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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.
Daniel 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.
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
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
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.
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.