Tomsk State University
Department of History

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Seminar held by Agnieszka Halemba on modern approaches in anthropological studies of religion

On February 9–13, 2015,  a seminar themed ‘Modern approaches in anthropological studies of religion’ was held at TSU LSAR by Agnieszka Halemba, research fellow at the Institute of ethnology and cultural anthropology of the University of Warsaw.  Agnieszka Halemba has conducted ethnographic research in South Siberia and Transcarpathian Ukraine. In 2002 she received a doctoral degree from the University of Cambridge, and then worked at the Max Plank Institute for social anthropology and at the Centre for the history and culture of East-Central Europe at the University of Leipzig in Germany. Since September 2012 she has been working at the University of Warsaw.

The seminar was open to all interested and was attended by university teachers and students from departments of history, philosophy, psychology, language and journalism studies, as well as fellows from other universities and organizations – Tomsk Polytechnic University, Tomsk State University of Control Systems and Radio Electronics, Tomsk State Pedagogical University, Tomsk Regional Museum of Local History, and The First Tour Bureau LLC – in total, by over 30 people.

A wide range of issues were dealt with in the seminar concerning modern anthropological approaches to studying religion and directed first of all at the understanding of the relationship of ethnography and theoretical analysis through the example of certain case studies. According to A. Halemba, working with research notions that change over time has got an important role to play in the modern anthropology of religion. Many notions are reprocessed in the field so that they can adequately describe what we see, and also, so as not to squeeze the extracted knowledge into complex scientific definitions. The basic notions of the anthropology of religion considered in the seminar are faith, rationality, irrationality, holiness, mediation, secularism, and secularization.

Among the main themes running through the whole course of seminar was the change in the vector of anthropological studies, namely the transition from studying religion as a worldview system constructed by anthropologists (most clearly expressed in symbolic theories) to studying it as a changing practice constituting a resource for human life. The modern anthropology of religion is also very much focused on ‘understanding’ religious communities and their practices, a topic which takes anthropologists into the study of mechanisms of  consciousness (cognitive anthropology) and of consciousness control techniques.

By means of discussing specific case studies there were such issues studied in the seminar as the reaction to colonialism and other kinds of dominance expressed in the religious form, the dependence of religious feelings on material grounds of religion, possibilities and ways of configuring new technologies into the religious context, religious communities and challenges of secularization, and how people become religious, etc.  

A number of anthropological films and documentaries were shown as an illustration of some problems in focus. One of the most vivid and memorable moments of the seminar was watching the video of rap shot by Catholic monks which demonstrates how religion and the media interact and how people are stimulated to come to faith in the modern European society.

The seminar themes and discussions that took place had a lively response on the part of students who stressed the relevance of the terminological and methodological problems stated and the debatable character of the majority of the research cases studied which illustrate how ethnographic material can be interpreted through theoretical analysis. A. Halemba also turned to the student fieldwork experience and upon the completion of the seminar they presented their own research projects and received a valuable feedback.

The project "Man in a Changing World. Identity and Social Adaptation: Past and Present" is funded by the Russian Government
(grant #14.В25.31.0009)
© Laboratory for Social and Anthropoligical Research, 2013

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