Thoughts on the BASR 2017 Conference

The British Association for the Study of Religion 2017 conference just wrapped up, and now I’m back in the comfy confines of small Durham. So now I’ll be ignoring my chapter which is due soon, and instead give you my completely unwarranted opinion on the BASR 2017 conference.

The BASR conference this year took place in Chester, running from the 4-6 of September. This was my second time attending the BASR, and was happy to be coming back this last year. Many of the connections and friends made in academia throughout the last couple years are only seen once a year at this conference, so its an event I looked forward to.

And in all honesty, it did not disappoint. The panels were all interesting – there was always at least one paper in a panel which was grabbing. I found myself often struggling to choose which panel to attend, something I frequently don’t have at conferences. Often there’s only one which sounds interesting, and it’s easy to decide. BASR 2017 was made up of panels and papers so appealing that I was almost disappointed I couldn’t attend every one of them.

I was personally excited to see multiple representatives of religion and popular culture at the conference. I’m frequently used to being the only paper, but this year was different. Not only did I share a panel with others talking about popular fiction, but there was also a scattering of others including studies of knitting (Anna Fisk), Twin Peaks (Louise Child), Christmas (Lucinda Murphy), and a study of the “Dark Goddess” on social media (Áine Warren).

The last set of papers included a lightening round room, where new postgraduates had a shorter amount of time to share the ideas of their research. This was not only an interesting room, but valuable to both the new postgraduate experience, and also for the scholars listening in the room. It allowed for those working in their respective fields for so long to they get a fresh perspective on a completely different subsection of a completely different field.

The facilities were also wonderful. The rooms were the kind of rooms I wish I had when I was doing my undergraduate living campus. The food was delicious, and wonderfully (and interestingly) all vegetarian.

One of the affects I saw happening here at the BASR this year was an eye-opening to various issues in religious studies, and more than just what some of the papers discussed. Ronald Hutton’s keynote was a moving illustration of the ill-treatment some scholars/practitioners of paganism receive, from both inside and outside the academy. In an almost strong contribution to this conversation was the next morning’s panel on Narrating Gender and Sexuality. It was nice to see a room of about 14 people, though all but one of these were women. As long as the only people defending paganism are pagans themselves, change seems to be slow to take place. As long as the only defenders of women’s spirituality are women, there is likely to be little change. The incredibly gendered panels and narratives of academic repression of pagan narratives emphasized the issues in the wider religious studies sphere.

In the namesake of the theme of the BASR this year, we must not stop getting these narratives heard. But those who speak these narratives, or write them, or publish them can only do those things. We cannot force the others to listen. So I appeal to you – the academics in Ronald Hutton’s keynote who were shocked by the treatment of our fellows, the academics who did not attend the panels on women’s spirituality, those who neglected to hear the narratives of the less represented – I appeal to you to listen. Listen to these narratives when they are spoken at conferences like the BASR. Read. Read them when they are published. Our job appeals to us to listen to the narratives of those we interview, but we cannot stop there. We must listen to the narratives our colleagues speak. And we cannot wrap ourselves in the often-elitist spire of the Ivory Tower. We must look down on the ground, where the people we choose to study are, and listen to their narratives even if we do not study them.  Things cannot change unless we do.