The CRPL has a fortnightly seminar series where speakers from inside and outside the University of Leeds present current research on any aspect of religion that, in one way or another, intersects with public life locally, nationally or internationally. The seminars are open to all with an academic interest in the study of religion and public life.
Seminars in the academic year 2023-24 will take place in person, 11:30-13:00h (unless otherwise indicated), in the Botany House seminar room (1.03).
Seminars in Semester 1 (Oct-Dec)
Thursday 5 Oct: Dr Jonathan Smith
Jonathan Davis Smith completed his PhD at Leeds in 2019. You can read about him here and here. Jonathan is currently Visiting Researcher at the Center for Religious and Cross-Cultural Studies at Universitas Gadjah Mada in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, as well as Visiting Research Fellow at the CRPL.
“‘You can pray your own way’: environmental social movements as sites of (inter)religious cooperation and transformation in Indonesia”
This talk describes how grassroots environmental social movements in Indonesia connect multiple religious and non-religious actors and practices in shared campaigns to address environmental crises. It draws on a dataset of 208 movements operating in Indonesian local communities between 1990 and 2022, enriched by an ethnography of a grassroots movement operating in southern Java. This data helps to challenge and contextualise concepts of religious environmentalism, interreligious cooperation and lived religion.
NB ***Additional Paper***
Tuesday 3 October 10:00-12:00: Rabbi Dr. Deborah Kahn-Harris
Deborah Kahn-Harris is Principal of Leo Baeck College, London. She will be presenting on the topic of her new book: polyamory and the book of Ruth. ***
“Polyamory and Reading the Book of Ruth”
This talk is based on a simple premise: what if the Book of Ruth isn’t a love story in the vein of modern rom coms, but a different sort of love story? Many people are conditioned to read romance stories as resolving into happily married, dyadic couplings, most often heterosexual. But what if that’s not how to read the Book of Ruth? This book identifies a polyamorous hermeneutic and explores how it might be helpful in interpreting the Book of Ruth.
Thursday 19 Oct: Ms Annet Nadunga
Annet Nadunga is currently completing her PhD in biblical studies at Kyambogo University (Kampala, Uganda). Her doctoral work focuses on what constitutes a “good wife” in Proverbs 31 and Ugandan indigenous traditions. She is visiting Leeds on a travel grant from The Spalding Trust.
“Ideological Quandaries in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Case Study of Marriage and Family Life in Uganda”
Ideology is one important aspect which influences a society’s way of viewing and interpreting reality. It is a political and philosophical framework within which people form a sense of their realities. In the context of Sub-Saharan Africa, it is not possible to speak of a singular framework, because the region is a melting pot of ideologies, with resulting strains, disagreements and conflicts in social relationships. Ideologies are the basis upon which knowledge, values, attitudes, behaviours and social relational patterns are formed. This paper examines the ideological quandaries that characterize African marriages and family life. It identifies and names the three major ideological tenets, namely: African traditional cultural ideology, Afro-Christian, and Western worldviews. This creates the tri-polar ideological environment, in which an African family finds itself. Each of these ideologies prescribes “normative” expectations of a good marriage relationship—specifically how women should behave in a marriage setting in order to create a harmonious family. Inevitably, there are conflicts and problems of all sorts, like domestic violence, single parenthood, separation and divorce. This paper advocates for a confluence between ideologies. The three environments can speak tenderly to each other with the potential of producing a home-grown ideological space, hence the question: How can the three ideological tenets coalesce to produce a grounded set of ideas and an environment that is harmonious to an African marriage? This paper is based on my ongoing doctoral research, which examines the concept of a good (noble) wife in Proverbs 31:10-31, in relation to African traditional and cultural understandings of a good wife in the context of modernity and postmodern ideologies.
Thursday 2 Nov: Dr. Leanne Williams Green
Dr. Leanne Williams Green is a socio-cultural anthropologist of religion and ethics and research fellow at Trinity College, University of Cambridge. You can read more about her here. Her book manuscript is based on fieldwork carried out in Zimbabwe with middle-class Baptists. Her newly developing project examines the relationship between Christianity and class in the UK. Leanne’s work has appeared in the journals Africa, Ethnos, and JAAR, among others. She received her PhD in sociocultural anthropology from the University of California, San Diego.
"Ethics without choice: Baptist accounts of suffering and responsibility in postcolonial Harare"
Living amidst persistently difficult economic and political conditions, residents of Zimbabwe’s capital city, Harare, regularly engage with questions about the causes of suffering through the terms of responsibility. One group of Baptists living in the city address the topic by way of a long-standing debate in Christian theology and beyond: that of the relation between moral responsibility and human freedom. Harare’s Baptists challenge the presumption that in order to be held morally responsible, a person must be free to choose and to act. They take responsibility to be a feature of relation, rather than a function of choice. This commitment makes sense of their struggle to live moral lives as parents, employees, and citizens, when they take humans to be fallen creatures who often seem to have very little choice. Their view offers an important corrective to accounts of ethics that overemphasize choice, and provides insight into the ways in which people navigate uncertain postcolonial conditions through daily moral deliberations.
Thursday 16 Nov: Dr. Tajul Islam
Tajul Islam is Lecturer of Islamic Studies in the School of Languages, Cultures and Societies at the University of Leeds. You can read more about him here.
"The Judeo-Islamicate: Shared Destinies, Apprehensions and Aspirations"
The story of a shared culture of Jews and Muslims is largely glossed over by the contemporary convention of the Middle Eastern conflicts. In this session, we will be exploring the religio-cultural and epistemological relationship of Islam with Judaism. Early Muslims relied on the experiences and teachings of their elder siblings. The Jews and Muslims stood side by side against the crusades and both were expelled from Andalusia. With the impending end of empires both communities formulated political theories to deliver them from persecution and colonialism to gain autonomy and seeking their respective homelands. We will also explore the definitions of Antisemitism [IHRA] and Islamophobia [APPG]to help others understand their respective experiences of marginalisation and discrimination.
Thursday 30 Nov: Dr. Chris Greenough
Chris Greenough is Reader in Social Sciences at Edge Hill University. You can read more about him here.
"The Manosphere and Misogynistic 'Martyrdom': Reading Religion in the Violence of Incel Ideologies"
The manosphere is a broad collection of websites, blogs, social media spaces and digital platforms that promote masculinity, misogyny, and opposition to feminism. Recent research in terrorism studies has drawn attention to the threat and misogynistic violence of incels. In this paper, Chris Greenough explores how the Bible and traditional Christian teachings about gender and sexuality are used to validate the violent ideologies that inform incel inspired terrorism. Moreover, the paper traces the popular use of religious language in incel forums, revealing incel murderers as ‘saints’ or ‘martyrs’. Reading biblical texts alongside incel ideologies provides a complex and uncomfortable lens to explore how misogynistic violence in the contemporary world is not too dissimilar from that of the ancient texts.
Content warning: violence, misogyny, sexual violence, language
***Additional Seminar*** WAS SCHEDULED FOR Monday 11 December 2023 at 13:00 (in the Botany House seminar room, 1.03). This additional seminar was to create space for presentations, listening and discussion about current traumas. It was intended to follow Dr. Tajul Islam's presentation of 16 November.
Our speaker Dr. Keith Kahn-Harris (Associate Fellow of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research and Lecturer at Leo Baeck College) was prevented from travelling to Leeds on account of inclement weather and train cancellations. We hope that his paper will be rescheduled to another time.
Thursday 14 Dec: Dr. habil. Jörg Haustein
Jörg Haustein is Associate Professor in World Christianities at Selwyn College, University of Cambridge. You can find out more about him here.
"Never secular? Religious politics and conflict in Ethiopia"
Religious politics appears to be on the rise in Africa; and Ethiopia is no exception. With the ascendency of PM Abiy Ahmed in 2018, religious identity and symbols have come to the fore in political rhetoric and inter-communal clashes. Is Ethiopia yet another example of “never secular” Africa?
This paper argues that such a zero-sum model of secularity as the absence of religion is unsuitable for understanding the relationship between religion and politics in Africa. By drawing on Talal Asad’s concept of “the secular” as a specific ideological formation and regime of practice that only partially overlaps with the religious, I will show how political secularity in Ethiopia has not only been constructed against religious institutions but also with them and through them. This sheds new light on the contemporary religious rhetoric of Abiy Ahmed and inter-communal conflict in Ethiopia: religions do not “infect” the political but may act as one of its conduits. The Ethiopian secular regime will thus emerge as a complex historical configuration that constantly transforms and reinvents the plural religious heritage of the country in the context of national myths, political conflict, and ethnic fragmentation.
Seminars in Semester 2 (Feb-May)
Thursday 8 Feb: Marcello Newall
Christianity during its history has often been exposed to an escapist eschatology that abandons the physical world, and the body, in favour of an otherworldly salvation. This has occurred despite the Early Church’s strong emphasis on the resurrection of the body, belief in God as creator, and its choice to include the Hebrew Scriptures in its canon. I argue that the Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam, the concept of “repairing the world,” represents a powerful paradigm that can help Christian eschatology to reconnect with its original message, and is closer to Jesus’ preaching of the “Kingdom of God.” In this regard, I discuss the German Protestant theologian, Jürgen Moltmann, and especially his Theology of Hope, as a unique example of a retrieval of these messianic concepts from both biblical and modern Jewish sources. Finally, I underline the potential on a political, economic, social, and ecological level for viewing Christian eschatology through the paradigm of Tikkun Olam, that is, an activist faith that proleptically seeks to repair the world based on hope.
Thursday 22 Feb: Dr. Joanna Sadgrove and Dr Alison Searle
"Organisational Identity and Decolonising Care: Archives, Mission, and International Aid"
Sir Christopher Codrington’s bequest of two plantations in 1710 constituted The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG; founded 1701) as a corporate owner of enslaved people. This expropriated labour partially resourced their global missionary endeavours during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Engaging with the archive as both a concept and entity has offered United Society Partners in the Gospel (USPG; the organisation in its contemporary form) an opportunity to renegotiate its corporate identity and practice in dialogue with its complex past. USPG’s entangled afterlives pose intellectual and practical complexities for the organisation, as well as for a range of global stakeholders negotiating decolonisation, reciprocity, the inequitable distribution of material and cultural capital, and the narration of these activities. Using USPG as a contemporary case study, this presentation explores organisational identity and decolonial aspiration. Current epistemic hierarchies, shaped by histories of colonisation of territories, bodies, and minds, privilege Western forms of knowledge, modelling, and response to disease outbreak which continue to protect the interests of small elites. We argue that to decolonise care for the future, it is necessary to understand the colonisation of care in the past, the complex structures – epistemological, methodological, and geographical – through which it operated, and its implications for entangled global networks up to the present.
Thursday 7 March: Prof. Emma Tomalin
***Thursday 14 March: ADDITIONAL SEMINAR! Dr Timothy Judson***
This lecture will follow the seminar of the Centre for Philosophy of Religion and Theology (PoRT). (PoRT seminars take place on Thursdays between CRPL seminars.) Following the PoRT seminar on this day (11.30-13.00), with speaker Professor Karen Kilby (University of Durham), there will be a light lunch (provided), and then a presentation by Dr Timothy Judson (13:30-15:00). You are welcome to attend either, or both.
Tim is Lecturer in Ministerial Formation at Regent’s Park College, University of Oxford, where he specialises in systematic theology. He is also an ordained minister in The Baptist Union of Great Britain and serves as pastor of a church in Devon. The title of his presentation is: “Dark Weeping and Light Sleeping: Whiteness as a Doctrine of De-formation"
Within the contemporary Western church and theological institutions, it is common for disciples of Jesus from a “Global Majority Heritage” to highlight their contextual particularity as an intrinsic grounding for God-talk and the Christian life as a whole. However, only recently have White Western Christians and theologians begun to reflect on their own placement regarding the colonial wound of White Western modernity. Tim Judson advocates an approach to theology that faces the inadvertent and invisible assumptions made by White people and White institutions in the name of a paradigmatically White Jesus. He witnesses the charge
from Black theology towards White Christians. Yet, rather than instrumentalising Blackness, he
reflects on the lessons he is learning from Black thought and experience, which have been a mirror and critical friend regarding his own White subjectivity. He proposes a work of reconfiguration in order to address the heart turned in on itself racially (Whiteness), which entails a personal struggle to see, hear and perceive oneself as a disciple who is consciously White. Judson then offers a reading of Gethsemane that yields a helpful theological imaginary for White people like himself
seeking to ascend to this. From here, Judson proposes some of the rudimentary ways through which White churches and institutions can cultivate greater wakefulness, helping disciples to “stay awake with Christ” and resist the temptation towards racial slumber in a world that is continually racialised by Whiteness.
Thursday 21 March: Dr. Megan Robertson
Thursday 2 May: Prof. Francesca Stavrakopoulou
Francesca Stavrakopoulou is Professor of Hebrew Bible and Ancient Religion at the University of Exeter. Find ouy more about her here.
You are warmly invited to attend the inaugural lecture of Professor Tendai Mangena, titled Disruptive Single Women: Gender and Sexuality...
The annual Hook Lecture returns this year as we welcome Revd Dr Inderjit Bhogal, former President of the British Methodist...
On 30th March, the Centre for Religion and Public Life is hosting a research seminar with Dr Stefan Skrimshire who...