Dedicated to historical, critical, and social scientific approaches to the study of religion, as well as a relentlessly reflexive critique of the theories, methods, and categories used in such study.

2015 Call for Proposals: Theory in a Time of Excess

Although the terms “method and theory” can now be found in course titles, curricula/degree requirements, area/comprehensive exams, and listed as competencies on the CVs of scholars from across a wide array of subfields, and while a variety of groups at annual scholarly conferences itemize theorizing among the topics that they routinely examine, it seems that few of the many examples of doing theory today involve either met-reflection on the practical conditions of the field or rigorously explanatory studies of religion’s cause(s) or function(s). So, despite the appearances of tremendous advances in the field since NAASR’s founding as the lone place for carrying out theory in the study of religion—when “theory” was indeed a rare word and was often replaced with the more neutral “approach”—it can be argued that little has changed.

The upcoming 2015 meeting in Atlanta marks the organization’s 30th anniversary and so the NAASR program will be divided into two related parts: (i) an invited Presidential Panel on the history of NAASR and the changing (or not) circumstances of its present and possible future and (ii) four separate panels (all leading up to the Presidential Panel), two hours in length each, all exploring a variety of views on how one carries out theorizing in the academic study of religion today—when almost everyone claims to be a theorist but few seem to do theory.

Each of the four panels will focus on one substantive statement on what theory is (or is not) and what can (or cannot) be accomplished by adopting a particular understanding of the requirements of theorizing in the human sciences. This call for proposals is therefore devoted to having NAASR members submit approx. 250 word abstracts from which the Program Committee will select four papers, each of which presses members to consider different issues involved with defining and doing theory in the academic study of religion. The abstract must make clear the submitters understanding of what constitutes theory while also summarizing the direction of his/her argument and any examples/data domains with which the presenter will work.

Note: Proposals selected will need to result in substantive and original essays, of approx. 4,000-5,000 words in length, that will be submitted to NAASR in PDF form by no later than October 1, 2015, for pre-distribution to all members. Also, these papers will not be read in Atlanta but, due to the pre-distribution, presenters will have 15 minutes to orally summarize their arguments. Respondents will then be invited by the Program Committee to work with each paper, applying and testing its argument.

Our goal is to publish the collection in MTSR or another appropriate venue.

Submit all proposals, by no later than February 15, 2015, as PDF file attachments to:

Prof. Aaron Hughes

NAASR Vice President and Chair of the Program Committee

University of Rochester

aaron.hughes at rochester dot edu

(You can download a printable flyer here.)

Announcement: New Officers

At the annual NAASR business meeting in San Diego last weekend we voted in new officers. Naomi Goldenberg and K. Merinda Simmons were elected to serve as councilors on the executive council; Russell T. McCutcheon was elected as president, and Aaron Hughes as vice president.

Many thanks to those who are rolling off of the executive council—Chris Lehrich, Tim Lubin, and Matt Sheedy—for all your service to the institution these last few years.

 

Books of Interest: Capitalizing Religion

Craig Martin, Capitalizing Religion: Ideology and the Opiate of the Bourgeoisie (Bloomsbury 2014).

Talk of ‘spirituality’ and ‘individual religion’ is proliferating both in popular discourse and scholarly works. Increasingly people claim to be ‘spiritual but not religious,’ or to prefer ‘individual religion’ to ‘organized religion.’ Scholars have for decades noted the phenomenon – primarily within the middle class – of individuals picking and choosing elements from among various religious traditions, forming their own religion or spirituality for themselves.

While the topics of ‘spirituality’ and ‘individual religion’ are regularly treated as self-evident by the media and even some scholars of religion, Capitalizing Religion provides one of the first critical analyses of the phenomenon, arguing that these recent forms of spirituality are in many cases linked to capitalist ideology and consumer practices. Examining cases such as Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now, and Karen Berg’s God Wears Lipstick, Craig Martin ultimately argues that so-called ‘individual religion’ is a religion of the status quo or, more critically, ‘an opiate of the bourgeoisie.’

Table of Contents

Introduction
Part 1: Religion, Capitalism,and Social Theory
1. ‘Individuality is zero’
2. Theorizing ‘Individual Religion’
3. Our ‘Religion’ of the Status Quo
Part 2: The Opiate of the Bourgeoisie
4. Quietism: The Empire’s Gospel
5. Consumerism: The Fashionable Hijab
6. Productivity: The New Protestant Work Ethic
7. Individualism: A Capital Theodicy
Afterword: Things at the Disposal of Society
Bibliography
Index

Books of Interest: Sects and Stats

James R. Lewis, Sects and Stats: Overturning the Conventional Wisdom about Cult Members (Equinox 2014)

A major, perhaps the major, focus of early research on New Religious Movements (NRMs) was on the people who joined. Most of the field’s pioneer researchers were sociologists. However, the profile of NRM members had changed substantially by the twenty-first century – changes largely missed because the great majority of current NRM specialists are not quantitatively oriented. Sects & Stats aims to overturn the conventional wisdom by drawing on current quantitative data from two sources: questionnaire research on select NRMs and relevant national census data collected by Anglophone countries. Sects & Stats also makes a strong argument for the use of longitudinal methods in studying alternative religions. Additionally, through case studies drawn from the author’s own research projects over the years, readers will be brought into a conversation about some of the issues involved in how to conduct such research.

Resources of Interest: Journal of Cognitive Historiography

This new journal—for which one of NAASR’s founders serves as a senior editor—might be of interest to NAASR members. From the publisher’s website:

The Journal of Cognitive Historiography is the first peer-reviewed publication for research concerned with the interactions between history, historiography, and/or archaeology and cognitive theories.

The journal provides a forum for scholars from a range of different disciplines, and draws on diverse approaches to examine how cognitive theorizing may support historical research, and vice versa. Examples of areas of research include the relationship between universalizing theories and specific historical events, the mental worlds and functions of historical agents, and the transmission of ideas and/or practices across time and place.

The editors welcome contributions from all periods and on all topics of historical and archaeological study, as well as those raising diverse methodological or theoretical issues. On the cognitive side, these may include, but are not limited to, those found in the disciplines of cognitive psychology, cognitive anthropology, cognitive sociology and neuroscience, as well as evolutionary theorizing.

You can find out more at the publisher’s website here.

Annual NAASR Reception, Sponsored by Equinox Publishing

The annual NAASR reception in San Diego will be held on Friday November 21 from 6:00-8:00 PM at a very cool bar called Analog (801 5th Avenue, Gaslamp district). We’ll have beer, wine, and some great hors d’oeuvres. Many thanks to Equinox Publishing for sponsoring the event!

Note: unlike last year we won’t have an open bar but instead will pass out drink tickets; there should be enough for everyone to get a couple of drinks.

 

Announcement: Job Ad

This job ad might be of interest to NAASR members; contact Robert Yelle (robertyelle at hotmail dot com) if you have any questions.

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