2018/2019

The Demise of Religions

Humanities

Principal investigators

James Lewis

Professor
UiT The Arctic University of Norway (UiT)
Year at CAS

Michael Stausberg

Professor
University of Bergen (UiB)
Year at CAS

Abstract

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 secularisation. 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.

In order to get at a richer empirical basis, the group will also include cases of threatened or moribund religions. The theoretical agenda of the comparative design of the group will be to discuss and generalise 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.

Fellows

Janne Arp-Neumann

Assistant Professor
University of Göttingen
Year at CAS

Erica Baffelli

Associate Professor
University of Manchester
Year at CAS

Jan Nicolaas Bremmer

Professor Em.
University of Groningen
Year at CAS

Christian Hervik Bull

Associate Professor
Norwegian School of Theology, Religion and Society (MF)
Year at CAS

Carole Cusack

Professor
University of Sydney
Year at CAS

Albert de Jong

Professor
Leiden University
Year at CAS

Laura Feldt

Associate Professor
University of Southern Denmark
Year at CAS

Richard Lim

Professor
Smith College
Year at CAS

Joel Robbins

Professor
University of Cambridge
Year at CAS

Jörg Rüpke

Professor
University of Erfurt
Year at CAS

Olof Sundqvist

Professor
Stockholm University
Year at CAS

Stuart A. Wright

Professor
Lamar University
Year at CAS

News

We talked with professor on the study of religion Michael Stausberg about his new book "The Demise of Religion: How Religions End, Die, or Dissipate", a product of his CAS research project.

When asked about her time at CAS, she admits that it feels “rather bizarre” these days to think about the freedom and social life that is essential to a stay at CAS.

The topic of demise has increasingly been captured by the natural sciences, Michael Stausberg says, referring to the collapse of insects and species: ‘We seem to forget that something similar is happening in the realm of culture’.

Events