NGG International Autumn Conference: Religious Authority – Past and Present

Nederlands Genootschap voor Godsdienstwetenschap

22-23 October 2010
The International Autumn Conference of the Dutch Association for the Academic Study of Religion is devoted to “Religious Authority – Past and Present.”
Keynote speakers are Dr. Sophie Gilliat-Ray, Director of the Centre for the Study of Islam in the UK at Cardiff University, and Prof. Dr. Almut-Barbara Renger, Free University of Berlin, Germany.

Begin: Friday, 22 October 2010, 14.00 h
End: Saturday, 23 October 2010, 16.00 h
The Conference includes the annual members’ meeting of the NGG


Sometimes certain phenomena, which are not only rooted in but also seem to transcend daily life, inspire awe in people. People then may attribute authority to these phenomena. We speak of religious authority if this authority is related to a religious context. Not only persons and institutions but also concepts can embody religious authority. Examples are oral or written messages, which are experienced and acknowledged as ‘revelation’. Meta-empirical entities, deemed to be superior to human beings, are a source of religious authority as well. Believers claim to obey the authority of such entities, while these entities themselves are not empirically verifiable. Religious authority – both in its abstract and concrete forms – is the research object of many disciplines, and especially for the academic study of religion, anthropology and sociology.

What is religious authority exactly? Which insights are supplied by the academic discourse on this topic?

The concepts that we use in studying religious authority offer a rich array of approaches which will be scrutinized in this conference. The extensive debate on concepts, such as charisma, authority, power and status, shows that ‘religious authority’ is a captivating object of research in the academic study of religion. Under the influence of Max Weber’s ideas, ‘charisma’ is defined as a characteristic that is not inherent in a person but can only be attributed to such a person by a community, according to sociological approaches. Authority is then a social process. In anthropological and psychological circles, however, studies aim at establishing a set of characteristics that a person needs to make their authority effectual. Symbols of power and authority within a community are research object within anthropology as well. Discourse-theoretical approaches focus on power relationships that determine the ‘capital’ of a person in relation to other people.

Nowadays we notice a decrease in authority in traditional religious contexts. Secularisation processes, globalisation and anti-authoritarian movements have made a substantial impact. The relationship between the state (or politics) and religion is an important factor of influence on the dynamics of religious authority. Many traditional scholars within Islamic traditions, for instance, have lost authority because they were hedged in by the structures of official Islam (which is partly a political and partly a bureaucratic problem; cp. the ideas of Weber). The sociologists Heelas and Woodhead observe a ‘spiritual revolution’, marked by a sacralisation of the ‘Self’ and subjectivity. According to the philosopher Peter Sloterdijk, the facts supplied by modern scholarship and arts are unmistakable evidence that the era in which revelations were merely received is over.

Into which directions will religions and societies develop? Could we say that there is a general decrease in respect for external social authority? Political religions, an increase of ideology and totalitarian organisation – are these reactions to loss of authority? Does ‘new’ religious supply arise, wherever possible, as the Rational Choice theory maintains? For which ways do religious leaders opt nowadays? How do they manipulate ‘religious notions’? How can scholars of religion, anthropology and sociology collaborate in their historical and empirical research in order to gain insight into contemporary phenomena related to power, politics and religious authority? These are leading questions for the International Autumn Conference of 2010.


Friday, 22 October

14.00 Arrival with coffee and tea

14.15 Welcome by Gerard Wiegers (University of Amsterdam), President of the Dutch Association for the Academic Study of Religion (NGG)

Session 1 (Paper 20 minutes, discussion 10 minutes) (chair: Yme Kuiper)

14.20 Frans Jespers, RU Nijmegen: Feminine Authority in Holistic Spiritualities

14.50 André van der Braak, philosopher and publicist: The Charismatic Master as Living Embodiment of Enlightenment: Religious Authority in Classical Chan Buddhism and its Relevance for Zen in the West

15.20 Coffee Break

Session 2: Trans-Nationalism and Religious Authority: Exploring the Salafi Movement (chair: Gerard Wiegers)

15.40 Joas Wagemakers, RU, Nijmegen: The Transnational vs. the Local: Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi’s Transnational Religious Authority and the Locally-Inspired Midad al-Suyuf Forum

16.00 Carmen Becker, RU, Nijmegen: Struggling with Authenticity: Staying on the Path of the Salafi al-salih in Chat Rooms and Online Forums

16.15 Zoltan Pall, RU, Nijmegen: Religious Authority of Salafism: The Challenge of the Saudi Liberals

16.30 Martijn de Koning, RU, Nijmegen: Networks of Authorization – Transnational Connections of Authority in Salafi Networks

16.45-17.30 Short break followed by discussion (45 min.)

18.00 Dinner

Session 3: Key note lecture (chair: Wim Hofstee)

20.00 Sophie Gilliat-Ray, Cardiff University, UK: Religious Authorities in British Muslim Communities: Gendered, Contested and Politicised (45 minutes lecture plus 15 minutes discussion)

21.00 Social time

Saturday 23 October

9.00 General Members’ Meeting NGG

10.00 Coffee Break

Session 4: Key note lecture (chair: Kocku von Stuckrad)

10.15 Almut-Barbara Renger, Free University Berlin, Germany: Apollonius of Tyana – Rival Authority toward Jesus Christ. Explorations into an Internet Fad (45 minutes lecture plus 15 minutes discussion)

11.15 Coffee Break

Session 5 (chair: Brenda Bartelink)

11.30 Mohammed Ghaly, Leiden University: Religious Authority in Islam between the Jurists and the Physicians: Early and Modern Discussions on Embryology

12.00 Jane Lee, Melbourne College of Divinity: Religious Authority in the Work of Religious Philosopher Romano Guardini with Particular Reference to the Period of National Socialism

12.30 Lunch Break

Session 6 (chair: Jacqueline Borsje)

14.00 Cyril Kuttiyanikkal, Tilburg University: The Image and Power of Catholic Gurus

14.30 Pieter Boersema, E.T.F., Leuven: Religious Authority Construction within Contemporary Christian Migrant Communities

15.00 Closing and departure (Gerard Wiegers)


Registration for 2 days: Ordinary members of the NGG pay 120.- EUR, students and other members who are entitled to a discount pay 80.- EUR, non-members pay 150.- EUR.
This fee includes accomodation (one-person rooms with shower), a three-course dinner on Friday, breakfast and lunch buffet on Saturday, as well as coffee breaks.

Registration for Friday only: 50.- EUR fixed price (including the three-course dinner).

Registration for Saturday only: 40.- EUR fixed price (including lunch buffet).

If you want to register, please send an e-mail to the General Secretary of the NGG, Prof. Kocku von Stuckrad (, indicating (a) the arrangement you want to register for, (b) the status of your membership, (c) dietary preferences if applicable. Please note that your registration is binding.

Members of the NOSTER Thematic Group “Religious Authority” are entitled to a discount and will be informed seperately.

We are also investigating the possibility to subsidize the participation of student members of the NGG. Please contact the General Secretary if you want to apply for such a reimbursement.

Date(s): 22-23 October 2010
Location: Soesterberg, Netherlands
Address: Kontakt der Kontinenten
Amersfoortsestraat 20
3769 AS Soesterberg

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