Plenary Lectures

Plenary lecture on November 10th:

Religious Nationalisms: India and Serbia Compared

Frank J. Korom (Department of Religion, Boston University, USA)

A generation of scholars have argued that nationalism was solely a product of the West, most importantly Europe. Rabindranath Tagore, for example, stated that India (and the East) never had nationalism. However, Pete Van Der Veer had provided an important corrective to this notion in his book Religious Nationalism (1994), in which he argued that while Asia might have never had “secular” nationalism, they most certainly had “religious” nationalism. This lecture will attempt to use two examples, one culled from Europe, the other from Asia, to see whether or not a meaningful comparison of the two can be made. I wish to argue that there are some parallels to be drawn in terms of the resource materials drawn upon by religious nationalist actors in my two case studies. Drawing upon a golden, mythical past, for example, the deification of folk heroes, the anointing of sacred geographical sites, and the composition of epic poetry are all vehicles for the expression of a religious ideology constructed for nationalistic purposes in both contexts; namely, Serbia and India. It is also my contention that such religious ideologies, once constructed, are then used to foment divisive ethnic politics that often result in widespread communal violence. I conclude by suggesting that such a comparative model might be a better way to think about religious nationalism than a simple isolationist analysis in which one single nation or culture is excised from the global context for the methodological purposes.

Frank J. Korom is Professor of Religion and Anthropology at Boston University. He received degrees in Religious Studies and Anthropology from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1984, before pursuing advanced studies in India and Pakistan, where he earned certificates of recognition in a number of modern South Asian languages. He did his graduate work in folklore and folklife at the University of Pennsylvania, and was awarded the Ph.D. in 1992 for a dissertation on Dharmaraj, a local village deity worshipped in West Bengal from medieval times to the present. He was a postdoctoral fellow at the Smithsonian Institution, a Ford Foundation cultural consultant in India and Bangladesh, and curator of Asian and Middle Eastern collections at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe prior to his arrival at Boston University in the summer of 1998.
Korom is the author and editor of nine books, most recently The Anthropology of Performance (2013). One of his earlier books, Hosay Trinidad, won the Premio Pitre international book award in 2002. He edited Religious Studies Review from 2001–2003. Currently, he co-edits Asian Ethnology at Nanzan University in Japan, where he is a research fellow at the Institute for Religion and Culture. He is also a research fellow at the Museum of International Folk Art. In addition, he serves on a variety of editorial and advisory boards, including American Anthropologist, the flagship journal of the American Anthropological Association.


Plenary lecture on November 11th:

Religions and Nations in Contemporary Central and Eastern Europe: Is There a Place for Minority Religions?

Milda Ališauskienė (Department of Sociology, Vytautas Magnus University, Kaunas, Lithuania)

This paper discusses the complicated relations between religions and nations in contemporary Central and Eastern Europe by approaching the problem of religious nationalism, its features and social boundaries. Classical studies of nationalism usually refer to the cases of Western Europe and discuss the place of nationalism in these societies. During last two decades the studies of nationalism and its relations with religions in Central and Eastern Europe have attracted attention of social scientists (Ramet, Zubrycki, Busse et al). What are the features of nationalism in Central and Eastern Europe and what are its social implications for the religion and state relations and particularly how it influences the position of minority religions in these countries? I will challenge these questions by using empirical data from qualitative as well as quantitative surveys on minority religions in Central and Eastern Europe and particularly using data from the surveys conducted in Lithuania in 2007–2014.

Milda Ališauskienė is an associate professor and head of Department of Sociology at Vytautas Magnus University, Kaunas, Lithuania. Her research interests include religion in the post-socialist society, religious diversity, religious fundamentalism and new religions. She has published more than 20 scientific articles on religion in contemporary Lithuania and the Baltic States and contributed to collective monographs and studies on social exclusion of minority religions and on the process of secularization in Lithuania. In 2011 she co-edited a volume titled Religious Diversity in Post-Soviet Society (Ashgate). M. Ališauskienė serves as a president for International Society for the Study of New Religions (ISSNR), general secretary for International Study of Religion in Eastern and Central Europe Association (ISORECEA) and member of executive board of International Association for the History of Religions (IAHR). In 2016 she was a visiting Fulbright scholar at University of California in Santa Barbara Department of Religious Studies.