All the While Sipping Small Cups of Good Coffee

Picture 1Back in December 2014 I received an unexpected email from Switzerland:

We would like to invite you to a master class with PhD candidates and Post-Docs in 2015. These master classes are a main element of our program: For two or three days, we would like to discuss your work, approaches to the study of religion and give the participants the chance to discuss their projects with you.

I agreed and am just back from three intensive days working with about 10 Swiss doctoral students in Religionswissenschaft — doing their studies at universities in Zurich, Basel, and Bern; I spent a couple nights in Zurich, working with students for two days (during which I also presented a public lecture written for the occasion — that’s it, above, outside my hotel in Zurich), had the good fortune to be interviewed while there for a future issue of Asdiwal (a Swiss annual journal in our field), and then took the train an hour east to Basel, where we all had a full day there as well. While some of the sessions were led by the students themselves, in which they presented a summary of their dissertation topics and after which we all had a chance to comment and ask questions about their work, other sessions were a series of one-on-one appointments some of the students decided to make with me, in which I camped out in a seminar room and, one after another, they’d come by and we would talk about their work for up to an hour each.

All the while sipping small cups of good coffee. Continue reading

Charlie and Us: Religious Violence and the History of Religions

Picture 3The following guest post is an English translation of the editorial from the current issue of Asdiwal (vol. 9 [2014]), reproduced here with the kind permission of the journal.  It is currently among the very few systematic statements on this topic from within our field and therefore deserves to be read and discussed more widely in North America.

Learn more about this academic periodical in the study of religion, published in Geneva, Switzerland, here.

As we were preparing this edition of Asdiwal (9/2014), the Paris events of January 2015 took place. Journalists of Charlie Hebdo were assassinated by two masked individuals armed with assault rifles because they had insulted the prophet Muhammad, several police officers were killed, and finally, women and men were taken hostages and murdered, because they were Jews, in a Kosher super market near Paris. There is no doubt that these events will have consequences, but these are still difficult to anticipate clearly. For some, war has been declared. But a war against whom, and against what? Faced with violence, many citizens drew together, at first without political or religious aim, to reassert their right to freedom of speech. Soon, we heard other voices, opposing civilization and barbarity, and invoking the necessity to defend the legacy of the Enlightenment against the rise of “Islamo-fascism”; others, no less shocked by these events, emphasized Europe’s apparent incapacity to understand the suffering of the “Other,” and posed the question: “Can we laugh about everything?” Is there not, behind this laughter, a form of condescension, that of a Europe trapped in a vision of the world where she is the center laughing at savages, both within and without, who remain incapable of laughing with her? Continue reading