It’s About More Than the Review

So, I wrote a thing recently about how writing book reviews is not worthless.

But I got some push back concerning how some people in the profession, such as contingent faculty, don’t have the time or the ability to work for free by writing book reviews. I did say writing review was good for people at all career stages, after all, no?

I find this response lamentable, to be honest, because I don’t happen to think that writing book reviews is all about the review that results. In fact, even though that earlier post was written to contest some unnamed senior person who claimed that they were professionally worthless, the assumption that writing a book review is about the review (and so, is it really worth it…?) is a problem that many seem to share, regardless their career stage.

I don’t think its about the review, though. Continue reading

Book Review: Pollution and Religion in Ancient Rome

Pollution and Religion in Ancient Rome. Jack J. Lennon. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014. 229 pages.


Mark Ortiz is a senior majoring in Religious Studies and New College
with a depth study in Political Ecology. This review was written as a final project
as part of Dr. Sarah Rollens’ course, REL 237: Religion and Identity
in the Ancient Mediterranean World.

In many societies, concepts of social order have been shaped considerably by notions of purity and pollution. According to scholar Jack J. Lennon, anthropologists have given discourses of pollution and purity more attention in recent years, yet, prior to this volume, there had been no comprehensive treatment of the subject in the world of Ancient Rome. It is this gaping hole in anthropological knowledge that Lennon wishes to fill with his book, which “explores the presence and perception of pollution in pre-Christian Roman religion” with a primary focus on the “ways in which Roman authors imagined, expressed and ultimately reacted to, things they thought were impure” (IX). Beginning with a thorough discussion of Latin lexicons of purity and its other, Lennon proceeds to show how various understandings and the regulation of bodily functions and effluvia are mediated through and by discursive elements. He concludes by honing in on Cicero’s speech De Domo Sua to further elucidate the connection between lexicons, the body, social order, and rhetoric in Ancient Rome.

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No Chili Peppers

shotsfiredThere’s a bit of a controversy brewing in social media over a new review essay published in the our field’s main peer review periodical, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, on the book, On Teaching Religion, edited by Chris Lehrich and containing some of the writings on pedagogy by Jonathan Z. Smith.

The reviewer, a onetime student of Smith’s, reflects on her own experience in his classes, as an undergrad at the University of Chicago in the late-1990s, in order to identify the gaps (i.e., inconsistencies or maybe even contradictions) she now finds, looking back, between the teacher and the writer. Continue reading