Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Institut für Europäische Ethnologie




Registration and Program


Religious Utopias

Berlin, 16-18 March 2023

organised by the

SIEF Working Group on Ethnology of Religion

in collaboration with

Humboldt University Berlin

conference’ venue:

Humboldt-University of Berlin

Institute for European Ethnology

Møhrenstr. 40,

10117 Berlin, Room: 408


Register here via Email:


abstracts and program for download


Thursday           16.03.



Registration open
16.30 – 17.00

Welcome address: Victoria Hegner

  Welcome address: Alessandro Testa

17.00 - 18.30    

Session 1/8

Köllner, Tobias: Utopias in Contemporary Russia and its Relation to Orthodox Christianity: Legacies and Anti-Western Sentiments

Abstract 🖉

As the Russian aggression in Ukraine shows, it still is the case that contemporary Russia seems to follow a master narrative that relates well to visions of a super power and a great imperium. For this, the connection to the religion of the majority, Orthodox Christianity, is indispensable. Over the course of the last decades, Orthodox Christianity increasingly has been seen and described as the sole and only authentic source of Russian ethnic identity, Russian culture and Russian history. Therefore, my presentation aims to show the utopias developed in Orthodox Christianity and its repercussions for everyday life. In so doing, I will show how the Russian nation is grounded in Orthodox Christianity and how this causes new utopias to be developed. Among others, I will draw attention to discourses developed within the Russian Federation that have resonance inside Russia but also contest the role of other states and nations in the near abroad. Here the notion of the Russian world (Russkii mir) is an important source of utopian visions. Often these notions are also related to conceptualizations of so-called “traditional moral values” (traditsionnye nravstvennye tsennosti) which are described as a key difference to the states of the European Union and the West. By addressing such phenomena, I draw attention to the specific role of Orthodox Christianity for political mobilization and the specific relationship towards the political sector, where such religiously grounded utopias are taken up and implemented for different purposes.

Hankollari, Blerina: The One-world Man of the Albanian Totalitarian State, disappearing world configurations and the disclosure of the multiple worlding’s political potential

Abstract 🖉

In this presentation, I will focus on the metaphysical war declared by the Albanian totalitarian state (1945-1991) against traditional cosmologies, by ethnographically analyzing the need of the Albanian atheistic1 state to fabricate a one-world subject by projecting him into the socialist paradise. During my fieldwork from 2018-2020 at the north-western Albanian region of Kelmend, one of my first observations was the fact that the traditional Albanian subjects remember themselves as caught between two or many antagonistic regimes of reality with their corresponding rituals and practices, being progressively absorbed into the state socialist worldview and in the same time resisting to keep their proper way of worlding. When asked about the existential status of radical alterities in primary and syncretic beliefs in the Albanian rural society under the communist regime, the interviewed subjects frequently replied by saying that there was a time when fairies were seen by their own eyes, but then, with the emergence and the materialization of the totalitarian state, they were not seen anymore. This presentation aims at answering the following fundamental questions: why have these multiple and heterogenous worlding regimes been attacked by the totalitarian Albanian state (1945-1991), self-proclaimed as the generator of “the modern cosmological act” of the socialist revolution? Have its diversified world-eating mechanisms disrupted non-human relations in the Albanian traditional rural society? By retrospectively reflecting on this metaphysical war, how can we today disclosure the political potential of the multiple worlding processes in the Albanian society and the way it inflects the conceptual and practical collective creativity.

Ozhiganova, Anna: Swim into the New Civilization: Late-Soviet Utopia of Giving Birth to Babies-dolphins

Abstract 🖉

Followers of the so-called “Aquaculture Project” that originated in the Soviet Union in the 1970s and reached the peak of its popularity in the 1980s–1990s are practiced nowadays in various countries – in the USA, Thailand, France, Israel, and Russia. They are distinguished by the lack of formal medical education, radical practices (giving birth underwater, ideally, in the ocean; cold strengthening via swimming in ice holes; infant swimming, diving, and gymnastics from the first hours of life), and a specific discourse about ‘baby-dolphins’ possessing supernormal abilities such as clairvoyance, telepathy, healing and metaphysical connections with dolphins. The aim of this utopian project, developed by the charismatic teacher and psychic Igor Charkovsky (1936–2021), was the creation of a “new human being” called a “sensitive” or a “baby-dolphin.” According to Charkovsky, dolphins could provide necessary assistance in human adaption to water and thus contribute to the evolution of humans as aquatic mammals. These new superhumans will create a new type of civilization (which has all the characteristics of a New Age utopia): without wars and aggression, without states and borders, and in harmony with nature and all living beings. To what extent was this project part of a global New Age utopia, and how was it genealogically and essentially linked to the tradition of early Soviet utopia and visionary science? The research is based on interviews with the participants of the late Soviet waterbirth movement and their personal archives as well as on a wide range of written sources.


Reception with book launch: buffet and music

Let’s celebrate the Working Group’s latest publication, Politics of Religion: Authority, Creativity, Conflicts, and bring your own latest books along – let’s have a book banquet!


Friday                 17.03.


09.30 – 11.00  

Session 2/8


Margry, Peter Jan: A Hidden Paradise: the Utopian Cosmology of the Damanhurian Community

Abstract 🖉

The community ‘Federation of Damanhur’, located in the Valchiusella valley of the Italian Alps and with branches on different continents started as a small new agey religious movement in 1975, best known for its forbidden exuberant underground temple-complex. Since the start it set out a variety of spiritual, utopian and ecological endeavours in reaction to the destructive influence of world capitalism and its effects (destruction of nature, exhaustion of the earth, climate change). The founder and lifelong leader Oberto Airaudi claimed to have established that in the valley the energy lines of the world’s ‘nerve system’, as part of a larger cosmological framework, converge. This pivotal energy center is used by the community as point of departure for the creation of a new eco-society with new ways of living in connection to earth and cosmos. This paper addresses the intertwining of Damanhurs way of ecological subsistence and its related ideas on spirituality, healing, nature, and the role of arts and architecture in representing and missioning the earthly paradise.

Wojcik, Daniel: Visionary Art and Otherworldly Utopias
Abstract 🖉

Ideas about otherworldly utopias have been expressed in alternative religious movements and vernacular belief systems since at least the nineteenth century. In many cases, such beliefs originated in visionary experiences and revelatory encounters involving enlightened, intergalactic beings who appear to humankind during periods of societal upheaval and apocalyptic anxiety as well as times of personal trauma and crisis. This presentation, illustrated with visual examples, traces the history and development of depictions and visions of paradise on other planets, with a focus on how interplanetary utopias and cosmic beings are aesthetically rendered in visionary art and material culture, as manifested in religious movements such as Spiritualism, Theosophy, premillennial dispensationalist Christianity, and UFO religions. The relationship between utopian imaginaries, millennial beliefs, and apocalypticism is examined, as expressed in ideas about inevitable earthly catastrophes, avertive attempts to prevent the End, nostalgic visions of a utopian past to be re-established, and extraterrestrial agendas for humanity’s progression into a coming golden age, free from evil, injustice, and human suffering. Based on this research, I propose a typology of the various forms of utopianism: 1) catastrophic utopianism; 2) avertive utopianism; and 3) progressive utopianism--which may have wider application to the study and analysis of religious utopias historically and cross-culturally.

  Rwangmei, Peter Dichunlung: Conceptualizing “Baanru,” as Paradise of the Past, Present, and Future among the Rongmei indigenous community of Northeast India
Abstract 🖉

Religious motivation brings hope to humans. It has the power to direct and guide into the universal fraternity; it teaches humans to live selflessly. Among the Rongmei tribe of Manipur, in the northeast Indian state, whose primary occupation is agriculture, “Baanru” is a religious feasting festival. It is performed by a wealthy man, feeding the commoners till the host’s wealth is exhausted, in the hope of going to heaven after death as assured by God. In doing so, he is impoverished and has to start the agricultural work from scratch with the commoner by the beginning of the next agriculture cycle. This study epitomized Baanru as the “utopian potential” of an “ideal society” because the Creator’s blessing, which is manifested in the wealth of the rich (earned through sweat and blood), has reached the people through ceremonial public feasting. Importantly, it discusses the significance of Baanru, which maintains the status quo of wealth among the members, removing social and economic stratification and exploitation. It further analyzes the belief and practices of Baanru in maintaining ecological diversity. The paper concludes by examining the religious hope in motivating the community to work hard ceaselessly, yet not for wealth accumulation.


11.00 – 11.30    Coffee break

11.30 – 13.00   

Session 3/8


Angelova, Iliyana: ‘Till all nations hear’: Evangelism and Constructions of Ideal Christian Futures among Minority Christian migrants in New Delhi, India

Abstract 🖉

It is commonplace among conservative Christian communities worldwide to strive towards fulfilment of the Great Commission that Jesus has entrusted upon them. Predictably, ‘Go and make disciples of all nations’ is a message that is vibrantly alive among Naga and Mizo ethnic communities in India who are predominantly Baptist and Presbyterian Christians. While the history of Christianity in both communities is relatively short (spanning 150 years or so), they both share perceptions that they are God’s chosen people whose mission it is to spread Christianity across India, Asia and the wider world. Such perceptions are nurtured by the tacit understanding that the world should be guided by God’s will as set out in the Bible, governed by God-fearing leaders and inhabited by God-fearing and obedient Christians. Yet, in the reality and practicality of daily life, this ideal Christian future is more often than not a utopia – and this ideal evangelistic Christian zeal is often put to the test. Why are some Christians more mission-minded than others? In what ways can a Christian fulfil the Great Commission? What is the best way to achieve a utopian Christian world? Based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted among Naga and Mizo Christians in India’s capital city New Delhi, this paper seeks to problematise these questions as it explores the visions, tensions and challenges that underpin idealist Christian remakings and reimaginings of the world – and the role that the urban environment of the mega-city plays in supporting or hindering the actual realisation of such ideal/utopian futures.

Lowenthal, Manuela: Evangelical Churches in Brazil: Space of Welcome and Belonging


In this paper, we will seek to understand how the Pentecostal and Neo-Pentecostal evangelical churches in Brazil function as a technology for the social insertion of the peripheral population in Brazil and how they became the reference of a small welfare state that should be promoted by the Government and State Brazilian. There are not few people from the vulnerable layer of Brazilian society who are welcomed in evangelical churches and even a certain reconstitution of families devastated by misery, drug addiction, unemployment, hunger, among many other social problems that are ,increasingly growing. These people in an extreme state of vulnerability had no one to go to, except for the evangelical churches. The church, in this sense, begins to occupy a space that should not exist. A void created by the society of abandonment: material, existential, aesthetic, cultural, intellectual abandonment. An abandonment so widespread that it makes any crumb look like a fortune. I abandon this one that permeates from the sense of pride to the possibility of dreaming and having hope. The church often gives the possibility to dream about the future, thus providing not only perspectives and possibilities, but also a dense subjectivity, or even a culture and identity. In this sense, this research seeks to contribute to the understanding that the evangelical church in Brazil occupies the space of promoting hope, establishing utopia from an effective and material daily contribution in a country with such social inequality

Wettich, Thorsten: Reconciling in Christ – A Lutheran Utopia?


An initiative of independent Lutheran organizations in North America, the Reconciling in Christ (RIC) Program´s basic claims are to welcome all sexual orientations, gender identities, and expressions, work towards racial equity and anti-racism. As far as the Lutheran churches are concerned, RIC promotes pastoral calls of LGBTQIA+ and Black, Brown, Indigenous, Person of Color as well as the blessing and weddings of LGBTQIA+ in respective sanctuaries.

In times of the pandemic and imperialist war, semantics of apocalyptic interpretation are swiftly at hand (Nagel 2021). On the other hand, the promise to offer healing and salvation from earthly narrowness continues to inform the utopian enterprise of religion in postmodernity (Riesebrodt 2007). When utopia is interpreted as the possibility of change, it lies at the heart of both theological, as well as social-reformist ideologies. In the case of Reconciling in Christ, the question is: How do the political and religious claim relate to each other? The paper seeks to investigate this question, by first reminding of the history of utopian thinking in Lutheranism most famously expressed in Andreas Christianopolis (1619). It then goes on to take a look at the intersection of American pragmatism and utopian thinking in the expression of hope against the challenges of life (Mc Kenna 2001). At last, against the background of RIC´s critics, the paper researches in how far Lutheran institutions that implement RIC are distracted by social politics or rather manage to convince their followers of the convergence of Lutheran theology and the LGBTQIA+ movement.

13.00 – 14.30   

Lunch break
14.30 – 16.00    Session 4/8

Kozik, Ewa: A Vision of Catholic Poland as a Utopia in Polish Alternative Media

Abstract 🖉

In the second decade of the 21st century, many information portals were created in cyberspace. Many of these portals have a nationalistic character, and the content is aimed at a specific recipient: a Pole, a patriot and, above all, a Catholic. These media, an alternative to the mainstream media, openly declare their attachment to Christian values. Although their information relates to various topics, from health, through sport, to politics, the narrative of the people creating this content fails to refer to fidelity to the Catholic Church, patriotism and the vision of a homogeneous mono religious state that Poland should be. The speech will be devoted to the alternative polish television "wRealu24" narrative, Poland's most popular nationalist media. Since 2015, "wRealu24" has conveyed to recipients a vision of a utopian Polish state in which every person will be faithful to the values of the Catholic religion. According to this utopian narrative, only a country where one religion is imposed can function well. The speech aims to present the characteristics of the narrative of "wRealu24" television and show how religion is used to create a nationalist utopia. The considerations will be based on ethnological research conducted in cyberspace in 2017-2021.

Rogaar, Eva: Healing Russia with Islam: Morality, Re-Enchantment, and Utopianism in the Muslim Media, 1980s-2000s

Abstract 🖉

After seven decades of official Soviet "state atheism," the perestroika years in the late 1980s and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 brought new political freedoms and a spirit of possibility and experimentation. In this context, numerous religious movements sought to share their messages with a broad audience and play an active role in rebuilding Russia in this period of major change. While Orthodox Christianity had historically been the dominant religion in Russia, Muslims had been the area's largest religious minority, and Islamic movements were among the most active in this period of transition and "religious revivals.” This paper examines Russian-language Muslim media – newspapers, periodicals, radio, websites, and television shows – and the ways in which they (re)introduced “ethnic Muslims” and Russians to Islam between the 1980s and 2000s, a period in which rapid economic, political and social developments increasingly led individuals to look to religion for stability and guidance. Specifically, this paper analyzes the ways in which these media presented Islam as a utopia; a religion and framework that could spiritually, morally, and physically uplift and “heal” individuals and Russian society, as a whole, from the corruption, selfishness, and disenchantment caused by Soviet rule and modern values, and that was uniquely capable of addressing the most pressing concerns and needs of that time. Interestingly, ethnic Russian Muslim converts often played a key role as authors, editors, and subjects in these various media outlets. They positioned themselves as bridges who, as Muslims, were uniquely positioned to help overcome interethnic, interreligious, and intercultural differences in Russia and globally.

Bagh, Shankar Narayan: Begumpura and the Idea of India: utopian Vision and Imaginations

Abstract 🖉

The present paper deals with the utopian imagination of fifteenth century Indian anti-caste subaltern bhakti radical Intellectual Ravidas. He is considered as one of the first one to envision Indian version of utopia in his famous work ‘Begumpura’. For him, ‘Begumpura’ ‘a modern city without sorrow’ which is casteless, classless and tax free. Coming from the lowest strata of the society which used to be considered as untouchable at that time, Ravidas rejected the brahminical idea of god, idol worship, scriptures, rituals etc. He laid the foundations of one of the radical imaginations of modern Indian society based on equality, humanity and universal brotherhood which was suffering from the ills of caste system characterised by untouchability, exploitations, hierarchy, discriminations and violence based on caste. This further inspired to the subaltern intellectuals and downtrodden masses who carried forward his legacy and ideas in founding the democratic republic of India being governed by the constitution. Strangely, this came in direct contrast with another utopian imagination like Ramarajya envisioned by Mahatma Gandhi representing the dominant Hindu social order and worldviews which justified the caste based exploitation in the name of great Hindu tradition, culture and golden past. It is important to note here that these two streams of imaginations shaped the idea of India and immensely contributed in making the present Indian society. This paper is an humble attempt to situate and critically examine the utopian imaginations of ‘Begumpura’ in the larger socio-political and historical context to understand the ethnographic present of the Indian society. The rise of the Hindutva politics in India with the phenomenal electoral success collaborating with the neoliberal forces again coming in direct contrast with subaltern’s imagination of egalitarian, inclusive, democratic and secular idea of India need to be understood in context and perspective.

16.00 – 16.30   

Coffee break

16.30 - 17.30    

Session 5/8


Lutz, Martin: A Utopian Moral Economy Meets Modern Capitalism: Communitarian Hutterites in 20th Century America

Abstract 🖉

The Hutterites are a Christian religious group derived from the Anabaptist movement in the 16th century. They live in small-scale communities on Bruderhof settlements, practicing a community of goods and prohibiting individual property. They are frequently related in the literature to Thomas More’s book Utopia from 1516 as a real-life example of a persistent communitarian society. Recently, in commemorating Utopia’s 500th anniversary, historian Gregory Claeys (2016) pointed out that the Hutterites – and their Anabaptist cousins the Amish and Mennonites – form a rare exception of success, as most communitarian groups fail within a short period of time. After centuries of persecution and forced migration, the entire Hutterite population has been living in the United States and in Canada since the late 19th century, forming stable and increasingly prosperous communal economies. The paper addresses the question of how the communitarian Hutterites have adapted to modern capitalism in 20th century North America. Hutterites institutionalized a religious ethic based on economic and social equality into a powerful collective entity that succeed in a competitive market economy. The paper draws and expands on my handbook chapter on “Utopia and Moral Economy” for the Handbook of Thomas More’s Utopia in the Oxford Handbook series (ed. Cathy Shrank and Phil Withington, forthcoming in 2023). Using historiographic analysis, it shows how the Hutterites translated utopian ideals and the expectation of eternal salvation into an organizational entity that over time proved compatible with modern capitalism.

Testa, Alessandro, The Twilight of Cockaigne: The Decline of a Once Powerful European Popular Utopia

Abstract 🖉

The land of Cockaigne was perhaps the first popular pan-European utopia, and developed as a myth amongst the lower classes in the Middle Ages, before the likes of Thomas Moore, Francis Bacon, and Karl Marx systematised and perfected the literary and political ideas of what a perfect society should look like.

Cockaigne never existed and could never exist; it was only ephemerally re-enacted yearly during the short-time span of carnival rituality. For centuries, both the myth and its ritual re-enaction played an important role in European popular culture. However, Cockaigne as a cultural reference has almost completely disappeared in the late-modern era. Why?



Saturday            18.03.


09.30 – 11.00     Session 6/8

Otčenášek, Jakub: Taiping, or the Great Peace, as an ontological challenge

Abstract 🖉

When searching for a match for the term utopia in pre-modern China, most sinologists would probably think of taiping, or the Great Peace. The term is widely known for the Taiping Rebellion of the 19th century, nevertheless, it has been playing a significant role in Chinese thinking and politics since the first empires. While the emperors were promising the taiping to legitimize their rule, some of the alternative movements were envisioning it as a collapse of the old world and an emergence of a new one. Even the now-reigning Communists Party has been inspired by the rebels of the past, and some of the current religious movements dream about the Great Peace following the fall of the Party.

Western sinology and religious studies have been associating taiping with utopianism, millennialism, and messianism. These terms bear some negative associations such as irrationality and violence. Moreover, they are associated with certain ontological tendencies – namely the specific notions of time, humanity, and transcendence. Let us rethink utopias and dystopias through taiping to open new ways for thinking about the possibilities of the ends, the alternatives, and the transformations.

We shall embark from the now prominent definitions of millennialism by Richard Landes and Catherine Wessinger, and make them encounter the various meanings and functions of the term taiping in the early corpus of Tianshidao, the Way of the Celestial Masters, a tradition that has been often portrayed as crucial for the evolution of Chinese millennialism.

Gülüm, Erol, Fairytale, Religion, and Utopia: Goethe’s The Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily

Abstract 🖉

Fairy tales are the cultural and aesthetic embodiment and externalizations of the drive and vision to achieve better and perfection, which is conceptualized by Ernst Bloch as the 'utopian impulse', in fantastic images, symbols, and allegories. As well as fairy tales in oral tradition, literary fairy tales also epitome the most authentic specimens of not only social, moral, and even technological utopias, but also spiritual, belief, or religious utopias. One of the most impressive fairy religious utopias was written in 1795 by Johann Wolfgang Goethe with the title The Fairytale of The Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily which carries traces of Goethe's scientific approach to the metamorphosis of nature as well as alchemy and Rosicrucianism that he met after his near-death experience during an illness at an early age. By declaring “it is the new way to Christ,” Rudolf Steiner already highlighted the religious aspects of it more precisely. The utopian aspect of it, on the other hand, reveals itself in esoteric depictions of not only how a human soul can become whole and free, but also how a transformed, enlightened, and freed human community to arise. In this paper, accordingly, I ask: what is an idealized person/society/world, what does the text say about its epoch, and more broadly how do we reinterpret Goethe’s Fairy Tale as a religious utopia?  

Andreeva, Julia: Creating a New World: Embodiment of Utopia in Kin’s Domains

Abstract 🖉

My focus is on one of the projects of building a utopia in the post-Soviet space. In the mid-1990s, a series of books called Ringing Cedars of Russia began to be published in Russia. Its author Vladimir Megre described his acquaintance with the Siberian hermit Anastasia and the ideas she told him. The tone of the entire series of books conveys a nostalgic mood of the lost past, which includes both Soviet values and distant Vedic traditions. Readers of Megre's books perceived the story as a description of reality and a call to action from the beginning and formed textual communities (Stock 1983). When the mention of kin’s domains’ settlements appeared in the books, many readers rushed to put the idea into practice. They interpret the move from the city as spiritual growth and self-development. In the long run, the whole planet should turn into a commonwealth of kin’s domains. The beliefs of kin’s domains’ community are close to other followers of New Age Spirituality. They are not strict adherents of organized religion but define their activities through such concepts as a god, divine energy, etc. The statistics of the kin's domains count 500 projects that have already been built or are under construction. Based on my field materials from eleven settlements in northwestern, central, and southern Russia, I would like to examine the transformation of textual utopian ideas in practice. What discursive strategies do they use when inconsistencies arise? What is fundamental to them in utopian ideology?

11.00 – 11.30   

Coffee break

11.30 – 13.00   

Session 7/8

Csáji, László Koppány: Fundamentalism, historical re-enactment, and nature-based utopia

Abstract 🖉

I performed long-term anthropological fieldwork among three new religious movements in Hungary, Romania, and Serbia during the past fifteen years. The first is a New Age movement with an esoteric and nature-based attitude, organized in and around Budapest (founded in the late 1970s). The second is an ethnocentric Neo-Pagan movement organised in a remote, rural area in West Hungary (founded in the early 1990s). The third is a charismatic Christian fundamentalist movement founded by a Transylvanian folk prophet in 2008. They all have syncretic elements, create their religious utopias and they all refer to an imagined Golden Age. I compare the three movements’ endeavours how they re-enact and related to an imagined past golden age, and how they try to return to a utopian idea of 1. a nature-based human knowledge, 2. ancient equestrian nomad lifestyle, 3. the age of the apostles. I focus on the relation of the NRMs’ expressed values, visual signs (dress codes), and the way they interpret the ecologically conscious way of life.

Aleknaitė, Eglė: Imagine there’s no Church, Ikea and Gender ideologists – It’s Easy if You Join Lithuanian Pagans Singing around Fire on Castle Hills

Abstract 🖉

The paper looks at the utopian visions embodied in various activities and communal rituals of the community of Lithuanian contemporary Pagans Romuva. First, the visions manifest in explanations of historical developments and interpretation of various contemporary issues. As for other nationalistic Pagans of Eastern Europe, here the bright future refers to a prospering nation that is able to stand against hostile neighbours, Christianity and neoliberalism in all their guises. Such ideal world emerges behind dark visions of the future and is constituted through a variety of Romuvian public activities, such as work in state ethnic culture protection institutions or museums, as well as in Romuvian meetings, summer camps and other events and media. Then, every communal ritual can be seen as a manifestation of the Romuvian utopian vision of the pre-Christian religion restored as the religion of Lithuanians. Major communal rituals and their specific segments are enactments of the intentions and aspirations related to revival of pre-Christian religion, reclaiming pre-Christian heritage and competition with Christianity. These rituals allow participants not only to imagine, but also to experience the Romuvian utopia, even if only during the ritual.

Klein Schaarsberg, Suzanne: In Search of the New Age: Political Esotericism, Conspirituality and the Transformation of Sociopolitical Order

Abstract 🖉

Contemporary spiritual movements exhibit a decline of trust in the established order and its institutions (the government, the capitalist market, mainstream media and science). It has led to the emergence of conspirituality, the conflation of New Age spirituality and conspiracy theories. Scholars argue conspiracy theories offer an explanation for why the ‘new age’ – the promise of the emergence of a utopian new global order of peace and stability  that is central to contemporary spirituality– hasn’t arrived yet. Spirituality, on the other hand, offers an imagination of a soon-to-arrive utopia that gives conspiracy thinkers a glimmer of hope. Yet, within the literature on conspirituality, it is not systematically analysed what kind of utopia or alternative social order spiritual movements introduce. My paper will therefore, introduce how, rooted in anti-establishment critiques, spiritual movements inspire a conflation of esotericism - mysticism, magic, and the uncanny - with hopes for the utopian transformation of the sociopolitical order. In particular this paper will tease out some of the alternative visions of sociopolitical order, governance, authority and power they put forward, to shed light on their political imaginations of an ‘ideal’ future. Deploying a digital ethnography, the paper will outline how such imaginations are expressed through modes of social ordering that are enacted in both on- and offline environments. It will argue that these modes of ordering shape a fluid post-digital space of resistance against the established order whilst simultaneously introducing and prefiguring a utopian alternative.

13.00 – 14.30   

Lunch break

14.30 – 16.00   

Session 8/8

Akpinar, Müge: Imagining “the Age of Bliss” as Lived Utopia

Abstract 🖉

Drawing on my ethnographic fieldwork in Istanbul on an alternative health network that observes the principles of Islamic and prophetic medicine, I will discuss the meanings and workings of imagining “the age of the bliss” (asr-ı saadet) in my research community as lived utopia. My interlocutors idealize the period in which the Prophet Muhammad lived as the age of bliss and strive to regulate their health and consumption practices accordingly. Building on Ricoeur’s (1976) notion of utopia and ideology as two modes of collective imagination, I will scrutinize how faith connects utopia with ideology (Einsohn 1995) among my research participants in the contemporary social context of the “Islamic discursive culture of Turkey” (Silverstein 2015, 135). I will proceed to detail my interlocutors’ collective imagination that motivates them to follow a lifestyle as close as to that of Prophet Muhammad with a focus on modesty and minimalism. While being in a constant interaction with ideology, utopia denotes also the possibility of performing productive and creative imagination, and hence transcends the reproductive mode of imagination achieved through ideology (Vendra 2020). In dialogue with the “anthropology of the good” (Robbins 2013), I will elaborate further on the interplay of praxeological and temporal dimensions of imagination as lived utopia, which trigger an aspiration among my interlocutors to lead a good life by adopting an ecologically oriented interpretation of the sunnah that shapes the health and consumption practices in both their lived-presents and yet-to-be lived futures.

Willms, Claudia, Revealing “Alternative and Utopian Visions” in the Critical Theories and Ethical Lives of Religious Actors

Abstract 🖉

A protestant priest, who is involved in the refugee movement, describes her work as part of the anticapitalist movement: „‘Cause it is against the politics of more, the neoliberalism, the exploitive manipulation of the earth and its ressources and tries to redirect human awareness in the direction of solidarity instead.“ In my point of view this statement indicates, that we as anthropologists should think the „dark anthropology“ and the „anthropology of the good“ (Sherry B. Ortner 2016) together, simply because the interlocutors are typically thinking and performing them together. My current ethnographic research investigates Muslim and Christian anti-capitalists and their practices and discourses in today's Germany. Hence, the project investigates religiously motivated activism, strategies and tactics. I primarily interviewed people, who criticize the capitalistic system and its societal and economic effects on mankind. The diverse critics range from economical critic on, for example, financial interest, over feminist and postcolonial critics up to criticism of genetic technologies. Alongside the interlocutors perform diverse kinds of care and ethical lifestyle, building structures of solidarity, striving for good practice in living, protesting, singing, taking care of the metaphysic and corporeal self and debating utopian ideas collectively. The aim of my speech is to show the correlation of anti-capitalist theories (“dark anthropology”) on the one hand, and practices of hope, care and goodness on the other hand by comparing three religious activists. I will argue, that my interlocutors perform their lives in a specific ethical mode, which is always deeply connected to their analysis of inequality and their knowledge of oppression and exploitation.

Saraiva, Clara/Doustaly,Cécile: Utopian appropriations of glocal imaginaires for and inter-path dialogue (or the lack thereof): the cases of Sintra and Westminster

Abstract 🖉

This paper proposes to reflect upon the notion of “inter-path Eutopia” and the possibility  for inter-religious dialogue, using the case studies of two World Heritage sites. Sintra, the summer residence of Portuguese royalty and aristocracy, was classified in 1995 by UNESCO as a WH site, in the category of Cultural landscape, and is described as a model of Romantic monumental and natural heritage. Placed in front of the westmost point of Europe, the Roca Cape, it is reputed for its especial energy, and used by multiple religions as a space for their ceremonies, offerings and varied rituals. They all assign Sintra an utopian role of being a sacred, magical place, where offerings to the (various) gods can be made and produce positive effects. Sintra´s imaginaries becomes nowadays the stage for new appropriations from diverse publics, for even more glocal multi-performances, with its magic spreading to world conflicts and to their utopian resolution.UNESCO inscribed the Palace of Westminster, Westminster Abbey, and St Margaret's Church as WH site for their artistic and political attributes, not citing religion. Westminster Abbey, where coronations and funerals of monarchs are held, symbolizes the fusion of the Church of England with parliamentary monarchy. However, “Westminster Abbey’s primary purpose is to be a working inclusive church”: from the Christian pilgrimage of its founder St Edward the Confessor, to services involving war, commonwealth and celebrations. Acting as a glocal space for spiritual and civic mediation, the Abbey harnesses its entangled religious, civic, cultural and commercial imaginaries to support ethics and values of tolerance and peace which may stand as utopian. Can such sites become utopian spaces by allowing diverse inter-path constituencies to live in harmony in the context of mass tourism appeal?


16.00 – 17.00   

WG-meeting & closing remarks

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Agenda for the WG-Meeting 🖉

1) election of the co-chairs and the WG-board

2) next WG-conference, publication

3) miscellaneous






Other HU Plone page: file:///C:/Users/Victoria%20Hegner/Downloads/program_abstracts-1.pdf


Other HU Plone page: file:///C:/Users/Victoria%20Hegner/Downloads/program_abstracts-1.pdf