Despite the wide scholarly recognition of and dissatisfaction with the first-order essentialism inherent in the academic study of individual "religions" or "traditions," scholars have been far slower to develop nonessentialist models that take seriously both the plurality of religious communities that all identify as part of the same religion and the characteristics that allow these communities to see themselves as members of a single "religion." This article, building on earlier work by Jacob Neusner and Jonathan Z. Smith, attempts to develop a polythetic model for Judaism that has implications not only for the study and teaching of "Judaism" but more broadly also for how scholars might develop individual "traditions" as useful second-order categories of analysis.
Monasticism and religious orders for women, Buddhist.
As the founding story for female monasticism within the Buddhist tradition, the traditional account of how the Buddha first instituted an order of nuns has been subjected to extensive scholarly treatment. Nevertheless, this article argues that previous scholarship has suffered from a significant blind spot, failing to recognize a crucially important element of the story. I refer to this element as the "debt to the mother" theme, or the story's clear implication that the Buddha founded an order of nuns at least in part because it was his mother who asked him to, and despite renouncing all familial ties, he owed an enormous debt to his mother that had to be repaid. I trace the existence of this "debt to the mother" theme in several versions of the story (and other Buddhist texts), and I also attempt to account for its complete elision in the surrounding scholarship.
The study of early Christian asceticism, which formerly focused strictly on ascetic practices, has been transformed in recent years. In addition to ascetic practices, scholars analyze the discourse of asceticism, which emphasizes the decentering of the self, the problematizing of the person's ability to govern the body and be considered righteous before God. Although this approach has pushed back the origins of ascetic discourses in Christianity, the decentering of the self can be observed in Qumran texts. In the present article this ascetic discourse of the decentered self is traced in other pre-Christian Jewish texts and in an unexpected context—novelistic texts. This approach allows for an exploration of literary, ritual, and ascetic aspects of the texts, and some consideration is given to the social context of these important developments.
Recent scholarship on religious conversion has challenged the widespread perception that most converts experience a dramatic, instantaneous transformation akin to Saint Paul's experience on the Damascus road. This essay builds on this scholarship by exploring the conversions of people who experienced a change of spiritual affiliation in the context of their participation in an intentional community affiliated with either the Catholic Worker or the Camphill movement. Drawing on participant observation and personal interviews, it argues that conversion for Catholic Workers and Camphillers is more often a wayward journey than a flash of light. Individual participants may discover a new religious identity or rediscover their roots while living in community, but most often the community itself encourages them to engage in ongoing experimentation and discovery over the course of a lifetime.
"Holy war," sanctioned or even commanded by God, is a common and recurring theme in the Hebrew Bible. Rabbinic Judaism largely avoided discussion of holy war for the simple reason that it became dangerous and self-destructive. The failed "holy wars" of the Great Revolt and the Bar Kokhba Rebellion eliminated enthusiasm for it among the survivors engaged in reconstructing Judaism from ancient biblical religion. The rabbis therefore built a fence around the notion through two basic strategies: to define and categorize biblical wars so that they became virtually unthinkable in their contemporary world and to construct a divine contract between God, the Jews, and the world of the Gentiles that would establish an equilibrium preserving the Jews from overwhelming Gentile wrath by preventing Jewish actions that could result in war. The notion of divinely commanded war, however, was never expunged from the repertoire of Jewish ideas. Remaining latent, it was able to be revived when the historical context seemed to require it. Such a revival occurred with the rise of Zionism and particularly after the 1967 and 1973 wars.