Columbia University Religion Graduate Students Association

Belief Matters: Reconceptualizing Belief and Its Use

2 April 2009
Columbia University
New York City

Conference poster

Hosted by the Columbia University Religion Graduate Students Association

Keynote addresses by Penny Edgell (Professor of Sociology, University of Minnesota) and Michael Taussig (Professor of Anthropology, Columbia University)

In recent decades, sociologically- and anthropologically-minded scholars of religion have focused far more on rituals, practices, identities, and institutions than on doctrines and beliefs. This emphasis has stemmed from a recognition that "lived religion" is multi-layered, less systematic, and less voluntary than belief-centered paradigms tend to presume, as well as from an awareness that such paradigms fit some traditions and methodologies far better than others.

The turn away from belief has helped scholars see religion as a dynamic phenomenon that exists not just in peoples' heads but also in their assumptions, everyday practices, and relationships. At the same time, however, this shift may have kept scholars from examining ways in which concepts of belief and believing remain central to how scholars, practitioners, institutions, and states conceptualize what religion is and how it operates in the world.

By reexamining what it means to "believe," this conference explores if and how belief still matters. Participants will discuss methodological, theoretical, and topical issues in the following six panels:

Ways of Believing

Belief and the State
Belief vs. Practice
Counting Believers
Belief and Science
Theorizing Belief

Patton Burchett
Daniel Vaca

Sponsored by:
Columbia University Department of Religion
Barnard College Department of Religion
Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life
Columbia University Graduate Student Advisory Council
Columbia University Department of Anthropology
Columbia University Department of Sociology