In Search of…

Students in REL 490 are currently reading a couple of essays by Joseph Kitagawa (d. 1992), longtime (and influential) faculty member at the University of Chicago’s Divinity School (from his 1987 collection), to help set the stage for our eventual reading of some of the works by the late Jonathan Z. Smith.

In Kitagawa’s essay, “The History of Religions in America” (1959 — originally published in that once influential set of essays on methodology), we find the following:

[O]ne must remember the admonition of Tor Andrae that the origin of religion is not a historical question; ultimately it is a metaphysical one.

It’s an interesting line, I think; given that the classic History of Religions approach was rather concerned with using the comparative method to identify the universal essence of religion, Kitagawa’s repetition of this warning has an ambivalent status in both his essay and in the field — not to mention how it could also serve to retain certain sorts of key inquiries for theology alone.

But without elaborating in detail here, I admit to being curious how people today read that advise… While for me discourses on origins are an effective rhetorical technique, employed in disputes among social actors in the present, I know plenty of people who still aim to figure out the origin of this or that religion (let alone a myth or a ritual) or who are set on explaining the pre-historic origins of religiosity in general.

So it seems that the admonition didn’t have much effect, unless there are more in our field than I realize who instead think of skin care products when they hear the word.

A Lesson on Origins at #REL50th

Our 50th anniversary celebrations have come to an end (but we’ll post a fun fact each Monday for the rest of the semester) — and, if you ask me, it was a great success.

We filmed parts of it (i.e., the two faculty lectures, by Profs. Altman and Trost, and the opening to the next night’s Grad Tales panel — featuring five grads who returned to help mark the occasion [scroll down here to see who they were]); these movies are now being produced in the main office. They’ll probably be posted in a few weeks. Continue reading

Jim and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

In the close to Fabricating Origins — a recent collection of short essays, by a wide array of scholars, on the problem of origins — I used the example of Jim and Pam, from the U.S. adaptation of the British series, “The Office,” to illustrate how malleable, and thus useful, the archive of the past can be in our efforts to make sense of where we happen to find ourselves today.

For all I know I’ve blogged about it before (I looked but, if I did, I couldn’t find it; so here goes…), but given yesterday’s post on the #Dear2016 hashtag, it seemed reasonable to revisit a point made in the afterword to the above-mentioned volume, to illustrate just what I think is going on in the current laments over how cruel 2016 has been. Continue reading

The Myth of Charismatic Visionaries

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Let’s play a game

Which one of these quotes is from New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, writing just the other day, and which is from William James, the American psychologist of religion, writing well over 100 years ago? Continue reading

Weaving the Thread of Oregon’s Origins

OregonTweet

By Jared Powell
Jared Powell is a senior from Canton, Mississippi
majoring in English and Religious Studies

If you follow college football, like most folks around here do, then you’ve surely heard a thing or two about the Oregon Ducks. Oregon has carved their place as one of the most successful college teams of the past five years with an imagined rivalry with the Tide (“We want Bama” anyone?), but they also make waves week in and week out with their jersey designs. The Ducks have been known to sport bright neon green and yellow getups in games past, but the designs for the October 10th matchup against Washington State branch off in a new direction—the overt creation of an origins narrative.

Continue reading

“Who said names were supposed to be easy to say? What are you, a candy bar?”

Picture 2Students in REL 237 are watching Avalon this week, a 1990 film about the changes that take place within a family of early to mid-20th century Americans who, like so many of our ancestors, came to this continent from somewhere else.

“I came to America in 1914…, by way of Philadelphia. That’s where I got off the boat,” says Sam, one of the film’s protagonists, recollecting an epic past for the grandchildren.

One of the reasons that I like using the film is the chapter on it that Bruce Lincoln contributed to a 1996 collection of essays, Myth & Method. If we watch the movie then we also read the chapter afterward. Continue reading

Golden Age Thinking

midnightinparisI’m using Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” (2011) as one of two movies to help set the tone for one of my courses this semester — an upper-level course that also uses a forthcoming book I’ve edited, all of which is devoted to examining the social, even political, role played by origins tales.

Have you seen the film? Continue reading

Gotcha

ISRAEL-VATICAN-POPENote to self: if you’re going to spin tales of origin in the service of contemporary interests then be careful, for someone with different interests can always tweak what you’re trying to do, to suit their own purposes.

Case in point: Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s recent effort to use an origins narrative to spin a tale of similarity quickly cut toward difference when the Pope corrected him on a detail, requiring some hasty fine tuning to get back to the original point…