived at an alliance of church religion and civil religion.

Religion and its Publics (Part 1)

Jonathan Tuckett of the Religious Studies Project attended our Contemporary Religion in Historical Perspectives conference in February, armed with an iPhone. Drawing from the themes of the conference, he came up with some (difficult) questions to ask the attendees – including our students Theo Wildcroft and Alison Robertson, and Lecturers Marion Bowman, David Robertson, Paul-Francois Tremlett and Suzanne Newcombe.

Steven Sutcliffe | Explaining the Economy of New Religions

The second keynote from our Contemporary Religion in Historical Perspective conference is Steven Sutcliffe (University of Edinburgh). Recorded on Feb 20th 2018, it is entitled “Explaining the Economy of New Spiritualities, with the Help of Bourdieu”. Enjoy!

Magic and Modernity at the Religious Studies Project

Just published over at the Religious Studies Project is a conversation between the Open University’s Richard Irvine, Theodoros Kyriakides and David G. Robertson concerning magical thinking in the modern world. We may think that such ideas are confined to the fringes in the secular, post-Enlightenment society, but this is not necessarily the case. We talk about Weber’s rationalisation and James Frazer’s evolutionary model of modernity, and how they relate to ideas of belief, and magic. We then look at examples from Orkney and Cyprus to show these ideas in play. This is an interview that will be of interest to all students of secularity, modernity and belief.

This interview was recorded at our Contemporary Religion in Historical Perspective conference in Feb 2018, and is based on the “Magical thinking in contexts and situations of unbelief” project, part of the Understanding Unbelief programme.

Bettina Schmidt | The Contentious Field of Religious Experience

Professor Bettina Schmidt (University of Wales, Trinity St. David) gives her opening keynote presentation from our Contemporary Religion in Historial Perspective conference on the 19th Feb, 2018 – “The Contentious Field of the Study of Religious Experience: The Challenging Influence of Rudolf Otto, Andrew Lang and other Founding Fathers.”

Video | The Legacy of Edward Tylor

Over at the Religious Studies Project last week, Graham Harvey and Paul-Francois Tremlett of the OU took part in a roundtable discussion to mark the centenary of the death of Edward Burnett Tylor, one of the seminal figures in the early academic study of religion. This is also the theme for a new volume edited by Tremlett, Harvey and Liam T. Sutherland, ‘Edward Tylor, Religion and Culture’ (Bloomsbury, 2017) which features contributions from all of the roundtable participants (and several other scholars), which was launched at the BASR annual conference in Chester last September.

Edward Burnett Tylor (1832-1917) in many respects has a fixed place in the academic memory of religious studies and cultural anthropology yet acknowledgement of his role is often purely historical, as a key ancestor of little direct relevance to contemporary discussions. This has left us with a limited narrative about the man and his work; a particular received or canonical Tylor defined by his introduction of the concept of animism, his intellectualist approach to religion, his armchair research and staunch social evolutionism. The year of his centenary is an opportunity to begin the task of critically examining the legacy left by Tylor’s work on religion and culture, how much the received Tylor matches his body of work, whether other Tylors can be extracted from these texts which undermine such a limited perspective on a long and eventful career and whether contemporary scholars can find anything of ongoing relevance in the work of such a historically distant figure.

Topics discussed included his impact on indigenous societies, the debates over animism, monotheism and the definition of religion as well as his relevance to the cognitive sciences of religion and the degree to which Tylor can be classed as an ethnographer and more. This roundtable includes contributions from Dr Miguel Astor-Aguilera of Arizona State University, Dr Jonathan Jong of Coventry University’s Brain, Belief, and Behaviour Lab, James L. Cox Professor Emeritus at the University of Edinburgh, Liam T. Sutherland – PhD Candidate at the University of Edinburgh, Professor Graham Harvey and Dr Paul Tremlett at the Open University.

Steven Quilley | Environmentalism on the Margins: Exploring Possibilities for Alternative Modernity

Last year, Steven Quilley of the University of Waterloo, Ontario, joined us to talk about “Environmentalism at the Margins: Exploring existing possibilities for an alternative modernity”. There’s a lot of fascinating ideas about how society is organised, where the world is headed and where it might go instead. Here’s the video – enjoy!

Understood as a complex adaptive system and through the lens of Holling’s Panarchy heuristic, modern industrial capitalism is a ‘deep basin of attraction’. The global consumer society has proved itself to be a profoundly resilient system – resilient, but nevertheless biophysically limited.  As the metabolism of global civilization begins to breach significant thresholds and transgress ‘planetary boundaries’ humanity is approaching social-ecological ‘tipping points’.  Experiencing the concatenating effects of collapsing economies, degraded ecosystems, social crisis, political chaos, communal violence and war, failed and failing states are tracing the outlines of an undesirable basin of attraction defined by collapse. The challenge facing humanity amounts to a rather simple wicked dilemma: is it possible to reconcile technological and socio-political modernity (and all the requisite flows of materials, energy and information) with biosphere integrity and sustainable global life support systems. In this paper, we argue that the alternative modernity defined by this wicked problem should be envisaged as a ‘third basin of attraction’ i.e. the often-vaunted political economy of the ‘third way’ construed through the language of systems theory. In this paper, we explore the outlines of such an ‘attractor’ in terms of political economy, technological prerequisites and problems of culture/ontology. We explore some of the prefigurative possibilities evoked by various ‘environmentalisms at the margins’ i.e. counter-cultural lifestyles, intentional communities, disruptive technologies and practices, and alternative social commitments. These are building niches in diverse settings that could begin to contour space for a new kind of modernity, one that could enable socially and technologically complex human societies to thrive without compromising long-term ecological integrity.  Specifically, we investigate how community-based health systems, micro-fabrication and Maker culture, and new religious movements at the periphery of the environmental movement may contribute to a developing ‘third basin of attraction’ – an alternative to the primary basin of attraction of consumer capitalism and the all too near second basin of societal collapse.

3 Minute Theory | Gurdjieff, with Carole Cusack

In 3 minutes (and change), Carole Cusack (University of Sydney) tells us about the life, work and importance of the Georgian spiritual teacher, George Ivanovich Gurdjieff. Although his System is obscure and often counter-intuitive, he is one of the three foundational figures of contemporary esoteric culture.

Are you “food for the moon”? Let us know in the comments!

3 Minute Theory | Actor-Network Theory, with Graham Harvey

In three minutes, our very own Graham Harvey tells us about Actor-Network Theory, an approach that suggests that everything exists in networks of relationships, including not only humans, but objects and ideas too.

What inanimate object are you in a relationship with? Let us know in the comments!