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22 | Marks of Devotion: The Construction and Politics of Religious Identity Through External Signs

The panel explores the historical circumstances in which signs worn on the body have been constructed to generate religious identity and how they are utilized in religio-political discourses. To reach a broader understanding of the processes involved, we invite papers from different disciplines.


· Marion Rastelli Austrian Academy of Sciences (Vienna, Austria)
· Nina Mirnig Austrian Academy of Sciences (Vienna, Austria)


· 07/28 | 15:30-17:00 UTC+2/CEST
· 07/28 | 17:30-19:00 UTC+2/CEST

Long Abstract

One of the many ways to create group identity amongst a religious community is the use of external signs that are worn or inscribed on the body. This might involve special clothing or hair dress, ornaments, accessories, branding or make-up. Such signs may mark the result of transformation rituals, may be taken up temporarily as part of a particular observance, or simply serve to distinguish certain ranks and social groups within a religious community. These external religious signs are at times utilized in religio-political discourses for purposes of propagation, differentiation or exclusion of others. This panel is dedicated to identifying the historical circumstances in which such external signs have been explicitly drawn upon to negotiate competition or the contesting of power.It will also investigate the different avenues through which these material representations of religious identity are communicated. How are religious symbols constructed and contextualized in particular historical contexts? Which mythical, ritual and historical narratives are used for conferring meaning to these marks? How does the interpretation of such external religious symbols change according to political and historical circumstances and when can we identify an “invention of tradition”? When are such markers constructed by the community, when are they imposed by “others”? Exploring the different ways through which these discourses are negotiated – be it the ritual arena, scholastic debates, or narratives expressed in literature or through visual and performative art – the panel welcomes papers from different disciplines and religious foci, covering historical as well as modern case studies.