Conference: Gastro-Politics and Gastro-Ethics of the Sacred and the Secular in Contemporary Plural Societies

13 November 2019

Conference: Gastro-Politics and Gastro-Ethics of the Sacred and the Secular in Contemporary Plural Societies

Location: Meertens Institute, Oudezijds Achterburgwal 185, Amsterdam
Dates: 13-14-15 November, 2019

Please register by e-mailing Pieter van der Woude (

Click here for the full program and the abstracts of the speakers


The conference focuses on concepts of sacred, profane, pure, and polluted food, delving into how discourses and concepts of food move within established and new sacred and secular ethical discourses and practices contemporary plural societies.

Food has always been an important component of religious rituals, practices and aesthetics. Through food people create and consolidate human-divine relationships, negotiate social and religious power and shape categories of sacred, profane and polluted socio-religious matters.  Today, in contemporary global and plural societies, food regulations, taboos, prohibitions and prescriptions are important ways through which people negotiate socio-religious identity and subjectivities.

Food is also central to evolving and emerging ethical engagements with human and non-humans (animals, plants, and nature as whole). Interestingly, between “established” religious dictates and new food subjectivities (i.e. in vegetarianism, veganism, various forms of food activism, and environmental justice), there are many discursive and performative overlaps and clashes – all to be investigated. For example, religious proscriptions against the consumption of (certain) animals may merge almost seamlessly with a secular ethical regard for all sentient beings, including animals and humans, negatively affected by industrial farming and agro-capitalism. Indeed, the ritual use of animals (ranging from “sacrifice” to so-called “ritual” slaughter) is an increasingly politicized question that often comes into conflict with public opinion and calls to governments to came up with regulations against such observances.  As such, food therefore is one of many sites through which religion, public opinion and state power intermingle or clash.

Indeed, certain forms of food procurement, preparation, digestion or indigestion play a role in shaping individual and collective identities, ethics, subjectivities, which are increasingly mobilized in nativistic and identitarian narratives of nationhood.  In this sense, food and the gut can become sites of enactment and performance of certain kinds of socio-political and religious power on and through the body. Thus, the old adage that “we are what we eat” is more than literal. It is a recognition of the socio-political power of food and the gut and of the gastro-politics and ethics that take place through one of the basic of human needs.

The conference brings together scholars in disciplines such as anthropology, history, religious studies, and food studies and will have various thematic sections focusing on

  • Gastro-politics of the sacred (sacred ingestions/digestion/indigestion)
  • Food regimes and sacred regulations (food taboos, prohibitions as well as food prescriptions)
  • Gastro-ethics and politics of immoral food: veganism(s), animals rights, environmental justice.

The conference is organized by:

->  The Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity (MPI)(hwebsite).The Institute, directed by Peter van der Veer,  is one of the foremost centers for the multi-disciplinary study of diversity, in its multiple forms, in today’s globalizing world.

->  The research programme Religious Matters in an Entangled World ( directed by Birgit Meyer at Utrecht University. Taking a material and corporeal approach to religion, this programme conceptualizes and studies religion as a tangible and palpable phenomenon that is present in the world through bodily practices and specific material cultures. While the first phase of the programme (2016-2018) concentrates on matters arising around religious buildings, images and objects, the second phase (2019-2020) shifts attention to the nexus of religion and food.  

->  The Meertens Institute (MI) in Amsterdam (website). The Meertens Institute, established in 1926, has been a research institute of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) since 1952. They have a long tradition in the documentation and research of historic and contemporary Dutch language and rituals.

For more information, please contact Annalisa Butticci,