Religion and the Covid-19 Pandemic: Mediating Presence and Distance
CALL FOR PAPERS DEADLINE | 10 JANUARY 2021
This workshop is organised by the Asia Research Institute, NUS, and jointly sponsored with a grant from Yap Kim Hao Memorial Fund for Comparative Religious Studies at Yale-NUS College, Singapore.
This workshop explores religious responses to COVID-19 and ritual innovations under the lenses of media, senses, and spaces. How are ritual actions, events and performances (re)mediated, navigating the complex balance between transformative “presence” (Engelke 2007) and cautious “distance”? How are “sensational forms” (Meyer 2011) reproduced, (dis)embodied or re-invented? In these pandemic times, social distancing requirements place all realms of sociality under new constraints. We seek to address how new demands for distance are negotiated with communities’ aspirations to establish connection, proximity, and togetherness in order to realize their religious and spiritual goals. Large congregations of practitioners have been blamed as ‘clusters’ of viral contagion. In the early phases of the COVID-19 pandemic, mainstream media perpetuated the imagination of religious communities tending to be intrinsically conservative, non-compliant, irreconcilable with medical science, and fundamentally opposed to technology. This workshop challenges such representations by exploring diverse and innovative responses as they unfold in accordance with underlying onto-cosmologies and pre-existing power relationships. Through disciplinary perspectives in religious studies, anthropology, sociology, history, and geography, this workshop will bring together an array of scholars to examine how the matter of achieving ‘presence’ on the one hand, and anxieties to maintain social and physical ‘distance’ on the other, are negotiated.
The questions we aim to explore include the following:
1. How are religions engaging new technologies of mediation between human, divine, and between community members?
2. How is the body sensorium engaged in pandemic forms of religiosity? How do pandemic transformations and the use of new media affect sensory and bodily engagements in ritual contexts
3. How are spatial configurations of the sacred shifted to private, domestic, and online spaces? What are the perceptions of presence and absence emerging from such reconfigurations? How are online and domestic modes of worship again cautiously shifted back to communal worship in physical settings?