Talking and Walking; Exploring Intersections of Embodiment and Agency in Religious-secular Formations.

Jelle Wiering

Talking and Walking; Exploring Intersections of Embodiment and Agency in Religious-secular Formations.  

Noster/CRCG thematic seminar February 27th 2019, Oude Boteringestraat 38, Groningen


On February 27th , 2019, a collaboration of scholars[1] from the University of Groningen, University of Amsterdam, Tilburg University, and Radboud university will organize a one-day seminar on religious and secular forms of embodiment. This free accessible seminar, held in Groningen, is funded by the Dutch Research school Noster[2], the Centre for Religion, Conflict and Globalization[3], and the University of Groningen, faculty of Theology and Religious studies. The day will feature plenary lectures and responses by, among others, Schirin Amir-Moazami (University of Berlin),  Anna Fedele (Center for Research in Anthropology at the university of Lisbon), Birgitte Schepelern Johansen (University of Copenhagen), and Kholoud Al-Ajarma (University of Groningen)

Registration (maximum of 50 participants):

What do embodied practices, such as particular forms of sitting, walking, praying, talking, or teaching, contribute to peoples’ experiences, identity, and understandings of religion and secularity? Why is it so important for many pilgrims to walk, for many Buddhists to sit, and for many sexual health professionals to talk? How do forms of embodiment in these formations perhaps alter across the globe? How do particular embodied configurations perhaps even attempt to produce specific sought expressions of religion or secularity, and on whose authority? When are forms of embodiment disapproved and by whom, and how do people negotiate with these condemnations (Amir-Moazami 2016)? How do religious and secular embodied practices become entangled in the production of difference, and processes of inclusion and exclusion along the axes of gender, class, race and ethnicity? What does embodiment mean in an age of digitalized religious and secular practices, and how does it affect practitioners’ agency? And, finally, as academics, how, if at all, does embarking in these practices of embodiments ourselves contribute to our understanding of religion or secularity?

By departing from the concept of embodiment, the thematic seminar attempts to live up to McGuire’s (1990) call to consider bodies as more than rather passive and malleable subjects produced by society. Rather, by taking embodiment seriously, it sets out to illustrate how agency may actually be exercised through the practices people conduct in various formations and contexts (Fadil 2009; Mahmood 2011). Though such approaches, at first sight, appear to be best suited for utilization in the context of research focusing on contemporary religion and secularity, people’s experiences of embodiment, obviously, are not limited to our contemporary world, and hence a focus on embodiment is interesting in more historically-oriented forms of research as well (e.g. Foucault 1978; Gerson, Shavercrandell, Stones, & Krochalis 1998; Asad 2003; Scott 2017). Hence we hope the seminar has the potential to attract scholars from a variety of disciplines including sociology, theology, psychology, history, anthropology, religious studies, and gender & sexuality studies.

The overall question the thematic seminar will seek to answer is: How do specific expressions of embodiment pertain to the religious-secular formations they are discerned to be part of?

Morning program (0930 coffee), 1000 start seminar:

Keynotes by Schirin Amir-Moazami and Anna Fedele, responses by Birgitte Schepelern Johansen and Kholoud Al-Ajarma

Afternoon Program:

13.45–1500: First session – ‘(Re-)shaping bodies’ 

Moderator: Suzanne van der Beek

  • ‘Embodying Michael Jackson: the ethical self-formation of MJ-pilgrims.’ – Fardo Eringa, University of Groningen
  • ‘“We have no labour therapy”: The embodiment of obedience and humility in the Russian Baptist rehab.’ – Igor Mikeshin, St. Petersburg State University
  • ‘Designing the body. Agency and embodiment in researching African-Dutch women’s lives.’ – Brenda Bartelink, University of Groningen and Sophia Lowe, Design that Matter

1500 – 15.50:  Second session – ‘Exploring the secular body’

Moderator: Suzanne van der Beek

  • ‘Idle Minds and Empty Stomachs.’– Erik Meinema, Utrecht University
  • “L’affaire du foulard”: laïcité, bodies as national symbols and veiling as a “political act” in colonial and postcolonial France –  Lucy Spoilar, University of Groningen

1605 – 16.55: Third session – ‘Negotiating bodies’

Moderator: Erik Meinema

  • ‘Selectively “smart”: embodying norms of marriage among Ghanaian-Dutch and Somali-Dutch couples in Amsterdam.’ – Amisha Bakhuri, University of Amsterdam
  • ‘The secular Body in Dutch sex educations’ – Jelle Wiering, University of Groningen

1700 – 17.50: Fourth session –  ‘Embodied (de-)conversions’

Moderator: Erik Meinema

  • ‘Embodying Deconversion: The Lives of Orthodox Jewish and Orthodox Reformed Women in Contemporary Popular Culture.’ – Nella van den Brandt, Utrecht University.’
  • ‘Beer, Bayern and Belief: professional soccer players converting to Christianity and Islam in Europe.’ – Mariecke van den Berg, Utrecht University

[1] Jelle Wiering, Fardo Eringa, Elizabeth Mudzimu, Brenda Bartelink, Kim Knibbe, Suzanne van der Beek, Amisah Bakuri, Rachel Spronk, Rahil Roodsaz, and Erik Meinema.