Democracy is Risky

Picture 9A couple years ago I gave a talk at Lehigh University (a lecture that became chapter 8 in a book I published not long after). The topic was on my frustration with how scholars of religion — because they define their object of study as a universally present and deeply meaningful human impulse — often assume their research is always relevant. As evidence I drew on a recent national conference where scholars of religion were encouraged to think about how their work on this or that ritual or text could contribute to solving the problem of climate change. I could just as easily have cited the program for that very annual conference (something I wrote on long ago, actually), and how the “religion and…” rubric was infinitely variable (e.g., Religion and Literature, Religion and Film, Religion and Science, Religion and Politics, Religion and Food, etc., etc.); we often presume our object of study always to be relevant because we think that it somehow points outside of, and thus before and beyond, the happenstance of history. So it is assumed to play a role in anything that happens.

The problem, though, is that we also claim to be historians, e.g., historians of religion — but, defining religion in this way, makes us historians who study the transcendental. And that’s very unhistorial if you ask me. Continue reading

Extra Extra, Read All About It

adWhereas an earlier generation of scholars of religion — say, those in the 1960s — argued that the relevance of our field was to be found in its uniqueness and autonomy from all other disciplines, we here at the University of Alabama think that our field’s contribution is in its ability to contribute to our understanding of culture-wide processes and effects. Continue reading

So Madison Avenue Made a Farmer…

It’s not news to anyone to hear about the decline of the family-owned farm in the U.S. For example, consider this chart, from a 2007 article (click the graphic to go to the article), which tracks the dramatic increase in farm size, over the past 50 years, coupled with the equally dramatic decline in the total number of farms:

Farm Continue reading