Some data on the history of the SIEF Working Group on Ethnology of Religion 1989-2013

The initial idea to establish a new SIEF commission on the study of folk religion, or then called in German Volksfrömmigkeitsforschung, goes back into the late '80s. It was decided during the General Assembly of the SIEF Congress in Bergen (Norway) in 1989. Prof. Nils-Arvid Bringéus then proposed to form a Commission on Folk Religion, under the guidance of professor Anders Gustavsson, at that time professor of ethnology at the Uppsala University. The idea was to organize every third year a symposium with the participation of ethnologists and folklorists from all over Europe and so to bring together colleagues with similar interests in order to work more fruitful in a smaller group than in the larger SIEF society. Moreover, the creation of a working group was also stimulated by an upswing in the field of religious ethnology, bringing about new approaches and methods.

The first symposium of the new commission or working group was held in October 1993 in Stockholm on the topic ‘Religion in Everyday Life Then and Now’, sponsored by the Swedish Royal Academy of Letters, History and Antiquities. The focus was on how religion manifests itself in lifestyle, beliefs, upbringing and norms. The papers of the conference were published in 1994.

The second conference was held three years later in 1996 in North-Portugal on the theme ‘Folk Religion, Continuity and Change’ organized by Maria Santa Viera Montez and Anders Gustavsson. This broad topic again could illustrate to what extent folk religion is an agent for change or an instrument of preservation in a changing world. Changes may imply renewal but also a return to earlier conditions. How and why does this happen in modern societies? Delegates from different parts of Europe and for the first time also from outside Europe (USA) were discussing this problem. The papers of the conference were published in 1999 as a joint publication of the Universities of Lisboa and Uppsala.

The third symposium was invited by Gábor Barna to Hungary, it was organized by the Department of Ethnology, University of Szeged in September 1999 in Szeged. The topic was ‘Politics and Folk Religion’. Presentations were given without any limitation of bounderies in age and space on the relation between politics and folk religion. There were again speakers from the United States and at the first time from India. The papers were published in the journal Acta Ethnographica Hungarica, 46,1-2 (2001) and as an independent book under the same title, edited by Gábor Barna in the publication series „Bibliotheca Religionis Popularis Szegediensis” volume 6. In Szeged Prof. Anders Gustavsson stepped down as chair of the working group and Gábor Barna was elected as new chair.

The fourth symposium for Ethnology of Religion was hosted by Margaret Mackay in Edinburgh from 4 to 8 September 2002, with the topic ‘Gender and Generation’. The program was set up by Margaret Mackay and Gábor Barna.

In 2001 the SIEF Congress was held in Budapest. In the frame of the congress the working group organized a panel on the topic ‘Ritualisiertes Schreiben. Inschriften und Eintragungen als Wunschvermittlung und Erinnerung’. The organizers were Prof. Helmut Eberhart (Graz, Austria) and Gábor Barna (Szeged, Hungary). The papers of this session have been published in the publication series ‘Bibliotheca Religionis Popularis Szegediensis’ (vol. 11) under the title ‘Ritualisierung, Zeit, Kommunikation’.

On 27-28 April 2004 the working group organized sections at the International SIEF Congress in Marseille, on the themes: 'Sacrality and Piety' and 'Pilgrimage Today', chaired by Arne Bugge Amundsen, Helmut Eberhart and Gabor Barna.

In 2004 an extraordinary project of some members of the working group and other religion scholars in Europe started in Szeged (Hungary) on the topic of ‘Ethnology of Religion in Europe’, on the occasion of the centenary of the birth of Prof. Sándor Bálint, who was the founder of religious ethnology in Hungary. The meeting was held in order to prepare a handbook on the history of the ethnology/anthropology of religion in Europe under the title ‘Ethnology of Religion. Chapters from the European History of a Discipline’. Fourteen European countries are represented in it (published by Akadémiai Kiadó).

The seventh symposium of the commission was planned for 2005 in Andechs, Germany to be organized by Oliva Wiebel-Fanderl and Gábor Barna. Ultimately the invitation from Germany was withdrawn due to personal circumstances. Instead Professor Jurij Fikfak (Ljubljana) from the Institute of Ethnology of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences managed to organize the conference in Celje (Slovenia) in 2006. The conference was organized under the title ‘Senses and Religion’. The papers were published in the yearbook Traditiones, and also as an independent book publication. At this conference the head of the working group, Gábor Barna stepped down and Ulrika Wolf-Knuts (Åbo, Finland) was elected as chair.

At the international congress of the SIEF in Derry, 19-20 June 2008, a panel was organized under the title ‘Rethinking the Sacred’ by Ulrika Wolf-Knuts and Gábor Barna. `The papers were published: Ulrika Wolf-Knuts and Kathleen Grant (eds.), Rethinking the sacred. Proceedings of the ninth SIEF conference in Derry 2008 (Abo: Abo Akademi University, 2009)

The ninth meeting of the working group was held in Warsaw, 2010. The theme was ‘Experiencing Religion. New Approaches towards Personal Religiosity’. This meeting was prepared by Ulrika Wolf-Knuts and Ewa Chomicka (Warsaw). For the first time there was an open call for papers, which brought in new scholars from all over the world. In Warsaw Ulrika Wolf-Knuts stepped down and Peter Jan Margry was elected new chair.

On 19-20 April 2011 the congress panel 'Sacred Places' was organized by the board of the working group at the international SIEF Congress in Lisbon.

The 2012 conference of the SIEF Working Group on Ethnology of Religion was organized by István Povedák and Peter Jan Margry and held at the Department of Ethnology / Cultural Anthropology and the former ‘Bálint Sándor’ Institute for the Study of Religion in Szeged, Hungary, 12-14 September. Theme: ‘Religion on the Move. How Motion and Migration Influence Religion’.

On 1 July 2013 a congress panel organized by the board of the working group at the international SIEF Congress in Tartu. Theme: 'Fluidity, Mobility and Versatility of the Sacred'.

Gábor Barna and Peter Jan Margry