Earlier this month, the HRC welcomed Dr Ibrahim Abraham from the University of Helsinki, as the Hans Mol Fellow in Religion and Social Sciences. Below Dr Abraham details his background and the research he intends to focus on during his three-year appointment.
I grew up in Melbourne, and completed an Arts/Law degree and a Master’s degree at Monash University. My interest has been in the role of religion in secular social spheres, particularly contemporary popular culture, but also in areas such as politics, sexual identity, and even finance. I completed my PhD in sociology at the University of Bristol, writing my dissertation about Christian punk rock, a surprisingly successful genre of music in the last two decades. My PhD was concerned with secularization, and the limitations it places on the comprehensibility of religious ideas, and with the concept of the ‘postsecular’, which is about recognizing religious vitality in spaces in which we might assume religion has little relevance.
I have spent most of the last five years at the University of Helsinki, as a postdoctoral researcher in social and cultural anthropology, continuing my work on religion and contemporary culture, but with a focus on South Africa. Last year my book Evangelical Youth Culture: Alternative Music and Extreme Sports Subcultures was published by Bloomsbury Academic, looking at evangelical Christians’ engagements with punk, hip hop, surfing, and skateboarding.
As the Hans Mol Research Fellow I will continue my work on religion and popular culture, and religion in South Africa. I am editing a book on Christian punk for the Bloomsbury Studies in Religion and Popular Music series, as well as working on my second monograph, with the provisional title Religion and Moral Ambition in South Africa. Hans Mol made some insightful observations about the role of religion in times of social change, especially revivalist religions such as Pentecostal Christianity, which can create new social identities for new situations. Mol will be an important dialogue partner as I work through the data I have collected in South Africa, and it will be interesting to revisit his work on religion in Australia and New Zealand in light of this.
Mol also took the social role of sport very seriously, perhaps because of his experience as a church minister in Australia and New Zealand, observing the central role of sport in people’s lives. In my final planned project during the fellowship, I am looking forward to engaging with Mol’s ideas about the sacred qualities of sport, to develop my ideas around religion and the serious leisure perspective. As a result of unemployment, underemployment, and lengthy retirement, leisure can become many people’s central life interest. The relationship between religion and leisure has been under analyzed, and I am looking forward to studying this relationship more closely.