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Religions join people in common endeavours, offer fulfilment and purpose to their adherents, and bind together the material and the immaterial. They can be described propositionally, but are whole ways of life. As such, religions have characteristics which may be clear to those within, but which are difficult to grasp for those without: inhabiting a building is different to looking over its blueprints. The examination of what is added (and what is lost) by taking the inside view is the theme of this year's annual meeting.

Religion from the Inside looks different in different religious traditions. Within some, the inside view is engaged mainly with questions of theology: the contemplation of the divine and all things in relation thereto. Within others, it is preoccupied with the conforming of human action to a more-than-human law. In yet other, an emic perspective focuses on the practice and experience of ritual. Reflection on sacred texts is common to many traditions, and often differs from external consideration of the same documents. Acknowledging the existence of emic knowledge can be an invitation to exploration and relationship rather than a method of isolation.

Panel participating in the theme may choose to explore whether and how emic insights can be articulated in propositional form accessible to etic readers. They may engage with distinctively emic epistemologies, such as narrative traditions or second-person knowledge, which cast religious belief less as an intellectual acceptance of propositions than as an entry into a relationship. They may also discuss empirical questions of the differences religious faith or practice makes to perception, psychology, or individual and communal life. Equally, panels may examine the risks of insulated perspectives, including the exclusionary thrust of strong distinctions between insider and outsider, and the repudiation of common standards of truth.

Questions might include:

  • What are the differences between the external (etic) and internal (emic) point of view on a doctrine, sacred text, practice, or tradition?

  • Everyone's outside is someone else's inside, and everyone looks from a vantage point in which he or she is immersed. How do we engage this plurality of emic perspectives, including within traditions (rather than a simple emic/etic division)?

  • What are the gains or opportunities of an emic perspective? What are its distinctive risks?

  • How do different disciplines interact with emic and etic perspectives and with each other, including theology, philosophy, law, political science, anthropology, sociology, and cultural studies?

  • How and to what extent can emic perspectives be shared without requiring immersion in the way of life from which they arise?

  • To what extent are the boundaries between emic and etic fluid, and what causes them to shift?

Keynote lectures are planned by Prof. David Brown, Dr Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, Prof. Diwakar Acharya, Dr John Makransky, and Prof. Lejla Demiri.


The five European Academy of Religion 2023 keynote lectures are now published on the St Andrews Encyclopaedia of Theology YouTube channel.

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