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Books of Interest: Religion Explained? The Cognitive Science of Religion after Twenty-five Years

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.Religion Explained

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.

Books of Interest: Philosophical Foundations of the Cognitive Science 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

Philosophicalume 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.

Books of Interest: Religious Evolution and the Axial Age

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

Religious Evolutionshets 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.

Books of Interest: The Roman Mithras Cult: A Cognitive Approach

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.Roman Mithras Cult

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.

Books of Interest: Religion in Five Minutes

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 5questions 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.

Announcement: #naasr2017 Program

The full schedule for our annual meeting is posted here.

Books of Interest: Fabricating Difference

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

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 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.

NAASR Annual Reception, co-sponsored by Equinox Publishing

Lir

NAASR and Equinox Publishing are pleased to announce the details for our reception at the upcoming annual conference in Boston:

Date: Friday, November 17
Time: 7pm-9pm
Location: Lir, 903 Boylston Street (click here for a map)

We look forward to seeing you there for food, drinks, and conversation!

NAASR Executive Council Statement Regarding the European Academy of Religion

Concerning the founding and upcoming meeting of the European Academy of Religion, the Executive Council of the North American Association for the Study of Religion (NAASR) stands by the joint statement issued by the European Association for the Study of Religions (EASR) and International Association for the History of Religions (IAHR) (posted here). As an IAHR member society, we are in strong agreement that the academic study of religion constitutes a specific approach to the study of religion that is not only worth identifying in distinction from others but also supporting.

Announcement: 2017 NAASR Program

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The Things We Study when We Study Religion

Following NAASR’s annual programs in 2015, devoted to theory, and 2016, on method, the program for 2017 will focus on the things that we, as scholars of religion, study. What, for instance, counts as data? How is it imagined, handled, or constructed? Who decides what is a valid or invalid research topic—and which approach suits it?

There exist longstanding and still active debates in the field regarding whether the items that we study pre-exist our approaches or whether our approaches actually create the conditions in which the former come into existence. It should come as no surprise, then, that the inter-relationship between theory, method, and data is complex and hardly settled. In fact, for some the term “data” itself is to be avoided because it is thought to remove us from the human subjects whom we study. Such subjects, it is assumed, embody intentional centers of meaning-making and therefore they require methods of study that differ, both qualitatively and quantitatively, from those employed by scholars in other fields. Yet for others, people’s self-understanding as agents does not lessen the importance of the non-agential structures in which they live (from genetics to class). Such recognition requires scholars to study people’s claims and behavior in a way that is far less impacted by intentionality than some may assume. We could also add to this mix those who examine the conditions and shape of the field itself, thereby finding scholars themselves as the item of interest. It is clear, then, that to identify as a scholar of religion does not necessarily mean that we all study the same thing, let alone in the same manner. For the distance between those who now study what is called embodied or lived religion, on the one hand, and, on the other, the processes examined by cognitive scientists is great indeed. A pressing question, however, is whether this breadth strengthens or undermines the field.

Following the model used for the past two annual meetings, three main, substantive papers were invited and will be distributed both to respondents and NAASR members approximately one month prior to the 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. This will be followed by an open discussion of roughly one hour. As per the past two years, the aim once again is to see this this session published as a book (with responses from the main paper presenters).

Subjects: Annette Reed (University of Pennsylvania)
Chair: Drew Durdin (University of Chicago)
Respondents:
Adam Stewart (Crandall University)
M. Adryael Tong (Fordham University)
John Soboslai (Montclair State University)
Jennifer Shelby (Memorial University of Newfoundland)

Objects: Matthew Baldwin (Mars Hill University)
Chair: Kevin Schilbrack (Appalachian State University)
Respondents:
Petra Klug (University of Bremen)
Holly White (Syracuse University)
Peggy Schmeiser (University of Saskatchewan)
Lucas Wright (UC Santa Barbara)

Scholars: Craig Martin (St. Thomas Aquinas College)
Chair: Ian Cuthbertson (Queens University)
Respondents:
Vaia Touna (University of Alabama)
Martha Smith Roberts (Sewanee)
Jason Ellsworth (Dalhousie University)
Joel Harrison (Northwestern University)

A fourth, separate panel, features invited papers on important sites in the field today, as a way to open a discussion on the state of the study of religion, with regard the issues of relevance to scholarship, teaching, and the institutions in which we do our work. Like the other sessions, plenty of time will be reserved for discussion following.

Roundtable
Steven Engler, Chair (Mount Royal University)
Sarah Dees, Labor (Northwestern University)
Richard Newton, Teaching (Elizabethtown College)
Rebekka King, Departments (Middle Tennessee State University)
Greg Alles, Research (McDaniel College)

Bans, Boycotts, Institutional Statements: A NAASR Perspective
Chair: Adrian Herman (Univ of Bonn)
Edith Szanto (American University of Iraq-Sulaimani)
Nathan Loewen (University of Alabama)
Suzanne Owen (Leeds Trinity University)

Theorizing Ancient Theories of Religion (Co-Sponsored by the Greco-Roman Religions Section)
Respondent: Nickolas Roubekas (University of Vienna)
Jennifer Eyl (Tufts University)
William W. McCorkle, Jr. (Laboratory for the Experimental Research of Religion)
Additional panelists tbd