You Are What You Read, With Steven Ramey (Part 1)

A man standing on a ledge in a library looking for a book

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.

A book called Asia Before Europe1. Name a book you read early on that shaped the trajectory of your career.

My current interest in alternative ways of discussing identifications and labels builds on my early consideration of the tension between the complexity of practices in India and the language of religious studies that assumes clearly bounded religions and religious identification. The book in graduate school that first provided an alternative way to discuss this tension was not a book that directly addressed the issues that interested me. K. N. Chaudhuri’s book Asia Before Europe opened up the possibilities of reconfiguring the ways we talk about the world, as Chaudhuri shifts the paradigm by acknowledging the different choices that people make when they construct historical narratives, even when they do not acknowledge those choices. He writes, “The analysis shows that historical events, structures, or phenomena can be grouped into different classes of time which have different qualitative properties, different ‘frequencies’, and unequal power’.” While such a notion is not unique to Chaudhuri, reading this book that attempts to chart cultural histories in a more complicated fashion awakened me to the possibilities of developing alternative ways of discussing religions that acknowledge the constructive nature of discourse. Continue reading “You Are What You Read, With Steven Ramey (Part 1)”