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Belief and Experience: Cultural and Psychological Responses across Religious Traditions

The conventional beliefs central to any religious system exist in relationship to and tension with the lived experience of individuals.  Beliefs may be cultivated or challenged by such experiences.  Many ethnographers have studied the structure of religious beliefs and the way these beliefs are cultivated, and some have also explored the frictions and ruptures that occur when lived experience and conventional beliefs fail to reconcile.

It is not only ethnographers, however, who attempt to work through and understand the nature of belief and its tensions with experience.  These same attempts are central to the very notions of belief (that is, conceptions of what it is “to believe”) and the modalities of belief (that is, ways of experiencing or embodying belief) that have been fashioned within divergent religious traditions.  Even more, our subjects creatively and often self-consciously take up and rework these notions and modalities in efforts to grapple with these tensions.  One of anthropology’s greatest current challenges is to understand how self-consciousness and agency are themselves central to culture, and thus how this kind of grappling with problems of convention and experience is manifested within cultural conceptions and generative of cultural practices.  This has become a particularly critical area of inquiry for anthropologist interested in religion as we have increasingly focused on subjects who self-consciously reflect on the category of “religion” as a distinct domain of social life.

With these ideas in mind, we are assembling a panel that focuses on cultural and psychological responses to the tensions that emerge between religious beliefs and lived experience.  We wish to draw together papers that explore such responses across different religious traditions.  Papers for this panel will examine how particular cultural notions and modalities of belief address these tensions, offering individuals ways to work through, and attempt to reconcile lived experience with institutionalized beliefs.  Papers may also examine the ways that individual actors take up and creatively employ or rework these cultural tools.  We are looking for ethnographic and theoretical papers that address questions such as, but not limited to, the following:

How do particular notions or modalities of belief manage the tensions between lived experience and institutionalized doctrines?
How do these notions and modalities position belief vis-à-vis practice?
How do individuals creatively employ or rework them in particular circumstances?
At what points do particular notions or modalities of belief become vulnerable to failure, and how do these failures manifest themselves?
How do particular notions and modalities of belief respond to or challenge modern notions of the sphere of “religion”?
Papers that explore the cultural repositioning of belief in the context of social change are also especially encouraged.

For consideration, please send paper abstracts by March 16 to:
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Greg Simon
Steve Carlisle

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