Brown Conference on: Authenticity, Origins, and Authority in the Practice and Study of Religion

November 14, 2011

Brown University’s Religious Studies Department presents:
Authenticity, Origins, and Authority
in the Practice and Study of Religion
A Graduate Student Conference
March 16-18, 2012
Keynote Address delivered by Bruce Lincoln, University of Chicago

Notions of authority, claims to authenticity, and appeals to origins are
intimately related concepts deployed in both the practice and study of religion. The
relationship between these concerns is complex, however, and varies widely within
religious thought, religious practice, and academic discourse on religion. Scholars have
long studied, for example, the ways in which notions of the “original” or “authentic” are
used to authorize religious ideologies, both among ancient and modern practitioners.
With the rise of secularism, increasing attention has also been given to studying the ways
in which authenticity itself serves as an authorizing force, as individuals and groups
attempt to define meaningful existence through appeals to “authentic” sources of
“authority,” be they gods, society, or the individual. And finally, this nexus of concerns
manifests itself in the works of academics themselves: sometimes assertions of “authentic
traditions” and “original meaning” creep into scholarly discourse on the study of religion.

This conference aims to probe the multiform connections between notions of
authenticity, origins, and authority among religious actors as well as within academic
discourse on religion. We invite papers from a wide variety of disciples within the
university that seek to explore the variegated relationships between these concepts,
considered through the lenses of religions studied and the scholars who study them.

Possible topics may include, but are not limited to:

• claims to authenticity and authority in the invention of religious practices
• divine origins and other kinds of authenticating claims
• the role of secularization in claims to authenticity
• authenticity in modern moral philosophy (authenticity, “the self” and ethical
• religious praxis through media (e.g. cyberpilgrimage) and issues of authenticity
• classifications of religious writings as authentic and inauthentic, and concomitant appeals to origins
• differentiations between canonicity and authenticity
• manuscript variations among religious texts and related discussions of
authenticity, origins, and authority
• deployment of gender categories in discourses about authenticity and origins
• authenticity and ideologies of power
• analyses of the ubiquity of strategies involving claims to the authentic and
• apocalyptic and future-oriented authenticating claims among religious groups
• issues of authentication and religious actors’ attempts to construct religious space

Please submit a 250 word abstract for a 15-20 minute paper by November 30, 2011 to
Brown.Religion.Conference.2012[at] Proposals should include the title of the
paper, the presenter’s name, institutional and departmental affiliation, and any technology
requests. Responses will be sent out by December 20, 2011.