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ISEK - Department of Social Anthropology and Cultural Studies Social and Cultural Anthropology

Religion (and its Others)

“Any discipline that seeks to understand ‘religion’ must also try to understand its other.”

(Talal Asad 2003: 22)

“If the anthropological study of religious commitment is underdeveloped, the anthropological study of religious noncommitment is nonexistent.”

(Clifford Geertz 1966:43,n.3)

On the basis of a genealogical analysis of the concept of religion, Asad argues that ‘religion’ must always be conceptualized taking into account its ‘others’. On quite a different level, Geertz's quotation points to a lack of anthropological studies of religion’s others. Our research within the anthropology of religion aims to fill this conceptual and empirical gap. We describe, differentiate, and contextualise self-proclaimed or attributed forms of religiosity and non-religiosity on the basis of ethnographic research. In this, we work with a relational and genealogical understanding of ‘religion’ and its ‘others’.

For example, our research deals with political controversies surrounding religion and secularism. Our interest in contestations concerning the influence and reach of religious fields leads us to ask which claims, demands and values are being negotiated, and how these are related to negotiation processes that do not directly refer to ‘religion’. To this end we focus, for example, on secularist groups as well as on how non-religious positioning in everyday life is related to biographical background and social position.

Our focus on heterodox, nonconformist, secular, indifferent, and many other religion-related positions and positionings is closely related to our perspective on medical anthropology, which also centralises therapeutic practices described as alternative or complementary.