By K. Merinda Simmons (University of Alabama)
There’s a new book series you should know about. I’m very happy to serve as editor of the Concepts in the Study of Religion: Critical Primers—an Equinox Publishing series, published in association with the North American Association for the Study of Religion (NAASR).
As the title suggests, volumes in the series will serve as critical primers: primers inasmuch as they will offer brief (c. 50,000 words) introductions to and overviews of the scholarly treatment of a particular concept in the study of religion, and critical inasmuch as they will outline their authors’ own suggestive claims about the stakes present in such scholarly treatments and about where these discussions might go moving forward.
The timing of the series corresponds with NAASR members’ considerations of how the frequently invoked but infrequently examined “method and theory” pairing can be reconsidered and productively utilized in religious studies (begun with the 2015 NAASR program on “Theory in a Time of Excess”). In fact, two of the volumes already forthcoming—on Comparison and Explanation—stem from presentations in the 2016 program on the methodological approaches many scholars use in the field. Comparison: A Critical Primer, by Aaron Hughes, will kick off the series and is currently in production. In it, Hughes considers what constitutes the act of comparison, who engages in it, how and why. He draws upon his own work on Judaism and Islam to examine the specific conditions that, he argues, make comparison a useful method.
Such discussions are significant for the field for several reasons, as they provide nuanced considerations of basic concepts and their histories for students and early-career scholars, and they also offer productive opportunities for self-reflection to advanced scholars who have made long use of the concepts they take up. Most important, perhaps, is that they productively challenge the analytical dichotomy of “theology v. non-theology” that can otherwise and unfortunately dominate discussions about the kind work scholars do in academic studies of religion.
Other volumes contracted for the series so far include books on Evil, Gender, and Tradition. As outlined in its description on the Equinox site (linked above), the series is a good prospective home for critical examinations of any mode of analysis, tool, or analytic term itself within the discourse of religious studies. Sometimes, the best contributions to the field come with simple, thoughtful considerations of a particular concept.
Do consider submitting a proposal! I would be very happy to hear your take on a concept important to the academic study of religion and/or to answer any questions you might have about the series.