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Books of Interest: Philosophy and the End of Sacrifice
Peter 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.
Books of Interest: Conversations and Controversies in the Scientific Study of Religion
Luther H. Martin and Donald Wiebe, Conversations and Controversies in the Scientific Study of Religion: Collaborative and Co-authored Essays by Luther H. Martin and Donald Wiebe (Brill, 2016)
Luther H. Martin and Donald Wiebe together have spent the better part of a century exploring possibilities for a scientific study of religion. The following essays are a record of their conversations together and of their conversations and controversies with a number of leading scholars in religious studies that address that possibility. As with any scientific endeavor, knowledge advances when research assumptions and experimental designs are collegially discussed and critically assessed. It is hoped that these essays might provide the occasion for scholars in the field to discuss the theoretical and methodological issues they have raised, to debate and expand upon them, or, in the spirit of forthright scientific inquiry, to refute the arguments they have made.
Books of Interest: Contemporary Views on Comparative Religion
Peter Antes, Armin Geertz, and Mikael Rothsetein (eds.), Contemporary Views on Comparative Religion (Equinox, 2016)
Comparative Religion is deeply rooted in historical-philological studies, but since the inception of the discipline in the late 19th century, a continual development has taken place. At this point, the discipline has moved into many different areas of the social, humanistic, psychological and biological sciences, and debates on theory and method are as intense as ever. As scholars of religion get a grip on some aspects of the phenomenon in question, new problems arise, and new challenges must be met. At the same time, however, the virtues of the past should not be forgotten, and a double orientation, back and forth, becomes necessary. Rather than pursuing a systematic discussion of how to go about such problems, this volume celebrates the diversity and multi-methodological approaches in comparative religion by including empirical, as well as theoretical, chapters. The authors, among whom are many of the world’s leading scholars, have been asked to contribute essays on the current status of comparative religion, and thanks to their efforts the reader is offered a pathway into a row of exciting, but quite diverse, examples of the discipline, from the well-known to the most recent academic frontiers.
Books of Interest: Islam and the Tyranny of Authenticity
Aaron W. Hughes, Islam and the Tyranny of Authenticity (Equinox, 2016)
Many scholars of Islam are interested in creating a liberal, inclusive, pluralistic, feminist, and modern version of the religion that they believe to be explicit in the pages of the Qur’ān, but missed by earlier interpreters. In so doing, they create “good” Islam and, in the process, seek to define what does and does not get to count as authentic. As the purveyors of what they now believe to be veritable Islam, they subsequently claim that rival presentations are bastardizations based either on Orientalism and Islamophobia (if one is a non-Muslim) or misogyny and homophobia (if one is a Muslim that disagrees with them). Instead of engaging in critical scholarship, they engage in a constructive and theological project that they deceive themselves into thinking is both analytical and empirical. This book provides a hard-hitting examination of the spiritual motivations, rhetorical moves, and political implications associated with these apologetical discourses. It argues that what is at stake is relevance, and examines the consequences of engaging in mythopoesis as opposed to scholarship.
Books of Interest: Jacob Neusner on Religion
Aaron W. Hughes, Jacob Neusner on Religion (Routledge, 2015).
Jacob Neusner was a prolific and innovative contributor to the study of religion for over fifty years. A scholar of rabbinic Judaism, Neusner regarded Jewish texts as data to address larger questions in the academic study of religion that he helped to formulate. Jacob Neusner on Religion offers the first full critical assessment of his thought on the subject of religion. Aaron W. Hughes delineates the stages of Neusner’s career and provides an overview of Neusner’s personal biography and critical reception. This book is essential reading for students and scholars interested in Neusner specifically, or in the history of Religious Studies, Jewish Studies, and philosophy of religion more broadly.
This is the latest volume in Routledge’s Key Thinkers in the Study of Religion series, sponsored by NAASR.
Books of Interest: Claiming Identity in the Study of Religion
Monica R. Miller (ed.), Claiming Identity in the Study of Religion: Social and Rhetorical Techniques Examined (Equinox, 2015).
Focusing on the academic study of religion, Claiming Identity in the Study of Religion is the first in a series that grapples with the historicity of identity and the social and rhetorical techniques that make claims to identity possible.
In this volume, six previously published essays by scholar of religion Russell T. McCutcheon are each coupled with a new substantive commentary by North American contributors. McCutcheon’s essays highlight different identifying claims within the work of a number of leading scholars of religion. The companion contributions analyze the strategies of identification employed by the scholars whom McCutcheon discusses. Monica R. Miller provides an introduction to the volume and Steven W. Ramey provides a concluding essay. The strategies of identification highlighted and exposed in this text are further explored in the second volume in the series, The Problem of Nostalgia in the Study of Identity through a set of detailed ethnographic and historical studies that press novel ways of studying identity as an always active and ongoing process of signification.
Books of Interest: Building God’s Kingdom
Julie J. Ingersoll, Building God’s Kingdom: Inside the World of Christian Reconstruction (Oxford 2015).
For the last several decades, at the far fringes of American evangelical Christianity has stood an intellectual movement known as Christian Reconstruction. The proponents of this movement embrace a radical position: that all of life should be brought under the authority of biblical law as it is contained in both the Old and New Testaments. They challenge the legitimacy of democracy, argue that slavery is biblically justifiable, and support the death penalty for all manner of “crimes” described in the Bible including homosexuality, adultery, and Sabbath-breaking. But, as Julie Ingersoll shows in this fascinating new book, this “Biblical Worldview” shapes their views not only on political issues, but on everything from private property and economic policy to history and literature. Holding that the Bible provides a coherent, internally consistent, and all-encompassing worldview, they seek to remake the entirety of society–church, state, family, economy–along biblical lines.
Tracing the movement from its mid-twentieth-century origins in the writings of theologian and philosopher R.J. Rushdoony to its present-day sites of influence, including the Christian Home School movement, advocacy for the teaching of creationism, and the development and rise of the Tea Party, Ingersoll illustrates how Reconstructionists have broadly and subtly shaped conservative American Protestantism over the course of the late-twentieth and early-twenty-first centuries. Drawing on interviews with Reconstructionists themselves as well as extensive research in Reconstructionist publications, Building God’s Kingdom offers the most complete and balanced portrait to date of this enigmatic segment of the Christian Right.
Books of Interest: Jenseits von Religion?
Steffen Führding, Jenseits von Religion?: Zur sozio-rhetorischen “Wende” in der Religionswissenschaft (Transcript 2015).
Seit mehr als 40 Jahren drehen sich viele Diskussionen in der Religionswissenschaft um eine genaue Ortsbestimmung der Disziplin in Abgrenzung zu anderen religionsbezogenen Fächern. Mit einem in Anlehnung an den nordamerikanischen Religionswissenschaftler Russell T. McCutcheon »sozio-rhetorisch« genannten Ansatz stellt Steffen Führding eine aktuell kontrovers diskutierte Position in dieser internationalen Debatte vor. Er verortet den Ansatz kontrastierend in der nordamerikanischen und europäischen Disziplingeschichte, wendet ihn exemplarisch an und zeigt Perspektiven auf, wie damit theorie- und methodikbezogene Herausforderungen in der Religionswissenschaft produktiv angegangen werden können.
Books of Interest: Writing Religion
Steven W. Ramey (ed.), Writing Religion: The Case for the Critical Study of Religion (University of Alabama Press 2015).
In 2002, the University of Alabama’s Department of Religious Studies established the annual Aronov Lecture Series to showcase the works of nationally recognized scholars of religion capable of reflecting on issues of wide relevance to scholars from across the humanities and social sciences. Writing Religion: The Case for the Critical Study of Religions is an edited collection of essays that highlights critical contributions from the first ten Aronov lecturers.
Section one of the volume, “Writing Discourses,” features essays by Jonathan Z. Smith, Bruce Lincoln, and Ann Pellegrini that illustrate how critical study enables the analysis of discourses in society and history. Section two, “Riting Social Formations,” includes pieces by Arjun Appadurai, Judith Plaskow, and Nathan Katz that reference both the power of rites to construct society and the act of riting as a form of disciplining that both prescribes and proscribes. The writings of Tomoko Masuzawa, Amy-Jill Levine, Aaron W. Hughes, and Martin S. Jaffee appear in section three, “Righting the Discipline.” They emphasize the correction of movements within the academic study of religion.
Steven W. Ramey frames the collection with a thoughtful introduction that explores the genesis, development, and diversity of critical analysis in the study of religion. An afterword by Russell McCutcheon reflects on the critical study of religion at the University of Alabama and rounds out this superb collection.
The mission of the Department of Religious Studies is to “avoid every tendency toward confusing the study of religion with the practice of religion.” Instruction about—rather than in—religion is foundational to the department’s larger goal of producing knowledge of the world and its many practices and systems of beliefs. Infused with this spirit, these fascinating essays, which read like good conversations with learned friends, offer significant examples of each scholar’s work. Writing Religion will be of value to graduate students, advanced undergraduates, and scholars interested in the study of religion from a critical perspective.
Books of Interest: New Religiosity in Contemporary Sweden
Liselotte Frisk and Peter Åkerbäck, New Religiosity in Contemporary Sweden: The Dalarna Study in National and International Context (Equinox 2015).
The contemporary popular or new religious landscape in Sweden — arenas with religious elements outside the established churches — is large and multifaceted. Religion is today expressed in different localities, like retreat centers, health centers and gyms, and can manifest as for example healing, mindfulness, seances, coaching and body therapies. The boundaries between religious and secular arenas are becoming increasingly blurred. The popular or new religiosity is firmly rooted in older traditions, but also expresses creative innovation as a result of globalization, secularism, individualism and the impact of psychological and therapeutic orientations.
The book is based on a local study of contemporary popular or new religiosity in the area of Dalarna, Sweden. Religious expression always reflects its time. One of the book’s purposes is to explore how religion is perceived in our time and how Christianity has shaped our view of what belongs to the “religion” and what is seen as “superstition”. To understand religion it is necessary to study its practical everyday expressions.