In 2017, the Dutch Association for the Study of Religion (Nederlands Genootschap voor Godsdienstwetenschap NGG) will celebrate its 70th anniversary. Scholars in religious studies take this occasion to reflect on the past and future of the field during the conference 'Dynamics of Religious Diversity' on 19 and 20 October.
The NGG was founded as the Nederlands Genootschap voor Godsdienstgeschiedenis upon the instigation of Gerardus van der Leeuw (1890-1950) with the aim to develop the academic study of religion as an interdisciplinary field outside of Christian theology. Then the Dutch study of religion was still positioned in a majority Christian nation with overseas colonies whose inhabitants professed other non-Christian (Islamic, Buddhist, indigenous) beliefs.
Then and now
Nowadays the study of religion faces the rise of a highly diverse and dynamic religious field as well as the decline of mainstream Christianity and the rise of atheism and agnosticism. Seventy years ago, the central focus of research on the part of scholars involved in the NGG and similar associations were non-Western religions outside of Europe and in the distant (European) past. Today the study of religion is situated in an entirely different field: The old colonial frontier areas where researchers encountered non-Christian religions have dissolved, and people from “there” got ever more on the move to “here.” Contemporary cities in the Netherlands, and Europe at large, form the new frontier areas where various forms of religious expression coexist with each other and amid strong secularist and atheist positions.
The current postcolonial configuration in which the study of religion is situated poses substantial challenges for the future orientation of our research, but also evokes important questions with regard to the past. Challenges and questions concern the study of co-existence and mutual interaction of highly divergent forms of religion in urban space, such as various forms of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Neopaganism, and unaffiliated spiritualities, to name only a few. Which concepts, theories and methods are needed to understand the dynamics of this complex field and analyze this co-existence as a whole? How to engage in categorization and comparison so as to grasp this new diversity? How to spot and circumvent repercussions of resilient colonial formats – in scholarship, policy and public debate – in studying religiously plural settings?
The central aim of this conference is to discuss the possibility of generalizing concepts and methods, including comparison, for the future study of religion in the light of past, and now heavily critiqued models for generalization. On the one hand, we call for an exploration of how towering figures as Van der Leeuw and others approached non-Western, non-Christian religions in the context of the colonial worlds in which they lived and wrote. On the other hand, we call for conceptual reflections about the (im)possibility and (un)desirability to generalize and engage in comparison from the standpoint of the current postcolonial nexus of religion and society.
- Kim Knibbe: 'Conceptualizing religious diversity in a post-colonial Europe'.
- Eva Spies: 'Being in relation. A perspective on multiplicity in the field of religion'.
- Peter van der Veer: 'What is ‘comparison’ in Comparative Religion?'.