Panel EASR 2018

16th Annual Conference of the European Association for the Study of Religions (EASR)

17-21 June 2018, Bern


Life reform networks in transnational context: c. 1900-c. 1970

21 June, 9:00am - 10:30am / Unitobler, F022 (Lerchenweg 36)

  • Bernadett Bigalke: Colon hygiene, breathing and Vegetarian diet as religious practices: David Ammann as missionary for Mazdaznan in Leipzig around 1900
  • Steven Sutcliffe: Diet and Life Reform: the Scottish Vegetarian Dugald Semple (1884-1964)
  • Stefan Rindlisbacher: The Swiss life reformer Werner Zimmermann as a popularizer of spiritual body practices: Meditation, deep breathing and karezza
  • Eva Locher: Body and Self – Life reform after 1950 as (religious) counselling?
  • Helmut Zander: Session Chair

The earlier historiography of Lebensreformbewegung or the ‘life reform movement’ has been dominated by a question arising from the German experience on whether Lebensreform was essentially anti-modern or even reactionary: for example, Thoms (2010) discusses the ambiguous evaluation of vegetarianism under National Socialism, while Stone (2004) describes ‘organo-fascism’ in the UK arising from the confluence of ‘back to the land’ impulses with ultra-conservative politics. In contrast, Rohrkrämer has argued that Lebensreform was capable of expressing an ‘alternative modernity’ (andere Moderne), and versions of this position have been expressed by historians such as Jefferies (2003) and Williams (2007) in English language studies, and by Möhring (2004) and Fritzen (2006) in German. This panel seeks to represent Lebensreform or ‘life reform’ as a more nuanced and differentiated phenomenon which occurred across the cultural and political spectrum. In particular it focuses on specific ‘religious’ aspects of life reform which have been less widely addressed.

The panel consists in four case studies of practitioners of ‘life reform’ or Lebensreform in different European geopolitical contexts: Scotland, Germany and Switzerland. We emphasise the transnational communication and transfer of ideas and practices through networks, groups, interpersonal contacts, print and photographic media across the period 1900-1970, with a focus on micro-periods within this broad frame, and also on points of thematic continuity in the long duree. Each contributor will provide a brief empirical case study focusing on a specific religious aspect or theme expressed by one or more practitioners or groups. They will place these aspects first in local empirical context, while also identifying points of communication and transfer across national borders and/or cultural fields.


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