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Religion Enters the Academy

The Origins of the Scholarly Study of Religion in America

James Turner

Publication Year: 2010

Religious studies—also known as comparative religion or history of religions—emerged as a field of study in colleges and universities on both sides of the Atlantic during the late nineteenth century. In Europe, as previous historians have demonstrated, the discipline grew from long-established traditions of university-based philological scholarship. But in the United States, James Turner argues, religious studies developed outside the academy.

Until about 1820, Turner contends, even learned Americans showed little interest in non-European religions—a subject that had fascinated their counterparts in Europe since the end of the seventeenth century. Growing concerns about the status of Christianity generated American interest in comparing it to other great religions, and the resulting writings eventually produced the academic discipline of religious studies in U.S. universities. Fostered especially by learned Protestant ministers, this new discipline focused on canonical texts—the “bibles”—of other great world religions. This rather narrow approach provoked the philosopher and psychologist William James to challenge academic religious studies in 1902 with his celebrated and groundbreaking Varieties of Religious Experience.

Published by: University of Georgia Press

Series: George H. Shriver Lecture Series in Religion in American History


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

The material in these chapters was originally presented as the 2010 George H. Shriver Lectures: Religion in American History at Stetson University, February 9–10, 2010. The Shriver Lectures were established by Dr. George Shriver, an alumnus of Stetson University and professor of history emeritus at Georgia Southern University. ...

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pp. xiii-xvi

This book began as the George H. Shriver Lectures on Religion in American History delivered at Stetson University in DeLand, Florida, in February 2010. The following pages perhaps retain some of the informality of their origin at the podium. ...

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CHAPTER ONE: The Dog That Didn't Bark: The Study of Religions in America to circa 1820

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pp. 1-31

No one would recoil in shock if, while scrolling through a university's Web site, she found a department of religious studies. The religion department routinely steps up to the plate in the batting order of the humanities today. ...

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CHAPTER TWO: Comparing Religions in an Age of Uncertainty, circa 1820 to 1875

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pp. 32-55

By the 1820s Americans had accessible many more particulars about non-European religions; they also then discovered specifically Christian reasons to care about them, going beyond generalized Enlightenment curiosity about other cultures. ...

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CHAPTER THREE: William James Redraws the Map

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pp. 56-82

In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, a new humanistic discipline devoted to the study of religion took shape in the United States. To be sure, the academic discipline did not stem a continuing current of popular interest, on which drifted a motley flotilla of old-fashioned, unscholarly texts.1 ...


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pp. 83-108


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pp. 109-115

E-ISBN-13: 9780820339665
E-ISBN-10: 0820339660
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820337401
Print-ISBN-10: 0820337404

Page Count: 132
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: George H. Shriver Lecture Series in Religion in American History
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OCLC Number: 794700461
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Religion Enters the Academy

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Subject Headings

  • Religions -- Study and teaching -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Religion -- Study and teaching -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
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