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Books of Interest: Reading J.Z. Smith

Willi Braun and Russell T. McCutcheon (editors). Reading J. Z. Smith: Interviews & Essay (Oxford University Press, 2018)

9780190879082.jpgOver the course of a career of more than forty years, Jonathan Z. Smith was among the most important voices of critical reflection within the academic study of religion, distinguishing himself as perhaps the most influential theorist of religion of the last half century. Among his significant body of work are essays and lectures on teaching and the essential role of academic scholarship on religion in matters of education and public policy. The interviews and essay published here display something of the dynamic, thinking-on-his feet liveliness that Smith brought to questions about the study of religion, his theoretical preferences, and his methods of teaching. With refreshing candidness and clarity, Reading J.Z. Smith offers an often provocative introduction to discussions on issues that still dominate the complex and continually changing critical conversations in the academic study of religion.

Available here.

Books of Interest: The Category of ‘Religion’ in Contemporary Japan

Mitsutoshi Horii.  The Category of ‘Religion’ in Contemporary Japan: Shūkyō and Temple Buddhism (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018)

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This book critically examines the term ‘religion’ (shūkyō) as a social category within the sociological context of contemporary Japan. Whereas the nineteenth-century construction of shūkyō has been critically studied by many, the same critical approach has not been extended to the contemporary context of the Japanese-language discourse on shūkyō and Temple Buddhism. This work aims to unveil the norms and imperatives which govern the utilization of the term shūkyō in the specific context of modern day Japan, with a particular focus upon Temple Buddhism. The author draws on a number of popular publications in Japanese, many of which have been written by Buddhist priests. In addition, the book offers rich interview material from conversations with Buddhist priests.

Readers will gain insights into the critical deconstruction, the historicization, and the study of social classification system of ‘religion’, in terms of its cross-cultural application to the contemporary Japanese context. The book will be of interest to students and scholars across a range of disciplines including Japanese Studies, Buddhology, Religious Studies, Social Anthropology, and Sociology.

Available here.

Books of Interest: Studies in Hellenistic Religions

Luther H. Martin (author), Panayotis Pachis (editor). Studies in Hellenistic Religions (Cascade Books, 2018).

9781498283083This selection of essays by Luther Martin brings together studies from throughout his career—both early as well as more recent—in the various areas of Graeco-Roman religions, including mystery cults, Judaism, Christianity, and Gnosticism. It is hoped that these studies, which represent spatial, communal, and cognitive approaches to the study of ancient religions might be of interest to those concerned with the structures and dynamics of religions past in general, as well as to scholars who might, with more recent historical research, confirm, evaluate, extend, or refute the hypotheses offered here, for that is the way scholars work and by which scholarship proceeds.

Available here.

Books of Interest: Stereotyping Religion: Critiquing Clichés

Brad Stoddard and Craig Martin (editors). Stereotyping Religions: Critiquing Clichés (Bloomsbury, 2017)
Our  culture is full of popular stereotypes about religion, both positive and negative. Many people uncritically assume that religion is intrinsically violent, or that religion makes people moral, or that it is simply “bullshit”. This concise volume tackles 10 of these stereotypes, addresses why scholars of religion find them to be cliched, describes their origins, and explains the social or political work they rhetorically accomplish in the present.

Cliches addressed include the following:

– Religions are belief systems
– I’m spiritual but not religious
– Religion concerns the transcendent
– Learning about religions leads to tolerance and understanding
– Religion is a private matter.

Written in an easy and accessible style, Stereotyping Religion: Critiquing Cliches will be of interest to all readers looking to clear away unsophisticated assumptions in preparation for more critical studies.

Table of contents

Contributors
Acknowledgments
Introduction
1. Religions are Belief Systems, Sean McCloud (University of North Carolina, USA)
2. Religions are Intrinsically Violent, Matt Sheedy (University of Manitoba, Canada) 
3. Religion Makes People Moral, Jennifer Eyl (Tufts University, USA)
4. Religion Concerns the Transcendent, Leslie Dorrough Smith(Avila University, USA)
5. Religion is a Private Matter, Robyn Faith Walsh(University of Miami, USA)
6. Religions are Mutually Exclusive, Steven W. Ramey(The University of Alabama, USA)
7. I’m Spiritual but Not Religious, Andie Alexander (Emory University, USA) and Russell T. McCutcheon (University of Alabama, USA)
8. Learning about Religion Leads to Tolerance, Tenzan Eaghll (University of Toronto, Canada)
9. Everyone has a Faith, James Dennis LoRusso (Princeton University, USA)
10. Religion is Bullshit, Rebekka King (Middle Tennessee State University, USA)
Bibliography
Index

Available on Amazon.

Books of Interest: Fabricating Identities

Russell T. McCutcheon (editor). Fabricating Identities (Equinox, 2017)

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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.

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.