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 →
I saw the above tweet yesterday, which prompted me to mull over why we generally think that the role of religion is such a complicated thing to study. It occurred to me that it is complicated (i) if you fail to recognize that there’s been trained scholars of religion out there for well over 100 years who have lots to say on these matters but also (ii) if we buy local accounts of it being some ethereal thing that mysteriously informs the practical aspects of people’s lives.
But if we instead assume it’s no less practical than any other sphere — and, what’s more, if we assume that privileging some features of life by calling them religious is also mundane and highly practical — well, we’d likely approach these topics rather differently.
Ecclesiastes 11 states, “Cast out your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will get it back.” Like all biblical passages, this sentence can obviously be interpreted in many ways, but for me it contains a special insight about how to succeed in our contemporary global market: it suggests that it is best to scatter your talents and skills as far as possible, and to allow the winds of opportunity to take you where they may. Now, as a bit of a nihilist, I am not usually one to quote bible passages, but given the current economic situation of academia in the West this one seems helpful because it encourages you not to put all your proverbial eggs in one basket. In an odd way, it provides a glimmer of hope to the dire situation that Humanities graduates like myself find themselves in after completing their B.A.s, M.A.s, and Ph.D.s, and offers a simple piece of advice: when considering a career in the humanities, think globally.
Dr. Ted Trost introduced the fourth annual Day Lecturer. Dr. Trost teaches courses in American Religious History, Religion and Popular Culture, Bible, and Religious Rhetoric in Literature and Film. This semester Prof. Trost is the Interim Director of New College.
The Day Lecture was generously established by friends and family of the late Zach Day, a graduate of our Department, to honor his memory, and is now an annual event thanks to the memorial fund named in his honor. The topics of these lectures are based around Zach’s interest in religion and its relation to popular culture through music, art, videos, gaming, and literature.
This year’s Day Lecture was given by Dr. Jason Bivins in a lecture entitled “Smoke, Sweat, and Panic: Language and Improvisation in Jazz and Religion.” We will be releasing his lecture in five different episodes over the coming weeks. This first episode introduces the “smoky associations” between religion and jazz and Dr. Bivins’ scholarly quest to “get into the smoke.”
Every episode of the Day Lecture is available here.
Daniel Jones is a graduate student in the Department of Religious Studies at Missouri State University. His research focuses on critical discourse analysis of the intersections of religion, nature, science, and humanity. His research interests also pertain to theories of religion, culture, communication, and anthropology.
“The hegemony of normalcy is, like other hegemonic practices, so effective because of its invisibility.”-Lennard Davis
“We must… take account of the persistence of a model of interpretation and the inversion of its sense, if we wish to engage in a genuine critique of critique.”- Jacques Rancière
For those of us involved in the critical study of religion, we often find ourselves embroiled in debates about what the object of our study actually is. For we are a tribe of diverse scholars with diverse methods. I, for one, cherish Bruce Lincoln’s “anti-disciplinary” sensibilities, and nomadic approaches to scholarly inquiry (think Braidotti, Deleuze/Guattari).
How we each “find” data depends on the relationship between what we see and the discourse that precedes (and thereby makes possible) our observation. It shapes our view of “religion” as observational data—what it is, does, or where it might be absent or found. Continue reading →
My early book was cited near the start of Chris Kavanagh‘s recent online essay, as an example of a work in the study of religion that — despite him agreeing that there is “much that is valid in such critiques” — seems to constitute “academic minutiae” that we should put behind us, so we can just get on with our work.
If you’ve not read the piece, you should.
Here’s the closing two paragraphs.
I’d like to focus on what is being claimed here, in these closing lines, and raise some of the implications that I see to be of importance. For paying attention to the little details is sometimes quite beneficial.
In a review essay posted recently at the Boston Review — entitled “Holy Wars: Secularism and the Invention of Religion” — James Chappel looked at several recent books on religion and modernity. In that article he wrote as follows: Continue reading →
I’ve seen some comments on social media about this recent court decision — click the image to read about it. (If you don’t know much about Pastafarianism then go here.) As a scholar of religion interested not so much in studying religion but, rather, in studying those who use the term to accomplish practical social work (by classifying this or that as religion [or not!]), I admit that I can be a little disappointed when I see other scholars of religion chime in about such decisions. For by failing to see the term “religion” as a rhetorical device, as a tool some people use to manage social life by naming, distinguishing, and then ranking assorted items, scholars often unwittingly enter into debates over what religion really is (or isn’t).