CAS project kick-off: 'The Demise of Religions'

To kick off the new academic year, project leaders Michael Stausberg and James Lewis invite their fellows to join them for a weekend meeting.

During their visit to Oslo, the fellows participationg in the CAS project The Demise of Religions will present themselves and their work, as well as discuss their plans and goal for their year at CAS.

About the project:

Historiography tends to be a winners’ affair. The winners’ perspective is one factor that has occluded attention to the topic our group wishes to address – the demise (attrition, disappearance, disintegration, dissolution, death, collapse, dissolution, displacement, dwindling, downfall, eclipse, erosion, extinction) of religions. Another factor is the legacy of older evolutionary accounts. Yet another factor is the grand narrative of secularization. Finally, another impediment in properly addressing our topic is the tendency to regard successful innovation and creativity as inherently more interesting than slow decline or apathy. These factors have effectively forestalled a general conversation about the fact that many religious groups and traditions have disappeared, in past as well as in present times.

Our group wishes to challenge this situation and provide a comparative analysis of the why and how of the decline of religions. Previous publications on this issue are quite limited. Our group aims to follow-up on these initial attempts by providing a comparative, cross-cultural and cross-historical analysis of processes of the demise of religions. The main shared research agenda of the group will be to develop an overarching analysis, typology, vocabulary, and theory of the demise of religion. The spectrum of cases ranges from religiocide – the voluntary destruction or dismantling of religions, similar and often connected to genocide, cultural genocide or cultural cleansing – to the gradual attrition or creeping erosion of religions.

The theoretical agenda of the comparative design of the group will be to discuss and generalize processes, forms, structures, causes, and consequences of the demise of religions. Although this kind of work has been carried out for other cultural elements – such as, e.g., the demise of specific languages – it does not yet exist for the study of religion. Among other aspects of this project, we will seek to establish a workshop where we will try to disseminate our focus on the demise of religions to the demise of other cultural phenomena. Thereby we hope to make a cross-disciplinary impact.