Workshop Religious Matters: Food and Eating in Plural Environments

08 May 2019

Dates: 8-10 May 2019

Location: Royal Netherlands Institute in Rome

If you are interested to attend, please contact Birgit Meyer (B.Meyer@uu.nl) and/or secretary@knir.it

Language: English

Convenor: Birgit Meyer, UU, KNIR

Short intro

This workshop is part of the research program Religious Matters in an Entangled World (www.religiousmatters.nl), directed by Birgit Meyer at Utrecht University. Religious traditions play a key role inshaping people's attitudes to food and eating and drinking practices. This entails the use of food as a medium to relate to god(s) (Eucharist, sacrifices, offerings), food resistrictions and taboos, the use of food as a means to establish community, ethical stances with regard to food procurement and preparation, as well as sensations of pleasure or disgust. Wherever people who socialized in different food regimes meet, there is potential for tensions. But sharing food may also instigate (new) senses of togetherness and sociality. The prime aim of this workshop is to chart the stakes involved in the conflicting co-existence of diverse religious eating and drinking practices and embodied attitudes towards food in plural societies, including Italy.

Presentations by: Rashida Alhassa Adum-Atta, Gaia Cottino, Margreet van Es, Peter Geschiere, Michael Herzfeld, Manpreet K. Janeja, Mirella Klomp, Elizabeth Lambourn, Birgit Meyer, Peter-Ben Smit, Pooyan Tamimi Arab, and Shaheed Tayob.

Longer intro

This workshop is part of the research programme Religious Matters in an Entangled World (www.religiousmatters.nl) 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. The focus lies on clashes over religious matters in plural environments in Europe and Africa. 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.

 

What, with whom, when and how people eat and drink is framed through specific food regimes. People incorporate food in deeply embodied ways that become part of their digestive system, gustatory apparatus and habitus. Eating and drinking fundamentally shapes their being in the world on multiple levels – biological, affective, social, ethical. Being natural and cultural, food is at the same time a biological necessity and a powerful social-cultural phenomenon that underpins embodied identities and a sense of community and (non)belonging. Religious traditions play a key role in shaping people’s attitudes to food and eating and drinking practices. This entails the use of food as a medium to relate to god(s) (Eucharist, sacrifices, offerings), food restrictions and taboos, the use of food as a means to establish community, ethical stances with regard to food procurement and preparation, as well as sensations of pleasure or disgust. Even in strongly unchurching societies such as the Netherlands, longstanding Christian food regimes (e.g. fish on Friday, Calvinist ascetism) still have repercussions on eating practices. At the same time, various new health, life style and ethics-driven incentives profile do’s and don’ts with regard to food, at times with missionary zeal.

 

With increasing religious and cultural plurality, different food regimes co-exist and at times clash with each other. While commotions abound about so-called ritual slaughter and the provision of halal meat, pork as part of school meals, or the non-availability of alcohol in halal restaurants, it is important to note that conflicts about eating and drinking practices reach much further than encounters with Muslims. Wherever people who embrace different food regimes meet, there is potential for tensions. At the same time, sharing food and eating and drinking together may instigate (new) senses of togetherness and sociality. If, as the saying goes, people are what they eat, the question is how they negotiate plural food regimes. Doing so is not merely a matter of personal taste, but also involves legal arrangements, state regulations, institutional policies and cultural or even national sensitivities. Food being a vital matter, a focus on different eating practices and their transformation offers a productive entry point into negotiations of how to coexist in plural environments that involve people with various religious, ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

 

Bringing together scholars in disciplines such as anthropology, history, religious studies, Islamic studies, and theology, this workshop at the KNIR is intended to form the kick-off for the second phase of the Religious Matters programme. Its prime aim is to chart the stakes involved in the conflicting co-existence of diverse religious eating and drinking practices and embodied attitudes towards food in plural environments. The idea is to focus on tensions and negotiations around matters of food on and between multiple levels, including families, neighbourhoods, religious and life style communities, companies, institutions (schools, hospitals). 

 

Schedule events and presentations

 

Religious Matters: Food and Eating in Plural Environments

KNIR, 8–10 May 2019

Convener Birgit Meyer, UU, KNIR

 

8 May

17.00 tea /coffee

17.15 Welcome, Introductions

17.45:

How Food Matters

Birgit Meyer (UU)

18.30 Discussion

 

9 May

9.30-10.45:

Valuing Food – Food Practices in Religious Perspective

Mirella Klomp, PThU Amsterdam & Peter-Ben Smit, Utrecht University

Responses: Katja Rakow (UU)

 

10.45-11.00: coffee/tea

 

11.00-12.00:

Eating Together, Eating Apart: Commensal Practices in a Plural South Asia

Elizabeth Lambourn, De Montfort University, Leicester

Reponses: Manpreet Janeja, Margreet van Es

 

12.00-13.00:

Food, Feeding, and Eating in Plural School Environments: Conundrums, Contestations, Negotiations

Manpreet K Janeja, Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Utrecht University

Responses: Rashida Alhassan Adum-Atta, Pooyan Tamimi-Arab

 

14.00-15.00:

Building Bridges and Blocking Paths Through Food: Negotiating the Presence of Pig Feet (Trotter) among Traders and Interreligious Practitioners in Madina Market, Accra.

Rashida Alhassan Adum-Atta, African Studies Centre (Leiden University) and Utrecht University

Responses: Angelantonio Grossi (UU), Margreet van Es

 

15.00-16.00:

Witchcraft, 'Eating' and the Spectre of Cannibalism - Examples from Cameroon

Peter Geschiere, University of Amsterdam

Responses: Erik Meinema (UU), Jojada Verrips

 

Public roundtable

 

17.30: welcome

17.45-19.00: Roundtable: The Religiosity of Food in Plural Societies

(with presentations by Rashida Adum-Atta, Gaia Cottino, Michael Herzfeld and Margreet van Es, followed by discussion)

19.00: cocktail reception

 

10 May

 

9.15-10.15:

Purity and Substance: Reflections on the Religiosity of Food Nationalism

Michael Herzfeld, Harvard

Responses: Annalisa Butticci (UU, MPI Göttingen); Katja Rakow (UU)

 

10.15-10.30: coffee/tea

 

10.30-11.30:

Vertical Foodscapes: Natureculture Relationships in the Search for Transcendence

Gaia Cottino, Università di Napoli L'orientale - The American University of Rome

Responses: Nina ter Laan (UU)

 

11.30-12.30:

Halal Certification in Comparison: The Semiotics of Halal in India and South Africa

Shaheed Tayob, Stellenbosch University

Responses: Pooyan Tamimi Arab

 

14.00-15.00

Claiming Spaces through Food

Margreet van Es, Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Utrecht University

Responses: Manpreet Janeja (UU)

 

15.00-16.00:

“A Sign for Those who Understand”: An Anthropology of Muslims and Wine Drinking in The Netherlands

Pooyan Tamimi Arab, Utrecht University

Responses: Nina ter Laan (UU), Annemeik Schlatmann (UU)

 

16.00-17.00:

Discussion

 

Abstracts (in order of appearance)

 

How Food Matters

Birgit Meyer, Utrecht University

In this presentation I will situate the theme of this workshop against the horizon of the Religious Matters in an Entangled World research program, for which the religion-food nexus is the focus for the coming two years. The idea is to map some key issues for further debate and research, during the workshop and beyond. Subsequently, I will reflect on “how food matters” with regard to 1) the study of religion from a material angle, 2) the study of plural environments, and 3) theory formation. Food is not only good to think with, but also an indispensable reminder of the groundedness of religion and society in life itself.

 

Valuing Food – Food Practices in Religious Perspective

Mirella Klomp, PThU Amsterdam
and  Peter-Ben Smit, Utrecht University

Food and meal practices were at the core of the research collaboration group in religious studies and theology “Meals in Search of Meaning” (Netherlands), resulting in an edited volume in 2018 (Mirella Klomp, Peter-Ben Smit en Iris Speckmann [red.], Rond de tafel. Maaltijdvieren in liturgische contexten [Berne: Berne Media, 2018]). This paper highlights the main insights and questions resulting from this research collaboration, exploring food and meals and the manner in which they are being “valued” (given value, functioning as signifiers) at the interface of “everyday” meals and “religious” meals, arguing that the two can only be understood in relation to each other – the “religious” is “everyday” and the “everyday” is profoundly “religious.”

 

Eating Together, Eating Apart: Commensal Practices in a Plural South Asia

Elizabeth Lambourn, De Montfort University, Leicester

This paper addresses the central topic of tensions and negotiations around matters of food through an examination of commensal practices among and between different faith communities in South Asia. While a substantial amount of research has centred on modern intra-caste commensality, this paper is especially interested in drilling down into commensality as a site of negotiation between those inside the Brahmanical caste system and non-Brahmanical “outsider” elites: foreign sojourners and, of course, India’s own Christian, Jewish, Parsi and Muslim communities. As a medieval historian and a historian of material culture I am particularly interested in working with the large but heterogeneous group of medieval sources that describe such commensal negotiations, as well as with the material traces of such practices.

 

Food, Feeding, and Eating in Plural School Environments: Conundrums, Contestations, Negotiations

Manpreet K Janeja, Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Utrecht University

School food, feeding and eating are embedded in trenchant national and transnational debates on issues of rising obesity, food (in)security, migration, and “integration” in England and other parts of the UK, as also more widely in Europe and beyond. State interventions and initiatives in the UK such as the National Healthy Schools Programme are amongst various attempts to address this. Successive governments have sought to evoke changes in food preparation and consumption patterns calibrated by varying forms of social inequality, religious and cultural diversity. Through ethnographic vignettes drawing on fieldwork on food, feeding and eating in schools in London, this paper reveals the conundrums, contestations, and negotiations between “unwanted economic difference”, “respect for religious or cultural difference”, and the “need for integration” in fraught plural environments. In so doing, it highlights the role that food, as embedded in the dynamics of trusting/not-trusting, plays in such tensions and conflicts.

 

Building Bridges and Blocking Paths Through Food: Negotiating the Presence of Pig Feet (Trotter) among Traders and Interreligious Practitioners in Madina Market, Accra.

Rashida Alhassan Adum-Atta, African Studies Centre (Leiden University) and Utrecht University

Food is an important element in Madina Zongo, people eat together; and sometimes visit the same market space to either buy food ingredients or already prepared food. This paper highlights how people negotiate their ways through so-called contaminated ingredients/food items and how some ingredients provoke some embodied sensational feelings. I particularly focus on pig feet (trotter) as a marker of interreligious boundary. Pig feet (trotter) predominantly imported to Ghana from Europe is evidently displayed in most markets in the city. My focus here is to present the market space beyond a locus of competition but to explore the roles and sensitivities of its occupants and the people who visit it and how they negotiate their entangled circumstances. Christians, Muslims and to a lesser extent practitioners of Traditional African religions in Madina market share a common space in which they bargain their religious identities and sensitivities. In other words, the presence of ingredients like the pig feet (trotter) plays a key role in the inclusion and exclusion process that results in the “dietary boundaries” which are influenced by religious identities. I use Mary Douglas’s work “purity and danger” as a guide as I interact and observe how pig feet (trotter) serves as a medium in boundary-maintaining mechanism among members of the market space and the people who visit the market to buy other ingredients.

 

Witchcraft, “Eating” and the Spectre of Cannibalism - Examples from Cameroon

Peter Geschiere, University of Amsterdam

As in many African societies “eating” is a heavily charged notion among the Maka in the dense forest region of Southeast Cameroon. It is central to their imaginary around djambe (now always translated as sorcellerie / witchcraft): “witches” are supposed to meet in the night, betraying their relatives who are “eaten” by acolytes from other kin groups. Recently Francis Nyamnjoh has given the cannibalism trope a much broader meaning by relating it to the notion of “incompleteness” which is also central in Birgit Meyer's recent work. In my presentation I hope to relate these explorations to recent changes in the imaginary on “witchcraft” and “cannibalism” among the Maka. For them this topic is quite urgent because especially after some incidents during the forceful 'pacification' of their region by the Germans (1905-1910), they have earned a dark reputation as Cameroon's most inveterate “cannibals.”  

 

Purity and Substance: Reflections on the Religiosity of Food Nationalism

Michael Herzfeld, Harvard

In the intensifying anti-migrant politics of present-day Italy (and Europe more generally), it is useful to revisit Mary Douglas’s classic treatment of purity and pollution (in Purity and Danger, 1966) in the context of the religious overtones of nationalism. As Bruce Kapferer has argued (Legends of People, Myths of State, 1988), nationalism has many of the characteristics of religion, not least of which is a concern with the purity of blood considered as a shared substance – especially in those nationalisms that are modeled on the Eucharistic aspects of Christianity. Throughout Europe traditions equating blood with wine and bread with flesh are grounded in these concepts, creating a fertile base for prejudice against any culinary traditions that do not use bread or that prohibit the consumption of alcohol. I propose to read the growing hostility to “ethnic” restaurants in Italy in these terms. Chinese food replaces bread with rice; Muslim foods contain no alcohol. They are therefore excluded from the affective consubstantiation and powerful commensality suggested by these Eucharistic metaphors. When Roman restaurateurs include their Muslim employees in the commensal solidarity of work, or when those workers agree to handle pork without being required to eat it, both sides are re-enacting a convivenza – a cohabitation – that is as old as the opposition to it, but that is increasingly under attack as Italy transforms from a loose aggregate of distinct regions to a country harboring a dangerous revival of ethno-nationalism. That process is nicely encapsulated in the transformation of the separatist Northern League into a national coalition partner in the present-day Italian government, suggesting that a watchful eye on the further regulation of ethnic restaurants and groceries might serve as a useful barometer for the intensification or otherwise of religious as well as more general cultural intolerance.

 

Vertical Foodscapes: Natureculture Relationships in the Search for Transcendence

Gaia Cottino, Università di Napoli L'orientale - The American University of Rome

What distinguishes the mountains from other territories is the vertical dimension of their spaces, which have originated distinct uses of the soil, settlements, agrarian landscapes, cultural expressions and social organization. Space and time in the highlands are also discontinuous and cyclic: while the work and living space is discontinuous because of the rotation of seasons and related changes in activities, time is marked by cyclic sacred and profane occasions. The highlands are indeed “the historical product of long-lasting co-evolution processes between human settlements and environment, nature and culture” (Magnaghi 2000).

The communities inhabiting the Alps perceive these last as places of strain, attractive and repelling, but also as places full of sacredness. Therefore their effort, in time, has been that of converting the negative powers into positive ones, in search for platophonies (Salsa 2009), resulting in a double push: on the one side the control of the mountains, their anthropization, and on the other their elevation and transcendence. Such a natureculture relationship, as it occurred between visible and invisible worlds, between human and non-human collectivities (Latour 1999), has molded the local foodscape, both in symbolic and practical terms.

This paper will therefore address the Maritime Alps’ vertical foodscape in an anthropological and historical perspective, through the analysis of the gastronomic discontinuity and mobility of these cross-border territories whose inhabitants hold a strong propensity to itinerancy combined with an “ethos of transcendence” (Salsa 2009). The paper will furthermore attempt to connect this analysis with the current increasing presence of migrants in the Maritime Alps, who have contributed to the generational turnover in the agricultural and pastoral sector playing a crucial role in reversing the depopulation trend (ISTAT 2001-2011) which has characterized the mountains during the 20th century. In order to draw some first observations on the coexistence of peoples whose lives for different reasons are characterized by discontinuity and mobility, the paper will also provide some ethnographic data on the interaction of different food memories and tastes of memory, in which religious identity plays a crucial role.

 

Halal Certification in Comparison: The Semiotics of Halal in India and South Africa

Shaheed Tayob, Stellenbosch University

This paper offers a semiotic analysis of the relation between words, materials and ethical subjectivity for the practice of halal consumption. Focusing on the signs and substances through which trust in halal is produced offers a longer durée view of the transformations wrought by the fairly recent growth in global trade and advancements in food technology. Through a new material ontology of substances, the practice of halal, rooted in exchange within a community of shared values is transforming into a practice based on information, product labelling and a desire for accuracy, efficiency and trace-ability. The new regime of risk and consumption aims to shift halal practice into new places and products and interpolates a new kind of Muslim consumer subject. However, the attempt to organize halal practice around a neoliberal semiotic ideology of halal is not complete. Through an ethnography of halal certification in India and South Africa it is clear that a focus on semantic structure and total transformation misses the complex negotiations and innovations that are features of language in use. Muslims in both contexts draw on aspects of a pre-certification practice of halal as an ethical resource through which to consume in the contemporary. This paper combines a Peircean semiotic analysis with Wittgensteinian insights on language games, and Talal Asad on the anthropology of Islam, towards a theoretically relevant model for the appreciation of the ubiquitous yet always-incomplete process of discursive and material change. 

 

 

Claiming Spaces through Food

Margreet van Es, Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Utrecht University

Food and drinks can be used to strengthen social cohesion, but also to exclude others. In my research, I explore how different (anti-)religious groups in the Dutch city of Rotterdam claim particular spaces by consuming (or deliberately not consuming) certain food items. In this paper, I will present two case studies: 1) the emergence of halal restaurants in Rotterdam that do not serve alcohol and cater for a growing group of Muslim young urban professionals, and 2) the attempt made by radical-right Pegida activists to roast pork on a portable barbecue in front of a mosque during the month of Ramadan. I will discuss how attempts to claim a physical space on a particular location through food consumption can be seen as attempts to claim a certain position in Dutch society. Furthermore, through an analysis of food consumption at interfaith dinner festivals that are organized during the month of Ramadan, I also intend to study the terms and conditions on which religious diversity is celebrated in contemporary Dutch society.

 

“A Sign for Those who Understand”: An Anthropology of Muslims and Wine Drinking in The Netherlands

Pooyan Tamimi Arab, Utrecht University

In What is Islam? The Importance of Being Islamic, Shahab Ahmed argues in defense of the centrality of wine drinking in the so-called Balkan-to-Bengal Complex, between 1350 and 1850 A.D, as part of a Hafizocentric world of Islam. Clearly, however, Ahmed’s book and his critique of the anthropology of Islam, most notably his critique of privileging orthodoxy at the expense of Sufism, philosophy, medicine, and art, is inspired by the present moment and the worlds inhabited by Muslims today. In this presentation, I apply Ahmed’s insights to an anthropology of Muslims and wine drinking in the Netherlands, according to Ahmed to be understood properly as Islamic wine drinking. I will apply and examine Ahmed’s ideas by speaking about Afghan wine bowls and the idea of Islamic cosmopolitanism at the Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam, clashes over restaurants and wine shops run by former migrants and refugees with an Islamic background, and everyday alcohol consumption, pollution boundaries, and encounter mistranslations. My reflections will be connected to interactions with Dutch society and nationalist and xenophobic politics, but also – as in the case of Persian and Turkish speaking citizens – with the echoes of Shahab Ahmed’s Balkan-to-Bengal Complex, and transnational ties to Turkey, Iran, and Afghanistan.

Additional information

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