By Matt Sheedy
This is part-one of a two-part response to Watts and Mosurinjohn’s essay “Can Critical Religion Play by Its Own Rules? Why There Must Be More Ways to Be ‘Critical’ in the Study of Religion,” which recently appeared in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion.
Before detailing some of my disagreements with this essay, I should say that I was happy to see this article in print as it signals the relevance of what some have called Critical Religion (CR) in our discipline and offers an important opportunity for clarification and further debate. Too often, I feel, we forget that the ultimate aim of scholarship is to advance knowledge and not simply ‘win’ an argument, whatever that may mean in the short term. As someone interested in the idea of Critical Religion and who is trained in Critical Theory (of the Frankfurt School and post-structuralist varieties), I approach this essay as a chance to think more carefully about the aims, influences, and effects of these debates. Continue reading “Critical Religion and the Critical Study of Religion: A Response to Galen Watts and Sharday Mosurinjohn, Part 1”
In the course I’m TAing for (a Masters level American Religious History course), I was given the opportunity to give a class lecture. The professor wanted me to bring my own work and knowledge, given that the lecture material was related to my own area of study (Catholic immigration and nationalism in the US). While I have had the opportunity to lecture in the past (and design my own portion of the syllabus to then teach), this was the first time I taught material chosen by someone else. Continue reading “Teaching “Just the Facts””
I had the good fortune the other week to do a virtual class visit, via Skype, with Brad Stoddard’s students at McDaniel College. To get things going, one of his students asked me a question; given that they’d read a little of an intro book I wrote, that’s concerned with issues surrounding defining religion, it concerned how I define religion. Continue reading “What’s Your Definition of Religion?”
Over a year ago I wrote a post, which has haunted me ever since I wrote it; starting with the idea that “every present justifies its presence by clinging onto a past not considered previously,” I looked at two different readings of a fresco in the catacombs of Priscilla, in Rome, and concluded that these two readings of the past each authorize different interests in the present.
Continue reading “Maps, Interpretations, and “The Territory””
Katie Lofton’s recent review essay of On Teaching Religion in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion has generated significant feedback on social media, both favorable and not. One point of debate is the appropriate classification for the essay. While the journal editor labeled it a Review Essay, others have described it as a tribute to J. Z. Smith’s scholarship, a teaching evaluation, a memoir essay, etc. Other terms describing the essay (a different manner of classification) ranged from narcissistic and Oedipal to a great read. Continue reading “Is It a Review Essay? Strategies of Classification”
Perhaps you’ve caught the news about a recent Supreme court decision in the U.S. in which (by a slim, but sufficient, 5-4 majority) local town meetings that begin with prayer were held to be constitutional — so long as religions were not actively excluded from the opportunity. The majority (read the decision, and various commentaries, for yourself here, linked under “Opinion”) concluded:
All that the Court does today is to allow a town to follow a practice that we have previously held is permissible for Congress and state legislatures.
Continue reading “WWDS?”
I’ve long known why I like Will Ferrell movies — he always plays it straight. No matter what character he adopts, he rides it as far as it’ll take him, never feeling the need that he has to wink to the audience, to let us in on the secret that he really isn’t that way himself, that he’s just playing a character.
That is, he never breaks the fourth wall. Continue reading “On Playing it Straight”
In a recent post I mentioned an upcoming paper I was presenting at a panel in Baltimore on explaining the causes of early Christianity’s origins. My concern in that paper, which I delivered a few days ago, was to draw attention to problems with attempts to account for the origins and development of any social movement — a critique that, for some in this one field, has already invalidated such things as quests for the historical Jesus. However, serious scholars yet persist in trying to account for the originary conditions of this thing we call Christianity.
The goal, of course, is to find out “what really happened,” as phrased by one person during the Q&A. Isn’t it? Continue reading “What’s Really Happening”
As a native Greek speaker, the words in English that give me most trouble—especially when I find myself at various conferences or lectures in North America that involve, in some way or another, the use of Ancient Greek—is the pronunciation of those words. I admit that I can’t resist the temptation of correction for example whenever I hear Thucydides (pronounced: Thu-si-di-dees) instead of Θουκυδίδης (pronounced: Thu-ky-theē-thees). But once I found myself in an awkward position where context made the text if not unrecognizable but certainly irrelevant. Continue reading ““Hoi Polloi””
Sometime ago I realized that there was important theoretical work signaled by gerunds—verbs that masquerade as nouns; for instance, as I once phrased it, the advantage for a social theorist of the concept “social formation,” as opposed to, say, “social forces,” “society,” “group” or even “institution,” was that it “nicely represents not only the ongoing work of bringing an imagined social group into existence but also the sleight of hand in making it appear always to have existed.” So “social formation” could name a thing, of course, prefaced by an indefinite article, for example, but, simultaneously, it can also name the ongoing process whereby the supposed thing comes into being, repeatedly and continually. Singing a national anthem is therefore an event in the day and life of members of a social formation, yes, but at the same time it is a socially formative act, i.e., a repetitive act constitutive of the formation of a particular, shared idea of citizenship—one element of a never ending process of identifications we might awkwardly term citizenizing. Continue reading “No There There”