State University of New York Press

SUNY series, Issues in the Study of Religion

Bryan Rennie

Published by: State University of New York Press

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SUNY series, Issues in the Study of Religion

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Critics Not Caretakers

Redescribing the Public Study of Religion

A lively critique of the study of religion in the modern academy, one that makes the scholar of religion a cultural critic rather than a caretaker of a religious tradition or a guru dispensing timeless wisdom. Critics Not Caretakers argues that the study of religion must be rethought as an ordinary aspect of social, historical existence, a stance that makes the scholar of religion a critic of cultural practices rather than a caretaker of religious tradition or a font of timeless wisdom. From a general introduction written for a wide audience and a theoretical essay that outlines the basis of an alternative, socio-rhetorical approach to studying religion, the book moves on to a series of dispatches from the theory wars, each of which uses the work of such writers as Karen Armstrong, Walter Burkert, and Benson Saler as a point of entry into wider theoretical issues of importance to the field’s future. The author then examines the socio-political role of this brand of critical scholarship—a role that differs dramatically from the type of sympathetic caretaking generally associated with scholars of religion who feel compelled to “go public.” Concluding the work is a consideration of how scholars as teachers can address issues of theory and critical thinking in the undergraduate classroom. Written with verve, Critics Not Caretakers provides a viable alternative for all those dissatisfied with the covertly political, liberal humanist approach that currently dominates the study of religion.

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Politics of Spirit, The

Phenomenology, Genealogy, Religion

A critical look at the development of the phenomenological approach to the study of religion, revealing its evaluative and metaphysical concepts. A penetrating critique of the dominant approach to the study of religion, The Politics of Spirit explores the historical and philosophical scaffolding of the phenomenology of religion. Although this approach purports to give a value-free, neutral description of religious data, it actually imposes a set of metaphysical and evaluative concepts on that data. A very harmful ethnocentrism has resulted, which plagues the academic study of religion to this day. Analysis of the history, core texts, and discursive structure of phenomenology of religion reveals how this ethnocentrism is embedded within its assumptions. Of particular interest is the revelation of the extent to which Hegel’s ideas—over those of Husserl—contributed to the tenets that became standard in the study of religion. Tim Murphy argues that the poststructuralist concept of genealogy, as derived from Nietzsche, can both describe religion better than the phenomenological approach and avoid the political pitfalls of ethnocentrism by replacing its core categories with the categories of difference, contingency, and otherness. Ultimately, Murphy argues that postmodern genealogy should replace phenomenology as the paradigm for understanding both religion and the study of religion.

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Portugal Journal, The

The diary of Mircea Eliade, the seminal thinker on religion, during the period he served as a diplomat in Portugal. Detailing a fascinating, hitherto unknown period in the life of one of the twentieth century’s preeminent intellectuals, The Portugal Journal was written by Mircea Eliade from 1941–1945, when he served as a diplomat in Lisbon. Eliade’s work as a theorist of religion has been the chief influence on how religion is understood and studied in contemporary times and he is also increasingly well known as a writer of fiction and drama. Long awaited by readers, The Portugal Journal is the only one of Eliade’s journals to be published in its entirety, unedited by its author. Here, Eliade writes frankly, at times about things that he could never bring himself to make public, including his relationship with the Iron Guard, his problems with hypersexuality, his religious beliefs and actions, his admiration for René Guénon, and his sufferings and terrible grief both before and after his wife’s death.

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