Multiple Religious Identities – Individuals, Communities, Traditions

16th Annual Conference of the European Association for the Study of Religions (EASR)

17-21 June 2018, Bern


As empirical realities, religions are never homogenous. From the multitude of beliefs, objects, feelings, discourses and practices of everyday lived religion, to major historical disputes that have led to the formation of different schools or movements, to conflict-laden divisions at the intersection of religion and politics, an extraordinary variety of contexts and content constitute the ubiquitous constant of religions across centuries and cultures from early civilisations to the immigrant societies of the 21st century, across Europe and beyond. The multiplicity of ways in which individuals form relationships with religious traditions and the plural modes of how religious codes are appropriated add further complexity to this picture.

It comes, therefore, as no surprise that plurality and its more normative pendant, pluralism, have always constituted key issues in religious identity debates: for instance, when religious diversity is set against claims of authenticity and orthodoxy with the discourse on conversion as an example. Plurality and pluralism are also at the core of political controversies, e.g., in discussions on social norms and alleged deviance on religious grounds.

Even though historical and contemporary research has drawn attention to the religious diversity within societies, the conceptualisation and theorisation of these issues remain difficult, given the inner plurality of religions and the multiple constructions of religious identities.

Key concepts such as world religions or syncretism have been the subject of severe criticism. This stemmed from more fundamental questions concerning the homogenising effect of conceptual frameworks that are based, for instance, on a distinction between dominating and minority traditions. Thus, an uncomfortable choice seems necessary: Do we let go our theoretical endeavour in favour of the multitude of individual cases or do we blur the manifold individual and social realities of religions through our generalising concepts? Building on this constructive tension, this conference aims to provide a forum for historical and contemporary research as well as conceptual, methodological and theoretical reflections on the plurality and multiplicity of both religions and religious identities. Topics may include the following:

  • self-conceptions and identity discourses within religious communities and traditions
  • multiple religious belongings in the past and the present
  • conversion and the handling of converts
  • debates on orthodoxy and heterodoxy, conformity and non-conformity
  • missionary activities and religious exclusiveness
  • normative concepts of plurality
  • historical regulation of religious diversity
  • the plurality of ritual practices
  • secularity, secularities and forms of non-belief
  • conceptual and theoretical reflections on terms and models