2015 Research Slam

The 2015 ISASR conference took the form of a short one-day event in order to facilitate participation at the quinquennial conference of the International Association for the History of Religions at Erfurt.

Along with the keynote address by outgoing Secretary Brian Bocking on “The Study of Religions in Ireland: Topics for the Future”, the launch of the pioneering Muslims in Ireland (by Oliver Scharbrodt, Tuula Sakaranaho, Adil Hussain Khan, Vivian Ibrahim and Yafa Shanneik) with responses from Roja Fazaeli and Alexandra Grieser and the launch of the second issue of the society’s Journal, the conference also saw a very successful experiment with a “Research Slam”, with twelve members giving short 7-minute presentations of different aspects of their research and projects.

Below are the abstracts for the presentations.


Jenny Butler, University College Cork (j.butler AT ucc.ie)

“Irish Fairy Beliefs and Folk Religion”

Despite antiquarian references to the “fairy faith”, scholars have not generally considered belief in fairies and other supernatural beings as genuine religious belief. The earliest collectors of folklore material in Ireland relegated the beliefs of the folk to, at best superstitions, whimsical ideas and attempts to explain misfortune or the inexplicable and at worst misunderstandings or false notions about the workings of nature. Within the discipline of folkloristics, the focus has largely been on the social function or entertainment value of the stories relating to supernatural or other-than-human beings, rather than the in-depth examination of belief and context. In the ethnological disciplines, the material relating to fairies and other spiritual beings has been neglected or omitted entirely in regard to the study of folk religion. This presentation provides an overview of the project, briefly outlining why it is important to analyse fairy belief in such a way and how the project will add to understanding of the nature of spirit-beings, as well as to knowledge about Irish religious traditions and Irish identity more generally.


Colette Colfer (Waterford Institute of Technology) colettecolfer AT yahoo.ie and

Eoin O’Mahony (St. Patrick’s College, DCU) eoinomahony AT gmail.com

The changing Face of Ireland’s religious Landscape

Ireland’s religious landscape has changed dramatically over the last twenty years. These changes have been fuelled by a variety of factors including migration, globalisation and changes in religious practice and beliefs. This presentation will use a series of maps and a short video-collage to outline some of these changes. It will focus particularly on the types of buildings being used by migrant groups in Ireland as full-time places of worship. Many of these places are invisible and located outside of central commercial or residential areas and instead can be found in warehouses in industrial estates. The paper will look specifically at examples of these types of warehouses in the cities of Dublin and Waterford. The maps will be used to chart the locations of these places in both cities and the short video-collage will feature extracts of interviews with pastors and other religious leaders who operate places of worship in warehouse spaces. The research builds on work by Horner (2004) and Ugba (2009) and argues that these new types of religious buildings in Ireland challenge categories of space. In their form and use, warehouse worship spaces allow for an analysis of a decentred religious landscape, one that does not depend on high visibility and one that is fluid and constantly changing due to financial and planning limitations and regulations.


Christopher Cotter (University of Lancaster) c.cotter AT lancaster.ac.uk

The Religious Studies Project: a collaborative, international and interdisciplinary enterprise

The Religious Studies Project (RSP) is an international collaborative enterprise producing weekly podcasts with leading scholars on the social-scientific study of religion. Since January 2012 we have released over 200 audio interviews on cutting-edge theoretical, methodological and empirical issues, which is available through our website, iTunes and other portals. The RSP website received more than 120,000 views in 2014 and reached over 4,400 patrons and listeners via our lively Facebook and Twitter social media feeds. In addition to the podcasts, the website also features weekly essays, roundtable discussions, book reviews, resources, and conference reports, plus our weekly digest of opportunities (jobs, journals, conferences, etc). We are a non-profit organization, primarily sponsored by the British Association for the Study of Religion (BASR).This presentation will focus on the genesis of the project, how it might be of use to you, and some insights from running a high-intensity, international and voluntary project such as this one. http://www.religiousstudiesproject.com


Laurence Cox (National University of Ireland Maynooth) Laurence.CoxATnuim.ie

“What should they know of Ireland who only Ireland know?” U Dhammaloka / Laurence Carroll, religion and empire

This slam presents the Dhammaloka research project (Brian Bocking, Alicia Turner, Laurence Cox – http://dhammalokaproject.wordpress.com) as a way of “turning the sock inside out” when thinking about religion and Ireland and to see our “little Irish” religious history in a wider context. Like other Irish Buddhists, Dhammaloka rejected the colonial dualisms of late C19th Irish religious politics, but from a strong freethinking (atheist) position. Crossing a series of ethnic / racial boundaries in his emigration to Asia, he defected from “Catholic Irish” as a strategic emigrant identity and “went native” in Asia, where he became deeply involved in the pan-Asian, anti-colonial Buddhist revival of the early C20th. Active from Burma to Japan and from Siam to Ceylon, he was tried for sedition, placed under police and intelligence surveillance and faked his own death. 26 years of his life are still unaccounted for and his death is shrouded in mystery.

The Dhammaloka project has presented its material widely in recent years: this slam presentation uses a semi-theatrical format shaped around Dhammaloka’s own words to bring this extraordinary figure to life and show another way of thinking about Ireland and religion in the dramatic struggles over ethnicity, religion and empire which shaped not only the new Irish state but the end of empire and the formation of new nationalisms across Asia. It takes the form of a one-man reading with a slideshow of background images.


Tadhg Foley (National University of Ireland, Galway & University College Cork) tadhg.foley AT nuigalway.ie

The life and work of Max Arthur Macauliffe

I have been engaged for some time on a study of the life and work of Max Arthur Macauliffe (1838-1913), originally Michael McAuliffe, of Monagea, Co. Limerick. He graduated from Queen’s College Galway in 1860; in 1862 he joined the Indian Civil Service and was posted to the Punjab, where he eventually became a judge. Based in Amritsar, he became interested in Sikhism. In 1893 he resigned from his official position to engage full-time in the translation into English of the Granth, the sacred book of the Sikhs. This classic translation forms part of Macauliffe’s great masterpiece, The Sikh Religion: Its Gurus, Sacred Writings and Authors, published in six volumes in 1909 by the Clarendon Press, Oxford, and running to almost 2,500 pages. It has never gone out of print. Darshan Singh, in his Western Image of the Sikh Religion (1999), an anthology of twenty articles on Sikhism by western writers from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries, reprinted no fewer than seven of his essays. However, as well as his celebrated contributions to Sikh Studies, I have discovered in my researches in the National Archives in Delhi and in the British Library that his private life was, well, colourful. He deserves a biography on both counts and I have amassed a great deal of materials for this purpose. I would like to give a brief account of my findings and outline my planned contributions to Macauliffe scholarship.


Alexandra Grieser (Trinity College Dublin) griesera AT tcd.ie

“New Universalisms” – do global aesthetics make global religions?

In recent public debates, increasing religious and cultural plurality appears as problematic in regard to social cohesion in European societies. Especially right-wing political populism and movements advocating xenophobic social agendas make use of a rhetoric that equates plurality with conflict and menace, and unity with purity and security. At the same time, there is a global discourse on the need of “working together” and “acting united” in response to, for instance, climate change or refugee policy, topics reaching beyond individual or national concerns. In both cases, it is suggested that unity and “oneness” offer the solution to problems caused by complexity and diversity. Such ideologies overlook that unity may come as uniformity, and that oneness may be related to totalitarian structures and the neglect of individualism.

The research project presented takes these two elements – plurality and universality – as a vantage point and proposes that it is the tension between a growing individualism and the need for “concerted action” that provokes cultural responses which can be named as “New Universalisms”. Critically rethinking Shmuel Eisenstadt’s concept of “multiple modernities”, the project uses universalism as a comparative concept in order to investigate diverse phenomena such as Western Buddhism, “salvation patterns” in Hollywood movies, or the use of science and technology in “New Atheism”. The project is guided by the newly emerging perspective of an “aesthetics of religion”, asking to what extent universalising aesthetic forms impact on patterns of action and ways of seeing, perceiving, and designing the world.


Chris Heinhold (University of Chester) c.heinhold AT chester.ac.uk

The construction of a modern British Shia identity in London

In London, Shia communities from around the world are found existing alongside one another. While there are specific events which see elements of these disparate communities converge, for example the annual ‘Ashura’ procession at Marble Arch, there remains a distance between them which is maintained by language, culture and traditional practice.

Conceptions of identity are stretched by the processes of globalisation. While they maintain proficiency in the languages of their parents and grand-parents, young British-born Shia in London are largely educated and socialised through English. At the Marble Arch procession this year the lecture was given in English, directly addressing this emerging community who operate primarily in the language of their new geographical home, and confirming their position as a key audience for the wider community to reach. Through their shared complex diaspora experience, young Shia in Britain creates new identities for themselves which prioritise their Shia-ness over any ethnic or national background. The popular culture which predominates in their world is actively incorporated into this identity construction.


James A. Kapaló (Study of Religions, UCC) J.Kapalo AT ucc.ie

The Marginalised and Endangered Worldviews Study Centre, UCC

In this ‘slam’ I will introduce the work of the Marginalised and Endangered Worldviews Study Centre (MEWSC) at UCC, giving an overview of its mission and aims as well as introducing current activities and the forthcoming inaugural MEWSC volume: Marginalised and Endangered Worldviews Comparative Studies on Contemporary Eurasia, India and South America. The Marginalised and Endangered Worldviews Study Centre (MEWSC) has been established to promote the interdisciplinary study of contemporary endangered cultures, religions, worldviews, religious cultures, and minority religions. It is the aim of this centre to encourage dialogue and exchange between researchers with an interest in diverse parts of the world who can bring varied perspectives on endangered or marginalised worldviews, cultural expressions and religious cultures. An important aspect of the mission of the centre is to encourage counter-hegemonial perspectives on peripheral cultural and religious voices and promote the incorporation of such perspectives into mainstream teaching and research promoting engaged and philanthropic scholarship for an inclusive, innovative, integrative and reflective global society. The centre is conceptualised as a ‘roving’ collaborative academic collective without ‘walls’. Members of MEWSC include academics from Brazil, India, France, Estonia, Russia, Romania, UK, USA and Ireland.


Vladimir Kmec (TCD / ISE) kmecv AT tcd.ie

The Formation of Religious Identities of Christian Immigrants in Dublin

This paper explores how European migrants who are affiliated with the Lutheran church (German and English branch), the Slovak Catholic community and the Polish Catholic Chaplaincy in Dublin perceive their religious identity in the context of their immigration experience. As immigrants attend their religious congregations and as they interact with the host society in multiple ways, they experience personal religious change. The paper asks to what extent and how the religious identity of these young people has changed since they migrated to Ireland. The paper is based on a qualitative empirical research which involved semi-structured and in-depth interviews as well as participant observations. The fieldwork revealed that young immigrants carry with them their cultural and religious packages on the one hand. On the other hand, they acquire new social capital in their host society in which secular lifestyles and global influences affect their choices and perspectives. In interaction with Irish society, these backgrounds and social capital can modify, alternate and influence each other. These dynamics shape young people’s religious identity in the context of the socio-cultural milieu in which they live. The analysis does not assume the formation of a homogeneous identity but a multifaceted process. The migration experience of young migrants impacts on their religious identity in different ways, generating varieties of religious identities. This study refers to religious change as to a change of religious views, practices and behaviours within people’s own religious tradition.


Deirdre Nuttall (independent scholar) deirdre.nuttall AT adverbage.com

The Folklore of the “old” Protestants of Ireland

Historically, research in the Republic Ireland into traditional culture, oral narratives, and folk heritage, has focussed largely on rural, poor, Catholics, especially in the earlier, nation-building decades of the twentieth century. One of the most ambitious research initiatives in Ireland in this area was the 1937 schools’ involvement in an immense project carried out by the Folklore Commission of Ireland. State primary schools contributed to a vast collection of folklore. However, the questionnaire used to help the young researchers was predicated very much on the idea of a rural, Catholic “folk”, and many questions, about holy wells, the rosary, and so forth, were not relevant to Ireland’s Protestant minorities. The widespread perception of all Protestants as being middle- or upper-class also contributed to the idea that their narratives were not folklore in the true sense. In recorded Irish folklore, Irish Protestants most commonly feature as anti-heroes and villains and even, literally, as the devil. Although Ireland (and consequently its oral culture) has changed greatly, the Protestants of Ireland, especially in isolated or marginalised communities, represent a largely untapped repository of folk tradition. How best to access this aspect of Ireland’s folk heritage?


Olivia Wilkinson (Trinity College Dublin) wilkino AT tcd.ie

The place of the spiritual and the material in response to Typhoon Haiyan

Discussion of faith and religion remain extraordinarily underrepresented in humanitarian research. There has particularly been a lack of research on the perceptions of those who receive humanitarian assistance. The importance of religion to those with whom humanitarian organisations engage has been shown and it is now well recorded that faith can play a vital role in recovery and resiliency to trauma. Bearing this in mind, there are very few studies that have specifically asked beneficiaries for their opinions on the types of assistance they receive and whether this correlates with differences between faith-based and secular humanitarian and development aid. The research presented in the slam will give an overview of the initial findings of research conducted in the Philippines in February-April 2015. The research uses a participatory action tool to determine affected populations’ views of faith-based and secular humanitarian assistance following Typhoon Haiyan in 2013 in the Philippines. Preliminary findings indicate people’s appreciation of the spiritual, as well as the material, in their recovery and a division between the perceptions of humanitarian organisations along these lines.


Shan Yuwu (单玉武) (UCC) yuwushan AT gmail.com

The Irish gift to China: Columban sisters and the indigenized catholic church in China (from 1920s until now)

“You are not here to convert the Chinese; you are here to make yourself available to God.”, following the advice from Father Edward Galvin[1] given to the Columban Priests、Sisters and lay missionaries in China, the sisters related to Missionary Society of St. Columban, specifically they are Loretto sisters from Kentucky in the early 1920s, Columban sisters since 1922 and the Virgins of St. Mary, Hanyang from 1938, carried out an almost a Century of splendid cause in China.

This research will focus on the theme of indigenizing the Catholic Church in China. Aiming to develop the local religious community of Hanyang diocese, Bishop Galvin funded the Virgins of St. Mary Hanyang and the Congregation was born on October 7, 1940. The Congregation survived through the Civil War, the New Communist regime’s religious reform in 1950s, the Cultural Revolution and began to recover and even boomed from the Open and Reform era since 1980s.

Based on ethnographic, fieldwork and archival research in China and Ireland, this article tries to give the full picture of the history of the Columban sisters and their attached organizations in China, and then to expound the reasons for rise and fall in contemporary China from 1920s until now.

[1] Father Edward Galvin, the founder of the Missionary Society of St. Columban and first Bishop of Hanyang, China.

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