With the success of the 2015 NAASR program—devoted to examining the current state of theory in the study of religion with four main papers plus responses—the 2016 program will retain the same format but turn its attention instead to the closely related topic of method. And because of the wide variety of methods used in the cross-disciplinary study of religion, we’re proposing narrowing the focus to four key tools that all scholars of religion surely employ, regardless their approach to the study of religion: description, interpretation, comparison, and explanation.
Description: Naomi Goldenberg (University of Ottowa)
Emily Crews (University of Chicago)
Ian Cuthbertson (Queen’s University)
Neil George (York University)
Dan McClellan (University of Exeter)
Interpretation: Kevin Schilbrack (Appalachian State University)
Mark Gardner and Steven Engler (Mount Royal University)
Joshua Lupo (Florida State University)
Matt Sheedy (University of Manitoba)
Jennifer Eyl (Tufts University)
Comparison: Aaron W. Hughes (University of Rochester)
Lucas Carmichael (University of Colorado)
Thomas Carrico (Florida State University)
Drew Durdin (University of Chicago)
Stacie Swain (University of Ottawa)
Explanation: Ann Taves and Egil Asprem (University of California—Santa Barbara)
Spencer Dew (Centenary College)
Joel Harrison (Northwestern University)
Paul Kenny (SOAS, UK)
Erin Roberts (University of South Carolina)
Examining each of these in turn will open conversations on far wider topics of relevance to NAASR’s mission, such as description being intimately linked to ethnography, viewpoint, first person authority (to name but a few). In much the same way, detailed consideration of the other three tools also leads into conversations on the basics of the field. For instance, having survived critiques of comparison as ethnocentric, what is the future of comparative studies and how ought they to be carried out? Given the once dominant, but for some now discredited, place of hermeneutical approaches what is entailed in the interpretation of meaning today? And, despite their once prominent place several generations ago, what does one make of the continuing lack of interest in the academy in naturalistic, explanatory theories of religion? This focus on method, by means of these four basic tools, therefore will provide us with an opportunity to assess the current state of the field.
The four main papers will be pre-circulated to members prior to the conference, and thus will only be summarized briefly at their sessions; the remainder of the sessions will be devoted to responses and open conversation. In addition, all of the papers will be published in a future, special issue of MTSR.