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Books of Interest: Claiming Identity in the Study of Religion

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: Fabricating Origins

Russell T. McCutcheon (editor), Fabricating Origins (Equinox 2015).

Fabricating Origins builds on a series of posts that originally appeared, in earlier forms, at the blog for Culture on the Edge. In these posts each member of the group focused on the problem of origins, examining how we repeatedly conjure up an authorized past that suits the needs of the continually changing present. Fabricating Origins presses these short studies further by inviting ten early career scholars to each work with Culture on the Edge by applying, extending, even critiquing the group, to further illustrate for readers how talk of origins in the present is so much more interesting that being preoccupied with long past origins themselves.

The volume, like all books in the Working with Culture on the Edge series, is introduced and concluded by original, theoretically challenging but engaging essays. It provides a selection of ten main articles which draw on a variety of examples to make the case, followed by original commentaries on each, all of which are pithy but substantive. Although not a textbook, and while challenging for any reader unaccustomed to making the switch from origins to the discourse on origins, Fabricating Origins is especially aimed at the early career reader. The volume therefore includes an annotated set of suggested readings on how to rethink origins as the product of contemporary and always tactically useful talk and action.

Books of Interest: A Modest Proposal on Method

Russell T. McCutcheon, A Modest Proposal on Method: Essaying the Study of Religion (Brill 2015).

A modest proposal on methodA Modest Proposal on Method further documents methodological and institutional failings in the academic study of religion. This collection of essays—which includes three previously unpublished chapters—identifies the manner in which old problems (like the presumption that our object of study is a special, deeply meaningful case) yet remain in the field. But amidst the critique there are a variety of practical suggestions for how the science of religion can become methodologically even-handed and self-reflexive—the markings of a historically rigorous exercise. Each chapter is introduced and contextualized by a newly written, substantive introduction.

Books of Interest: Entanglements

9781781790779_200Russell T. McCutcheon—former executive secretary of NAASR—has a new book with Equinox, titled Entanglements: Marking Place in the Field of Religion (2014). From the description:

Entanglements attempts to argue against those who claim that scholarship on the category religion is only of secondary interest, in that it fails to do primary research on real religions. The volume collects eighteen responses, written across twenty years, that each exemplify the inevitably situated, give-and-take nature of all academic debate. These essays call into question the often used distinction between primary and secondary sources, between description and analysis. Published here in their original form, each contribution is accompanied by new, substantive introduction describing the context of each response and explaining how each shows something still at stake in the academic study of religion–whether its the rhetoric used to authorize competing scholarly claims or the difficulty involved in suspending our commonsense view of the world long enough to study the means by which we have come to see it that way.

An ethnography of scholarly practice written mainly for earlier career readers–whether undergraduate or graduate students or even tenure-track faculty–Entanglements tackles the notion that some scholarship is more pristine, and thus more valuable, than others, thereby modeling for scholars earlier in their careers some of the obstacles and arguments that may face them should their research interests be judged unorthodox.