The Authenticity of Faith


On Thursday, August 30, at 4:00pm – 6:00pm (Australian Hearing Hub, Level 5, Room 212, Macquarie University) the Markers of Authenticity Seminar Series will continue with two speakers, Associate Professor Clare Monagle (Department of Modern History, Macquarie University) and Dr Aydogan Kars (Centre for Religious Studies, Monash University).


Our theme for this seminar is the Authenticity of Faith, that is the way that faith is recognised and policed in various systems. We will have the following papers on the topic.

Clare Monagle, ‘Faith and Empathy: Distance and Proximity in narrating Christianity in the Middle Ages’.

It is a dated cliche, historiographically, to describe the period we call the Middle Ages as an ‘Age of Faith’. Scholars have rightly rejected the hegemonic idea of a uniform age, instead seeking out the myriad forms of belief and practice inhering through the latin west between roughly 500 and 1500 of the Common Era. But, this deconstruction notwithstanding, it remains necessary to encounter faith as a category of analysis in the Middle Ages, because it is often the only thing that explains a great number of political and social realities. That is, the order of society was informed at a profound level by Christian notions of truth, that underscored the legitimacy of power in the period. My paper will think about the way that contemporary historians make sense of faith in the Middle Ages, drawing upon recent work in the history of emotions and affect to do so. I will also explore, however, the critique of these approaches offered by self-proclaimed Christian believers, who insist that one can only know the Middle Ages if one knows what it is to have faith. At stake, are a number of discourses of authenticity and historical empathy.

Aydogan Kars, ‘Contemporary Debates on Religious Authenticity: Experiences, Institutions, Languages’

This talk introduces the current frontiers of scholarship in the study of religious authenticity, focusing on the relationship between religious experiences, institutions, and languages. First, it elaborates on the nature of authentic religious experiences, comparing the two prominent paradigms set by Emile Durkheim and William James, and introducing more recent contributions of cognitive science. Are such experiences fundamentally social, or individualistic? Second, my talk addresses the relationship between established religious institutions and authentic religious experiences. Do social institutions condition religious experiences, or is it such  authentic experiences that create those institutions? Finally, it compares universalist and constructivist approaches to religious authenticity by focusing on the ways in which language relates to religious experience. Are mystical utterances authentic markers of pre-conceptual (or ineffable) experiences, or are these experiences already shaped and conditioned by language? By exploring these still debated questions, this talk introduces where we are in the academic study of religious authenticity.