Religious Exemption and the State 400-1300, 14th-16th April 2016: call for papers

*** For the conference programme and other relevant information, see the conference website ***

Call for Papers (deadline Friday 19th September 2015)

Throughout history, religious groups across the world have claimed exemption from their rulers’ demands, with a considerable degree of success. Such exemptions were prevalent in the pre-modern world, from Buddhist monks’ accumulation of tax-free lands to Latin clerics’ assertion of ‘benefit of clergy’ and Islamic charitable waqf. Although the particular forms of exemption varied according to religious practices and the nature of the political systems in which they operated, a common set of core similarities is apparent.

A full appreciation of these exemptions’ significance in the pre-modern world has however been impeded, on the one hand by their embedding in traditional narratives such as the rise of the modern (Western) state, to which they are often represented as obstacles, and on the other by the conceptual difficulties posed by the categories at the historian’s disposal, such as ‘religion’, ‘secular’, and indeed ‘state’, when applied to the pre-modern period.

This conference, supported by the AHRC, seeks to engage with these problems as a contribution to developing a comparative global historical understanding of religious exemption from state demands in the pre-modern world. Confirmed participants include R.I. Moore (Newcastle), Naomi Standen (Birmingham), and Andrew Wareham (Roehampton).

The conference, held at the Department of History in Sheffield from Thursday evening  (14th April 2016) through to Saturday morning (16th April 2016), will address three key questions. Firstly, how common were these exemptions on a global scale, and what kind of commonalities did they share? Secondly, what kind of structural role did these exemptions play: did they weaken the states that conceded them, or did they rather – as some recent research has suggested – strengthen them, whether by providing legitimacy or by supporting the informal networks underpinning the formal exercise of power? Thirdly, how should the demarcation they created best be conceptualised in an age thought not to have been structured by the modern secular/religious distinction?

We welcome proposals for 20-minute papers addressing these questions, whether on the basis of case studies or through critical engagement with specialist historiography, with a preference for studies concentrating on the period 400-1300 CE. Speakers will be requested to pre-circulate their papers in March 2016 in a form accessible to non-specialists, and we are in discussions with a  journal for post-conference publication. Limited travel funds are available, and accommodation for the duration of the conference will be provided for speakers.

Paper proposals and all other queries to c.m.west@sheffield.ac.uk, by Friday 19 September.

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