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Cultural History of the Study of Religion Unit

Call for Proposals

The Cultural History of the Study of Religion Unit seeks papers that examine the formation and transformation of “religion” and related categories in social, cultural, and political practice in different geographic and historical contexts and in relation to the scholarly study of religion as that study has evolved over time.

For the 2023 Annual Meeting, we particularly welcome proposals on the following topics:

 Cultural Constructions of “Energy”—Ideas about, practices related to, and mechanisms for conducting and converting energy have steadily increased since 19th c. advances in electricity. Nonetheless, viewed expansively, notions and cosmologies of energy’s forms have long histories, varied cultural contexts, and religious resonances. We invite scholars to consider the relative absence of this term from the study of religion, to delineate these varied histories and contexts, or to trace its emergent scholarly significance in the context of climate change.

Formations of the Secular—To mark the 30th anniversary of Talal Asad’s Genealogies of Religion and the 20th anniversary of his Formations of the Secular, we invite scholars of religion to critically reflect on the impact of these influential works on the study of religion, to reengage with them in light of subsequent works addressing the secular or post-secular, or to delineate new lines of inquiry in studies of the secular.

Catholic Secularities—Although the vanguard of secularity studies tended to forefront secularism’s intimate genealogical links to Protestant forms of Christianity, Catholicisms have also flourished in the secular age, while Catholic institutions also played a crucial role in the global colonial process. Hoping to capture the breadth of energies within Catholic studies broadly conceived, we ask scholars to figure Catholicism’s concurrent relation to secularity.

Lived Religion Retrospective—From its appearance in the late 1990s, “lived religion” has become a widely accepted and broadly applied modality of the study of religion, bringing an ethnographic corrective to the textual and institutional bias of the field. We invite a wide range of critical perspectives on the origins, application, and legacy of the lived religions movement, with special attention to how this term has been mobilized in different subfields of religious studies.

Crises in the Study of Religion—Scholars of religion face a number of contemporary challenges that pose grave threats to the field. In addition to the decline in humanities majors and the closure of departments of religion are the increasing numbers of contingent faculty and the rise in state-sponsored censorship of intellectual speech and debate in public universities. We invite our colleagues—especially those on the front lines of these developments—to share reports from the field, to elaborate on the political, economic, and cultural forces fomenting these changes, to delineate their explicit and insidious effects on the production of knowledge, and, in light of the theme of the 2023 meeting, to reflect on the nature and demands of our collective work.

Pedagogy Unbound—What would a politically engaged and interdisciplinary pedagogy in the study of religion look like? What futures are made possible by a sustained engagement with reparation in a scholarly field marked by sexist, racist, classist, and colonialist exclusion, exploitation, and violence? How might we fashion a normativity that moved past the impasse of the purported opposition of the study of religion and theology?  Taking cues from Ruth Levitas’ Utopia Unbound--in which utopia is method and not place--we invite colleagues to envision possibilities for the future of the study of religion.

Revisiting Kinship—The category of “kinship” has a long and complicated history in the study of religion. We invite reexaminations of the claims (and obfuscations) associated with notions (and types) of kinship—particularly having to do with delineating modernity and industrialized, Western societies. What, if anything, remains explanatory or illuminating about the category, particular with regard to sedimented formations of relationality and affiliation, e.g., race, ethnicity, religion, and heritage?

This group regularly uses its sessions to develop new models for conference conversation. Toward that end, we ask that participants be prepared to write shorter papers for possible pre-circulation or short position papers for roundtable format. We also welcome suggestions for new conversational models.

Statement of Purpose

This Unit is devoted to historical inquiry into the social and cultural contexts of the study of religion and into the constructions of “religion” as an object of scholarly inquiry.


Steering Committee Members



Review Process

Proposer names are visible to chairs but anonymous to steering committee members