Department of Religious Studies


Mon, November 25, 2013

Ross Ponder is a graduate student in the Department of Religious Studies.  He is one of the members of the Graduate Committee for the Study of Religion, the organization responsible for organizing an annual religious studies conference at UT.  To learn more about the upcoming conference, please visit the event page for Remixing Religion.

Recently, I was asked to offer an overview of conference planning with the Graduate Committee for the Study of Religion at the University of Texas at Austin. I am not sure that I addressed the topic entirely when I spoke, but I did find myself reflecting on the themes of our first conference as well as our upcoming conference in Spring of 2014: binaries break and religions mix. The themes addressed at the two conferences build from one another. Our first conference interrogated troublesome binaries looking for a middle space between the two poles, whereas our second conference planned for April 2014 will investigate modes of religious synthesis. A guiding principle for each of the conferences has been an interest in finding robust conceptual frameworks for the study of religion. I am excited about the prospects of our “Remixing Religion” conference, and I hope that many will consider joining us.



Binaries break. In fact, it is likely that because I am a scholar of ancient Christianity, the binary of the terms orthodoxy and heresy emerge in my mind’s eye. One of our keynote speakers from “Beyond Binaries,” David Brakke, mapped the utility of “orthodoxy” and “heresy” for the study of ancient Christianity. Brakke, to paraphrase a bit, suggested that orthodoxy and heresy can be useful redescriptive categories in a scholar’s hands, but we cannot entirely move beyond binaries. On the other hand, another keynote speaker, Kevin Trainor, called for scholars of religion to examine the “interactive middle ground” between binaries. Reflecting on my own discipline of ancient Christianity, I see immense validity in using continuum models to study not a dusty, monolithic branch of early Christianity, but instead the complexities of ancient Christianities.


Religions mix. The question of religious mixing also led me to reconsider the language that we used to describe its processes and results. Our second conference in March 2014, “Remixing Religion: New Models for the Study of Religious Synthesis,” will interrogate the utility of such terms as syncretism, hybridity, creolization, bricolage, transculturation, and blending. We have invited two excellent keynote speakers whose current research projects dovetail with these themes. David Frankfurter’s expertise in ancient Mediterranean religions examines the different sites of religion in late Roman Egypt such as homes, shrines, and workshops. Frankfurter in his current project “Christianizing Egypt: Syncretism and Local Worlds in Late Antiquity” maps the twists and turns of religious mixing when Christianity combined with local Egyptian traditions. Our second keynote speaker, Judith Weisenfeld, investigates the intersectionality of religion and racial identity of African Americans in the early twentieth century. What’s more, I am eager to learn from our keynote speakers, who were graduate students at the same institution.

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