Lecture Series


In the Fall 2019 semester, IRCPL will host Prof. Iftikhar Dadi (Cornell University) and Prof. Isabel Hofmeyr (NYU/University of the Witwatersrand).

Populism as Political Theology: An Anthropological Perspective

April 23, 2019 @ 4:00 – 6:00 pm
With William Mazzarella
Sheldon Scheps Memorial Library

The current global populist wave is often narrated as a ‘crisis of representation.’ The hunger for immediate participation, the assertion of the collective flesh, is typically dismissed as regressively theological: at best a dubious aestheticization of politics, at worst a slide into fascism. But is this a false choice? Can the populist critique of representation yield a different take on contemporary politics? This talk was an invitation to reanimate the grounds of critical theory via anthropological understandings of shared substance and ‘occult’ motifs of efficacious resonance.

Religious Matters in Public Spaces
February 21, 2019 @ 4:00 – 6:00 pm
With Birgit Meyer

The focus of this lecture was the public, and by implication material and corporeal, presence of religion in plural configurations in Ghana, where Dr. Meyer has conducted research over a long time-span, and in the Netherlands, where she lives and works. Her guiding idea was that a focus on religious matters – in the sense of concrete material forms and as matters of concern in public debate – is a productive empirical starting point to conceptualize the current co-existence of multiple religiosities.

Religion as a Problem of Attention: Asceticism and Spectacle in Orthodox Ethiopia
December 4, 2018 @ 4:10 pm – 6:00 pm
With Tom Boylston

In this lecture, Dr. Tom Boylston discussed contemporary Orthodox Christian revival in Ethiopia from two perspectives: the ascetic cultivation of attention to God through fasting, and the capture of public attention through preaching movements, public exorcisms, and educational drives.

Atmospheric Citizenship: Sonic Movement and Public Religion in Shi’ite Mumbai
November 13, 2018 @ 4:10 pm – 6:00 pm
With Patrick Eisenlohr.

This talk focused on the sonic dimensions of religious life and place-making in Mumbai, and its connections to a “right to the city” for people facing a precarious future. While soundscape is an established concept for the investigation of the sonic aspects of urban place-making, including its religious dimensions, Eisenlohr argued that an analytic of atmospheres is better suited to capture the powerful emotive dimensions of place-making through sonic performances.

When the Gods Emerge from the Temples: Iconic Exhibition Value and Democratic Publicness in India
October 9, 2018 @ 4:10 pm – 6:00 pm
Kajri Jain

We are well acquainted with how the affective forces of modern politics depart from the normative ideals of bourgeois publicness. But rather than treating this departure as a binary opposition perhaps it’s more useful to recognize the layered coexistence of, and circuits between, these modalities of publicness, as when electoral politics strategically deploys both religious and secular idioms while also keeping distinctions between them in play. Religion, too, has taken on board the salience of the secular horizon, adopting its forms of value and authority alongside auratic canonical traditions. Revisiting the “oscillation” between cult and exhibition value in a footnote to Benjamin’s Artwork Essay, this talk provided a glimpse into how successive new image technologies and genres of public iconopraxis in India, from neighbourhood festivals and printed icons to monumental concrete deities, have played a key role in melding the sensible idioms of democracy and religion.


Over the course of three years, IRCPL will organize three workshops that examine religious encounters across the two global regions in terms of specific modalities clustered into related themes. The workshops will bring together an interdisciplinary group of scholars to discuss these themes through a comparative and cross-regional lens.

The first workshop, “Word, Sound & Image”, was held in April 2019. It considered diverse processes of communication and the movement of words, sounds, and images across communities in Africa and South Asia. The guiding questions were: To what extent are forms and media shared across religious communities and to what extent are these borrowings unrecognized or explicitly acknowledged? What role do changing technologies play in the rise of new religious movements? How are understandings of materiality changing with the rise of religious reform movements?

In October 2019, IRCPL will host “Religious Reshapings of Space, Time & Memory.” What role do religious practices, traditions, identities, and boundaries play in the use of space and the articulation of historical memory in religiously mixed communities? How are shared spaces negotiated? To what extent are memories of co-presence and common histories acknowledged and shared? How do religious orientations constitute the experience of time and how are orientations to time, origins, and possible futures changing in the postcolonial era?

Finally, “The Body, Gender, and Sexuality as Forms of Religious Publicity” will consider how bodily practices and ways of doing gender and sexuality are infused with religious significance and shaped by religious and language ideologies, sometimes publicly manifesting in unexpected ways. How are gender practices influenced by the presence of other religious communities, nationalisms, and secular ideologies that may both divide and unite religious communities? How do the divisive practices of colonialism, such as the development of separate codes of personal and family law for different religious groups, continue to resonate in postcolonial law and legal challenges?

The Immanent Frame

Continuing the conversation started during the “Word, Image, Sound” workshop, IRCPL was invited by managing editor, Mona Oraby, to curate a conversation on The Immanent Frame a digital forum hosted by the Social Science Research Council that publishes interdisciplinary perspectives on religion, secularism, and the public sphere.

Selected workshop participants and public lecturers were invited to contribute original essays that explore questions concerning how we approach the study of public religion. Special emphasis in this series was placed on reaching broad audiences, and therefore drawing attention to the larger project. As Matthew Engelke wrote in his introduction to the forum, the authors of these essays “are developing oblique approaches to the articulation of public religion, and, in so doing, underscoring the centrality of religious publicity. Taken together, they allow for newly comparative angles on a well-developed subject of interest, putting the public into motion, into the air, and, quite literally in some cases, into the concrete.”