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Figuring Religions

Comparing Ideas, Images, and Activities

Shubha Pathak

Publication Year: 2013

Offers new ways of comparing features of the world’s religions.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xvi

Shubha Pathak’s introduction speaks of the earlier wave of comparatists, the worst of whom (the universalizers) tried to reduce various religions to a much too common denominator, and the very worst of whom (the hierarchizers) strove primarily to demonstrate how their own religion was better (which usually meant older and/or Truer) than all the others. Mircea ...

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pp. xvii-xxvi

Although the field of religious studies long has been a province of comparativists, their current representatives now turn a critical eye to the projects of their predecessors. Comparative religionists today eschew their antecedents’ tendencies to reduce different religions to their common denominator (to see only one religion where there are many) and to assert the superiority of their...

Part I: Figuring Religious Ideas

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Chapter 1: Marking Religion’s Boundaries: Constitutive Terms, Orienting Tropes, and Exegetical Fussiness

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pp. 3-34

Despite warnings about the futility of efforts to define religion, many scholars still choose to “get up and start running.” In this essay I warm up for the sprint by discussing constitutive terms and arguing for scholars’ rolespecific obligation to define them. Meeting that obligation, I suggest, means being clear about the type of definition offered and attending carefully to the choice of orienting trope, since definitions imply theories and employ tropes....

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Chapter 2: “Epic” as an Amnesiac Metaphor: Finding the Word to Compare Ancient Greek and Sanskrit Poems

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pp. 35-62

Among the richest sources of ancient mythology available today are the protracted praise poems that capture heroes’ quests to live (and die) up to the ideals of their societies. Such poems now are known commonly as “epics,” and the assumption that they, as members of the same genre, share certain characteristics underlies any cross-cultural comparison of these works....

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Chapter 3: Conceptions of the Self in the Zhuangzi: Conceptual Metaphor Analysis and Comparative Thought

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pp. 63-90

My purpose in this chapter is to explore Nietzsche’s “metaphysics of language” as understood by a fairly new field of inquiry, cognitive linguistics and the conceptual theory of metaphor, with metaphorical conceptions of the self in the Zhuangzi, a Chinese text that dates from the fourth century BCE, serving as my case example. I will argue that the conceptual theory ...

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Chapter 4: Theorizing Embodiment: Conceptual Metaphor Theory and the Comparative Study of Religion

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pp. 91-114

In this chapter I take up Edward Slingerland’s claim that conceptual metaphor theory and the field of cognitive linguistics of which it is part offer not only a powerful methodology for comparison, but also “a convincing and coherent theoretical grounding for the comparativist project itself.”1 In making this proposal, Slingerland addresses a conspicuous deficit in the history of religions: its lack of a shared theory of comparison. Despite historians...

Part II: Figuring Religious Images

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Chapter 5: Bathed in Milk: Metaphors of Suckling and Spiritual Transmission in Thirteenth-Century Kabbalah

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pp. 117-146

The form of Jewish mysticism known as Kabbalah is characterized by the use of vivid divine imagery to communicate a complex theology of interdependence between divinity and humanity. Within this vocabulary of images, one of the most unusual is that of God as a nursing mother. This image, appearing in the thirteenth century in some of Kabbalah’s most influential...

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Chapter 6: Metaphors and Images of Dress and Nakedness: Wrappings of Embodied Identity

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pp. 147-176

Religion very much works by using powerful images and metaphors of embodied social reality. In this essay, I will examine the images and metaphors of dress and nakedness which abound in Christian visual and verbal culture. I will argue that this imagery of dress and nakedness is about different aspects of identity and care of the self. Undressing and dressing figures ...

Part III: Figuring Religious Activities

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Chapter 7: Poetry, Ritual, and Associational Thought in Early India and Elsewhere

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pp. 179-198

What is metonymy, aside from associative thought based on contiguity? And what is its significance for the study of religion, distinct from the burgeoning studies of metaphor in the same vein? Raymond W. Gibbs Jr. gives Honoré de Balzac’s use of image as a wonderful literary example of a concrete object or person that stands in for or represents larger objects or domains of...

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Chapter 8: Spatial Metaphors and Women’s Religious Activities in Ancient Greece and China

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pp. 199-228

Men and women were commonly associated with different spheres in premodern societies. Whereas women belonged to the house and their major responsibilities involved housekeeping and childrearing, men moved in extradomestic spaces and pursued success in political, economic, military, and intellectual occupations. The gendered spatial differentiation—female and ...

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Chapter 9: In Search of Equivalence: Conceiving Muslim-Hindu Encounter through Translation Theory

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pp. 229-262

From the sixteenth century to the early colonial period, the region of Bengal was notable for its vibrant religious activity, activity that was often closely allied to political and military fortune, economic expansion, and the opening of new lands for cultivation. As population grew, the delta region became the site of numerous encounters of religious communities, not so...

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pp. 263-280

As Wendy Doniger observes in her foreword to this volume, comparative religion has been through at least three major hermeneutical phases. The first (exemplified by Mircea Eliade) tended to essentialize and universalize religious phenomena, while the second (championed by Jonathan Z. Smith) sought to emphasize differences, in order to bring out nuances and context ...


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pp. 281-282


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pp. 283-288

Back Cover

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p. BC-BC

E-ISBN-13: 9781438445397
Print-ISBN-13: 9781438445373

Page Count: 314
Publication Year: 2013