Language & Religion Symposium

Language & Religion Symposium

Newman University Birmingham

Friday 17 June 2022, In-person and Online

Language has always played an incredibly important role in how religions develop and change over time and in different contexts. This symposium will feature presentations from academics doing work with different religious communities both throughout the world and with a specific focus on Birmingham. Everyone is welcome to attend, including practitioners in religious organisations, linguists, educators and educationalists, theologians, sociologists, and anyone else with an interest in language and religion.

The symposium is free and will include the possibility to participate in person at Newman University Birmingham or online. The symposium is part of a larger AHRC-funded project entitled Language and Religion in the Superdiverse City (AH/V00980X/1).

Zoom Link đź”— #langrel22

Time (BST)Schedule
9:30-10:00Registration Newman University Atrium, Genners Lane, B32 3NT Birmingham Getting to Newman
10:00-10:15Language and Religion Introduction
Stephen Pihlaja (Newman University) and Helen Ringrow (University of Portsmouth)
10:15-11:15Keynote: Why do faith literacies and identities matter?
Vally Lytra (Goldsmith’s University)
Faith is a crucial driving force worldwide. Nevertheless, education and wider society tend to ignore or disparage the role of faith in young people’s educational achievement, socialisation and identity development. In my talk, I share insights from the BeLiFs project, a multi-site team ethnography of young people’s faith literacies and identities in four faith communities in London, UK ( I demonstrate how faith literacies nurture language and literacy learning and the development of a sense of community and belonging alongside strong expectations of high standards for achievement, a sense of agency and positive learner identities, as we work collectively toward more pluralistic, democratic, and equitable approaches to education and society.
11:15-11:45Break with refreshments
11:45-12:15Wearing all the faces: Analyzing religious metaphor from a cognitive perspective 
Peter Richardson (Hokkaido Bunkyo University)
This presentation examines an extract of a conversation on YouTube between Adyashanti, a popular Zen Buddhist teacher, and one of his students at a retreat. I first provide a basic introduction to the notions of metaphor and blending before discussing the benefits of focusing on how believers conceptualize their beliefs at particular moments in an exchange. The analysis of the extract will then attempt to show this in action as Adyashanti integrates references to Jesus into figurative ways of expressing Buddhist ideas to create a synthesis that both appeals to his target audience while addressing a challenging question.
12:15-12:45Linguistic Hospitality in Superdiversity
Linda Sauer Bredvik (University of Heidelberg)
How can the ways in which we talk about what we believe with others who believe differently indicate an openness to varied worldviews? This talk draws on over 55 hours of recorded interreligious encounters to demonstrate how conversations between participants of multiple (and no) faith practices can display linguistic hospitality. Participants were linguistically and culturally diverse and while topics of conversation were not necessarily “religious,” all the dialogues were deliberately approached from the interlocutor’s specific faith practice. Results show that co-occurring contextual cues – a speaker’s use of silence, multiple languages, or filled pauses – allow other participants to infer the speaker’s intention to be hospitable and to seek sites of narrative overlap between their different faith practices.
12:45-13:45Lunch provided in Newman’s Cafeteria (the Sanctuary)
13:45-14:30Early-Career and Postgraduate Talks

The value of dialogue regarding faith and identity Celine Quinn (Newman University)
Shakespeare, Religion, and the Secondary English Classroom Furzeen Ahmed (University of Derby)
The Influence of religious identity on language use in Saudi Arabia Amal Alhamazany (Manchester Metropolitan University)
14:30-15:00Or Whatever You Call It: British Quakers Telling Ineffable Truth
Rhiannon Grant (Centre for Research in Quaker Studies, Woodbrooke)
British Quakers today are mainly unified by their practices, especially meeting for worship – an hour of unprogrammed worship, in which the majority of the time is silent but anyone present can speak if moved to do so. Within that unity, however, the community includes a wide range of theological perspectives, from relatively traditional Christian belief to Neo-Pagan, Buddhist, post-Christian, postmodern, and nontheist perspectives. In this talk, I’ll explore how lists of words for God – or the Light, the Spirit, Love, Energy, or whatever you call it – enable people to value diversity and maintain unity in a creative tension.
15:00-15:30Break with refreshments
15:30-16:00The Role of Gesture in Conversations about Religious Belief
Sarah Turner (Coventry University)
Meaning is conveyed not only though our spoken language, but also through the gestures that accompany what we say. Previous research has indicated that these gestures serve multiple functions, not only highlighting and emphasising the most important elements of what we are saying, but also elaborating on it — at times even conveying meanings that are not expressed in speech. In this talk, I introduce a piece of research in which participants with a range of religious affiliations or none were video recorded speaking about their beliefs. I explore how the speakers’ gestures add new layers of meaning to what they are saying and could have the potential to shed further light on how they feel about the topics they are describing.
16:00-17:00Practitioner Panel
Discussion of issues of religious diversity from different perspectives by leaders in faith and community organisations within Birmingham, including Rev Alison Richards (Birmingham Methodist Circuit Co-Superintendent), Nasim Walji Pirmohamed (Al-Abbas Islamic Centre), and Benita Wishart (Birmingham Progressive Synagogue) moderated by Helen Ringrow.
17:00Close and Next Steps
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