Religion (2014)

The Engelsberg Seminar 2014

June 12th–14th 2014 at Avesta Manor, Sweden

God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. Yet his shadow still looms. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?

Even though Nietzsche declared God dead more than a hundred years ago his shadow still seems to be more than just looming. More than eighty percent of the world’s population has religious affiliation. In secular states religion continues to play an important role in public and intellectual life. Politics and international relations can’t be understood without accounting for the element of religion in cultural contexts. Indeed, in order to understand ourselves we need to understand religion. This conference will investigate the role religion plays in society today and in the past. We will examine religion in relation to the human condition and religion as individual experience. Or as William James put it in one of his Gifford Lectures in 1901: religion as “feelings, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine”. Starting in the Near East we will discuss the early religions and what their existence tells us about ancient societies and the needs of human beings of past civilisations. We will analyse the existence of a “sacred economy” in the Uruk culture, the notion of “ordered chaos” in ancient Indian thought and religion as collective practice in the Hellenistic and Roman worlds. We will continue with a conversation on the many varieties found within the Abrahamic tradition and what it means for our view on Judaism, Christianity and Islam today. The second day of the conference will concentrate on religion in relation to the fundamentals of the human condition. How has religion dealt with human experiences such as suffering, violence or love? And how has the sensation of the divine been interpreted outside the confines of orthodox religion? We conclude the day with an overview of how cognitive sciences and neurology understand religion and the way religious belief can be viewed in light of evolutionary theory. Understanding in what ways religion matters and why we are religious also means looking at its role in current politics. Using the situation in the Middle East as a lens the conference will highlight problems and possibilities of religion in international relations. Furthermore, we will discuss religion’s role in modern society, a society that maybe more accurately should be referred to as “post-secular”. Is God back? Or did he just never leave?


Early Religions

Daniel T. Potts
Professor of Ancient Near Eastern Archaeology and History, Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, New York University
Lecture: Accounting for Religion: Uruk and the Origins of the Sacred Economy

Julius J. Lipner
Professor Emeritus, Faculty of Divinity, University of Cambridge
Lecture: “Ordered Chaos” in Ancient Indian Thought

Robin Osborne
Professor, Faculty of Classics, University of Cambridge
Lecture: Collective Practice as Individual Experience

John Scheid
Professor, Chair in Religion, Institutions and Society in Ancient Rome, Collège de France
Lecture: Religious Practice in the Roman World


Father Abraham

Martin Goodman
Professor, Oriental Institute, University of Oxford
Lecture: Variety in Judaism

Diarmaid MacCulloch
Professor of the History of the Church, University of Oxford
Lecture: Rethinking the Shape of the Christian Past, Present and Future

Elaine Pagels
Harrington Professor of Religion, Department of Religion, Princeton University
Lecture: Variety in Early Christianity

Reza Aslan
Associate Professor of Creative Writing, University of California, Riverside
Lecture: Muhammad and Monotheistic Pluralism



Wouter J. Hanegraaff
Professor of History of Hermetic Philosophy and Related Currents, University of Amsterdam
 Open Access to the Absolute: Hermetic Gnosis and the Concept of Religion

Gary Lachman
Lecture: Mystical Experience and the Evolution of Consciousness

Malise Ruthven
Independent Writer
Lecture: The Islamic Search for Gnosis

Marco Pasi
Associate Professor in the History of Hermetic Philosophy and Related Currents, University of Amsterdam
Lecture: Esoteric Experiences and Critical Ethnocentrism


Religion & Violence

Hugh N. Kennedy
Professor, SOAS, University of London
Lecture: Deconstructing the ”Clash of Civilisations”: How the Study of History Can Help

William O’Reilly
University Lecturer, Faculty of History, University of Cambridge
Lecture: Religion and the Secular State

Ariel Glucklich
Professor, Department of Theology, Georgetown University
Lecture: Religion and Self-Directed Violence

Wolfgang Palaver
Professor, Department of Systematic Theology, University of Cambridge
Lecture: The Complex Relationship Between Violence and Religion


Religion & Suffering

Mona Siddiqui
Professor of Islamic and Interreligious Studies, Edinburgh University
Lecture: Suffering – the Price of Being Alive: An Islamic Perspective

Candida R. Moss
Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity, University of Notre Dame
Lecture: The Redemption of Suffering and the Birth of Christianity

Esther Benbassa
Professor of Modern Jewish History, École pratique des hautes études, Sorbonne. Senator in the French Senate
Lecture: Suffering as Identity: The Jewish Paradigm


Religion & Love

Richard Miles
Associate Professor, Department of Classics and Ancient History, University of Sydney
Lecture: Tough Love: Correcting Sinners in the Early Christian Churc

AN. Wilson
Lecture: Dante and European Religion

Jessica Frazier
Fellow, The Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies
Lecture: Religion and Passion

Simon May
Professor of Philosophy, King’s College London
Lecture: Love as Religion


A Scientist’s View on Religion

Armin W. Geertz
Professor, Department of Culture and Society; Religion, Cognition and Culture Research Unit, Aarhus University
Lecture: Whence Religion? Reflections on the Origins of Religion, Cognition and Culture

David Sloan Wilson
Professor, Departments of Biology and Anthropology, Binghamton University
Lecture: How Can The Same Sacred Text Give Rise to So Many Religions?

Harvey Whitehouse
Professor, Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Oxford
Lecture: Ritual, Community and Conflict


The Challenges

Pär Stenbäck
Lecture: Religion and Politics in the Middle East

Benedetta Berti
Fellow and Lecturer, Institute for National Security Studies and Tel Aviv University
Lecture: Religious Identities, Political Islam and Sectarianism in the New Middle East

Göran Rosenberg
Writer and Journalist
Lecture: Judah at the Crossroads: Jews and Judaism Between Zion and Diaspora

Jayne Svenungsson
Associate Professor of Systematic Theology, Stockholm School of Theology
Lecture: Divining History, the Visionary Potential of the Biblical Legacy


The Future of Religion

Adrian Wooldridge
Management Editor, The Economist
Lecture: Is God Back?

Janne Haaland Matlary
Professor, University of Oslo and the Norwegian Defense University
Lecture: The Catholic Church’s International Role: The Ideological Basis of Its Diplomacy

Chakravarthi Ram-Prasad
Professor, Department of Politics Philosophy and Religion, Lancaster University
Lecture: Reading Religion Today and Tomorrow: Two Interrelated Patterns

Watch interviews held with the speakers throughout the seminar