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The Role of Religion in Identity

In this keynote lecture Julia Bray of the University of Oxford takes listeners through the manifold issues involved in assessing the role of religion in identity, and the problematic nature of Anthony D. Smith’s application of the concept of chosen peoplehood to all times and all places. Julia attacks Smith’s easy slide between general theoretical statements and superficial research into his wide-ranging comparative examples, and demonstrates how misleading this apparently theoretical work can be when applied in otherwise strong scholarship. She also notes the problematic aspects of the very framing of this workshop, illustrating the role which we as academics must play in situating our work in order to forestall its misuse, not least in a contemporary world where political powers seek to weaponise academia and academics in misguided searches for radicalism. This talk, therefore, is a no-punches-held statement on the nature, role and pitfalls of academic work into religion, identity and chosenness, a must-listen piece relevant not only to the study of Islam but all fields and regions.