CFP: Public Benefit in the Study of Religion

Call for Papers: Joint BASR/BSA-SOCREL panel on the ‘Public benefit in the study of religion’ with keynote panel speakers Prof. Eileen Barker and Prof. Douglas Davies.

BASR annual conference, September 5-7 2012 University of Winchester. Abstracts to Dr Abby Day and Dr Bettina Schmidt by 1 April 2012.

Who benefits from the study of religion? How have teachers and researchers engaged with the idea of ‘public benefit’, either directly or indirectly?

The panel is jointly organised by Dr Bettina Schmidt, Hon. Secretary BASR, and Dr Abby Day, Chair, SOCREL. BASR and SOCREL are the two professional organisations that together represent the UK’s leading scholars in the study of religion.

The British Association for the Study of Religions (BASR), formerly the British Association for the History of Religions (founded in 1954), is affiliated to the International Association for the History of Religions (IAHR), whose object is the promotion of the academic study of religions through the international collaboration of all scholars whose research has a bearing on the subject.

The Sociology of Religion (SOCREL) study group, founded in 1975, is the second largest discipline study group within the British Sociological Association (BSA) and, like BASR, exists to promote the discipline and its development through international networking, conferences and post-graduate development.

The topic of the panel is how research has directly benefited ‘the public’. The panel will focus on two aspects of this broad theme as it relates to the study of religion: 1) What do we mean by ‘public benefit’? How do we demonstrate it, measure it, communicate it and what are the practical and theoretical issues surrounding the idea of how the study of religion – or faith, or belief – can operate in the, or perhaps as a, public good? Are there theoretical problems in considering what is meant by ‘public’ or ‘benefit’ in different cultural and historical contexts? 2) What are some case examples of how research or teaching about religion has contributed to the public good? We are not asking here for examples about how ‘religion’ has contributed to the public but specifically how the study of and research on religion has done so.

An example of public benefits is described by the Charity Commission in a recent assessment of the Royal Opera House. The Commission explains how the staging of public performances of art, such as opera and ballet, is a recognised means of advancing the arts. The charity’s established reputation amongst the public, funders and commentators as a leading presenter of these art forms, together with many awards at national and international level, are all positive indicators of artistic quality.

Organisations focusing on the advancement of the social sciences have made efforts to clearly frame their work in the context of public benefit. The Foundation for the Sociology of Health and Illness state that ‘the objects for which the charity is established are for the public benefit to promote and improve social scientific research, education and scholarship in the field of the sociology of health and illness.’ This increasing need for organisations focusing on the advancement of social sciences to demonstrate their work’s public benefit provides the backdrop to the upcoming panel.

Papers are welcome that discuss how terms like ‘religion’, ‘benefit’ and ‘public’ are construed and understood, whether it is by the ‘public’, by Research Councils or other funding bodies, and how the study of religion has made a positive impact on it. The topic of the panel relates to our daily practice as researchers when asking for funding or having to present the outcomes of our research. Research Councils ask every applicant to explain the possible impact of a research project and in the coming years we will have to demonstrate as part of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) the wider impact of our research. It is therefore crucial to come to an understanding of ‘public benefits’ of our research.

Details and more information can be got by contacting Dr Abby Day, AHRC British Council Fellow Senior Research Fellow, Department of Religious Studies, School of European Culture & Languages, University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent, CT2 7NF, UK Visiting Research Fellow Department of Geography University of Sussex Brighton BN1 9RH UK