CALL FOR PAPERS: The biennial conference of the SIEF-Ethnology of Religion working group: "Religious Utopias"


The hope for a better, a utopian world is a powerful force. Utopian promises help to endure and make sense of life, but they also suggest the possibility of social change. Religions can be looked upon as a utopian enterprise – offering imaginations and (ritualized) practices that reach beyond the present into an ideal(ized) future. In the face of the current ecological destruction, intensified social conflicts, and increased uncertainty, not least due to the pandemic, the SIEF Ethnology of Religion working group seeks to explore the utopian potential of the religious.
The ‘religious’ is hereby understood broadly, including not only traditional institutional religions, but also new, alternative, or implicit religious and spiritual forms and movements. The concept of utopias is also cast broadly. It roughly refers to an “ideal society” or “ideal world.” Religious utopias encompass grand cosmologies of a coming “paradise”, but also infuse the day-to-day struggle with positive, hopeful, spiritual and religious meaning (Maskens/Blanes 2013; Moylan 2021).
Utopias can be based on the idea of a radical break with former epochs. They also explore the possibility of a different “here and now”; and yet again, utopias might be grounded in nostalgia – in an imagined, glorified or idealized past, that should and will be brought back and thus “re-enchant” time and space. Last but not least, utopia and dystopia are never far apart from one another: someone’s “ideal world” might represent “hell on Earth” for others (Maskens/Blanes 2013)

We invite presenters to discuss a variety of topics, amongst which could be the following:

By opening up a wide range of topics and by inviting papers with various perspectives we aim to contribute – ethnographically and theoretically – to the recent debate on “future practice” in neoliberal times and on “sustainability”. Doing so we wish to further develop an “anthropology of the utopian and the good”, not as a counterpoint to the emergent “dark anthropology” (Ortner 2016), but in interaction with it and thus lay open the significance of the religious as a central model to shape, experience, and inscribe meaning within the utopian.

Conference fee: €75 for senior lecturers/professors/full employees; €25 for junior researchers/students (the fee covers meals, reception and fees for a guided excusion to the newly opened Humboldt-Forum under the topic “religion, restitution and the hope of justice”)

Scientific committee

The SIEF Ethnology of Religion Board:
Victoria Hegner, Alessandro Testa, Thorsten Wettich, Peter Jan Margry, Clara Saraiva

Send abstracts with no more than 250 words until April 15th 2022 to:
Victoria Hegner:
The selection committee will make its decision by early May to allow ample time for participants to apply for travel funds.