At the most recent American Academy of Religion meeting in Atlanta, I was appreciative of the NAASR program that asked its participants to think through the place of “theory” in the academic study of religion. You can see the program overview and description here. The NAASR discussion now seems even more relevant in light of the 2016 AAR theme: “Revolutionary Love.” Russell McCutcheon recently wrote a blog post responding to it, wherein he suggested “those members of the AAR, such as myself, who understand the academic study of religion to be something entirely apart from being faithful in the world (whatever that may mean), will surely hesitate, or even balk, when reading this theme.” Continue reading “Love in a Time of Scholarship”
“Look! . . . Up in the sky. . . . It’s a bird. . . . It’s a plane. . . . No, it’s Superman!” When someone points out something in the distance, like an object flying through the sky, it can be hard to recognize just what it is. We attempt to name it, place it in a clear category, but sometimes our categories don’t fit, especially when working with complex societies, and the category that we attempt to force it into often influences what we actually see.
Arkotong Longkumer, in Reform, Identity and Narrative of Belonging (a 2010 book on the Heraka movement in northeast India), analyzes an intriguing community and movement that engaged politics, economics, social change, ritual shifts, and ethnicity, to name a few areas of interest. The context of the movement was the increasing imposition of British rule in the region in the early twentieth century, including the British encouragement of immigration to the area that disrupted the traditional migration cycle and the agricultural system that required it. The simultaneous opportunity for education and government jobs combined with the necessity of alternative forms of labor in the wake of declining agricultural production. All of this required a revision in ritual practices and social restrictions to reduce the expense of animal sacrifices and the limitations on mobility and individual independence from the community, as they adapted to the changing environment. The contexts also fostered interest in uniting different groups politically in opposition to, at times, the British and other communities. In fact, the image above of one of the leaders is entitled “Indian Freedom Fighter”. Continue reading “Freedom Fighter or Prophet”
For a new Culture on the Edge series “You Are What You Read” we’re asking each member to answer a series of questions about books—either academic or non-academic—that have been important or influential on us.
2. Name one of your favorite theory books.
Bruce Lincoln, Holy Terrors: Thinking About Religion After 9/11 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003)
This is one of my favorite theory books because of its approach toward and definition of religion. The definition, which has four parts, revolves around the first component: the foundation of religion, Lincoln asserts, is discourse. What makes religious discourse different from other types of discourse is that it appeals to a transcendent source (the most familiar version of which is “God”), which subsequently sets that claim beyond effective human critique significantly increasing the political weight of such claims. The other three components (practices, communities, and institutions) come to life only insomuch as they are socio-structural manifestations of that discourse. Continue reading “You Are What You Read, with Leslie Dorrough Smith (Part 2)”
“On the Spot” backs members of Culture on the Edge into a corner to talk about their backgrounds, their ongoing work, and what might be gained by an alternative understanding of how identity works.
Q: Russell, what types of theoretical and methodological shifts have your work taken throughout the years as it pertains to the category of religion?
A: Much as our initiative, here at Culture on the Edge, makes apparent, I think that it’s tougher work to read an author in his or her historical setting and thus far easier to generalize across what are in fact discrete, situationally-specific works that each engaged discrete issues. I say this in answer to your question because—at least judging from my own point of view, with regard to how I see my own work—I think that my early work is far different from what I’ve been doing these past few years. Continue reading “On the Spot with Russell McCutcheon”