Uppsala University: Keynotes

Elina Vuola

Continuity and Change. Theological Perspectives on Lived Religion and Gender.

Elina Vuola

I will first take examples of how changes within religious traditions, especially the three monotheistic religions, happen. The relationship between continuity and change is always evolving, but today we see both growing secularization and growing religious conservatism. The pressures for change come from both inside and outside religious worlds. For those inside, the central question is how to balance one´s identity as a religious person and one´s need for autonomy, especially in issues concerning the body, family and sexuality, but also religious authority. The history of Christianity testifies to how pressures for change do not always and only come from the “outside”, from the “secular”. Different liberation theologies, including feminist theology, are examples of this dynamic of continuity and change.

Second, my intention is to show how theological analysis not only enriches but is necessary in creating a comprehensive and rich understanding of the meaning of religion in today´s secular societies. The meagerness of interaction between ethnographic study of religion and theological analysis (including sacred texts, symbols, history) has often meant that Judeo-Christian established traditions are too easily seen as something immutable or self-evident. Possibilities of agency and change are located either in new forms of religiosity or outside religion altogether.

Third, I will highlight these more theoretical issues through empirical material, over 60 interviews I conducted in 2013-14 with Finnish Eastern Orthodox women on the meaning of the Virgin Mary for them. In this, I join scholars from both anthropology and religious studies who are interested in understanding religion broadly, meaning both practical, lived, and social aspects of it, and its textual and more dogmatic aspects.


Pia Karlsson Minganti

Normative Secularism, Reflexivity and the Marginalization of Muslim Women’s Faith-Based Agency

Pia Karlsson Minganti

This presentation draws on ethnographic fieldwork among activists in Muslim organizations in Sweden (and wider European contexts). These organizations and their associated mosque congregations are in various ways definable as male dominated and they are frequently criticized for gender conservative and heteronormative approaches that appear contradictory to secular democracy. In this presentation I will highlight activities within these contexts that aim at improving the rights of women and other marginalized categories. I will draw on these cases to illustrate how women use religion as a platform for collective agency. I will also demonstrate how women make use of such religion-based agency for negotiating their individual interests within the realm of family. Lastly, I will discuss the risk of societal as well as scholarly “blindness” for those examples of Muslim women’s agency that include both (self)reflexive norm critical perspectives and cross-boundary collaborations. The analysis of such marginalization and its consequences (also methodological) is made with help of the concepts of “normative secularism” and “reflexivity”, and the seminal theorization of agency by anthropologist Saba Mahmood.

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