Between Vienna and Brno

Posted on December 15, 2010

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I gave my talk at the KLI yesterday and am now about to head off to Brno for the sociology of religion conference there. The talk at the KLI was basically the same as the one I gave in Bristol earlier in the year so I will not be putting up the slides for it. Having said that, the audience was somewhat different, not being made up of people who are working in cognitive science of religion but who, none-the-less, are very much favourably inclined to evolutionary approaches to explaining human behaviour in general. Given that I was presenting the fruit of the research project I began at the KLI, this is hardly surprising. While the questions were probing and in a couple of cases pinpointed the limitations of my approach, I felt that overall the audience gave me a much easier time than I had expected. One aspect I clearly do need to think about in the future is the significance of religious institutions – something I have not taken into account in any way thus far. Another point that was raised was the justifiability of the way that I distinguish between megic and religion. A couple of the people felt that it moves too far from how the terms have been used traditionally. I have to say that I disagree with this criticism – the way I tie my own way of seeing the distinction to Malinowski and Pyysiainen is supposed to show significant continuity. The point of then looking at the difference in the epistemic access to various purported effects is aimed at showing that it is this difference that lies at the bottom of the variety of ways the distinction between magic and religion has been made traditionally.

I am looking forward to the Brno conference as it will be the first time I’ll have attended a sociology of religion conference. While I have read a number of things in that area, this will definitely serve to help me understand the status quo in this discipline. I just hope that the conclusion will not be the same as in the case of the psychology of religion conference I attended a couple of years back in Vienna, i.e. that I need never again attend another of those conferences due to the moribund character of the field. I rather doubt that this will be the case here, though. My only real worry is that, due to the cognitive science of religion session being made up of four talks, I will only have twenty minutes to give my talk. This is not enough time to explain a complex approach such as the dual inheritance approach and to then spell out its implications for secularisation. I guess that I just have to remember that talks often are no more than a chance to advertise one’s own research, with the real work being done later, over beer.

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