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Reviewed by:
  • Religious Affects: Animality, Evolution, and Power by Donovan O. Schaefer
  • Alexander Cox-Twardowski, PhD candidate
Schaefer, Donovan O. Religious Affects: Animality, Evolution, and Power. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015. 304 pp. $24.95US. ISBN 978-0-8223-5990-6

In Religious Affects: Animality, Evolution, and Power, Donovan O. Schaefer interweaves affect theory, animality, and religious studies while examining their relation to power. Taking on an ambitious project, and incorporating a vast array of theory and auxiliary content, Schaefer successfully argues for the value of considering affect theory and critical animal studies within the field of religious studies.

Schaefer is critical of the linguistic turn and arguments for studying human animals, religion, and power through language. Rather than privileging human rationality and exceptional-ism, humans ought to be returned to "the bodily, the material, and the animal" (12). Religious Affects aspires to expand upon the material shift, which is to focus on religion as it is lived and embodied. To do so, Schaefer uses affect theory: "The flow of forces through bodies outside of, prior to, or underneath language" (4).

Religious Affects presents three major concepts relevant to religious studies, affect theory, critical animals studies, and power. The concepts are then explored through case studies. Chapter one offers a thorough overview of affect theory and its genealogies. Schaefer describes and compares two streams of affect theory, Deleuzian and phenomenological, emphasizing their relationships with religion and power. Deleuzian affect theory considers bodies more plastically; meanwhile, in phenomenological theory, "bodies are hybrid systems of locally devised power relations and semiplastic biological structures—instransigent affects" (38). Schaefer illustrates that to study religion affectively is to imagine religion as a body: "a bulging mass rather than a pristine dictionary entry" (34). To study the mass (religion) and its relations to power involves tracing and mapping affects.

Chapter two explores Deleuzian and phenomenological affect theories and focuses on bodies as intransigent. Concerning religious studies, affect theory is a tool critical of ideological approaches and challenges linguistically created binaries between human and non-human animals. Better vocabularies, such as intransigence, would enable the relational study of animality and bodies. It is conceiving bodies as re-animalized, species-specific assemblages, which are neither totally plastic nor static: "They are complex, chunky genealogies, bricolages of existing forms" (13). Bodies must be re-animalized to better understand their connections with religion, culture, and politics.

Schaefer demonstrates how phenomenological affect theory reflects that of global religion. Global religion is formed affectively by interconnections of bodies and media technologies. He demonstrates this in chapter three by the pedagogical case study of the film Jesus Camp (2006). Cinema is an "effective medium of globalization because of the intimate overlap that it stages between bodies, technology, globalization, and affect" (62–63). Film as an assemblage reveals socio-religious climates and problems. For instance, Jesus Camp sheds light on how religious bodies form understandings of nation and gender, which instruct individuals on how to feel. [End Page 180]

Moving from cinema to compulsions, Schaefer addresses solitary confinement and the forceful removal of relation and affect in chapter four. Criticizing the linguistic turn, if we are sovereign, rational subjects, solitary confinement should not be so devastating. The devastation of solitary confinement emphasizes our compulsion for relation and affect. Compulsorily affect in relation to power is what moves animal bodies without language.

The compulsions, as chapter five demonstrates, contribute to exclusions and inclusions of bodies. Focusing on the religious racialization of Islamophobia, Schaefer interprets racism affectively: "This is racism not as ideology, but as primatology, a prelinguistic or paralinguistic component of animality" (123). Compulsions can lead not only to racist othering and divisions but also to compassion and unification. Schaefer uses Manhattan's Park51 as a case study to demonstrate the mixed phenomena that produced both racist and antiracist reactions.

Chapters six through seven investigate accidents and their relationship with evolutionary theory. Conceptions of accident and dance can be used to better study human religion. Rather than explaining evolution and bodies as rational or calculated, they are better understood through accident. As affective economies, not rational economies, bodies are nodes of power that reflect priorities and create religious–political formations. Schaefer describes Jane Goodall...


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pp. 180-181
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