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Monthly Archives: July 2014

Books of Interest: The Trouble with Post-Blackness

post blacknessHouston A. Baker and K. Merinda Simmons (eds.), The Trouble with Post-Blackness (Columbia University Press, 2015).

An America in which the color of one’s skin no longer matters would be unprecedented. With the election of President Barack Obama, that future suddenly seemed possible. Obama’s rise reflects a nation of fluid populations and fortunes, a society in which a biracial individual could be embraced as a leader by all.Yet complicating this vision are the shifting demographics, rapid redefinitions of race, and instant invention of brands, trends, and identities that determine how we think about ourselves and the place of others.

This collection of original essays confronts the premise, advanced by black intellectuals, that the Obama administration marked the start of a “post-racial” era in the United States. While the “transcendent” and post-racial black elite declare victory over America’s longstanding codes of racial exclusion and racist violence, their evidence relies largely on their own salaries and celebrity. These essays strike at the certainty of those who insist life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are now independent of skin color and race in America. They argue, signify, and testify that “post-blackness” is a problematic mythology masquerading as fact—a dangerous new “race science” motivated by black transcendentalist individualism. Through rigorous analysis, these essays expose the idea of a post-racial nation as a pleasurable entitlement for a black elite, enabling them to reject the ethics and urgency of improving the well-being of the black majority.

Books of Interest: Changing the Subject

K. Merinda Simmons, Changing the Subject: Writing Women across the African Diaspora (Ohio State University Press, 2014)

In Changing the Subject: Writing Women across the African Diaspora, K. Merinda Simmons argues that, in first-person narratives about women of color, contexts of migration illuminate constructions of gender and labor. These constructions and migrations suggest that the oft-employed notion of “authenticity” is not as useful a classification as many feminist and postcolonial scholars have assumed. Instead of relying on so-called authentic feminist journeys and heroines for her analysis, Simmons calls for a self-reflexive scholarship that takes seriously the scholar’s own role in constructing the subject.

The starting point for this study is the nineteenth-century Caribbean narrative The History of Mary Prince (1831). Simmons puts Prince’s narrative in conversation with three twentieth-century novels: Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, Gloria Naylor’s Mama Day, and Maryse Condé’s I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem. She incorporates autobiography theory to shift the critical focus from the object of study—slave histories—to the ways people talk about those histories and to the guiding interests of such discourses. In its reframing of women’s migration narratives, Simmons’s study unsettles theoretical certainties and disturbs the very notion of a cohesive diaspora.

Not Just North American

Despite the fact that NAASR is a North American organization, our new site is getting hits from all over the world:

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Books of Interest: Entanglements

9781781790779_200Russell T. McCutcheon—former executive secretary of NAASR—has a new book with Equinox, titled Entanglements: Marking Place in the Field of Religion (2014). From the description:

Entanglements attempts to argue against those who claim that scholarship on the category religion is only of secondary interest, in that it fails to do primary research on real religions. The volume collects eighteen responses, written across twenty years, that each exemplify the inevitably situated, give-and-take nature of all academic debate. These essays call into question the often used distinction between primary and secondary sources, between description and analysis. Published here in their original form, each contribution is accompanied by new, substantive introduction describing the context of each response and explaining how each shows something still at stake in the academic study of religion–whether its the rhetoric used to authorize competing scholarly claims or the difficulty involved in suspending our commonsense view of the world long enough to study the means by which we have come to see it that way.

An ethnography of scholarly practice written mainly for earlier career readers–whether undergraduate or graduate students or even tenure-track faculty–Entanglements tackles the notion that some scholarship is more pristine, and thus more valuable, than others, thereby modeling for scholars earlier in their careers some of the obstacles and arguments that may face them should their research interests be judged unorthodox.

Books of Interest: Religion and Politics in the Graeco-Roman World

313KsLjPWHL._AA160_Religion and Politics in the Graeco-Roman World was written by Panayotis Pachis (2010). According to the description, “In this study the author focuses on the proliferation of worship of Egyptian deities in the Roman era and the direct relationship with social and political situation of the period.” Contents include:

Foreword by Professor Gerhard van den Heever
1. ‘Manufacturing Religion’ in the Hellenistic Age: The Cases of Isis-Demeter Cult
2. The Discourse of a Myth: Diodorus Siculus and the Egyptian Theologoumena during the Hellenistic Age
3. Isis Tyrannos and the Construction of Imperial Society: Ecumenism and Social Formation
4. The Use of Felicitas and Aeternitas during the Graeco-Romas Age: The Case of Isis and Sarapis Cult


Books of Interest: Philosophy and the Study of Religions

SchilbrackNAASR member Kevin Schilbrack has a new book out with Wiley-Blackwell, Philosophy and the Study of Religions: A Manifesto (2014). From the book description:

Philosophy and the Study of Religions: A Manifesto advocates a radical transformation of the discipline from its current, narrow focus on questions of God, to a fully global form of critical reflection on religions in all their variety and dimensions.

  • Opens the discipline of philosophy of religion to the religious diversity that characterizes the world today
  • Builds bridges between philosophy of religion and the other interpretative and explanatory approaches in the field of religious studies
  • Provides a manifesto for a global approach to the subject that is a practice-centred rather than a belief-centred activity
  • Gives attention to reflexive critical studies of ‘religion’ as socially constructed and historically located

Books of Interest: A Ministry of Presence

SullivanFormer NAASR officer Winnifred Fallers Sullivan has a new book with University of Chicago Press, titled A Ministry of Presence: Chaplaincy, Spiritual Care, and the Law (2014). From the description:

Most people in the United States today no longer live their lives under the guidance of local institutionalized religious leadership, such as rabbis, ministers, and priests; rather, liberals and conservatives alike have taken charge of their own religious or spiritual practices. This shift, along with other social and cultural changes, has opened up a perhaps surprising space for chaplains—spiritual professionals who usually work with the endorsement of a religious community but do that work away from its immediate hierarchy, ministering in a secular institution, such as a prison, the military, or an airport, to an ever-changing group of clients of widely varying faiths and beliefs.

In A Ministry of Presence, Winnifred Fallers Sullivan explores how chaplaincy works in the United States—and in particular how it sits uneasily at the intersection of law and religion, spiritual care, and government regulation. Responsible for ministering to the wandering souls of the globalized economy, the chaplain works with a clientele often unmarked by a specific religious identity, and does so on behalf of a secular institution, like a hospital. Sullivan’s examination of the sometimes heroic but often deeply ambiguous work yields fascinating insights into contemporary spiritual life, the politics of religious freedom, and the neverending negotiation of religion’s place in American institutional life.