ISERT Conference, Siegen, 10.-12. April 2024
EMPIRICAL THEOLOGY and POSTCOLONIAL THEORY
Postcolonial Theory is de- and re-constructing the historical, social, cultural, economic, psychological, etc., impact of the European colonial past on the formerly colonised peoples, nations, and societies and the formerly colonising peoples, nations, and societies. This concept has been taken up in theology and religious studies in the last decades. If Empirical Theology is regarded, the question raises of how the normative bias of Postcolonial Theory can be integrated into the rather descriptive research program of Empirical Theology. Is Postcolonial Theory setting the frame of reference in which Empirical Theology discusses its findings? Or does Empirical Theology have to adjust its epistemology and/or methodology in the light of Postcolonial Theory? The ISERT conference 2024 is concerned with such questions. It looks forward to creating an interdisciplinary forum of colleagues from theology and cultural studies, social sciences, psychology, and religious studies to discuss the relationships between an empirical approach to religion and the requirements of Postcolonial Theory.
Submit your abstract
All submissions are welcome that address their topic empirically and theologically informed (including sociological as well as psychological as well as cultural approaches towards religion). We would also appreciate it, if it is possible to address any of the following topics:
- Are there colonial structures within the research agenda of Empirical Theology in terms of research agenda, scholarly networks, etc.?
- Is Empirical Theology ready to take up the concerns of Postcolonial Theory – for example regarding its epistemology or its theory of knowledge –, and if yes, to what extent?
- Does Postcolonial Theory provide theories that can be used to interpret the findings of empirical projects?
- Does it change the rather descriptive account of Empirical Theology towards a more normative one?
- How do established methodologies meet the requirements of Postcolonial Theory?
- Is there a need to take up new methodologies and methods which fit into the frame of Postcolonial Theory? And if yes, what would be the effect of this need on the understanding of Empirical Theology?
- Which colonial structures are still effective in the belief of both individuals and congregations in various national and social contexts?
- Which are the native accounts to God, life and world within various national and social contexts?
Empirical papers not strictly related to the main theme are welcome as well and will be included where possible.
Forms of Presentation
You can choose between the following two types of presentation:
- Single Paper: Single paper sessions are scheduled for 60 to 90 minutes and consist of two to three thematically clustered papers. Each presenter is offered a maximum of 20 minutes to present their paper, followed by at least 10 minutes of discussion facilitated by the chair.
- Symposium: Symposia provide an opportunity to present research on one topic, often from multiple perspectives, compiling a coherent set of papers for discussion. Symposia are scheduled for 90 minutes and consist of two to three presentations (total of 45 minutes) followed by 45 minutes of discussion facilitated by discussant.
Submission of Abstract
Extended deadline for submission: 1 March 2024 (Note: the deadline for earli bird registration is 1. November 2023)
To submit your abstract please fill in this form. Abstracts of up to 500 words (excluding references) are welcome.
Call for Papers
Postcolonial Theory is de- and re-constructing the historical, social, cultural, economic, psychological etc. impact of the European colonial past on both, the formerly colonialized peoples, nations and societies and the formerly colonizing peoples, nations and societies (Hook, 2012; Loomba; Williams & Chrisman, 2015; Young, 2020). Its basic hermeneutical point of view is the assumption that during the imperial period European worldview has been imposed on the colonies establishing a system of European supremacy. Although the era of imperialism has ended meanwhile the imperial mindset is still effective. For example, the recent sociological concepts of “modernity” are representing the situation and worldviews of the Global North and neglecting the conditions of the Global South (Mannathukkaren, 2010).
Unearthing colonial thinking, Political Theory has taken multiple forms: it has been concerned with forms of political and aesthetic representation; it has been committed to accounting for globalization and global modernity and it has been interested in discovering and theorizing new forms of human injustice, from environmentalism to human rights. The aim of Postcolonial Theory is to identify the lasting effects of the imperial era, to de-construct the processes of colonial othering, to unearth the suppressed local traditions and voices and to recognize them (Taylor, 1994). In consequence, Postcolonial Theory is both, a normative account and an analytical toolbox.
Postcolonial Theory has been taken up in both theology and religious studies. Theological accounts analyze the relevance of colonialism in the Christian tradition, interpretation of the Bible and Christology (Abraham, 2015; Daggers, 2013; Hong, 2022; Nehring & Wiesgickl, 2013, 2017). For in the imperial age, theology served, among other things, to legitimize conquest, subjugation and exploitation by declaring these to be an inevitable concomitant of Christianization or even its unavoidable precondition. Conversely, Eurocentric and racist thinking also found its way into many theological disciplines and continues to shape them today.
Postcolonial approaches in theology critique habitual interpretations of biblical texts and traditional statements of faith, they point to historical injustices legitimized by colonial theologies and to contemporary injustices and hegemonies that have their roots in colonial theology. They show that theological coloniality entails implications in areas as diverse as gender relations, land tenure, racism, development assistance, church historiography, and interreligious dialogue. In consequence, particularly theologians from Africa, Asia, and Latin-America started to bring in their indigenous perspectives to theological reflection (Dube Shomanah, 2000; Gruchy, 1994; Kwan, 2014; Lartey, 2013; Lartey & Moon, 2020; Sugirtharajah, 2006). They promote a spiritual understanding of live, a communal concept of land and property, or ecologies of participation with the goal of “decentering the world and church” (Hong, 2022, p. 205). Meanwhile, the concept of Postcolonial Theology is well established within the theological discourse.
In religious studies, Postcolonial Theory is used to question the impact of orientalism, racism and white supremacy on key categories such as ‘religion’ and ‘the sacred (Bergunder, 2014; Bloch, 2010; Goulet, 2011; Ibhakewanlan, 2021; Sarma, 2016; Yountae, 2020). For example, the concepts to measure religion predominantly represent a Western (and Protestant) account towards the phenomenon, not being sensitive to Asian, African or Latin-American forms of believing (Demmrich & Riegel, 2020). In general, postcolonial theory can broaden the scope of understanding the impact of imperialism on religion and can contribute to the analysis of the ways in which devotees practice and respond to imperial rule (Morny, 2001; van Klinken, 2020). It stimulates religious studies to change the perspective from Eurocentrism to indigenous accounts, to apply relational methodologies, and to accept a political and biased perspective rather than a neutral one (Bain-Selbo, 1999; Sarma, 2016; Tayob, 2018; Yang, 2011).
Sometimes, the concept of Postcolonial Theory is distinguished from the concept of Decolonization. While the first is referring to the academic discourse, the latter is more about the processes of creating indigenous sovereignty in the formerly colonialized countries and societies (Betts, 2012). Decolonization has been referred to in both theology (c. f. Foley, 2021) and religious studies (c. f. Borup, 2021).
Unlike Postcolonial Theory and its applications in theology and religious studies, Empirical Theology offers a rather descriptive account to religious practice. In its principle, Empirical Theology is concerned with elucidating theory about religious practice through empirical data about people’s faith and religious practices (van der Ven, 1990; Ziebertz, 2004). Guided by the methodology of social sciences, Empirical Theology analyzes the way how people believe and how they express this believe. Normative accounts to religious practice form the frame of reference in which Empirical Theology takes place, but hardly form its methodology themselves (Hermans & Moore, 2004; van der Ven, 2004). Given this interplay of a normative frame of reference and a descriptive methodology, first empirical theological studies within the paradigm of Postcolonial Theory have been published (Capucao, 2010; Sakwa, 2008; Unser, 2019). They are able to shed light into the effects of colonialism on the belief systems of both individuals and congregations. They are also able to reconstruct indigenous accounts to God, life and world. From a postcolonial point of view, however, the question raises whether also the methodology of Empirical Theology has to meet the normative standards of postcolonial thinking (Ibhakewanlan, 2021; Jones, 2021; Mercer, 2006; Miller-McLemore & Mercer, 2016).
What kind of analytical tools are needed when analyzing social inequality, injustice und discrimination? Shouldn’t Empirical Theology take the perspective of the discriminated, subdued and marginalized while reconstructing their stories? Is it necessary to strengthen sympathetic methodologies like participatory observation or ethnography within Empirical Theology (Kaufmann, 2022)? And if yes, what would this shift towards relational methodologies mean to the understanding of empirical research (Kaufmann, 2016)? And what would be the impact of such shifts to religious education and pastoral care (Dreyer, 2017; Kaunda & Kim, 2022; Rich et al., 2022)?
The ISERT conference 2024 is concerned with questions as previously sketched. It analyzes the interplay of Empirical Theology and Postcolonial Theory or Decolonization respectively on various levels:
- On the level of philosophy of science, the question raises of what Empirical Theology is able to learn from Postcolonial Theory. Are there colonial structures within the research agenda of Empirical Theology in terms of research agenda, scholarly networks, etc.? Is Empirical Theology ready to take up the concerns of Postcolonial Theory – for example regarding its epistemology or its theory of knowledge –, and if yes, to what extent?
- On theoretical level, the question raises of the conceptual locus of Postcolonial Theory within Empirical Theology. Does it coin the frame of reference in which empirical studies can take place? Does it fill the research agenda of Empirical Theology with possible topics? Does it provide theories that can be used to interpret the findings of empirical projects? Does it change the rather descriptive account of Empirical Theology towards a more normative one?
- On methodological level, the question raises of how Postcolonial Theory can contribute to develop the methods used within Empirical Theology. How do established methodologies meet the requirements of Postcolonial Theory? Is there a need to take up new methodologies and methods which fit into the frame of Postcolonial Theory? And if yes, what would be the effect of this need on the understanding of Empirical Theology?
- On content level, the question raises of what findings Empirical Theology can provide in the context of the agenda of Postcolonial Theory. Which colonial structures are still effective in the belief of both individuals and congregations in various national and social contexts? Which are the native accounts to God, life and world within various national and social contexts?
The ISERT conference 2024 invites scholars from relevant disciplines to reflect upon theses questions. It looks forward to create an inter-disciplinary forum of colleagues from theology as well as from cultural studies, social sciences, psychology, and religious studies. Interested colleagues are asked to submit the talk’s title and an abstract of up to 500 words (excluding references).
On behalf of the organisers, welcome to ISERT 2024.
Looking forward to your contributions to the conference!
Ulrich Riegel: firstname.lastname@example.org
Cheryn Nabo-Al-Makhoul: email@example.com