Highlighting common threads in the pieces by Beekers, Kasmani and Mattes, and Dilger, this concluding essay reflects on the potential of comparison as conceptual innovation in the anthropological study of religious plurality. Asking how to develop innovative practices of comparison for the sake of grasping the dynamics of plural societies in the light of the articles in this collection, I argue that it is necessary to transcend the bifurcation of the study of religions, which was accentuated with the rise of the anthropologies of Islam and Christianity, in favor of a focus on the secular configuration as a whole, paying attention to power dynamics that assign different spaces for action to different religions (notwithstanding their equality in legal terms). The point of comparison, understood as a critical project geared toward conceptual innovation, is not only to discern so far overlooked, unexpected differences and similarities, but also to understand how these differences and similarities, as well as the possibility to compare as such, are outcomes of long-standing entanglements.
Comparison in the Anthropological Study of Plural Religious Environments
Around Birgit Meyer’s "Mediation and the Genesis of Presence: Toward a Material Approach to Religion"
Hans Belting, Pamela Klassen, Birgit Meyer, Christopher Pinney and Monique Scheer
In the fall of 2011, I was appointed to the Chair of Religious Studies in the Department of Religious Studies and Theology in the Faculty of Humanities. As I soon realized, my appointment occurred amid major transitions regarding the institutionalization of the study of religion at Utrecht University. This is part of a broader trend of renegotiating the space between ‘theology’ and ‘religious studies’. This trend echoes a wider process of ‘unchurching’: as the number of students of theology declines nationwide, religion in new and unexpected guises has become both a hot item and an intriguing socio-cultural and political phenomenon. Over the past year, as part of the process of adapting to my new post, I have grappled with these complicated institutional transformations.