Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Call for Papers: Spirituality, Political Engagement, and Public Life (Due 3/1)

Call for Papers: Spirituality, Political Engagement, and Public Life

The Social Science Research Council (SSRC) invites the submission of proposals for papers that address the core themes of its project on Spirituality, Political Engagement, and Public Life (described below). Accepted papers will be presented at a public conference at Columbia University, to be held June 3-4, 2011. Please email an abstract (of 300-500 words) and a CV to religion@ssrc.org (subject line: “SPEPL Conference Paper”) by March 1, 2011. Submissions will be reviewed by members of the SSRC Working Group on Spirituality, Political Engagement, and Public Life, and selected papers will be announced by April 15, 2011. Completed papers (of 6,000 to 8,000 words) must be submitted by May 15, 2011, as they will be circulated in advance and discussed in detail at the conference. Limited funding will be available to conference participants for travel and lodging.

Project on Spirituality, Political Engagement, and Public Life

Building on recent scholarship, and with support from the Ford Foundation, the SSRC project on Spirituality, Political Engagement, and Public Life explores the institutions and traditions that construct, condition, and demarcate spiritual activities and identities, and it considers the relations of these institutions and traditions to systems and patterns of political participation in the contemporary United States. In so doing, the project engages with multiple streams of scholarship and responds to recent public controversies over competing visions of the role of religion in U.S. public life.

Opinion polls show that the percentage of Americans claiming no religious affiliation is rising, although belief in a divine order and some form of deity has declined only slightly. Furthermore, belief in various non-orthodox, or non-Western, religious ideas—from reincarnation to the “mind-body connection”—is becoming increasingly popular. In sum, it seems that many Americans have begun to identify, at least nominally, as spiritual, while having become less likely to affiliate with recognized religious traditions. Meanwhile, academic work on civic associations continues to highlight the various religious and spiritual underpinnings of American political life. In light of these recent trends and developments, the project asks:

What are the consequences of the increasing salience of “spirituality” for American civic and political life? Do actors and groups publicly identified as spiritual challenge commonly held understandings of social and political involvement? How strongly are they committed to any particular set of political goals or ideals of citizenship? How do they engage in public life, and do their patterns of involvement differ in a systematic way from the patterns of others? What kinds of alternatives to, or cautionary tales about, dominant understandings of political engagement might political expressions of “spirituality” present?

Submissions for the conference should address issues related to these broad questions. In so doing, authors are encouraged to pay careful attention to the following considerations. First, the project has addressed spirituality in America as an historical phenomenon with various traditions, legacies, and institutional frameworks that shape its participants’ conceptions of religion, politics, and culture. Second, while the project recognizes that spirituality is often linked to politically “liberal” or “progressive” registers of civic expression (in contrast, for example, to “conservative” religion), there are many instances that counter this association; likewise, there are many examples of spiritual projects serving the reproduction of dominant norms and institutions. Third, the project is acutely aware that the boundaries between religious and spiritual forms are continually contested, and that this contestation itself is often an enactment of strategies that make room for various incipient public projects.

Working Group on Spirituality, Political Engagement, and Public Life

Courtney Bender (Co-chair), Associate Professor of Religion, Columbia University
Carolyn E. Chen, Associate Professor of Sociology, Northwestern University
William E. Connolly, Krieger-Eisenhower Professor of Political Theory and International Relations, Johns Hopkins University
Kathryn Lofton, Assistant Professor of American Studies and Religious Studies, Yale University
Elizabeth McAlister, Associate Professor of Religion, Wesleyan University
Omar M. McRoberts (Co-chair), Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Chicago
John Lardas Modern, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, Franklin and Marshall College

Social Science Research Council

The Social Science Research Council is an independent nonprofit organization devoted to the advancement of social science research and scholarship. Founded in New York City in 1923 as the world’s first national coordinating body of the social sciences, today the SSRC is an international resource for innovative, interdisciplinary public social science. Through its Program on Religion and the Public Sphere, the SSRC seeks to deepen engagement and cooperation among social scientists working on religion, secularism, and related topics; to support critical scholarship in this crucial area of study; and to increase public awareness of the social and political dimensions and ramifications of religion in the contemporary world.

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