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International Workshop | Towards a Theory of the Modern Religious Bookshelf

Oct 24, 2024 - Oct 26, 2024

Organised by Christian Meyer (Freie Universität Berlin/EXC 2020), project The Invention of the Modern Religious Bookshelf: Canons, Concepts and Communities (2022-), Research Area 3: "Future Perfect".

The workshop will bring together an array of experts from fields such as literary, religious, area studies, history and more, in order to advance the theorisation of the Modern Religious Bookshelf. The workshop hereby builds upon the previous work done by the team under the lead of Prof. Christian Meyer. Methodologically, the project is based on discourse and dispositif analysis, with a particular focus on the book industry (book printing and distribution as well as libraries) and their role in the (re)production of knowledge. It also draws on the expertise of library science, the history of knowledge and the sociology of knowledge. Central to our theorisation of the modern religious bookshelf is the Actor-network theory (ANT) developed by Bruno Latour and others. The book as the 'immutable mobile' par excellence is gathered with other books in bookshelves functioning as a panopticon. Moreover, its surrounding infrastructures and networks (including libraries, bookstores, but also distribution systems, and various kinds of actors etc.) are seen by us as integral to the formation of knowledge systems. Likewise, literary practices such as writing, reading, publishing, editing, serialising, collecting, canonising, cataloguing, classifying, censoring, shelving, re- and de-shelving are understood as constitutive to the modern religious bookshelf and are our focus.

Guiding questions:

  • How, under which global and local conditions and through which channels of transfer has a global religious canon been formed since the 19th century, which can be found in libraries and bookstores, among other places?
  • What kind of economic and imperial conditions facilitated this emergence of the modern religious bookshelf?
  • Where were these bookshelves created (e.g. the British Library etc.)?
  • Who were and are the local communities, translocal and global networks behind the new canon (in its local variants)?
  • Who were or are the relevant institutions or agents such as book publishers, libraries and bookstores, academic and other (religious) authors, translators, or readers in creating the Religious Bookshelf and their networks?
  • To what extent was (and is) the new "global canon" of the Religious Bookshelf actually the same everywhere, or how much did or does it differ due to local discursive events, legal and social restrictions (taboos, censorship) or other conditions?
  • How has it also changed in time through changing receptive milieus and communities? How are systems of book display ("shelving") practiced locally in the case of religious literatures in comparison? How can these practices be interpreted?
  • What definitions of religion were used when compiling the modern religious bookshelf? What religious and political debates surrounded the emergence of these shelves?
  • How, using which arguments or strategies (or to what extent), was the claim to represent the religion(s) of humankind contested by groups that emphasised the locally-culturally specific characteristics of their particular religion?
  • How do the new religious canons relate to particular 'local pasts', transforming them, and often envision a common global future? What kind of alternative modernities are anticipated by them?


The workshop will likely have four sections, which are framed by an introduction and a conclusion:

I. Theoretical Foundations of the Modern Religious Bookshelf

II. Genealogies of the Modern Religious Bookshelf

III. Networks and Infrastructures of the Modern Religious Bookshelf

IV. Practices of the Modern Religious Bookshelf

V. Concluding Discussion: Towards a Theory of the Modern Religious Bookshelf

Further updates will follow soon.

Time & Location

Oct 24, 2024 - Oct 26, 2024

Freie Universität Berlin
EXC 2020 "Temporal Communities"
Otto-von-Simson-Straße 15
14195 Berlin