CFP: Critique in Context – Surveying Key Categories in the Study of Religion #naasr2018

Critique in Context: Surveying Key Categories in the Study of Religion

Call for Proposals

The last several years, NAASR’s annual programs have addressed theory (2015), method (2016), and data (2017). Building off these important discussions, the program for 2018 will apply these topics to the study of religion internationally as we specifically focus on four topics: Citizenship and Politics, Class and Economy, Gender and Sexuality, and Race and Ethnicity. How, for example, do method and theory apply to the study of religion and these themes? How do scholars construct their categories or critique scholars who do? Who decides how to approach the study of these topics? And what scholarship provides the most important examples of insightful academic analyses of these terms and topics? Using these questions as a starting point, this year’s meeting will explore historiographic and/or contemporary analyses of the aforementioned topics, paying particular attention to applied method and theory in diverse data domains.

Following the model used for the past three annual meetings, four main, substantive papers will be invited and distributed both to respondents and NAASR members approximately one month prior to the meeting. These main papers will only be summarized at the session. Each paper will then have four respondents, who will have ten minutes each to reply to the main paper. This will be followed by an open discussion of roughly one hour. As per the past three years, the aim once again is to see these sessions published as a book (with responses from the main paper presenters) under the NAASR Working Papers series with Equinox Publishing (edited by Rebekka King).

This is therefore a call for respondents.

The four main papers will be invited, each to examine the implications of framing our research as focusing on one of the following topics: Citizenship and Politics, Class and Economy, Gender and Sexuality, and Race and Ethnicity. The main presenters will be asked to analyze the construction of categories in academic literature that addresses each of these themes, to advocate/critique scholarship carried out in that vein, and to explore its implications for the field. Submissions for possible respondents (16 in total are needed) must each:

  1. identify the key theme (one of the four immediately above) on which they wish to focus in their reply
  2. provide a brief (max. 500 words) statement on the most pressing issue(s) in need of consideration when addressing scholarship on religion and one of these themes
  3. as part of (2), discuss how your scholarship and/or field of study explores the theme you intend to address

We would like to pair scholars from diverse data domains.

NAASR especially invites submissions from early career scholars who have an interest in the topics explored in our sessions.

Please send your proposal as a file attachment by March 1, 2018, to NAASR VP Rebekka King at rebekka.king[at]

#naasr2018 • Nov. 17-20 • Denver, CO

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CFP: Situating Philosophy of Religion – Annual Department for the Study of Religion Graduate Symposium University of Toronto

Situating Philosophy of Religion

Annual Department for the Study of Religion Graduate Symposium
University of Toronto, April 21-22, 2018

Keynote Speakers:
Thomas A. Lewis (Brown), Mark Kingwell (Toronto)

The Graduate Student Association at the University of Toronto’s Department for the Study of Religion invites graduate students from all disciplines to participate in a symposium that explores the history, place, and task of philosophy of religion.

Ever since its identification as a distinct branch of philosophy at the end of the eighteenth century, philosophy of religion has led an ambiguous existence. Early efforts in philosophy of religion, for example, were made in the shadow of philosophical theology, and struggled to attain autonomy in establishing an approach to religion no longer premised on theoretical speculation about the nature of “God.” Furthermore, philosophy of religion has in more recent contexts tended to appear too narrowly focused on abstract intellectual questions reminiscent of this (especially Christian) theological heritage. However, in the midst of growing attention to the history and power dynamics involved in the construction of the category “religion,” as well as to the material, social, and embodied aspects of religious practice, current developments in philosophy of religion have become significantly more methodologically self-reflective, not only in exploring the social and historical contexts of its “classic” questions, but also in attempting to make connections beyond its predominantly monotheistic origins. Such developments, moreover, are increasingly sensitive to the interdisciplinary nature of the study of religion, and attempt to establish dialogue between philosophy and other approaches such as history, sociology, and anthropology.

This conference aims to provide a forum in which to explore the question of how to situate philosophy of religion in contemporary academic contexts in light of these developments. Participants are encouraged to submit proposals for papers that reflect on questions such as the following:

  • What is philosophy of religion? What does it do, and where does it belong? How do new developments in the philosophy of religion affect how we conceive of its role today?
  • How does philosophy of religion define its object(s) of study, and how does it relate to other branches of philosophy?
  • What is the significance for philosophy of religion of its historical relationship with philosophical theology, and how has this ancestry affected the development of philosophy of religion?
  • What challenges do religion and issues involved in the academic study of religion pose to philosophical inquiry?
  • What is the role of philosophy in the interdisciplinary context of the academic study of religion?
  • Given recent methodological and theoretical shifts in philosophy and the academic study of religion, what is the future of philosophy of religion?

Guidelines for submissions: Please submit a 250-word abstract outlining the topic and main arguments of the paper by January 19th, 2018. Proposals should include all contact information and institutional affiliation. Please send proposals, as well as any questions, to dsrsymposium18[at]

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So You’re Not a Priest? Scholars Explain What They Do to Outsiders: James Dennis LoRusso


In this series with the Bulletin, we ask scholars to talk about how they describe what they do to outsiders by sharing a story or two, and reflect on how this has affected their identity as scholars of religion. For other posts in this series, follow the link

by James Dennis LoRusso

No. I am neither a priest nor have I ever considered entering some form of professional ministry. In fact, most of my friends and family will probably tell you that I am wholly irreligious. While I did suffer from a few sporadic bouts of “spiritual seeking” during my twenties, the closest I ever came to taking religion “seriously” was a fleeting fascination with monasticism after a high school field trip to Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Monastery in Conyers, Georgia when I was fourteen. Yet, rather than a devotion to Catholic teaching or belief, the holy orders likely appealed to me because it suited my introverted disposition and seemed a feasible escape route from an awkward adolescence. It was never a serious consideration and within a few days, I had put the idea to rest.

No. I am not a priest, but I do find religion a topic of inquiry worthy of pursuit professionally. Yet, like many others, I am routinely confused with priests, ministers, theologians, or some other properly “religious” pursuit. As I recall, these experiences began almost immediately upon my entry to graduate school. Coworkers, extended family, or just about anyone inquiring about my line of work could threaten with some iteration of “Oh, are you planning on entering the ministry?”

The question came from faces that expressed a number of reactions, from shock and bewilderment to genuine curiosity and excitement. However, I have to admit that during these early moments of my graduate studies I was neither surprised nor troubled by the question. It was a sensible mistake that anyone could make, including myself. After all, at some point in our lives we were all outsiders who somehow came to embrace our profession. Because I was an undergraduate history major, my only exposure to religious studies was the single course on “Philosophy of Religion” in which I enrolled during my senior year, and several years of life and work would intervene between this singular experience and my ultimate decision to pursue an advanced degree in the field. My point is that, upon entering graduate school, even I was somewhat unsure about the assumptions of the profession. Perhaps I still am.

Whereas I once thought little about these moments of misrecognition, they have come to play an increasingly important role practically. For instance, I have developed and experimented with numerous strategies for responding to the question, and even avoiding it altogether. When conducting fieldwork with evangelical business people, I find that overtly introducing myself as a “secular historian of American religion” leaves little room for ambiguity, even if the label exclusively (and incorrectly) associates me with the discipline of history. During other encounters with outsiders, I might even refer to myself with the utterly sanitized moniker of “researcher,” through which I might circumvent the disciplinary discussion completely and simply describe the general focus of my “research.” Such tactical avoidance helps me to deal with the discomfort I experience with the religious question.

The fact is that, as Matthew Baldwin so aptly noted, the academic study of religion remains relatively obscure and it should not surprise us that people regularly confuse us with our data. Yet it is also true that our exchanges with outsiders are more diverse. I can recall numerous instances where my interlocutors never broached the religious question or indicated they mistook me for a theologian. Occasionally, outsiders will even correct me from assuming that they don’t understand the distinction.

Given the wide range of actual experience that I suspect we have as scholars and students of religion, these misrecognitions reveal more than the assumptions of outsiders (although I do find it interesting how, almost exclusively in my anecdotal experience, “religion” seems to function as a signifier for “Christian” forms of religious leadership—minister, pastor, priest, theologian, etc.). It also exposes how we imagine ourselves and contours of our professional identity. Certainly, most of us have heard of or have read the mythic history of our intellectual origins. In the nineteenth century, so the story goes, Max Müller advocated for a religionswissenschaft, a proper “science of religion,” taking the first steps towards the field of Religious Studies. Notably, at least according to the myth, it was his break-away from theology that made Mueller’s contribution so novel, and consequently (and this is the mythic part) continues to justify the academic study of religion today. (I like Eric Sharpe’s somewhat dated but effective rendering of the tale in Comparative Religion: A History)

Where we locate this line informs how we imagine our field. Some of us consider even the whiff of normativity, the hint of assumed privilege, or implied ethical assessment to be a deviation into the theological and a transgression of our professional boundaries. Others of us view religious authorities as distinct, yet legitimate conversation partners. Regardless of where you might fall on this spectrum, both extremes nonetheless rely on the persistence of an arbitrary boundary between “scholar” and “priest.”

As I stated above, these misrecognitions initially troubled me little, but now I have undergone socialization into a community that leans on these differences. Although it may aspire to a world where outsiders no longer think of us as religious, I suspect we need these opportunities (such as this series of blog posts), not to educate but to reinforce the integrity, from time to time, of who we are. Today, when an outsider remarks, “so, you’re not a priest,” I have learned to experience discomfort, to practice surprise, and offer a rehearsed response because these actions perform necessary identity work. In the end, the “priest” question demonstrates how the distinction between theology and religious studies is more than a vestige of our genesis as a field; it remains integral to our very possibility.

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Theses on Professionalization: Vincent Burgess


In this series with the Bulletin, we have asked 21 early career scholars to weigh in on Russell McCutcheon’s Theses on Professionalization, first published in 2007. In his 21 theses, McCutcheon offers advice to young scholars entering (or soon to enter) the job market, addressing the all-to-important (but often overlooked) question of professionalization. Each of the contributors in this series has been asked to comment on a single thesis, addressing its contemporary relevance, and how it relates to their own experience moving forward in the academic world. For other posts in this series, see here

by Vincent Burgess

Thesis # 13. Because there is no direct relationship between seniority and the quality of one’s writing, one’s familiarity with the literature, or the novelty of one’s ideas, graduate students ought never to refrain from submitting their work to a scholarly journal for possible peer review publication simply because they understand themselves to be novices. Even if rejected, the comments that result from the blind review process will be of benefit to students who have so far only received feedback from professors already familiar with their work.

Overall, this seems like great advice—and advice which is unlikely to be drastically affected by changing hiring paradigms, or even the potential shifting landscape of academic publishing (as recently discussed here and here.) Unlike other authors in this series, I cannot draw upon any specific anecdotes or overt experiences when it comes to this topic. To be honest, aside from delivering a handful of conference papers, this is the first time I’ve come close to writing anything to be published. However, the imperative to publish, and to publish often, has been looming over my head for many years—even before I began graduate school.

In my first religious studies theory course at THE Ohio State University we spent some time going over the biography and bibliography of Mircea Eliade. Eliade, it is said, had published 100 articles by the time he turned 18.[1] That’s a relatively intimidating factoid to learn when one is just beginning to process what would be expected of them as a graduate student/scholar in academia. Now, I have since learned not to hold myself to Eliade’s standards (for numerous reasons), but my understanding of the necessity to publish has never gone away.

There is, however, the inherent inferiority complex which seems to come along with being a graduate student (and much has recently been written on the notion of the “imposter syndrome”). Some of this is a result of one’s own insecurities, but much of it has been institutionalized as a primary component of academia and the processes of educating and professionalizing graduate students—presumably as a means of preserving the various egos and hierarchies central to said processes. That is, once one’s academic authority has been established, one would be understandably hesitant to relinquish even an iota of it by either implying or flat out saying that a graduate student is capable of researching and writing with the same skill and expertise as a more experienced academic. Who knows what could happen? Hell, the whole system may come crashing down.

Relatedly, a graduate student’s ‘fear of fucking up’ is especially appropriate when it can mean the difference between a highly sought after job in academia or…well…nothing. For this reason, it’s important to highlight the centrality of confidence to this thesis—being confident enough in your academic preparation to date, your research expertise with regard to a particularly technical topic, the subsequent intervention that your research and writing can make to the field, and confident enough to withstand the inevitable criticisms which come along with the submission process (no matter how constructive they may be).

After all, in most cases a well-read graduate student who has spent a considerable amount of time researching a very specific topic, case study, or question will, in fact, be better versed on the subject than most other scholars in the discipline, whether they are a junior or senior scholar. They should therefore not be hesitant to share their findings with the broader scholastic community if and when they have something to contribute. As one never knows when a significant intervention into a field or sub-field might be made, nor by whom, I agree that McCutcheon is right here to encourage graduate students to challenge such hierarchical preconceptions vis-à-vis experience vs. a potentially valuable contribution to the field. However, there are also broader issues to consider—such as the matter of one’s time.

As has been pointed out repeatedly in this series (particularly in the posts by Matt Sheedy and Emily D. Crews), one’s time as a graduate student (and, of course, as an instructor, lecturer, and/or eventual professor) is invaluable, and any extra work must be approached with substantial consideration and cost-benefit analysis. Sending a paper off for consideration to a publisher can entail a considerable amount of time. There is the researching, writing, editing, sending it off to professors for notes and initial feedback, waiting, re-writing, sending it off to the publication, waiting, waiting, more waiting, more editing (if accepted), more editing (if not accepted), sending it off to a different publication, waiting, waiting, and repeat.

Since professionalization is the goal here, it is important to point out that this endeavor—in time management and beginning to traverse the world of publishing—is undoubtedly worthwhile, as it will begin to prepare one for a potential lifetime of such activities. Just as one would not wait to demonstrate an ability to serve one’s department, and one would not wait to take every opportunity to develop their teaching skills, it would also, therefore, stand to reason that an ambitious graduate student should also not wait to begin publishing their work.

This, however, raises a question which is often the subject of much debate, especially when it comes to the hiring process: Should a graduate student take every opportunity to publish? Even though these theses are not necessarily about “how to get a job,” but, rather, how to prepare oneself for an eventual position in academia, I cannot help but take such questions—and the broader issue of employability—into account while considering this particular thesis.

There seem to be two schools of thought on the subject: 1) All publications are good, and any is better than none, and 2) it’s better to publish less, more selectively, with higher quality work, in better journals—even if that means not publishing at all before one goes on the job market. There is not space here to delve too deeply into this debate, but I will say that there does not seem to be a single scenario that is best for anyone, as there are many variables to consider—not least of which is the fickle nature of many hiring committees (see this recent reprint of a 1997 piece written by McCutcheon and Tim Murphy, along with Jeffrey Wheatley’s post in this series).

Even if publishing is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition for being hired, it probably won’t hurt your chances. As long as it is quality work which has something of value to add to the conversation—that is, a significant intervention or contribution to the field. To return to McCutcheon’s thesis, regardless of whether or not one is successful in their endeavor to publish their research, they will nonetheless come away with valuable feedback. Feedback which will help them hone their work as they move forward, therefore raising the overall quality of their writing and increasing the chances that they are more successful next time. And, perhaps equally important, one will gain valuable experience from beginning to negotiate the publishing arena, which will surely help her/him in the future.

Vincent Burgess is a PhD candidate in the Asian Religions doctoral program of the Department of Asian Studies at Cornell University. His research is currently focused on discourses of renunciation and environmentalism amongst contemporary, North Indian religious traditions, particularly how such discourses have intersected with various conceptions and articulations of modernity.

[1] Daniel Pals, Seven Theories of Religion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 159.

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Theses on Professionalization: Nickolas Roubekas


In this series with the Bulletin, we have asked 21 early career scholars to weigh in on Russell McCutcheon’s Theses on Professionalization, first published in 2007. In his 21 theses, McCutcheon offers advice to young scholars entering (or soon to enter) the job market, addressing the all-to-important (but often overlooked) question of professionalization. Each of the contributors in this series has been asked to comment on a single thesis, addressing its contemporary relevance, and how it relates to their own experience moving forward in the academic world. For other posts in this series, see here

by Nickolas Roubekas

Thesis #12: Many doctoral students do not realize that finding authors willing to write book notes, book reviews, etc., is sometimes difficult for journal editors. As a first step in professionalizing themselves, graduate students should become aware of the journals in their field and write to their book review editors, suggesting that the journal allow them to write and submit a review (especially for books that they are already reading for their courses or research, thereby minimizing on work additional to their class and dissertation research). Besides providing experience in writing and a much needed line on ones c.v., one never knows who will read the review or what other opportunities might follow upon it.

Most scholars tend to see book reviewing as a burdensome, tedious, and frankly pointless undertaking that diverts them from more important and creative projects. Add teaching workloads, administration work, grant applications, and personal obligations and one realizes that dedicating precious time to review a new book is, to say the least, unattractive. A line on one’s cv or the enticement of a free book are often not enough to persuade scholars to review a new publication.

PhD students or young scholars entering the job market do not face the same problems but they do deal with an even more stressful issue, namely, the dim and admittedly deterring possibilities of employability. When one needs to spend countless hours filling in applications, writing postdoctoral project proposals while at the same time finalizing a PhD thesis or working on individual chapters followed by back-and-forth email exchanges with her/his supervisor, why should s/he spend time in reviewing a book? Is merely a free book or a line in one’s cv enough to persuade young scholars to engage into such a time-consuming project?

I think that there are three important reasons why doctoral students and young scholars should consider book reviews as a step in professionalizing themselves, but certainly not merely the first one. I strongly believe that book reviewing is an academic exercise that is often neglected or even scorned among academics for several reasons. First, most journals simply ask for a mere presentation of the book under review without requiring (or, worse, some times, denying to accept) a critical approach by the reviewer. Second, some reviewers tend to request and evaluate books written by either ‘friends’ or ‘enemies’, with a specific agenda in mind, which in turn produces biased reviews that add little to the academic ongoing discussions and debates. Third, book review editors often assign books without considering the reviewer’s field, expertise, and ability to submit something substantial. Fourth, the book reviews section in academic journals is often seen by scholars as a promotional one replacing publishers’ catalogues. Fifth, editors tend to accept almost all submitted reviews. This, of course, reflects the difficulty they have in finding reviewers to begin with and, as one can imagine, the high acceptance rate is sometimes against the scholarly nature of the book reviews section and its service to the field.

So, why bother? Here are three reasons why I think PhD students and young scholars should consider book reviews beyond the given demand for reviewers, a free book, and a line on their cv’s:

  1. Academic reading of a book and reviewing a book serve different purposes. In the former, one goes through a particular text in search of important data or information for justifying theories, approaches, and conclusions promoted in a research output (be it a PhD thesis, a journal article, a research proposal, etc.). In the latter, however, the stakes are higher. Reviewers are – ideally – required not only to present the structure and basic ideas of the book under review, but also to: identify problems; point out future developments that the reviewed book possibly promotes; parallel the text in question with previously published works and underline the scope and the location of the work in the wider academic setting; critically assess the methods and theories promoted and justify their potentiality within the specific field it belongs to.
  1. Writing book reviews will help you do better in job interviews. This admittedly bizarre statement needs further reflection. It is almost sure that during an interview for an academic job no one will ask you something along the lines of “What do you think of Bruce Lincoln’s approach to myth?” If your PhD thesis was on myth, you are most likely aware of Lincoln’s approach to the topic. But, in all honesty, no one cares about it. It is too specialized, narrowed, and people who decide whether you will get the job or not will want to see something beyond your ability to defend anew your PhD thesis. It is more likely to be asked something like “What do you think a department of Religious Studies should offer to students?” Such a question virtually requires a broader and academically coherent answer. Your ability to know, apply, and evaluate Lincoln’s definition of myth granted you a PhD (or will soon do so). Your critical approach to Lincoln’s work on myth and its placement in the field of Religious Studies with the simultaneous evaluation of how the discipline should or could function based on Lincoln’s suggestions (which is the result of a different reading of his work usually required when you review a book) will allow you to go beyond your PhD thesis and, hopefully, impress your interviewers.
  1. Writing book reviews will make you a better academic author. When reviewing a book keep in mind that you are working on a text that managed to survive going through various stages before being published. From the book proposal stage and the various anonymous reviews to series editors and copy editors and their suggestions, what you are working on is – most of the time – a polished and well-presented text. A careful and thorough reading of a book under review will give you a very good idea of what is the standard in academic writing regarding structure, style, referencing, and argumentation. If you are working on your thesis, this is an invaluable source; if you are working on a book proposal, you have at hand an example of what you should be aiming at. Given that for most – if not all – young scholars their PhD thesis will constitute the topic of their first book proposal, having worked on book reviews gives them an advantage in presenting a project that is coherent, well thought-out, and has all the academic elements that will convince a publisher to offer a contract.

Nickolas Roubekas is Teaching Fellow in the Department of Divinity & Religious Studies at the University of Aberdeen, U.K. He received his PhD from the Aristotle University, Greece, and held a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of South Africa as a member of the ongoing research project ‘Redescribing Graeco-Roman Antiquity’, coordinated by Gerhard van den Heever. He is currently working on a monograph on euhemerism as a theory of religion (forthcoming, Routledge) and an edited volume on theory and ancient religions (forthcoming, Equinox). Since 2012 he has been the book reviews editor of Religion & Theology, published by Brill.

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Again with the Elephants…

by Adam T. Miller

A few years ago, I started teaching an introductory religious studies course online. While I have since had the opportunity to redevelop the course, initially it was just something I inherited—syllabus, textbook, assignments, all of it. In thinking through how to make the best use of what I had, I wrote a blog called “My Inherited Elephant” (initially posted on my now deactivated personal blog, later picked up by Practicum and the Bulletin).

In that post, I discuss how Gary Kessler—whose textbook I still use—tells the old Buddhist story of the blind men and the elephant[1] in order to promote pluralism and tolerance. Just as the blind men, invited by the king, feel an elephant and come to different conclusions about said elephant on the basis of perfectly legitimate (albeit limited) sensory experiences, so do the religious come to different conclusions about the Sacred on the basis of perfectly legitimate (albeit limited) experiences—so says Kessler, more or less. This story shows, he thinks, that because the source/object (presumed singular) of religious experiences (plural) is beyond our limited human grasp, we should not only acknowledge but also celebrate multiplicity with regard to religious truth.[2]

Now…let’s move back in time several hundred years.

In the fourth century, a monk by the name of Asaṅga wrote a treatise called the Summary of the Great Vehicle (Mahāyānasaṃgraha). Therein, he advances a number of views that have since been associated with the Yogācāra school of Mahāyāna Buddhism. In so doing, he discusses dependent co-arising (pratītyasamutpāda)—a doctrine likely familiar to anyone who has had to teach anything about Buddhism at any point—in relation to the comparatively newer idea of the container/storehouse consciousness (ālayavijñāna). More specifically, Asaṅga says that Mahāyāna thinking on the issue of dependent co-arising is more sophisticated than previous iterations because it distinguishes two levels of the process, or two ways of looking at it—the objective and the subjective.

Objectively speaking, dependent co-arising eliminates any beginning to the processes that constitute the world of experience. Subjectively speaking, it eliminates a static, discrete, experiencing self. But not everyone knows this. And indeed, people are predisposed not to. On this, Asaṅga writes:

“They are like the blind men who had never before encountered an elephant. When someone showed them one and had them feel it, some touched its trunk, some its tusk, some its ear, some its foot, some its tail, and some its flank. When asked what an elephant was, some of the blind men responded that it was like a plow handle, others that it was like a wooden pestle, a fan, a mortar, a broom, or a mountain rock.”

Here we can imagine a pluralist interjecting—“yes, and this is why we all agree that no one has it all right, but everyone has something right.” But this is not where Asaṅga goes. “People do not understand these two kinds of dependent co-arising,” he continues,

“because they are blinded by primal ignorance. Whether they claim that the cause of transmigration is an original essence, past actions, the creative action of a god, the self with its eight inherent qualities, or that there is no cause, or whether they imagine a self as the subject of action and experience, because they do not understand the basic pattern of the container consciousness and its cause-result relationship, they are like those blind men who, not recognizing the shape of the elephant, offered such strange explanations” (BDK trans., 21).

People don’t understand how the container consciousness works—and that’s why they offer all these silly explanations of how the world works. If only they could see the big picture…

That’s Asaṅga’s straightforwardly non-pluralist story, and he’s sticking to it.

As Russell McCutcheon rightly notes in a blog post penned as somewhat of a response to my initial post on Kessler’s use of the story, the story “naturalizes a detached, disconnected, and…rather elitist view of the world—a view in which only some of us float free of the constraints suffered by others and thereby know what’s really going on.”

But the tellings of the story given above allow another basic point to be made, and it’s one Bruce Lincoln has made on a handful of occasions—namely: the same basic story can be deployed and redeployed in various contexts by various tellers in order to advance sometimes radically different claims. In Kessler’s case, the end game is a pluralist society in which all religions are respected and celebrated on account of their partial grasp on truth. For Asaṅga, the end game is quite different–and it involves most people being not partially right, but totally wrong.

[1] More accurately, the story is a South Asian one that had legs in lots of communities.

[2] As it happens, this is more or less the moral of the story according to its Wikipedia entry: “The moral of the parable is that humans have a tendency to project their partial experiences as the whole truth, ignore other people’s partial experiences, and one should consider that one may be partially right and may have partial information.”

Adam T. Miller is a PhD student in the History of Religions at the University of Chicago, an online instructor for Central Methodist University, Editorial Assistant for History of Religions, and Book Review Editor of the Bulletin for the Study of Religion. He is interested in method and theory in the study of religion, Indian Buddhist history and literature, and the histories of the History of Religions and Buddhist Studies. His most recent research investigates how narrative depictions of affective responses to the ritualized dissemination of Dharma discourses in Mahāyāna literature might shed light on the sociology of the Mahāyāna in India during (roughly) the first five centuries of the Common Era. His work can be followed on Academia.

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Flourish and Decay: Exploring Religion in Process

Call for Papers

The Religion Graduate Organization and the Department of Religion at Syracuse University announce the 2018 Graduate Student Conference Flourish and Decay: Exploring Religion in Process on Friday, April 13th, 2018.

Flour·ish: [‘flǝriSH] (n., v.) growth and development in a good environment; a gesture or to gesture in such a way that attracts attention.

De·cay: [dǝ͘‘kā] ‘(n., v.) to rot organically or the process of decomposition; to deteriorate; to fall into a state of disrepair. Rotten matter. A gradual decline of quality.

This conference proposes the terms “flourish” and “decay” as entry points through which to further understand how religion emerges and envelops within past, present, and future worlds.

Both flourish and decay can operate as either overarching metaphors of change, transformation, and fluctuation or as literal descriptions of cycles of growth, consumption, and loss. We embrace the capaciousness of these terms and encourage graduate students to think innovatively through them as an opportunity to explore religion in process. We welcome diversity in topics, theoretical approaches, and methodologies from all academic fields and disciplines across a broad range of histories, geographies, and religious traditions.

Keynote: Kathryn Lofton, Yale University 

Papers and panels might engage the following (but not limited to) themes of:

  • Fame, thriving, and prosperity
  • Politics, conflict, and resistance
  • Misogynoir, toxic masculinity, gender
  • Afrofuturism, critical race theory
  • Indigenous futurism, de/colonization practices
  • Ruins, cities, empire, and war
  • Futurity, millenarianism, apocalypticism and utopianism
  • Community, class, geography, place, space
  • Pollution in texts, bodies, environments, landscapes
  • Disaster, trauma, toxicity, and recovery
  • Life, biopolitics, necropolitics, health, governmentality
  • Aesthetics, beauty, and the grotesque
  • Precarity, neoliberalism, late capitalism, globalism, nationalism
  • Environmentalism, the Anthropocene, climate change, waste
  • Technology, transhumanism, robotics, and artificial intelligence
  • The viral and the virtual, affect theory
  • Death, funerary and burial rites
  • Temporalities, histories

Please submit a short abstract (350 words for papers; 500 words for panels) and a CV in PDF format to: by January 20, 2018.

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