How to Be Curious

Among my courses this Fall semester — starting in a little over a week — is one on theories of religion; in one way or another I’ve taught elements of a course like this many times (in fact, my intro course even touches on some of these topics), but rarely in a seminar devoted to nothing other than attempts to account for why people are religious.

So deciding what to do in the course is always something worth thinking about.
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Skillz

empty-classroom

For sometime I’ve been concerned that the American Academy of Religion would venture into the waters of learning outcomes and assessment. But now one of its committees is  working on this and its the topic of a leadership workshop, offered by the Academic Religions committee, at the upcoming annual meeting.

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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

A Response to “Responsible Research Practices,” Part 1: General Reflections

aarA few days ago I wrote a brief post on this site, intended to draw attention to a document that had just been circulated publicly by the American Academy of Religion (our main professional organization in the US), entitled “Responsible Research Practices: A Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct for AAR Members.” (Click here to read it or click here to learn a little more about it and to find the names [posted as a PDF here] of the 10-person committee that drafted it.) Approaching mid-July, and released without much fanfare (at least that I’d heard), it wasn’t entirely clear to me that members of the Academy would necessarily know this draft had been posted, or that their input was being solicited.

So my post was mainly concerned to just help get the word out a little more.

Picture 9I offered a brief critique, sure, but didn’t dwell on any of the details.

Since then I’ve talked privately with two people on the committee, to make my views known to them directly, and so I think my post from the other day now deserves a more sustained and public follow-up. Continue reading

Charlie and Us: Religious Violence and the History of Religions

Picture 3The following guest post is an English translation of the editorial from the current issue of Asdiwal (vol. 9 [2014]), reproduced here with the kind permission of the journal.  It is currently among the very few systematic statements on this topic from within our field and therefore deserves to be read and discussed more widely in North America.

Learn more about this academic periodical in the study of religion, published in Geneva, Switzerland, here.

As we were preparing this edition of Asdiwal (9/2014), the Paris events of January 2015 took place. Journalists of Charlie Hebdo were assassinated by two masked individuals armed with assault rifles because they had insulted the prophet Muhammad, several police officers were killed, and finally, women and men were taken hostages and murdered, because they were Jews, in a Kosher super market near Paris. There is no doubt that these events will have consequences, but these are still difficult to anticipate clearly. For some, war has been declared. But a war against whom, and against what? Faced with violence, many citizens drew together, at first without political or religious aim, to reassert their right to freedom of speech. Soon, we heard other voices, opposing civilization and barbarity, and invoking the necessity to defend the legacy of the Enlightenment against the rise of “Islamo-fascism”; others, no less shocked by these events, emphasized Europe’s apparent incapacity to understand the suffering of the “Other,” and posed the question: “Can we laugh about everything?” Is there not, behind this laughter, a form of condescension, that of a Europe trapped in a vision of the world where she is the center laughing at savages, both within and without, who remain incapable of laughing with her? Continue reading

The Politics of Misconceptions

meditationIn a recent blog post, my colleague, Mike Altman, makes a crucial point; after quoting a site that describes early European scholarship on Buddhism as being based on earlier “misconceptions, he writes: Continue reading