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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.

Books of Interest: Religion and Magic in Western Culture

Religion and MagicDaniel Dubuisson, Religion and Magic in Western Culture (Brill, 2016).

In the history of Western culture, theology, and science, a strict dichotomy exists between religion and magic: religion as the intellectually and morally superior one – magic as the primitive, superstitious, demonic other.
The present work aims to break with this tradition, and traces the origin of this dichotomy as well as its many purposes. Whose powers does it serve? Which interests and ideological stakes does it conceal?
Moreover, the author proposes a new epistemological framework for the study of magisms as well as their “rehumanisation”, and argues for a rehabilitation of their studies.

Books of Interest: Buddhist Monks and the Politics of Lanka’s Civil War

buddhistSuren 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

newpatternsWilliam 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

afterworldChristopher 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

9781472584199Now 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.

Books of Interest: Philosophy and the End of Sacrifice

cover_issue_1855_en_US-201508170211Peter 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.