Workshop: The Changing Face of Religious Authority – Knowledge, Legitimacy and Power
Pioneered by Max Weber's models of authority, the intersection of authoritative knowledge, legitimacy and power have been key to social scientific exploration (Weber, 1949). Deeply seated in a narrative of historical advancement, Weber's ideal types offered a socio-historical framework to analyse transitions from "instable" models of charismatic authority to routinised and rational types of religious authorities. Yet, recent social reconfigurations and technological advancements beg for fresh analysis of religious authority in the contemporary era. Together with the increasing levels of access to religious canonical texts through new-media and technology (Fader, 2017; Golan & Stadler, 2016; Gurtin, 2016; Inhorn, 2003; Ivry, 2010), growing demands for gender equality (Avishai, Jafar, & Rinaldo, 2015; El-Or, 1994; Mahmood, 2005; Taragin-Zeller, 2014), changing policies and modes of governing (Clarke, 2009; Jaffrelot, 2011; Mathieu, 2017) and transnational migration patterns (Napolitano, 2015), the basic categories of charismatic, traditional and legal authority are unable to capture the diversity that characterises the landscape of religious authority today.
Together with the recent resurgence in religious association, amplified by Twitter, Instagram and other new-media technologies, new religious players have emerged, with more access to canonical texts as well as alternative sources of authority and power. These transformations push us to rethink the fundamentals of what truly constitutes religious authority today. As scholars, we must ask: Where do we look to examine religious authority; the ways legitimacy is constituted and by whom? Should a young blogger of modest fashion with over one million followers be considered a religious authority? At this moment in time, how can we think about religious authorities in creative ways that go beyond the classic categories of – charismatic, traditional and legal authorities?
In this workshop, a diverse group of early and senior anthropologists comparing different cultures, will work to further conceptualise and develop religious authority as a field of social inquiry. By comparing a variety of dynamic models of religious authority, we will address some of the following questions: In the broadest sense, what possible relations exist between authorities and religious canons? What role does canon and religious authority play as new media and technology democratise religious knowledge? How are religious authorities performing and negotiating their legitimacy as the Internet and fluid geographical boundaries challenge local models of religious authority? As the phenomena of female scholars rise in faith communities, how are models of female knowledge and religious authority reconfigured? And, how are claims to authenticity, gender and LGBT equality negotiated? What alternative and creative models of legitimacy are emerging and how do these create new forms of ethical self-cultivation, power and authority?
Dr Ayala Fader, Fordham University
Dr Morgan Clarke, University of Oxford
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