Approaching Religion <p><em>Approaching Religion</em> is an academic open access journal published by the Donner Institute for Research in Religion and Culture in Åbo, Finland.</p> en-US <p>The license of the published metadata is Creative Commons CCO 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0)</p> (Donner Institute) (Maria Vasenkari) Tue, 30 Apr 2024 09:55:43 +0300 OJS 60 Religion and Spirituality as Sites of Learning <p class="p1">Learning penetrates religion in many ways. Primary religious socialisation – sometimes referred to as religious nurture – is the process by which children are explicitly and purposefully taught to do things religiously or they learn implicitly by following what their families and other people around them do, speak and feel. In secondary religious socialisation one sets about learning something additional to or different from what was learned and internalised in one’s religious or non-religious childhood home and surroundings. Secondary socialisation may also entail processes of unlearning something previously learned in order to grasp and master the skills, ways of thinking and feeling, and discursive habits of the new worldview and context of life. Learning in both primary and secondary socialisation can in some cases turn into a thoroughly religiously informed way of life. Alternatively, religious learning may not always be sufficiently lengthy and committed to result in full socialisation. Many people engage in religion merely in special situations or turning points in life, and after that particular need is over, religion loses its acute significance. Furthermore, religious learning may also have intended or unintended effects and consequences beyond the more strictly bounded religious sphere and may come to be reflected in personal and relational life much more widely. (See Long and Hadden 1983; Sherkat 2003; Collet Sabe 2007; Berliner and Sarró 2008; Erricker, Ota and Erricker 2012; Scourfield et al. 2013; Klingenberg, Sjö and Broo 2019.)</p> Terhi Utriainen, Ville Husgafvel, Kim Knott, Ruth Illman Copyright (c) 2024 Terhi Utriainen, Ville Husgafvel, Ruth Illman, Kim Knott Tue, 30 Apr 2024 00:00:00 +0300 Newcomers Learning Religious Ritual <p class="p1"><span class="s1">In </span><span class="s1"> this article, we explore the learning of newcomers in a religious community through a micro-sociological approach, making use of Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger’s (1991) notion of “legitimate peripheral participation” to conceptualize initial stages of inclusion and involvement in social practice. Our case study concerns Orthodox Christianity and is based on material gathered through fieldwork in a course targeting potential new members organized by a Finnish Orthodox parish. In the analysis, we inquire into how beginners learn skilful participation in Orthodox liturgical life, and specifically embodied ritual conduct. This learning takes place primarily through participation in real-life divine services. The article highlights challenges faced by beginners in acquiring the embodied repertoire of Orthodox ritual, including adapting to the artistic use of ritual gestures, and negotiating the meanings produced through them. Furthermore, it also illustrates how nuanced dynamics between newcomers and old-timers influence the learning process.</span></p> Helena Kupari, Terhi Utriainen Copyright (c) 2024 Helena Kupari, Terhi Utriainen Tue, 30 Apr 2024 00:00:00 +0300 A Laboratory of Stories <p class="p1">This article develops the concept of <em>community lore</em>, initially devised by the social learning theorists Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger (1991). In extending this promising but hitherto neglected aspect of their work, this article sheds light on <em>how</em> and <em>why</em> community lore sustains and propels teaching and learning in the contemporary esoteric society Sodalitas Rosae Crucis (SRC). Ethnographic findings illuminate how the situated, informal community lore becomes a pervasive learning device that underwrites individual and collective learning, as it emerges in small talk, gossip, and cautionary tales, told and shared among members. Furthermore, a dynamic of tradition and innovation is at play within the community lore, as it sustains tradition while also providing a breeding ground for new ideas and practices that lead to innovation. Within the constructive tension between tradition and innovation, I delineate how community lore works as an educational resource, with explanatory value for situated learning, especially within esoteric communities of practice.</p> Olivia Cejvan Copyright (c) 2024 Olivia Cejvan Tue, 30 Apr 2024 00:00:00 +0300 Hop-on Hop-off Spirituality <p class="p1">In contemporary spirituality-related thought and behaviour in Estonia (as well as in a number of other regions), a phenomenon can be observed that I call hop-on hop-off spirituality. This means testing and tasting of various forms of contemporary spirituality (via techniques, courses, lectures, books, etc.) out of curiosity or for fun or just because a friend said that this or that teaching has changed their life. Such experimenting can sometimes result in deeper spiritual involvement or change in worldview but often doesn’t bring along anything that could be defined as deeper spiritual or religious commitment or belonging. Based on interviews, questionnaire responses and written life-history narratives from Estonia from the 1990s to 2020s, I will analyse how the suggested term fits into the context of already existing definitions and terms related to “spirituality”, and how such “hop-on hop-off” participation can be still seen as a learning process that influences one’s values, meaning-making, coping models, and lifestyle.</p> Reet Hiiemäe Copyright (c) 2024 Reet Hiiemäe Tue, 30 Apr 2024 00:00:00 +0300 Engaging with the Qur’an <p class="p1">In this article, I examine what selected Muslim women in Finland and Egypt do with the Qur’an in their daily lives. I shed light on their modes of engagement with the Qur’an (spiritual, emotional, intellectual, communal). I analyse how their relationship with the Qur’an is shaped and changes over the course of their life. I pay attention to the interplay between the women’s daily lives and the ways in which they experience, learn from, grapple with, and interpret the text. My overall aim is twofold: to contribute to research-based understanding of the Qur’an as daily religious practice that in many ways involves learning both about God and about the complex circumstances of personal life, and to unpack the layered and shifting meanings of this practice in the context of the women’s lives. My analysis is informed by life-story interviews with six women in Helsinki and Cairo (three in each country).</p> Mulki Al-Sharmani Copyright (c) 2024 Mulki Al-Sharmani Tue, 30 Apr 2024 00:00:00 +0300 Learning in the Intimacy of the Guru-Disciple Relationship <p class="p1">Our article has two aims: first, to track the ethos of learning and the importance of the guru–disciple relationship in the Amma movement, and secondly, to explore the ways in which one Finnish disciple frames her life though this special relationship. The narrative of the disciple becomes especially interesting in that she is a long-term devotee from Finland who has a background in formal academic learning and works in a socially highly valued and demanding profession – and yet has chosen to invest a considerable amount of time and energy to spirituality and committed herself to a close and intimate guru–disciple relationship that guides her personal and work life as well as her overall understanding of learning. Our case study, drawing especially on such materials as Amma’s public discourse and one extensive individual narrative, complemented by ethnographical observations in the ashram in India, shows how pervasive the language and ethos of learning can be in a spiritual context, and what the intimacy of the teacher–student relationship may provide to highly educated individuals in contemporary largely secular Western society.</p> Tiina-Mari Mällinen, Terhi Utriainen Copyright (c) 2024 Tiina-Mari Mällinen, Terhi Utriainen Tue, 30 Apr 2024 00:00:00 +0300 Sohbet <p class="p1"><em>So</em><em>hbet</em> (conversation) is a weekly, informal, religious-learning gathering that has been conducted by members of the Islamic Hizmet/Gülen Movement since its inception. The movement was established in Turkey in 1966 by Fethullah Gülen and his followers. It has evolved into a transnational social movement through educational, dialogical, and humanitarian aid/entrepreneurial activities. The movement was held responsible by the Turkish government for the so-called coup attempt in 2016. Tens of thousands of members fled, and the movement’s centre of gravity shifted from Turkey to the diaspora. This ethnographic research project addresses the transformations within the movement during the diaspora phase. Focusing on a female <em>sohbet</em> group in Helsinki, I investigate the participants’ understandings of <em>sohbet</em> and how the <em>sohbet</em> has evolved since 2016. Thematic analysis reveals three predominant themes for understanding: socialization, belonging to a community, and a quest for piety. This article illustrates that <em>sohbet</em> is a space for religious learning, social interactions, and affirming a shared identity that shapes the <em>hizmet</em> habitus. Furthermore, <em>sohbet</em> revitalized the <em>hizmet</em> habitus following the forced migration. This study contributes to the existing literature on the <em>sohbet</em> by investigating it post-migration. Simultaneously, it contributes to studies on religious movements and how migration affects them.</p> Emine Neval Copyright (c) 2024 Emine Neval Tue, 30 Apr 2024 00:00:00 +0300 Caring for Health, Bodies, and Development <p class="p1"><span class="s1">Ov</span><span class="s1">er the last fifty years a plethora of new spir</span>itual practices has emerged in the Church of Sweden. Many fall within a category of holistic practices, aimed at engaging body, soul, and spirit. Among these, two categories are dominant: meditations and movement-based bodily practices. Some of these practices are contested by other Christians on a theological basis. The article asks: Who are the new ritual specialists teaching these practices? Why do they teach these practices? Why in the church? By using a bottom-up perspective and studying practices which lie outside the traditional Christian religious rites, which has been the focus in research on the Church of Sweden, we find that the holistic practices are framed in a culture of care, focusing on bodily and spiritual wellbeing. We suggest that the predominance of women in body-movement practices should be understood as a generational feature rather than as an expression of the feminization of the church. Many of the leaders are women who were part of new spiritual movements as well as body-mind practices and various forms of dance in gyms and yoga studios in the 1990s and early 2000s, finding an openness to bringing their knowledge into the church.</p> Katarina Plank, Helene Egnell, Linnea Lundgren Copyright (c) 2024 Katarina Plank, Helene Egnell, Linnea Lundgren Tue, 30 Apr 2024 00:00:00 +0300 How to Think like an Atheist <p class="p1">Atheism has had a strong presence on YouTube since its founding in the mid-2000s, which coincided with the rise of the new atheism movement, and lay atheists were quick to use the platform to spread new atheist ideas. Drawing from a sample of sixty-five atheist YouTube channels located and observed through online ethnographic methods, this article views YouTube videos as educational resources for atheists. It investigates different types of educational videos and ways of thinking about science, philosophy, and religion that atheist content creators utilize and promote. The analysis reveals that they consistently frame these domains of knowledge through the truth claims they make and generally construct them within a hierarchical framework, with scientific knowledge at the top and religious knowledge at the bottom. Overall, their educational content reproduces new atheist discourses around these subjects, revealing the continuing influence of new atheism, two decades after its emergence. Furthermore, the popularity of videos that debunk arguments from religious apologists suggests that the intended audience of these videos includes both atheists, who are expected to need to learn to defend their atheism in debate with religious others, and “potential atheists”, religious believers who can be deconverted using rational arguments.</p> Robin Isomaa Copyright (c) 2024 Robin Isomaa Tue, 30 Apr 2024 00:00:00 +0300 Communities of Practice and the Buddhist Education Reforms of Early-Twentieth-Century China <p class="p1">Over the course of only a few decades during the late nineteenth to early twentieth centuries, part of mainstream Buddhist education underwent a striking shift in China. From being a secluded practice within monastery walls taught by monastics for monastics with a strict focus on Buddhist scripture, it became one where monastics and laypeople study together, guided by teachers, both monastic and lay, studying a curriculum of both Buddhist and secular subjects. Although general reforms within the Buddhist community of the times received considerable scholarly attention, the topic of education development was discussed in only a few instances. Therefore, the present article sets out to explore why this radical methodological shift happened, and more concretely, how the individual learning trajectories of the reforms’ leading actors, and their involvement in specific communities, influenced the way the reforms unfolded. The author analyses the work and life of three generations of Buddhist reformers, namely the layman Yang Wenhui, and the monastic masters Taixu, Hsing Yun and Cheng Yen, employing Étienne Wenger’s social theory of learning. The theory’s main assertion that communities of practice provide the main fora of learning for individuals, and its description of the concrete ways in which this learning takes place can provide new insights regarding the specific unfolding of late-nineteenth to early-twentieth-century Buddhist education reforms in China.</p> Peter Boros Copyright (c) 2024 Peter Boros Tue, 30 Apr 2024 00:00:00 +0300 Esotericism against Capitalism? <p class="p1">This article seeks a better understanding of how Rudolf Steiner envisioned his reform pedagogy as a site of spiritual learning (for example through art, seasonal festivals, ritual drama, etc.), but also as a specific site intended to resist the encroaching influence of capitalism, materialism, and corporatism spreading in Germany following the First World War. Steiner’s ideas about education did not emerge in a vacuum. He was inspired by and connected with other forms of communist, socialist, and <em>Lebensreform</em> movements in his time. Yet Steiner more actively embraced and incorporated esotericism into his pedagogical project. How did his approach differ from the other anti-capitalist and anti-materialist-inspired schools that were spreading, and what role did esotericism play in terms of developing Waldorf students? This article explores these questions and contributes to a recontextualization of both Steiner and esotericism taking place in the academy.</p> Aaron French Copyright (c) 2024 Aaron French Tue, 30 Apr 2024 00:00:00 +0300 Can a case be made for “unlearning” in the study of religions? <p class="p1">The concept of “unlearning” has been positively endorsed in both self-help literature and organizational research, but has yet to be discussed in the study of religions. Is there room for it in the conceptual space of religious socialization, pedagogy and spiritual seeking? Where does it occur in the spiritual journey, and what is its purpose? From the perspective of social learning, and drawing on a definition and model from organizational studies, the case for “unlearning” is considered with reference to those leaving religion. Addressing research gaps identified by organizational-studies scholars, I consider how leavers experience the process of freeing themselves from previously held beliefs, practices and commitments. What is revealed is an iterative and emotionally fraught process in which even voluntary religious leavers struggle to move on, often feeling powerless, even coerced by others. Whilst there is a broad fit between the basic process model of unlearning and what leavers experience, that is not the full story. Furthermore, questions remain about whether “unlearning” is a necessary or suitable concept, not least because it is rarely used by scholars of religion or practitioners themselves, all of whom prefer other terms.</p> Kim Knott Copyright (c) 2024 Kim Knott Tue, 30 Apr 2024 00:00:00 +0300 “I used to be a traitor” <p class="p1">This article discusses adult conversion in the Russian Baptist community as the unlearning of old sinful ways of living. Russian Baptists see conversion as an act of repentance, surrendering to Christ, and becoming born again, and as a life-long process of growing in faith. Based on an ethnographic study of the Baptist community in north-western and central Russia, the article discusses the glocal nature of the Russian Baptist community that attracts the kind of people that convert to this faith and the circumstances of their conversion. Russian Baptist conversion is viewed as an act and a process, and conversion is seen as an ethical choice and an unlearning of the old ways of living.</p> Igor Mikeshin Copyright (c) 2024 Igor Mikeshin Tue, 30 Apr 2024 00:00:00 +0300 Gendered and Embodied Un/learning among Women Disengaging from Faith in the UK and Finland <p class="p1">Women often embody the central values and practices of their religious tradition. When they leave their community, women find a part of the “religious tapestry” remaining with them long after their disengagement. In this article, we draw from research in the UK and Finland to explore women’s efforts to unlearn parts of their former religious belonging. We draw on in total thirty-five interviews with women who disengaged from the Mormon Church, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Conservative Laestadianism. We conceptualize un/learning as a multi-layered process consisting of both un-learning and re-learning. We explore women’s narratives about negotiating bodily limits, conduct and belonging, and understand these as suggesting experiences of a threefold un/learning: gendered, spatial-social and epistemic. We argue that examining gendered and embodied un/learning helps to understand women’s disengagement processes from minority Christian traditions in Western and Northern European secularized contexts such as the UK and Finland.</p> Nella van den Brandt, Teija Rantala Copyright (c) 2024 Nella van den Brandt, Teija Rantala Tue, 30 Apr 2024 00:00:00 +0300 Extraordinary Bodies, Invisible Worlds <p class="p1">Numerous scholars have signalled that neo-pagan practitioners use their body and their senses to interact with the divine and elaborate a spiritual experience. However, the learning process followed to achieve and produce a sensing body capable of communicating with summoned entities has not been properly assessed, until very recently. For over a decade, I have conducted ethnographic research on neo-pagan ritual practices held at European megalithic sites to understand how practitioners learn to co-construct their somatic experiences culturally. Collected data allowed me to develop a model I called somatic pedagogy, which is a progressive sensory learning process applied by ritual specialists organizing practices. In this review article, I present a synthesis of published material where I have developed this model extensively. Specifically, I will go through the elements that permit this kind of somatic education to be implemented within analysed practices: the specificities of neo-pagan ontologies about the human body and world, the potential of neo-pagan rituals to function as learning sites, and the main stages of this progressive bodily education</p> Yael Dansac Copyright (c) 2024 Yael Dansac Tue, 30 Apr 2024 00:00:00 +0300