Factual Assertion or Persuasive Argumentation?

scholarreadingI finally got around to reading Tom Tweed’s recent Journal of Religion essay the other day, “After the Quotidian Turn: Interpretive Categories and Scholarly Trajectories in the Study of Religion Since the 1960s.” I’ve got a paper of my own in which I argue that we should turn our attention toward studying what I’ll just call the common, so I thought I should see what Tom had to say — those who advocate for studying so-called everyday religion, such as finding a small, simple shrine in a notch on a sidewalk’s wall, or those who go looking for, say, the implicit religion of baseball, are certainly talking about rather different things than I am in my paper, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth seeing what they’re all up to. Continue reading

A Response to “Responsible Research Practices,” Part 9: Broader Public

lecturehallThis is an installment in an ongoing series on the American Academy of Religion’s recently released draft statement on research responsibilities.
An index of the
complete series (updated as each
article is posted) can be found here.

Much like the earlier post on doing human subjects research, we find a truism enshrined in the draft document’s eighth bullet point (at least in the opening clause; I include the ninth also since it too is related):

publicunderstandingI’m not sure if there are many scholars out there who decline to provide an account of what they’re up to — it would not be difficult to understand conference presentations, publications, and even the teaching that we do to be doing just that. So I’m unsure why this needs to be included as one of the thirteen obligations the AAR’s committee sees fit to put into their document. Even paying attention to the threefold grouping into which they divide this reporting — our research questions, methods, and findings — isn’t innovative and therefore doesn’t help to clarify why this item was included; for this reads as if it was offering instructions to a lower level undergraduate students on how to write a research paper.

In fact, given that this is pretty much what we, as scholars, all already do, without being told to, it’s somewhat surprising that we also weren’t advised to have a thesis when we write a paper. 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

What’s the (Sacred) Point?

motelofthemysteriesHave you heard the one about Howard Carson, the amateur archeologist, who, in the year 4022, landed “at the bottom of an ancient shaft,” and then discovers what he decides is “a long-forgotten tomb”?

But which readers know to be just the ruins of a motel? Continue reading

“A Reluctance to Put the Religious Label”

Picture 2Did you hear about the White House summit this past week? It was in the news a fair bit and was on “countering violent extremism” — not just those attributed to Muslims but, because such adjectives as Islamic or Jihadist are often glued pretty tightly, at least in some North American and European media and politics, to the words violence or terrorism, that angle on the event has received a lot of attention. Continue reading

Carry On, They’re Just Misfits

halifaxattackplotDid you catch this Canadian news story today? I’ve heard it discussed on the radio all morning, during each half hour news update, and what’s curious is how National Public Radio’s report just phrased it: according to investigators, it was the plan of “a group of murderous misfits, not Islamic terrorists,” as the newsreader just said. 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

Making Cents

Picture 2Every now and then you hear about a really large, anonymous tip that’s been left for a server — here’s a story (including video) from the other day on this very topic, from nearby Knoxville, TN.

Of course, it’s hard for a scholar of religion not to hear things we commonly call religious scattered all throughout this story, like the

Jesus has blessed us and we were led to give it to you.
God Bless!

note that accompanied the tip, as well as the recipient’s conclusion that God led these kind people to her in her time of need, not to mention the concluding report that she’s been searching through scripture to see if the amount left, $1,075, is significant for, after all, it’s “not exactly a nice round number.” So there must be “some significance to the number,” right? Continue reading

Your Authentic is Illusory, of Course

nprchurchListening to a radio story this morning, on a church in Denver that prides itself on being diverse and on the social/political edge — one that, predictably, aims to “create an authentic Christian experience without the pretension that can come with church” — it occurred to me just how deeply reductionist, materialist theories of religion have seeped into daily life. For, despite how dangerous these theories are seen to be by some (when they’re applied to their own lives, that is), they’re surprisingly easy for people to draw upon when accounting for other people’s behaviors and institutions. Continue reading