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March 16, 2006 • Volume 14 Number 13

University to Host Forum on History of Religion Next Week

History scholars will convene at Boston College next week to put a new focus on a centuries-old subject.

The Boston College Conference on the History of Religion, which takes place on March 24 and 25, will examine the religious experience of ordinary men and women living out their faith in the modern world, a topic not often covered by traditional historical scholarship.

"The phase that scholars have been using for this in recent years is 'trying to get at lived religion,'" said Prof. James O'Toole (History), who will deliver the conference's closing address in the Corcoran Commons Heights Room at noon on March 25.

"A lot of religious history has been institutional," O'Toole said. "Scholars have looked at church structure and church leaders and that sort of thing. That's important, but there is a lot more to the story as well."

Among the topics that will be addressed during the conference are "Marking New Ground: Recent American Religious Divisions," "When Religion and Gender Intersect," "Twentieth Century Catholicism," and "Physical Space in the Religious Environment." Presenters will come from as far away as California, Arizona, Idaho and Texas.

"It's not even necessarily about theology as a central focus any more," explained history doctoral candidate David McCowin, a co-organizer of the event. "We're talking about race and gender and class; we're talking about the mixing of religions in different settings - all kinds of different things. We really have run the gamut with a huge array of topics. There's absolutely something for everyone."

O'Toole said the idea for this conference was generated by graduate students in the history department who were meeting for monthly reading groups and fascinated by an emerging sphere of research involving religion-related topics.

"We started brainstorming about the possibility of a conference focusing on religious history," explained McCowin. "We thought that at this time in our field the impact that religion is having on so many different things is just begging to be realized. Why not capitalize on it and try to corral all of those directions and show them all at once?"

McCowin said the conference is anchored in the expertise offered in Boston College's own history department. "Religious history is a recognized strength of the history department faculty," McCowin said. "The number of Boston College professors that we have chairing these panels indicates the strength of our department and its diverse interests."

-Reid Oslin

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