These reading groups form part of a series to prepare us for the Conceptualising Community conference and summer school. Please click here for more information about this event.

Community in a (Post-) Secular Age

Led by A. Sophie Lauwers and Jorg Meurkes on 19 November 2021, 10-11.30

In this seminar, we will discuss the popular idea that we are experiencing a ‘return of religion’ to questions of political community, entering a ‘post-secular’ age. But how widespread is this phenomenon? And is the role of religion in creating a sense of cohesion really new? Can we ever understand national communities, or political communities in general, as separated from its religious roots, or do they perhaps even constitute a form of religiosity of its own? What does this mean for the inclusive potential of political communities?

To discuss these questions, we will read two texts. First, we will read a chapter by Ernst Van den Hemel (2019), who discusses the rise in religious identification and rhetoric by populist movements in Western Europe, and its relationship to theories of civil religion. Second, we will read a summary of Rene Girard’s (1972) seminal work on ‘victimage mechanism’ and ‘scapegoating’ as the origin of community. 

Deer hunting, fiestas, and the people without history

Led by Denisse Román-Burgos on 15 December 2021, 10-11.30

Are communities tied to a specific place or can we think about them as ubiquitous?

In this seminar we will reflect on the concept of community from an anthropological perspective by discussing two texts. Firstly, we will read the introduction of the seminal work by Eric R. Wolf “Europe and the people without history”, and secondly, chapter 8 of “In the name of El Pueblo” a historical ethnography by Paul Eiss about the reproduction of the community and of communal identity in Yucatan, Mexico.

Wolf reflects on the historical connections between the so-called global north and the so-called global south, whilst Eiss discusses certain practices that contribute to re-shape and enact the community. Considering both texts, the discussion will be framed by questions such as: Can a community be defined empirically? What role does ritual play in defining a community?  Is it possible to identify cultural practices that are specific to a community? Do these contribute to the reproduction of the community?


  • Wolf, Eric (1982) Europe and the people without history. Berkeley University Press. Introduction
  • Eiss, Paul (2010) In the name of El Pueblo. Place, Community, and the Politics of History in Yucatan. Chapter 8, Duke University Press, 218-243.

Community development/learning/education and communities of practice

Led by Rachel Shanks on 21 January 2022, 10-11.30

In this seminar, we will discuss what we mean by ‘community’, in particular when we think of learning, education, community development and regeneration. We will discuss how and what do communities teach us? Are small geographically-defined communities a useful way to organise regeneration and learning activities? Can we develop a community in order to learn together? Do we learn in communities at work?

To discuss these questions, we will read two texts.

  • Williamson’s chapter (1998) Education and Community Development takes us through many different ways to conceptualise what we mean by ‘community’, how we need to think geographically, historically, about exclusion as much as inclusion.
  • Lave and Wenger’s (1991) book Situated Learning. Legitimate Peripheral Participation is a seminal work on learning informally from others particularly in relation to vocational and professional learning. 

Leave a Reply