Tartu University-Estonia, May 8-11, 2024
Methodologies and Ideologies in Interreligious Engagement
Building Bridges in a Multipolar World
The 2024 ESITIS Conference in Tartu explores the radical pluralities at the heart of contemporary interreligious engagement. Its geographical and methodological pluralities provide new generative possibilities for understanding, as voices from the majority world contribute perspectives that reflect local historical trajectories, and as disciplines within the political sciences furnish conceptual tools that complement a focus on texts and rituals in theology and religious studies and the sociology and anthropology of religion. Understanding the role of religion vis à vis governmental and international relations provides new resources for understanding the forces that shape religious life within and between traditions and provides new opportunities to build peaceful relations.
The possibilities furnished by new pluralities are accompanied by challenges. The relatively recent norms for academic research, arguably established in the new German universities of the early nineteenth century, impose limits on interreligious inquiry that often force traditions to articulate their practices and beliefs in forms that are alien to them. The range of permissible participants in dialogue is sometimes constrained by expectations for what an acceptable range of intellectual positions might be, and what kind of language and protocols for inquiry are permitted. Access to publication is often constrained by practices of review that simultaneously affirm innovation yet favour the reproduction of existing dominant approaches. Access to funding, especially that provided by bodies answerable to governmental departments and inter-governmental bodies, is often restricted to projects which explicitly align with interests such as social cohesion, political harmony, and solutions to the problem of extremist religious expression. Religion is often cast in political terms as conflictual, as a source of social problems that require solutions. Projects that seek to understand forms of religious life that do not obviously align with such interests, or challenge them, often struggle to access financial resources, and fruitful projects censor themselves in order to be eligible for funding.
The 2024 ESITIS conference has the ambitious aim of exploring the interrelations not only between religious traditions, but between multiple pluralities: approaches, methods, and university disciplines in which the study of religion is now located, alongside forms of scholarly activism whose purpose is not only to understand but to transform such relations.
The conference location in Estonia in May 8-11, 2024, provides an opportunity to engage vernacular and lived-religions approaches, reflecting research at the University of Tartu. These complement other well-established approaches within ESITIS, including comparative theology, the theology of religions, scriptural reasoning, intercultural theology, and faith-based peacebuilding. Such approaches to vernacular religion may also provide compelling reasons for paying attention to indigenous voices in the majority world and broaden the range of phenomena that invite rigorous analysis and appropriate methodologies. Taken together, these are not merely existing approaches which happen to coexist in the modern university: they have shaped and continue to shape each other in their mutual engagements in society and in local communities. The conference aims to map these plural engagements and show what effects they have on the understanding of interreligious engagement today.
The Conference plenary lectures will address the changing pluralities of approach, the significance of conflict as a guiding framework for interreligious research, the challenges of conformity to intellectual models that are alien to indigenous researchers, the effects of funding restricted to projects that conform to governmental and funder interests, the contribution of folklorist approaches, and the significance of activism for scholarly engagement with relations between traditions.
ESITIS particularly welcomes the participation of scholars located in the majority world, scholars from the majority world working in institutions in Europe, and scholars forging intellectual tools and developing vernacular/lived religious approaches within local traditions. As well as short paper sessions devoted to the conference theme of plural approaches and bridge-building, there will be workshops on strategies for publishing innovative and original work and for writing effective proposals to access funding for projects that reflect new approaches to interreligious engagement.
- The dominance of conflict as a guiding category
- The challenges of conformity to Western intellectual models
- The challenges of funding restrictions and conformity to donor interests
- The promise of vernacular and lived religion approaches
- Scholar-activism and relations between traditions