Working Group Ethnology of Religion
Working Group Ethnology of Religion
Report of the conference “Religious Utopia” at the Humboldt University in Berlin from 16-18 March.
Conference ‘Religious Utopias,’ Berlin, 16-18 March 2023. The organizing and scientific committee (from the left): Alessandro Testa, Clara Saraiva, Victoria Hegner, Peter Jan Margry, Thorsten Wettich.
SIEF Working Group "Ethnology of Religion" 2023 Conference "Religious Utopia", Humboldt University Berlin, 16-18 March, 2023
For two years in a row, the Ethnology of Religion Working Group was involved in two major events: last year, it co-sponsored the international conference "New Approaches to 'Re-Enchanted' Central and Eastern Europe", in Budapest; this year, it has organized its biennial conference, the first official WG event attended in flesh and blood by the members after the long break due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The conference took place in a friendly atmosphere and in an inspiring architectural environment in the heart of Berlin.
Excellently hosted by Victoria Hegner at the department of European Ethnology, Humboldt University, the event saw the active participation of more than 30 scholars (in addition to a number of other attendees) from all around the world, although papers focused mostly on Europe, Russia, and, interestingly, India.
In her opening speech, Victoria Hegner construed that many of the received papers were looking at the ways people constitute their everyday connectedness to utopia against the backgrounds of the worlds they live in and want to make a difference to.
This was true for several presentations such as those looking at the ethical self-cultivation in an alternative health network in present day Turkey, the perception of utopian architecture in Portugal, the conflux of spirituality and conspiratory theory in Lithuanian Contemporary Pagans Romuva, as well as Christians from Nagaland navigating in the mega city of New Delhi.
It became clear that utopian visions could both be handed down from elites to subordinates - such as in militaristic visions of a Russian Empire - or evolve from the bottom in the context of counter-culture movements such as in the case of Igor Charkovsky's aquaculture vision in the Soviet Union or the independent open society of Damanhur in Italy.
Utopian otherworlds can range from depictions of places of extreme luxury and physical comforts in medieval literature to late-modern futuristic imaginations of encounters with otherworldly beings. They form part of religious visions of to-be-built ideal worlds, but quasi-religious topoi also appear in state-sponsored imaginations of an ideal life.
The WG is planning to publish the outcomes of the conference in the fourth volume of its own series in LIT-publishing house, with Victoria Hegner and Thorsten Wettich as editors.
At the end of the conference, the WG business meeting was held in hybrid form, during which the election of the new board was also carried out. The previous board was confirmed in almost its entirety, with the notable exception of Peter Jan Margry, who stepped down and was duly saluted by the WG members. Subsequently, Kinga Povedák was elected as a new board member. The new board will remain in office for the next two years.
The next working group meeting is planned for 2026, thereby reinstating the biennial meeting rhythm between the SIEF conferences. While the WG has received the generous proposal for the next conference to be hosted in Budapest, it has decided to open the Call for some time asking for other possible venues.