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Yearly Archives: 2016
Books of Interest: Buddhist Monks and the Politics of Lanka’s Civil War
Suren 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
William 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
Christopher 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
Now 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
A 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.
Announcement: 2016 NAASR Program
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.
New Issue of the Bulletin for the Study of Religion
Table of contents
Editorial- open access
Who Gets to Play in the Sandbox? Debating Identities, Methodologies, and Theoretical Frameworks
Philip L. Tite
For the Good or the Guild: An Open Letter to the Academy of Religion
Kate Daley Bailey
When Is a Religion Like a Weed?: Some Thoughts on Why and How We Define Things
A Search for the “Really” Real: Philosophically Approaching the Task of Defining Religion
J. Aaron Simmons
Worlds Apart: The Essentials of Critical Thinking
K. Merinda Simmons
A deep-seated schism: Fundamental discussions in the study of religions
Caroline Schaffalitzky de Muckadell
Who Believed There Was A Bomb and When Did They Believe It? What Ahmed Mohamed’s Clock Says About Belief and Moral Panic
Joseph P. Laycock
“Better get to know Practicum: Critical Theory, Religion, and Pedagogy” an interview with Craig Martin and Brad Stoddard of Practicum blog
Editor’s Corner: NAASR Membership and the Bulletin for the Study of Religion: An Important Announcement and a Personal Reflection<
Philip L. Tite
Job Opening at Utrecht University
This opening in religious studies might be of interest to NAASR members:
The position is attached to the subject area Religious Studies within the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Faculty of Humanities at Utrecht University. The subject area Religious Studies offers a dynamic, research-oriented context with a strong commitment to excellence in teaching and curriculum development. Research and teaching in Religious Studies at UU is carried out in collaboration with the subject area Islam and Arabic, as well as with other programs within the Faculty of Humanities and beyond.
Books of Interest: Philosophy and the End of Sacrifice
Peter Jackson and Anna-Pya Sjödin (eds.), Philosophy and the End of Sacrifice: Disengaging Ritual in Ancient India, Greece, and Beyond (Equinox 2016).
This volume addresses the means and ends of sacrificial speculation by inviting a selected group of specialist in the fields of philosophy, history of religions, and indology to examine philosophical modes of sacrificial speculation — especially in Ancient India and Greece — and consider the commonalities of their historical raison d’être. Scholars have long observed, yet without presenting any transcultural grand theory on the matter, that sacrifice seems to end with (or even continue as) philosophy in both Ancient India and Greece. How are we to understand this important transformation that so profoundly changed the way we think of religion (and philosophy as opposed to religion) today? Some of the complex topics inviting closer examination in this regard are the interiorisation of ritual, ascetism and self-sacrifice, sacrifice and cosmogony, the figure of the philosopher-sage, transformations and technologies of the self, analogical reasoning, the philosophy of ritual, vegetarianism, and metempsychosis.
CFP: Concepts in the Study of Religion
The following new book series—published in association with NAASR—might be of interest to members; see the publisher’s site for more information.
Books in the series Concepts in the Study of Religion: Critical Primers offer brief introductions to an array of concepts—modes of analysis, tools, as well as analytic terms themselves—within the discourse of religious studies. Useful for almost any course, the volumes in the series do not attempt to assert normative understandings but rather they introduce and survey the various modes and contexts for scholarly engagement with the concept at hand. How, for example, has the term ‘myth’ been used, and what can various definitions allow us to do as scholars? Who in the field is working on the category of race and how? What might be the future of scholarship on gender in religious studies? What are the possibilities and limitations of description or comparison as methodological approaches? Thus, these critical primers provide — but are not limited to — concise overviews of the history of an approach or term. They also present the authors’ own critical analyses of the dynamics and stakes present in discourses surrounding these concepts. Featuring lists of further readings to guide additional consideration of their topic, the books in this series are valuable resources for students and advanced scholars alike.
K. Merinda Simmons, University of Alabama