First Symposium: Religion and Citizenship Workshop

Religion and Citizenship.jpg
By Maria Nita · 31 March 2012
Religion and Citizenship.jpg

Held on the last day of the Oecumene project's First Symposium, the workshop entitled 'Religious organisation and the political articulation of citizenship', explored many relevant and current issues concerning the involvement of religion in the public sphere. The workshop underscored the need for an inclusive cross-regional academic dialogue on this subject. Citizenship as an enabler of political subjectivity opens up politics as a practice of contestation. Here religion has a historical role, and the workshop continually drew attention to the central part played  by religion in political activism.

Aya Ikegame, from the Open University, who also chaired this event, spoke about the complex dynamic involved in the organisation of religious mathas in India in the early 20th century. Ikegame spoke about the unclear intersecting boundaries between political and devotional acts in this context. Moreover she showed how these communities were affixed static descriptors. Imposed by colonial authorities and early Western theorists, they conflicted with the actual constituting of mathas as flexible entities capable of provoking and sustaining social change.

Gabrielle Hosein, from the University of the West Indies, investigated the concept of political rupture by looking at the political role of women in Islamic communities in Trinidad.  Hosein discussed the limits to political possibility Muslim women experience at national and local levels. Their participation in public life is often defined by the gender and religious demarcations used by their respective communities.

Brendan Donegan, from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, presented his doctoral research on Indian activists working with Adivasis (tribal population), focusing in particular on public health. Donegan examined how bhagat, or traditional healers were seen in contrast to allopathic, state doctors. Donegan looked at two very different initiatives introduced by health activists. These two intiatives reveal how the activists attempted to reintroduce elements of tribal culture and religion that resembles both modern allopathic medical practices and decentralised, nonhierarchical practices of democratic decision-making. At the same time, the activists challenged and disrupted 'traditional' tribal cultural and religious practices. For instance, in the second initiative they undermined the practice of 'bhutali' or witch-hunting which was associated with the bhagat's identification and punishment of a woman deemed to be responsible for ill-health or misfortune. The activists encouraged tribal women to became health workers in the community.

Jacob Copeman, from the University of Edinburgh, responded to the three papers and opened the final discussion for all participants. Copeman showed that the common territory of these papers was a process of re-thinking citizenship from a standpoint of theoretical openness. He spoke about the complex connexions the speakers had unravelled in their respective papers. All three papers, he suggested, dealt with understanding the dynamic interplay involved in political subjectivities, as these become constituted and re-constituted.

Workshop organiser

Aya Ikegame

Invited attendees

Iker Barbero, Deena Dajani, Maria Nita, Brendan Donegan, Jacob Copeman, Jack Harrington, Gabrielle Hosein, Engin Isin, Shinya Ishizaka, Alessandra Marino, Ioana Vrabiescu

Oecumene: Citizenship after Orientalism is funded by an European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grant (Institutions, values, beliefs and behaviour ERC-AG-SH2).

This website is maintained by the Faculty of Social Sciences at The Open University · Website privacy at the OU

Seventh Framework Programme (FP7)ERC: European Research CouncilThe Open University