The Scholar of Religion in the Public Sphere

Celebrating Anthea Butler's receipt of the Martin E. Marty Award for the Public Understanding of Religion
Emily Anderson, Lloyd Barba, Anthea Butler, Samah Choudhury, Gillian Frank, Abel Gómez, Charles McCrary, Samira Mehta, Bradley Onishi, Jalane Schmidt, Audrey Truschke, Robin Globus Veldman
Feb 9, 2023 - Feb 10, 2023 at - | Ben Franklin Room, Houston Hall and online.

The Scholar of Religion in the Public Sphere Flyer

What do we need to know about public scholarship on religion right now?

The dramatic presence of religious practitioners, slogans, and material culture at recent violent political events—like the January 6th insurrectionin the United States and the January 8th coup attempt in Brazil—have reinforced the importance of understanding religion’s role in shaping politics and publics. Meanwhile, religion’s complicated standing in the eyes of law and regimes of secularism is still unfolding: in July 2022, the assassination of Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzō led to calls to investigate religious organizations. And in South Korea, concerns about public safety during the coronavirus pandemic led to heightened scrutiny of marginalized religious organizations

Against the backdrop of these sensational spectacles and vehement debates, calls for scholars of religion to actively engage public audiences have increased. Yet scholars remain divided about best practices for engaging non-academic audiences. Such debates include questions about whether scholars have an obligation to critique specific political positions, or whether our job is solely to help misunderstood people and groups gain legibility. Differences in scholarly orientation and method also inform contentious disagreements about whether emerging categories like “white Christian nationalism” have analytic purchase.

One thing is clear: to remain silent is already to stake out a position in these debates.

The 2023 Boardman Symposium brings together a wide range of leading scholars of religion to consider what it means to do religious studies in public. Our roster of speakers includes scholars who are also museum curators, podcasters, bloggers, op-ed writers, authors of trade books, and teachers who involve their students in public outreach. Together, we will discuss how we can be both responsible to the facts and responsive to the demands of the present moment. We will consider the promises and pitfalls of thinking about religion in public.