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Public Festivity and Festival Creativity

Class at Faculty of Arts |

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The course will be focusing on the creative dimensions of religiously significant festivals in contemporary Europe. By “religiously significant” we mean festivals that (1) derive from or mobilize the resources of nameable religious traditions, or (2) are serving, in Durkheimian and Turnerian senses, social functions generally attributed to traditional religious festivals, such as expressing solidarity, providing the experiences of communitas and sociability, and serving as reflexive windows on to social-cultural dynamics.

Festivals have a unique ability to “allow people to mediate different forms of life crises. This can include anything from the readjustments required through pivotal changes in the life cycle, to the shock of migration, environmental disaster, or revolution.” We now understand that festivals are occasions to collectively and cathartically express not only joy, but the whole gamut of human emotions, from sorrow to piety. Festivals confirm and redefine social roles, enhance local identities, and foster attachment to place by creating cherished memories. They are uniquely poised to establish new ideas, values, and practices, or retrieve forgotten ones. It is a broadly shared assumption that because festivals are public and inherently reflexive, they can be used as catalysts for enacting various kinds of change – festivals are often conceived as creative social tools to be deployed in working a host of social, political and cultural challenges and problems. But we are in need of a better understanding of the general phenomenon of festival creativity and the dynamics an efficacy of festivals as agents of social transformation—festival cultures are often surrounded by big claims for their value, but these claims require theoretical grounding and assessment.


Martin Pehal (Charles University) contributions from Barry Stephenson (Memorial University, Canada)

Dr. Stephenson is Associate Professor of Religious Studies, Memorial University (St. John’s, Canada). His research and teaching focus on ritual studies, religion and the arts, and religion-secularization debates. He has published three books and numerous articles, book chapters and reviews. The former co-chair of the Ritual Studies Group of the American Academy of Religion, Dr. Stephenson is co-editor of the Ritual Studies Series, published by Oxford University Press. As a Research Fellow in Charles University’s Creative Lab, Dr. Stephenson is studying Creativity in Contemporary Festival Cultures.