Religion, Politics and Uncertainty: Shifting Boundaries: That is the motto under which the Research Committee on the Sociology of Religion of the International Sociological Association (ISA RC-22) organised this year's mid-term Conference from 11 to 13 November 2021 in Vilnius, Lithuania. Together with Puyan Mahmudian Jegurlaee, I attended the meeting.
The conference´s title couldn't be more appropriate to the many challenges that societies are currently facing. Whether it be the global pandemic, climate change, migration or the flood of human rights violations, people are in a constant process of negotiating their living conditions. The conference programm impressively demonstrated the role religion plays in both private and social life in dealing with these uncertainties.
The conference focused on religion in the context of social and political change from a religious-sociological and religious-scientific perspective. The role of religion was discussed in a hybrid format with a total of 68 participants from 26 countries. The contributions reflected the multifaceted influences of religion. It is indisputable that religion is indispensable in modern societies.
In the numerous contributions, however, one particular focus prevailed: religion and gender. The role of women, gender equality and the question how sexual minorities are dealt with can be observed across national borders. Not only socio-cultural influences, but also the influence of different religious communities shape these discourses on different levels.
The Lithuanian sociologist Rūta Žiliukaitė offered a societal perspective in her work, in which she analyzed traditional Christian family values in connection with politics in Lithuania. Milda Ališauskienė, Associate Professor at Vytautas Magnus University, Kaunas, Lithuania, in turn, presented qualitative interviews with pagan women who described their role in their communities and partnerships. Consequently, international developments were discussed. In several lectures, the media discourse as well as activism against the “Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence”, the “Istanbul Convention” from 2011, was examined. Theologian Anne Kull used examples from Estonia to describe how it is understood as an attack on values by patriarchal and nationalist ideologists in both secular and religious areas of society.
On this account the history of Lithuania is the perfect example to observe the social confrontation with religious world views and the role of women. The visit to the Lithuanian National Gallery of Art impressively showed me that this is by no means a new discourse. The artist Marija Teresė Rožanskaitė (1933-2007), known for her progressive themes, grew up in the Soviet Union, shaped by experiences of censorship. One of her most impressive paintings (1975) is a modern Maria Magdalena in a red dress and purple leggings. A reinterpretation of the woman dubbed a sinner, who turns her back on the religious symbol of the cross and confidently goes her way. The artist Jurga Barilaitė also tells of a changed relationship between culture and religion and questions images of women with her series of pictures “Six Rules How to Play Mother” from 1998. In addition, many works of art also dealt with religion in a modern world, for example through Ramūnas Danisevičius photography with the title ,Shrek‘, which shows two nuns at a cinema show. Furthermore, the plurality and coexistence of religions was also reflected. The work “Conversation” by the artist Raimundas Sližys, who primarily dealt with secularism in his works, shows a Christian and a Jewish clergyman in conversation. The Christian is shown with his arms crossed and a negative expression on his face, while the Jewish clergyman tries to break open his arms. The museum offers online access to the permanent exhibition, which is highly recommended.
The conference as well as the exhibition in the National Gallery of Art showed in an impressive way not only the role religions play in modern societies, but also the long history of the discourses on religious plurality, religious coexistence and the position of women in society. And above all: in times of social change, political polarization and social insecurity, the influence of religions shows itself in numerous facets.
Text: Nelli Felker
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