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.

Program Schedule Posted for Annual Meeting in San Antonio

To view the program schedule, click here.

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Books of Interest: Religion and Magic in Western Culture

Religion and MagicDaniel Dubuisson, Religion and Magic in Western Culture (Brill, 2016).

In the history of Western culture, theology, and science, a strict dichotomy exists between religion and magic: religion as the intellectually and morally superior one – magic as the primitive, superstitious, demonic other.
The present work aims to break with this tradition, and traces the origin of this dichotomy as well as its many purposes. Whose powers does it serve? Which interests and ideological stakes does it conceal?
Moreover, the author proposes a new epistemological framework for the study of magisms as well as their “rehumanisation”, and argues for a rehabilitation of their studies.

Books of Interest: Buddhist Monks and the Politics of Lanka’s Civil War

buddhistSuren Raghavan, Buddhist Monks and the Politics of Lanka’s Civil War: Ethnoreligious Nationalism of the Sinhala Saṅgha and Peacemaking in Sri Lanka, 1995-2010 (Equinox, 2016).

The war in Sri Lanka was violent and costly in human and material terms. This was one of the longest wars in modern South Asia. Often referred to as an ‘ethnic’ conflict between the majority Sinhalas and the minority Tamils, the war had a profound religious dimension. The majority of Sinhala Buddhist monks (the Saṅgha) not only opposed any meaningful powersharing but latterly advocated an all-out military solution. Such a nexus between Buddhism and violence is paradoxical; nevertheless it has a historical continuity. In 2009 when the war ended amid serious questions of war crimes and crimes against humanity, monks defended the military and its Buddhist leadership.

Taking the lives of three key Saṅgha activists as the modern framework of a Sinhala Buddhist worldview, this book examines the limitations of Western theories of peacebuilding and such solutions as federalism and multinationalism. It analyzes Sinhala Buddhist ethnoreligious nationalism and argues for the urgent need to engage Buddhist politics – in Lanka and elsewhere – with approaches and mechanisms that accommodate the Saṅgha as key actors in political reform.

Sinhala Buddhism is often studied from a sociological or anthropological standpoint. This book fills a gap by examining the faith and practice of the Sinhala Saṅgha and their followers from a political science perspective

Books of Interest: New Patterns for Comparative Religion

newpatternsWilliam E. Paden, New Patterns for Comparative Religion: Passages to an Evolutionary Perspective (Bloomsbury, 2016).

The cross-cultural study of religion has always gone hand in hand with the worldview, sciences, or intellectual frameworks of the time. These frames, whether focused on psychology or politics, gender or colonialism, bring out perspectives for understanding religious behavior. Today one of our common civic worldviews is represented in the shift from scriptural to evolutionary history.

This volume brings together in one place key essays by professor emeritus William Paden, showing a progression of steps he has taken in exploring bridgeworks between comparative religion and evolutionary models of religious behavior. One of the leading scholars in religious studies, Paden shows ways that religion can be contextualized as part of the natural world and thus seen as reflecting the ingrained sociality and world-making drive of the human species.

Paden argues that although comparativism has been challenged as too culture-bound, too western, or too gendered, cross-over categories and concepts between religious traditions cannot be avoided. Arguing that there are recurrent patterns of human behavior common to our species and that thereby underlie all cultures, he proposes that the missing link in the Religion Evolution debate is comparative religion, a global, cross-cultural perspective on religious behaviours throughout time. Each article is contextualized within this overall trajectory of thought within Paden’s work and the history of the discipline as a whole. – See more at: http://www.bloomsbury.com/us/new-patterns-for-comparative-religion-9781474252119/#sthash.yrKxX8h0.dpuf

Books of Interest: After World Religions

afterworldChristopher R. Cotter and David G. Robertson (eds.), After World Religions: Reconstructing Religious Studies (Routledge, 2016).

The World Religions Paradigm has been the subject of critique and controversy in Religious Studies for many years. After World Religions provides a rationale for overhauling the World Religions curriculum, as well as a roadmap for doing so. The volume offers concise and practical introductions to cutting-edge Religious Studies method and theory, introducing a wide range of pedagogical situations and innovative solutions. An international team of scholars addresses the challenges presented in their different departmental, institutional, and geographical contexts. Instructors developing syllabi will find supplementary reading lists and specific suggestions to help guide their teaching. Students at all levels will find the book an invaluable entry point into an area of ongoing scholarly debate.

Books of Interest: The Mind of Mithraists

9781472584199Now in paperback!

Luther H. Martin, The Mind of Mithraists: Historical and Cognitive Studies in the Roman Cult of Mithras (Bloomsbury, 2014).

The Roman cult of Mithras was the most widely-dispersed and densely-distributed cult throughout the expanse of the Roman Empire from the end of the first until the fourth century AD, rivaling the early growth and development of Christianity during the same period. As its membership was largely drawn from the ranks of the military, its spread, but not its popularity is attributable largely to military deployments and re-deployments. Although mithraists left behind no written archival evidence, there is an abundance of iconographic finds. The only characteristic common to all Mithraic temples were the fundamental architecture of their design, and the cult image of Mithras slaying a bull. How were these two features so faithfully transmitted through the Empire by a non-centralized, non-hierarchical religious movement? The Minds of Mithraists: Historical and Cognitive Studies in the Roman Cult of Mithras addresses these questions as well as the relationship of Mithraism to Christianity, explanations of the significance of the tauroctony and of the rituals enacted in the mithraea, and explanations for the spread of Mithraism (and for its resistance in a few places).

The unifying theme throughout is an investigation of the “mind” of those engaged in the cult practices of this widespread ancient religion. These investigations represent traditional historical methods as well as more recent studies employing the insights of the cognitive sciences, demonstrating that cognitive historiography is a valuable methodological tool.

NAASR Note: New Executive Officer

NA subcommittee of NAASR’s executive council nominated Brad Stoddard as the person to follow Craig Martin as NAASR’s next Executive Secretary/Treasurer, as Craig’s 5-year term ends this summer. Although originally appointed to the nominating committee himself (inasmuch as he is a member of the executive), Brad excused himself when conversations turned to his possible candidacy. And the executive has now voted by email and agrees with their nomination. So we’re happy to announce that Brad—a tenure-track professor at McDaniel College (where, by the way, he works with former NAASR President, Greg Alles) and grad of Florida State, who studies, among other things, the role of religion in the US’s prison system—will assume this role when Craig’s term ends.

You may have seen Brad on a variety of NAASR panels or participating in some of our workshops, over the past few years. He’s also involved in The Religious Studies Project—so he’s already an active member of the field and has the energy and organizational skills to follow Craig and to keep Craig’s innovations moving in the right direction.

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