See below for the main papers we’ll discuss at our annual meeting.
These main papers will only be summarized at the session. Each paper will then have four respondents, who will have ten minutes each to reply to the main paper. An open discussion of roughly one hour will follow.
In 2017, NAASR will host its third Job Market Workshop alongside the AAR/SBL in Boston. Full information about the event (which is split over two sessions on Sunday, November 19) can be found below. To register, please contact Michael Graziano (firstname.lastname@example.org).
This session proposes to explore the employment challenges facing early career scholars who are interested in issues of theory & method in the study of religion, through both a discussion and workshop. This session addresses issues important to junior NAASR members (notably, but not exclusively, ABDs now entering/about to enter the job market) by demonstrating how a professional organization can provide a practical and strategic forum for job-market advice.
The following activities will take place during the session:
In the first half of the session, participants will break into small groups, each led by a more senior scholar. Within their groups, participants will discuss in focused ways how they might best represent themselves, their work, and their scholarly interests on the job market. The smaller setting will allow for more “hands on” advice, taking as examples the CV and cover letters the organizers will have pre-distributed among participants. Simply focusing on what one says in a cover letter’s opening paragraph, for example, or how one orders a C.V., will provide the way into larger questions of representation in these small group discussions. Participants should be ready to share and discuss their CV and sample cover letter with fellow group members (though hopefully all will have some familiarity with the materials in advance to facilitate a more focused workshop).
II. Open Discussion
With the issues and questions from the small-group workshop in mind, the second half of the session will be devoted to an open discussion. The group leaders will begin by providing brief introductory remarks on what they each see as constructive and strategic advice for early career scholars who are navigating the academic job market, aimed initially at how applicants can be strategic not only in trying to ascertain a Department’s needs but also in negotiating potential theoretical and political landmines in the field. A discussion will follow in which participants can talk about these issues in an informal atmosphere and share information. This guided discussion will focus on four central questions related to how might early career scholars interested in theory and method:
- represent themselves strategically on the job market?
- apply to calls for general positions, fitting themselves to broad departmental needs?
- shape their cover letters and CVs to appeal to a wide range of departments?
- respond to critiques that they have no “specialty,” “content,” or “area of study”?
The discussion is designed to reflect different opinions regarding the place of theory & method in the job market, as well as in the study of religion more generally.
Scholars of all concentrations within the field of Religious Studies are welcome to join the workshop—whether a NAASR member or not—though preference will be given to early career scholars, particularly those at the senior ABD stage (i.e., those already on or going onto the job market). Shortly before the workshop, but once the participants have been identified, each participant will be invited to share with the other members, via email or a closed social media group, their academic focus/dissertation topic, level of teaching experience, their level of experience with the job market as well as their own current position (e.g., PhD Student, Postdoc, Instructor, etc.) in order to ensure all participants come to the meeting somewhat familiar with the diversity of experience in the workshop. In addition, as stated above, each participant will be invited to provide a sample cover letter and CV for the organizers to pre-distribute. These materials will then be workshopped within their small groups. More details will follow after the participant list has been finalized.
Space is limited to 25 participants in this NAASR workshop, and participants can stay for as long or as little as they like. To register, please e-mail the organizer, Michael Graziano (grazmike [at] gmail [dot] com) by no later than October 15, 2017. In this request to register please include your current degree or professional career stage.
Russell T. McCutcheon (editor). Fabricating Identities (Equinox, 2017)
Fabricating Identities pairs early career scholars with members of Culture on the Edge, to explore how social actors identify themselves through their practices and associations. The book is arranged in a series of articles and commentaries that all press the model of seeing what we usually call identity as the result of a series of identifications—actions and circumstances that enable us to understand ourselves as related to others in specific ways. Changing relations result in changing senses of identity.
With an introduction and substantive theoretical afterword, the book’s brief main chapters make it an ideal conversation-starter in classes or primer for those wishing to rethink how we normally talk about identity.
Luther H. Martin and Donald Wiebe (editors). Religion Explained? The Cognitive Science of Religion after Twenty-five Years (Bloomsbury, 2017).
With contributions from founders of the field, including Justin Barrett, E. Thomas Lawson, Robert N. McCauley, Paschal Boyer, Armin Geertz and Harvey Whitehouse, as well as from younger scholars from successive stages in the field’s development, this is an important survey of the first twenty-five years of the cognitive science of religion.
Each chapter provides the author’s views on the contributions the cognitive science of religion has made to the academic study of religion, as well as any shortcomings in the field and challenges for the future. Religion Explained? The Cognitive Science of Religion after Twenty-five Years calls attention to the field whilst providing an accessible and diverse survey of approaches from key voices, as well as offering suggestions for further research within the field.
This book is essential reading for anyone in religious studies, anthropology, and the scientific study of religion.
Robert N. McCauley and E. Thomas Lawson. Philosophical Foundations of the Cognitive Science of Religion: A Head Start (Bloomsbury, 2017)
Robert N. McCauley and E. Thomas Lawson are considered the founders of the field of the cognitive science of religion. Since its inception over twenty years ago, the cognitive science of religion has raised questions about the philosophical foundations and implications of such a scientific approach. This vol
ume from McCauley, including chapters co-authored by Lawson, is the first book-length project to focus on such questions, resulting in a compelling volume that addresses fundamental questions that any scholar of religion should ask.
The essays collected in this volume are those that initially defined this scientific field for the study of religion. These essays deal with issues of methodology, reductionism, resistance to the scientific study of religion, and other criticisms that have been lodged against the cognitive science of religion. The new final chapter sees McCauley reflect on developments in this field since its founding.
Tackling these debates head on and in one place for the first time, this volume belongs on the shelf of every researcher interested in this now established approach to the study of religion within a range of disciplines, including religious studies, philosophy, anthropology and the psychology of religion.
Stephen K. Sanderson. Religious Evolution and the Axial Age: From Shamans to Priests to Prophets (Bloomsbury, 2017).
Religious Evolution and the Axial Age: From Shamans to Priests to Prop
hets is devoted to describing and explaining the evolution of religion over the past ten millennia. The volume shows that during this time an overall evolutionary sequence can be observed, running from the spirit- and shaman-dominated religions of small-scale societies to the archaic religions of the ancient civilizations and then to the salvation religions of the Axial Age.
Stephen K. Sanderson draws on ideas from the new cognitive and evolutionary psychological theories, as well as comparative religion, anthropolog
y, history, and sociology. He argues that religion is a biological adaptation that evolved in order to solve a number of human problems, especially those concerned with existential anxiety and ontological insecurity.
Much of the focus is on the Axial Age, the period in the second half of the fi
rst millennium BCE that marked the greatest religious transformation in world history. The book shows that as a result of massive increases in the scale and scope of war and large-scale urbanization, the problems of existential anxiety and ontological insecurity became particularly acute. Ultimately, Sanderson argues that new religions emphasizing salvation and release from suffering-Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Daoism-arose to cope with the changing religious needs.
Olympia Panagiotidou and Roger Beck. The Roman Mithras Cult: A Cognitive Approach (Bloomsbury, 2017).
The Roman Mithras Cult: A Cognitive Approach is the first full cognitive history of an ancient religion. In this ground-breaking book on one of the most intriguing and mysterious ancient religions, Olympia Panagiotidou, with contributions from Roger Beck, shows how cognitive historiography can supplement our historical knowledge and deepen our understanding of past cultural phenomenon.
The cult of the sun god Mithras, which spread widely across the Graeco-Roman world at the same time as other ‘mystery cults’, and Christianity offered its devotees certain images and assumptions about reality. Initiation into the mysteries of Mithras and participation in the life of the cult significantly affected and transformed the ways in which the initiated perceived themselves, the world, and their position within it. The cult’s major ideas were conveyed mainly through its symbolic complexes. The ancient written testimonies and other records are not adequate to establish a definitive reconstruction of Mithraic theologies and the meaning of its complex symbolic structures.
The Roman Mithras Cult identifies the cognitive and psychological processes which would have taken place in the minds and bodies of the Mithraists during their initiation and participation in the mysteries, enabling the perception, apprehension, and integration of the essential images and assumptions of the cult in its worldview system.
Aaron W. Hughes and Russell T. McCutcheon (editors), Religion in Five Minutes (Equinox, 2017).
Religion in Five Minutes provides an accessible and lively introduction to the questions about religion and religious behaviour that interest most of us, whether or not we personally identify with — or practice — a religion. Suitable for beginning students and the general reader, the book offers more than 60 brief essays on a wide range of fascinating questions about religion and its study, such as: How did religion start? What religion is the oldest? Who are the Nones? Why do women seem to play lesser roles in many religions? What’s the difference between a religion and a cult? Is Europe less religious than North America? Is Buddhism a philosophy? How do we study religions of groups who no longer exist?
Each essay is written by a leading authority and offers succinct, insightful answers along with suggestions for further reading, making the book an ideal starting point for classroom use or personal browsing.
Steven W. Ramey (ed.), Fabricating Difference (Equinox, 2017). Part of the Working with Culture on the Edge series, edited by Vaia Touna.
The fabrication of groups as different, as other, often has significant consequences, including violence and discrimination. This volume focuses on the
discourses that construct Islam in the aftermath of traumatic events and thus illustrates how academic analysis of the fabrication of difference can contribute significantly to public discourse.
It centers on two critical analyses by accomplished scholars who have written publicly on the constructions of Islam and Muslims as others. Mayanthi Fernando analyzes the rhetoric surrounding French laïcité (often translated as secularism) in the aftermath of the attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris in 2015, highlighting the ways the majority uses the language of laïcité to diminish the presence of minorities. Aaron Hughes analyzes how scholars and others construct Islam in response to acts of violence attributed to people who identify with Islam, thus illustrating how critical academic analysis can contribute to the understanding of both the contestation and ideology behind groups such as ISIS.
Ten early career scholars apply and extend the questions and approaches of these central essays in short reflections that apply these issues in new ways to other contexts (e.g., India, the United States, early Christianity) and topics (e.g., social issues in politics, religion vs. non-religion, nationalism, scholars in public discourse). The volume concludes with a substantive Afterword that broadens from these specific current events to present an extended analysis of the fabrication of difference and the ways recognizing these processes should influence our scholarship and our engagement with public discourse.
In addressing the ways people construct difference and the Other, this volume, therefore, provides one answer to the question of the relevance of these fields in a period of both political challenge and internal critique of the assumption of the universality of academic research.