Religion and Public Life – Research Symposium and Public Lecture, 18th June

The Centre for Religion and Public Life is hosting a research symposium (14:00-16:00), followed by a public lecture (16.30-18:00) on Tuesday 18th June.

The event is organised in collaboration with the Desmond Tutu Centre for Religion and Social Justice, University of the Western Cape (South Africa), and the Sheffield Institute for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies, University of Sheffield.

Students and staff of the University, and anyone else with an interest in the subject, is welcome to attend. Please RSVP by email to the Centre’s intern, Hollie Gowan.

Research symposium

Time: 2-4pm

Venue: Hillary Place room G.18

Dr Lee Scharnick-Udemans (senior researcher, Desmond Tutu Centre, University of the Western Cape)

“Politics, Privilege and Pluralism: Exploring the Contestation of Religious Diversity in Contemporary South Africa”

Theoretically and empirically, the relationship between religious privilege which includes but is not limited to the social, legal, political and/or cultural favouring of one religion over others, and religious pluralism as the positive public recognition of religious diversity has been under-researched and under-theorised. In order to assess the ways in which religious diversity, religious pluralism, and religious freedom are asserted and negotiated within the context of contemporary South Africa, this presentation scrutinizes the Christian Friendly Products campaign. This movement advocates against the ubiquity of the halaal food symbol and halaal food in South Africa. Halaal is an Islamic term, which refers to food products that are ritually permissible for consumption by Muslims. The campaign claims that the visible presence of halaal food in public spaces undermines the rights of Christian consumers and their right to freedom of religion. Through a critical discourse analysis of the campaign material along with selected news reports on the matter this project found that the campaign demands religious privilege for Christian consumers by disparaging Islam. In this presentation I argue that although this case has not yet gone to court, the religious conflict demonstrated by this example illustrates the complicated ways in which notions of religious privilege and religious pluralism are engaged and negotiated within a context of religious diversity.

Dr Elaine Nogueira-Godsey (Assistant Professor of Theology, Ecology and Race, Methodist Theological School in Ohio)

“Religion and Social Activism in Times of Climate Change: Privilege or Necessity?”

This paper is about the role played by social scientists, of which scholars of religion are included, to address anthropogenic climate change. Anthropogenic climate change has been couched as a political issue—yet, based on data, it is undeniably personal; it leaves individuals, families and communities devastated or demolished in its wake. Through an autoethnographic approach, this paper analyzes the commitment from scholars of religion and institutions to generate environmental justice, to which issues of gender and sexuality are directly linked. As social scientists and humanities scholars, we have knowledge and skills that can be used in communicating and bridging people’s denial and/or lack of awareness of anthropogenic climate change, potentially generating civic engagement. As educators, we have at our disposal tools to collectively challenge and motivate our students to re-orient themselves in their relation to the natural world and to others so that we can have an ecologically viable society. Yet, it is puzzling how so few scholars of religion have addressed climate change. In this paper, I explore the alleged conflict between scholarship and activism. I ask the question, “Is it ethical to use scholarship to generate civic engagement?” I explore a pedagogical philosophy that challenges students to think about how their own local realities influence global concerns and how to responsibly consider not only the impact of any action on themselves, but also to take seriously the effect that action may have on different social groups and communities of human and non-human beings.

Public Lecture

Time: 4:30-6pm

Venue: Clothworkers North Building, Cinema, room 2.31

Professor Sarojini Nadar, Desmond Tutu Research Chair of Religion and Social Justice, University of the Western Cape, South Africa

‘Sanctifying Sex’: Exploring ‘Indecent’ Sexual Imagery in Pentecostal Liturgical Practices

Pentecostalism, like many other Christian traditions, is well known for its fixation with doctrinal dualisms which enforce a separation of body and spirit, and a Puritan sexual ethic. These conservative sexual norms have led to the policing of bodies and sexual practices. As a result, instead of encouraging safer sexual practices, Pentecostal churches, in South Africa and elsewhere, have been known to enforce abstinence outside of marriage or sexual restrictions within it, thus marking sex in general as “indecent”. However, drawing on Michel Foucault’s challenge to the repressive hypothesis, this lecture suggests that so-called repressed sexuality finds “appropriate” outlets, not only in spaces such as psychiatry and prostitution (a la Foucault), but also within Pentecostal spaces

While particular sexual discourses may be constructed as indecent and contaminated as “sin,” liturgical and deliverance practices ironically signify erotic relationships between the divine and the believer. Proceeding with an “indecent” theological lens, as proposed by Marcella Althaus-Reid, the lecture draws attention to Pentecostalism’s liturgical practices, and how they ironically and unconsciously open up possibilities for more embodied, real and sexed experiences of the divine. Through an analysis of how bodies and rituals are marked by discursive practices within the songs and performances in Pentecostal churches,  and an examination of a South African blasphemy case, this lecture lays bare the critical spaces available for more embodied theologies – ‘sexual healing’ that perhaps even the worshippers themselves have unconsciously ignored.

A response to the lecture will be offered by Charity Hamilton, PhD student in Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Leeds working in the field of body theology.

About Professor Sarojini Nadar

Sarojin Nadar holds the Desmond Tutu Research Chair at the University of the Western Cape in Cape Town, South Africa, where she is also Director of the Desmond Tutu Centre for Religion and Social Justice.

An internationally acclaimed scholar, she has widely published at the intersections of gender studies, religion and theology, including gender-based violence, sexual and reproductive health, and most recently critical pedagogy in higher education. As an activist-academic she is committed to transdisciplinary socially engaged scholarship. Her scholarship was recently recognised by the South African National Research Foundation, who awarded her a Tier 1 Research Chair under the SARChI programme – the highest accolade a South African academic can receive.

Sarojini Nadar graduated with a BA degree from the University of Cape Town (UCT) in 1996. Her majors were in English Literature and Religious Studies. She obtained a Bachelor of Social Science (Honours) in 1997 and her Masters of Arts in 2000 in the area of Biblical Literature, also at UCT. She obtained her PhD in 2003 from the erstwhile University of Natal (now the University of KwaZulu-Natal), where she established her career and was promoted to Full Professor in 2014. In 2016, she was appointed in her current position at the University of the Western Cape.

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