skip to content

Cambridge Interfaith Programme

A box of objects primed to assist a young storyteller - a recipe for challah is visible

Organised and hosted by Dr Anastasia Badder (Cambridge) and Dr Lea Taragin-Zeller (Hebrew University of Jerusalem) with Professor Esra Özyürek (Cambridge), this two-day conference brought together sociologists, anthropologists, theologians and religious studies scholars. An event report will be published soon.

Below is the original event description:

Despite the global rise of inter-religious movements, inter-religious organizations and other stakeholders, from governments to faith leaders to secular schools, have begun to express concerns about the challenges of talking about faith and across faiths. Highlighting dialogue’s potential for failure, these concerns have focused on what might be ‘lost in translation’. 

Perhaps in response to these concerns, in recent years, materially oriented inter-religious activities have become increasingly popular in Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa.

At the same time, the material turn in sociology, anthropology, and religious studies has shown the need to attend to the material and embodied nature of religious experience.

Seeking to push back against earlier approaches focused narrowly on belief and text, academics across these disciplines have explored embodied practices and material engagements, showcasing the ways and contexts in which different objects and materials enable or support religious feelings. This body of work has convincingly illustrated the central role that material elements and ‘sensational forms’  play in cultivating connections, belongings, and community across various religious groups. 

While most scholarship on religion and materiality focuses on a single group, this conference draws on the material turn to examine materiality in the context of inter-religious encounters. Drawing on the growing literature on interfaith relations, in a post-pandemic world where people are renegotiating face-to-face encounters, we ask: How do material elements – from buildings to food to bodies – enable inter-religious relations, shape the texture of those relations, and facilitate respect and care?

This conference brings together scholars from various disciplines working across a wide range of contexts to stimulate thinking on the materiality of inter-religious encounters. We are especially interested in questions about the affordances and impact of the material and the ways dialogue and materiality fit together. Questions include:

  • How do materially-oriented activities bring people of different faiths into interaction with each other? 
  • What links between dialogue and material things are at work in these various encounters? 
  • How is this process understood to build respect and peace? 
  • What are ‘materials-in-action’ (Guerrettaz 2021) capable of doing that dialogue cannot? 
  • And, what happens when these material inter-religious encounters intersect with the (secular) public sphere? 

By focusing on the role of the material in inter-religious encounters, this project will reveal an aspect of inter-religious relations so far uninterrogated by scholarship on interfaith relations, complicate the ideological/material, mind/body dichotomies often erected by inter-religious discussions and initiatives, and produce novel connections and insights that will lay the foundations for further investigation and praxis in this area. The move to the material is particularly useful for the practice and study of inter-religious encounters, which have traditionally been oriented around discourse and, especially, dialogue; greater attention to the material could offer transformative new ways of understanding – and cultivating – inter-religious relations in a realm typically dominated by the pull of language.

Keynote speaker: Professor Birgit Meyer, Utrecht University.

This event is sponsored by the Spalding Trust and the Sultan Qaboos Chair of Abrahamic Faiths and Shared Values, with additional support from the Cambridge Interfaith Programme.

Download the full programme (including schedule and abstracts)—last updated, 31 August.


Conference registration (full event)

External attendees are welcome at the conference. To register, please fill out the web form below. NB Registration will not be confirmed until the relevant fee has been paid (£40 / £12 concessions) via the University's online store. 

Public event

The conference also features a book launch for Dr Lea Taragin-Zeller's new book, The State of Desire (NYU, August 2023).  This event will take place at 5:45pm on Thursday 7 September and is open to all; non-conference delegates should register in advance.

Thursday, 7 September, 2023 - 13:30 to Friday, 8 September, 2023 - 17:00
Event location: 
Faculty of Divinity, Cambridge

Latest news

[Event report] The Art of Peace—Sir David Khalili on coexistence and intercultural exchange

11 June 2024

On Thursday 23 May, the Cambridge Interfaith Programme welcomed Professor Sir David Khalili for a keynote lecture exploring “The Art of Peace”. Over the course of 50 minutes...

Conference report | Being with Water Otherwise

14 May 2024

The conference Being with Water OTHERWISE (April 15-16, 2024) brought together scholars, practitioners, and activists from diverse backgrounds to explore the intricate...