American Converts and their Possessions: A Review of Lincoln Mullen’s The Chance of Salvation

Editor’s note: Bulletin Book Reviews is the newly developed book review portal for the Bulletin for the Study of Religion, associated with NAASR and published by Equinox. We are interested in reviewing titles of wide relevance to the academic study of religion, particularly those which themselves foreground issues of method and theory in the study of religion or from which such issues can be gleaned and discussed productively. We encourage submissions from doctoral students and established faculty alike. For more information, please visit the page linked above.

Mullen, Lincoln A. The Chance of Salvation: A History of Conversion in America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017. Pp. 384. $39.95 (hardcover).

by Charlie McCrary

These days, Americans choose their religions. Even those who seem to start with a religion, those “raised religious,” must choose to continue to be religious, or to switch religions, or to cease to be religious, maybe become “spiritual” instead, or adopt the label “atheist” or “freethinker” or “agnostic.” Pick one. This imperative, Lincoln Mullen argues, originated in the nineteenth century, during which “Americans came to think of religion as an identity that one could and must choose for oneself” (10). Mullen does not use the language of the “Protestant secular,” but that language might be helpful to describe the model he proposes. Because Protestants—especially the revivalist sort, obsessed with individual choice, the moment of decision at the anxious bench, the desire to be made new—defined the terms of religion, other groups, would they too become legible as “religious,” began to work with the same frameworks. By the end of the nineteenth century, “for everyone,” Mullen argues, “religion was becoming more of a chosen identity, even in a religion [such as Catholicism] marked strongly by ethnicity and inheritance” (267). Furthermore, “the possibility of not having a disposition toward religion at all—of simply not having considered religion one way or the other—was becoming less of an option” (275). In this way, Mullen brilliantly highlights a fundamental irony of American religion: it’s a “marketplace,” a smorgasbord of options, but you must participate, and only liberal subjects get to buy.

Through six chapters, The Chance of Salvation excavates dozens and dozens of stories of individuals, families, and communities changed by conversions. Each chapter—on (white) Protestants and the “sinner’s prayer,” Cherokees, African Americans, Mormons, Jews, and Catholics, respectively—brims with vignettes. In these stories, we glimpse the drama of life: marriage, separation, birth, death, violence, displacement, enslavement. Each chapter rests on a theme and historical argument. For example, Mullen shows how African American Christians narrated their conversions in “eschatological time” as opposed to “human time,” and how the eschatological imaginaries of enslaved Christians differed from those of post-Emancipation African American Christians. The chapters are well constructed and rich with historical details. For the most part, though, the strong theoretical claims advanced in the introduction, the larger argument about the advent of the religion-choosing imperative, leave the text until the conclusion. That conclusion, a fascinating meditation on William James’s Varieties of Religious Experience, does not offer neat answers but prompts more questions.

Mullen correctly notes that, although James studied religious conversion to get at something universal and timeless, what he was really doing was reflecting a new turn-of-the-century imagination of religion. But what is Mullen really doing? Ostensibly, he is historicizing, contextualizing, theorizing. But these analyses are always subtle, underdone, hinted more than stated outright. And sometimes Mullen rejects explanations without offering different ones instead. Unlike James’s Varieties, The Chance of Salvation is a history. So, my central question about it is a historical one: What was it about the nineteenth century?

If religion-as-chosen-identity is a nineteenth-century innovation, it might be helpful to analyze it in the context of nineteenth-century conditions. What about capitalism? In a few places, Mullen critiques the common “marketplace” metaphor, most interestingly in the chapter on Cherokees, where the idea does not track with their gift economy. And he mentions money here and there, as when conversions for obvious personal gain come under scrutiny. Concepts like “fraud” come up too. Throughout the text, Mullen dismisses Marxian analyses that might chalk up religious conversion to self-interested, class-conscious ladder-climbing. And religious positions might be connected to economic or political positions, but they are never reducible to them. For instance, after noting that those who converted to Catholicism sometimes did so as part of their rejection of capitalism, Mullen carefully qualifies, “This is not to say that conversions to Catholicism were driven primarily by political or economic concerns; they were not” (233). Then what is it to say? What or who did the primary driving? Mullen does not tell us. The ghosts stay unnamed.

But ghosts always have context, if not names. And even if religious experience is somehow wholly other, outside of time, conversions are still somehow related to material realities. Mullen writes, “For the Cherokee who were asked to choose between conversion to Christianity and renewed zeal for Cherokee cosmology, the choice was bound up with other choices—whether to acculturate, whether to adopt American-style agriculture and market trade, whether to enter into treaties, whom to right in the War of 1812. To choose conversion had different religious meanings over time, but it also had different political, economic, and social meanings” (68). Here, “religious meanings” are a node in a network, or maybe a piece of an assemblage. They connect with but are not the same as the political, economic, and social. Religion is something else.

My question remains: What was it about the nineteenth century? In addition to capitalism, settler empire defined that century. That could be an insightful avenue for analysis. I wonder if this whole business of religion-as-chosen-identity is a product of post-Enlightenment thought forged in the context of settler colonialism. This drive to name and classify, to craft taxonomies of race, sex, plants, worked to naturalize and legitimize hierarchical difference and exploitation, including enslavement. So, in the nineteenth century, identities became fixed. But, unlike race or gender (some exceptions apply!), religion was not totally fixed. It was changeable. Many Americans, influenced by Protestant revivalism, thought of their new religious identities as being “born again,” a “new creation.” They did not theorize religious identity as performative. It was changeable, but these changes were internal, even ontological in their transformations. In this way, nineteenth-century modes of identification and naming depended on colonialist mentalities. This is clear not just in missionizing, converting the heathen, but more broadly in the scientistic obsession with classification. Regarding some queer theorists’ use of the term trans*, Jack Halberstam explains, “the asterisk modifies the meaning of transitivity by refusing to situate transition in relation to a destination, a final form, a specific shape, or an established configuration of desire and identity.” [1] My point is, in Mullen’s book there is no Catholic* or Jew*, but maybe this would be a helpful way to frame conversion. In so many of the vignettes, the convert felt compelled to this new religion. Yet, despite the way revivalist Protestants conceptualized it, as a sudden and definitive event, a moment in time when an individual is made new, the on-the-ground process was messier, more gradual, always social. So, here we might see a colonialist framework—naming, classifying, ranking, fixing, concretizing—creating the possibility of (a certain kind of) religious conversion, even as the converts themselves, and perhaps more so the ghosts and gods compelling them, push against that framework.

How did these two contexts, capitalism and colonialism, converge in the discourse and experience of nineteenth-century religious conversions? It comes down, in large part, to liberal subjectivity. And the American liberal subject was (and is, in many ways) implicitly white. The first three chapters are mostly about Protestants, but the titles respectively indicate “Protestant,” “Cherokee,” and “African American” converts. That first chapter, which is primarily about white revivalists, sets the template for the rest of the book. It’s not just the Protestant secular at work; it’s the white Protestant secular, each of these categories’ pretensions to universality leaving its particularity unmarked. [2] Whiteness peeks through in sentences like “African Americans crafted their own alternative form of Christianity” (119; emphasis added), reminding the reader just who set the terms here. There is no index entry for “whiteness.”

Scholars of nineteenth-century American religion have been preoccupied with questions of agency. While Mullen does not devote much extended discussion to this issue, it pops up repeatedly throughout the text. One reason agency is important, beyond the stilted frameworks of “social control” versus “democratization,” is how nineteenth-century Americans’ concerns with it (not to mention historians’ concerns) betray their indebtedness to mythic liberal subjectivity—and, most relevant here, the ways that the nineteenth-century (and beyond) model of religious conversion supposes and imposes a particular way of being and universalizes it. Mullen’s exploration of this problematic is one of his best contributions. Here again we see whiteness at the crux of conversion as a colonial and capitalist project. In the chapter on Cherokee converts, Mullen emphasizes repeatedly that did not receive Christianity passively but, rather, recrafted Christianity, such that it “became as much a Cherokee religion as was traditional Cherokee cosmology” (67). To “make it your own” (much in the same way that twentieth-century young evangelicals, raised in the church, are implored not to rely on the faith of their parents but instead to “make your faith their own”), to conquer, possess, and (sincerely) hold something, was to become religious. But “religious choice was in no simple sense a new kind of freedom; it is better understood as an obligation” (16). Subjects did not choose religions happily at whim, like selecting breakfast cereal in a supermarket. “Rarely did converts write about their conversion in terms of taking advantage of a religious freedom, though that is often the mode in which scholars write about religious choice. Almost all converts described themselves as compelled to convert” (16). So, to be religious is to hold a belief, but first, something might take hold of you.

The Chance of Salvation offers an exciting topic, provocative set of questions, and a trove of intriguing vignettes. It is one of the most thought-provoking books I have read in a long time. I had a hard time figuring out exactly what Mullen is doing. What’s he really getting at? The ambiguity and uncertainty around the book’s central questions, laid out in the introduction but then never quite resolved, make the book all the more fascinating. By writing in the conclusion about William James’s Varieties of Religious Experience, Mullen begins to categorize his own work by contrasting it with James’s. So, what kind of book is Varieties? What was James doing, and how might that help us figure out what exactly Mullen is doing? Amanda Porterfield has argued that “Varieties is a modernist collage in which snippets of recorded experience come together apart from their original settings, reframed through James’s canny use of his own subjectivity to showcase contradictory aspirations to wholeness.” [3] The Chance of Salvation is not a modernist collage, but it is not postmodern either. I don’t think Mullen leverages his own subjectivity to achieve a “wholeness.” And he certainly does not extract these narratives from their historical context; his goal is the opposite. He is a historian, and James was not. And yet, recall, Mullen argues that converts were compelled, sometimes seemingly against their own will (to believe). Something unnamed, maybe unnamable, did the compelling.

What should we make of Mullen’s choice not to name the ghosts? We might read this book as a sort of exercise in post-critical “thin description.” Maybe it’s something like “abundant history.” Or perhaps it’s borne of a similar historical methodological imperative to let the subjects speak “for themselves.” Mullen describes his method as grounded in “historical empathy,” as opposed to “a rigid posture of critical distance” (xi). It is not simply letting them speak for themselves, but it’s not speaking for them either. And, besides, if the subjects are the religious converts, their own accounts are not enough, since they usually could not articulate exactly why they converted. And they generally did not historicize or critique or deconstruct their own conversions, so historians cannot look to their subjects to do the critical analysis for them. The historian, then, emphatically contextualizes the converts but does not critique them, per se. The religious converts are not the only subjects, though. What about the ghosts? As I read and re-read this book, I heard their voices growing louder.

We are back, as ever, to the agency question. And I recall the scene in Moby-Dick: Captain Ahab, after years of searching, finally raises a harpoon to plunge into the horrible haunting white whale. And he wonders,

“What is it, what nameless, inscrutable, unearthly thing is it; what cozzening, hidden lord and master, and cruel, remorseless emperor commands me; that against all natural lovings and longings, I so keep pushing, and crowding, and jamming myself on all the time; recklessly making me ready to do what in my own proper, natural heart, I durst not so much as dare? Is Ahab, Ahab? Is it I, God, or who, that lifts this arm?” [4]

Lots of nineteenth-century Americans converted. We can count them, albeit inexactly. And we can chart an individual’s movements from one religion to another and sometimes back again. We can read hundreds of stories and notice patterns and catalogue them. We can study conversion narratives and show how the templates were replicated. And Mullen does all this, skillfully. And that’s a lot, but it’s not enough, he admits. With his final sentence, Mullen concludes, “The difficulty is not in finding evidence, but in figuring out what it all adds up to” (288). I wonder, sincerely, what that means. Does the evidence, this collection of conversions, add up to some Jamesian “wholeness” after all? If so, what is it? What “nameless, inscrutable, unearthly thing is it”?

Notes

[1] Jack Halberstam, Trans*: A Quick and Quirky Account of Gender Variability (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2018), 4.

[2] Some scholars already have argued that the American Protestant secular is white. See Tracy Fessenden, Culture and Redemption: Religion, the Secular, and American Literature (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007) and most of the essays in Jonathon S. Kahn and Vincent W. Lloyd, eds., Race and Secularism in America (New York: Columbia University Press, 2016).

[3] Amanda Porterfield, “William James and the Modernist Esthetics of Religion,” Church History 83, no. 1 (Mar., 2014), 158.

[4] Herman Melville, Moby-Dick; or, The Whale (1851), chapter 132, “The Symphony.”

 

Charlie McCrary is a PhD student at Florida State University, where he recently defended his dissertation, “Sincerely Held Religious Belief: A History.”

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Something I Learned From J.Z. Smith: Russell McCutcheon

This is part of a new series where scholars reflect on something they’ve learned from the influential work of Jonathan Z. Smith, who died on December 30, 2017. For other posts in the series see here.

Mid-afternoon today, the last day of 2017, I received word that Professor Jonathan Z. Smith, of the University of Chicago, had passed away the day before (due to complications from lung cancer). You can read the obituary his family has written, which is posted on Prof. James Tabor’s blog.

In the coming days and months there’s sure to be a number of stories circulating about Jonathan — in fact, I’ve already seen many kind remembrances posted on social media. And, like others, I too have a few of my own. But one in particular stood out to me as I sat here, thinking about the sad news that I received earlier today.

Jonathan was the second annual lecturer invited to our Department, back in the very early 2000s — what was then a tiny little Department that had been on the brink of closure and which was then at the start of what would turn out to be a long road toward reinvention. When I contacted him with the invitation to come to Alabama to lecture, I broached the topic of a speaking fee, since I had recently learned just how finicky some academics could be about not just their fees but also the details of their trip. (Did I ever tell you the one about the scholar who would only do two things while visiting — not three and certainly not four — so it’s either a public lecture and a class visit or a meal with students….) So, to my question about whether he had a fee he offered a simple “No,” and then, to my query about what all he might do when he visited our university, he replied:

Use me as you wish; I’m there to work.

That’s exactly how I remember our conversation.

It says something tremendous about him, as a person and as a scholar, that he accepted whatever we offered and — despite his reliance on that tree-trunk of a cane for which he was known later in life — he worked non-stop while visiting with us. He lectured in the evening but visited classes during the day, met with faculty, and was whisked off to a lunch downtown by our undergrads. He even had dinner with our Dean and Associate Dean, the latter of whom was the son of Jonathan’s own first Department chair, whom he remembered as a little boy in Santa Barbara.

Like I said: like others, I’m lucky to have some anecdotes, largely revolving around either seeing him in action at our annual meetings or meeting with him in Chicago. But that memory of learning that the person I considered to be the preeminent scholar of religion in the world had no fee and had no expectations of special treatment when visiting our little Department in Alabama — he was there to work — well…, that spoke volumes to me about what a scholar ought to be.

And so, like others, I feel extremely lucky to have had a part of my career overlap with his.

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Something I Learned From J.Z. Smith: Tenzan Eaghll

by Tenzan Eaghll

This is part of a new series where scholars reflect on something they’ve learned from the influential work of Jonathan Z. Smith, who died on December 30, 2017. For other posts in the series see here.

I never had the honor of meeting Jonathan Z. Smith, and to be honest, I haven’t even had the opportunity to read all of his works yet. However, the publications of his that I have had the pleasure of reading have immensely influenced my teaching style and I am grateful for the critical contribution he made to religious studies. The pedagogical usefulness of his work is quite remarkable. He had the ability to write about extremely difficult ideas in an accessible and even fun manner. Whenever I use his work in my classroom I find students grasp the underlying point very easily and tend to appreciate the candor with which he addresses the topics under consideration.

Without a doubt, the essay of his that I have used the most in class has been “Religion, Religions, Religious.” Originally published in 1998 in Critical Terms for Religious Studies, it provides a brief genealogy and history of the category of “religion,” summarizing its various permutations and interpretations since antiquity. It is written in a way that introduces students to the general history of the category of religion and to the fundamental problematic that underlies the study of religion—‘what is it we are talking about when we are talking about religion.’ The essay is also a bit ahead of its time, for although other attempts to trace the genealogy of religion were written before it, Smith’s broad sweeping historical summary of religion, as well as its naturalization and permutation into the “world religions” paradigm, prefigures full-length studies on the subject like The Invention of World Religions by Tomoko Masuzawa and Before Religion by Brent Nongbri.

The first time I read “Religion, Religions, Religious” was as a graduate student in a method & theory class. Smith’s essay was used as a class primer before reading The Invention of World Religions, and in a way it influenced how I understood the latter. What I learned from Smith’s essay upon this first reading was that it is possible to understand the invention, construction, and naturalization of religion as a positive pedagogical lesson. Though it is possible to see the lack of categorical stability in religious studies as a negative fact about our field—not to mention the nihilistic plight of the religion scholar—Smith encourages us to see it as evidence for what aligns religious studies with other academic fields, and as evidence for the various ways in which humans organize their world. At the end of the essay, after detailing many of the permutations and interpretations of religion since antiquity, Smith states that,

It was once a tactic of students of religion to cite the appendix of James H. Leuba’s Psychological Study of Religion (1912), which lists more than fifty definitions of          religion, to demonstrate that ‘the effort clearly to define religion in short compass is a hopeless task’ (King 1954). Not at all! The moral of Leuba is not that religion cannot be defined, but that it can be defined, with greater or lesser success, more than fifty ways.

When confronted with the reality that religion is not a native category to the world, but is in fact a second order anthropological term used to organize data, one could throw their arms up in frustration and conclude that it is best to abandon the study of religion and switch to history, or even anthropology itself, but Smith encourages us to see this terminological diversity as the very object of our study. What do people say about religion? How do they use it to carve up the world and create maps for the terrain before them? This positive pedagogical lesson influenced my reading of The Invention of World Religions and other genealogical accounts because it led me to see these works not as refutations of the central category of our field, but evidence for its diversity and importance. According to this perspective, what makes religious studies important is not that religion is “sacred” or “special” in some regard, but that humans use it in various social ways to shape the world around them. Moreover, what makes our field fascinating is that what gets to count as religion in the world is always an open and contested possibility.

Last semester I was given the opportunity to teach a graduate method & theory class and I had the honor of introducing the students to Smith’s essay and the positive pedagogical lesson it contains. Much like how the essay was used in the class I took as a graduate student, I used it to prime students for more complex genealogical material. At one point during the seminar, a student asked me what I thought all this material implied about the study of religion: ‘If ‘religion’ is a modern invention with no singular definition to encapsulate its meaning,’ the student questioned, ‘what are we studying in this class and in this college of religious studies.’ I replied that ‘we study how people use and think about religion,’ and that ‘this is an exciting thing because there are an infinite variety of ways this has been done, not just in the past, but right now in our contemporary world. Acknowledging the invention, construction, and naturalization of religion doesn’t mean it cannot be studied, but simply that what we study are these creative acts and their affects.’

I look forward to reading more of J. Z. Smith’s work in the future and learning other lessons from him, but so far, this positive pedagogical point about genealogy and the construction of our world is my favorite.

Tenzan Eaghll completed his doctoral research at the Department for the Study of Religion at the University of Toronto, 2016. He is currently a Lecturer at the College of Religious Studies at Mahidol University, Thailand. His research focuses on the intersection of continental philosophy and method and theory in the study of religion, with a special focus on contemporary French thought.

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Affecting the Study of Religion: Schaefer, Animality, and Affect Theory

The following is the editor’s introduction, written by Philip Tite, to the double-size September-December 2017 issue of the Bulletin for the Study of Religion (the full table of contents having already been posted). We offer this editorial, which is also freely available from the publisher (doi: 10.1558/bsor.34604), here on the blog in order to give readers an overview of the most recent issue of the Bulletin and also to help spark discussion and debate in theorizing religion.

***

In recent years there has been a rising interest in what is called affect theory. Donovan Schaefer’s Religious Affects: Animality, Evolution and Power (2015) has brought this new theoretical framework to the attention of religious studies scholars. In this provocative and insightful work, Schaefer argues against a regnant logocentric discourse that gives privileged place to reason as an epistemological foundation for the conception, construction, and theorization of “religion” and, in its place, advocates an appreciation for those affective qualities such as emotion, space, and behavior. Schaefer ties this affective theoretical approach to animality, a point that several contributors to this issue of the Bulletin engage and even attempt to extend.

We are pleased to offer readers of the Bulletin the following panel of papers on affect theory and the study of religion. Contributions by Hollis Phelps, Jay Johnson, Courtney O’Dell-Chaib, and Matthew Hotham, along with the response from Schaefer, arose from a panel at the AAR annual meeting dedicated to “Religious Affects.” In addition to this panel of papers, we are also pleased to include Tyler Tully’s application of affect theory to the study of trauma. Affect theory, in my opinion, has the potential to be one of the most cutting-edge developments in theorizing religious phenomena. Unabashedly self-reflexive, this theory shatters many of the epistemological and cultural assumptions that continue to dominant (Western) intellectual work, even beyond the study of religion as well as among those of us who have been calling for greater self-reflexivity in theorization. Affect theory is also provocative and raises several points for further debate, debates that will likely be sparked by the very claims being made. For myself, I wonder if affect theory risks returning us to a phenomenological approach grounded in sui generis religion, where the emotive, inner world of a social actor becomes the psychological foundation for the essence of “religion”—and in this sense, I am reminded of R. R. Marett’s classic theory of preanimism or Rudolf Otto’s assumption that religion arises from an encounter with the mysterium tremendum. The centrality of nature or animality in Schaefer’s work also raises an important arena of debate currently being played out in our field; i.e., should religious studies scholars and our professional institutions directly engage social activism, such as we have seen with the AAR’s engagement with environmental ethics and global warming? Is there a slippery slope here where we may slip into some form of secularized ecotheology? Yet there are advantages to affect theory, especially in elucidating how social actors create and maintain realities not through ideas, but by mean of action, interaction, and affective reactions. Bodily religion, rather than linguistic articulations, rises to the foreground of the analysis of social actors and community dynamics. As Schaefer so wonderfully puts it, with affect theory we get to explore

a perspective that sees bodies moving through worlds under the pressure of a complex welter of affects, with language weaving between and reshaping those pressures only sometimes—and even then only haltingly and unevenly. Affect theory—examining the mobile materiality of the body—thematizes the ways that the world prompts us to move before the interventions of language. It calls attention to embodied histories that precede the advent of language. (2015, 9)

Ideally, I could see affect theory integrating various other areas of study that stress the bodily or materiality of sociability when addressing the taxon “religion”; be that ritual theories (especially Catherine Bell’s seminal work), cultural geographies (notably when dealing with the geography of bodies), and recent developments in cognitive science of religion (especially in conjunction with cultural anthropology). The articles published in this issue engage, exemplify, and challenge such points. In many ways, they all offer us an opening for debating and refining affect theory for a more sophisticated and non-logocentric theoretical approach to the study of religion.

Beyond the affect theory articles, we are delighted to include in this issue an exchange over the construction of religion within the sphere of popular culture. Specifically, Méadhbh McIvor and Richard Amesbury offer a timely discussion of a new headscarf emoji, an emoji that, for many readers, will evoke a religious signification. Joseph Laycock engages this cultural innovation, thereby opening a debate over various theoretical challenges facing those studying not just “religion” but, more specifically, the construction and utilization of “the religious” on social media. It is our hope that Laycock, McIvor, and Amesbury’s exchange will prompt further discussions and debates over the ever-changing social contexts, especially the increasingly vital online social media outlets, wherein social actors create “religion” in various and different ways: be that in evoking or negating the taxon, the use of digital imagery as text, the dynamics of social interaction, or the competing moments of audience reception.

REFERENCES

Schaefer, Donovan O. 2015. Religious Affects: Animality, Evolution and Power. Durham: Duke University Press. https://doi.org/10.1215/9780822374909.

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Now Published: Bulletin for the Study of Religion 46.3-4 (September-December 2017)

We are pleased to announce the publication of the double-size September-December 2017 issue of the Bulletin for the Study of Religion in both online and in print formats. This issue of the Bulletin includes a panel of papers engaging affect theory in the study of religion, with a special focus on Donovan Schaefer’s Religious Affects: Animality, Evolution, and Power (Duke University Press, 2015). This issue also includes an exchange on recent emoji that evoke religious elements (specifically the new headscarf emoji), offering us new sites of data for the construction and social utilization of religion.

 

Table of Contents

Bulletin for the Study of Religion Volume 46, Issues 3-4

(September-December 2017)

“Affecting the Study of Religion: Schaefer, Animality, and Affect Theory” Philip L. Tite (University of Washington) – (p. 2) [Editor’s introduction – Open Access]

“Do Mushrooms Have Religion, Too?” Hollis Phelps (Mercer University) – (p. 4)

“Rewilding Religion: Affect and Animal Dance” Jay Johnston (University of Sydney) – (p. 11)

“Biophilia’s Queer Remnants” Courtney O’Dell-Chaib (Syracuse University) – (p. 18)

“Affect, Animality, and Islamophobia: Human-Animal Relations in the Production of Muslim Difference in America” Matthew R. Hotham (Ball State University) – (p. 25)

“Animal Politics: Species, Evolution, and Religious Affects” Donovan Schaefer (University of Pennsylvania) – (p. 40)

“Bodies, Biopolitics, and Mushrooms Once Again: A Response to Donovan Schaefer” Hollis Phelps (Mercer University) – (p. 45)

“Epistemologies of Trauma: Cognitive Insights for Narrative Construction as Ritual Performance” Tyler M. Tully (University of Oxford) – (p. 48)

“Emoji Dei: Religious Iconography in the Digital Age” Méadhbh McIvor (University of Groningen) and Richard Amesbury (Clemson University) – (p. 56)

“Who Says a Headscarf Emoji is Religious? (And Why?)” Joseph P. Laycock (Texas State University) – (p. 61)

“Nothing Outside the Text? Religion and its Others in Emoji Discourse” Méadhbh McIvor (University of Groningen) and Richard Amesbury (Clemson University) – (p. 64)

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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]mtsu.edu

#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]gmail.com.

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