Time until the beginning

Religion – continuations and disruptions

Religions are works in progress. New ideas, doctrines and practices have appeared time and again and often spread across cultural and confessional boundaries. Some of the changes have been intentional, introduced by powerful individuals and institutions, some more spontaneous, and have emerged as vernacular reactions to the innovations that have been imposed from ‘above’.  Some elements in religions have persisted for centuries, some have disappeared and some reappeared in completely new forms or acquired new meanings. Similar processes can be observed around us in contemporary societies as well.

Yet, oftentimes scholars of religion have struggled with studying such constantly changing and transforming phenomena. This makes us ask, how many disruptions or interruptions can a tradition adapt or even embrace, while still maintaining its identity. At the same time studying change (or the lack thereof) arises several conceptual and methodological problems. First of all, how does one conceptualize change without implying a static research object? This is also a problem of evaluation and rhetorical power – who has the authority to claim that something is extinct or that a new tradition has been established? What is the scholar’s responsibility for the field of studies? To what extent and when does he have to take into account the insiders’ views in reflecting upon religious traditions or drawing boundaries between them?

Aside from ‘conventional’ religion and religiosity, considering various ‘spiritualities’ and the rise of the numbers of people with no clear religious affiliation, how does one study a phenomenon which has lost its visibility or moved into the private sphere?  Or how does one make sense of the continuities and disruptions in a world where more and more people simultaneously participate in several traditions, either religious or secular?

The conference will focus on these and related questions, examining religious traditions worldwide. In addition, it calls for reflecting upon continuities and disruptions in the history of religious studies. Our conceptual tools, theoretical frameworks, methodologies and even the category of religion have been changing. Is it necessary to strive for unity in the discipline or rather celebrate the pluralism in the study of religions? And how to depict change, so that the complicated dynamic of religious transformation is also reflected through the conceptual tools we use?

The conference will be held in Estonia, in a country that together with the other Baltic States has gone through many historical disruptions that have affected both religious life and the academic disciplines involved.