Words and Things: Happily Ever After Religion

Richard Newton is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Elizabethtown College. His scholarship focuses on the anthropology of scriptures. He also curates the student-scholar collaborative blog, Sowing the Seed: Fruitful Conversations in Religion, Culture, and TeachingFollow him on Twitter and Instagram @seedpods. (The introduction to the series is posted here.)

Brent Nongbri begins his approach to religious studies with memory of a problem. The problem is his inability to translate the English word, “religion” into the Khasi language of his fatherland. Well-disciplined in the liberal arts, he initially turned not to his father but to a Khasi-English dictionary for insight. Only after coming up short and progressing in his studies would he ask his father, who gave him the term, ka naim. Then as a graduate student, Nongbri knew well enough to inquire more—though again, not with an extended conversation on its semantic range but with yet another trip to the dictionary. There he learned that: Continue reading

Words and Things: One or Two Things That I Know About Religion

Anders Klostergaard Petersen is a Professor in the School of Culture and Society in the Department for the Study of Religion at Aarhus University, Denmark. He works in the areas of second Temple Judaism and early Christianity as well as studying cultural evolution. This post leads off a series of invited posts on the topic of words and things in the study of religion (introduced here).

During the last three years two important books have been published highlighting the absence of a concept of religion in the ancient world, namely Brent Nongbri’s Before Religion: A History of a Modern Concept (Yale, 2013) and Carlin Barton’s and Daniel Boyarin’s Imagine no Religion. How Modern Abstractions Hide Ancient Realities (Fordham, 2016). Strictly speaking these studies are more narrow than their titles imply, since they focus on the ancient Graeco-Roman and Jewish worlds only. Yet, I think their argument pertains to any other pre-modern world as well, but needless to say that will have to be explored further in future studies. Continue reading

The Right Question

The other day I received an email asking where, in my work, I think with the category religion instead of just thinking about it.

It’s a common distinction; do we, as scholars, use the word religion, defined however we might define it, to name things in the world that we then describe, compare, interpret, and maybe even explain, or, instead, do we study how social actors use that very word in going about their own daily lives, i.e., examining its role, however they may define it, in helping them to establish a sense of place, self, and other?

With or about? Continue reading

A Brief Chat with Prof. Touna

tounapicThe Department recently hired Vaia Touna as a new tenure-track faculty member. As has become our tradition with new hires, the REL film crew sat down for a brief interview with her. Give it a watch to learn about Prof. Touna, and be sure to say hello when you see her around Manly Hall.

Have You Met Prof. Touna? from UA Religious Studies.

Points of Contact

Picture 16Do you know that painting? It’s detail from Norman Rockwell’s 1951, “Saying Grace,” which sold for $46 million a couple years ago. It came to mind after an exchange that I had over on Twitter the other day, in which I wrote the following:

Picture 17The painting nicely illustrates the point — that classification is the trace of a social situation in which difference and similarity are being worked out. For, to break it down to it’s simplest, I’d argue that those two figures on the right are “saying grace” or “being religious” only inasmuch as the two on the left are watching them. Continue reading

Putting Us in Our Place

Picture 11There’s an interesting story now making the rounds of the internet, in which Congressman Jeff Duncan (Republican, South Carolina, pictured above) is quoted as saying the following about the Roman Catholic Church’s recent recognition of Palestine as a state:

Picture 10Of course the deep irony is the speed with which a variety of politicians in the US cite their own religious beliefs as evidence for their political positions or how frequently they decry the so-called separation of church and state — when it suits them.

That’s what makes this quote news. Continue reading

On Being Freaked Out

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There’s been lots of web traffic in the past 24 hours about the colors of a certain dress. You’ve seen it, right? While it’s kind’a curious, and while its sort’a neat that my wife and I both differ on what it’s colors are, what I think is even more important to note is that so many people are so freaked out over this.

“Now I see blue and black,” says a student right outside my office, as I type this very line. “I’ve got trust issues now,” he concludes (unironically, I might add).

Continue reading

They’re Tiny and They Scurry

Picture 3I heard a book review on the local radio station this morning, focusing on the famous US biologist (specializing in the study of ants) E. O. Wilson’s latest views on, among other things, religion.

And a thought occurred to me: nobody would listen to me if I started talking about ants, would they? And if they did pay attention they’d likely hear what I was saying as mere truisms, repetition of common sense — “Look, they’re tiny and oh, how they scurry about…” — claims hardly heard as making a contribution to the science of mymecology. Continue reading