"It is a truth generally acknowledged that religions have been the earliest and perhaps the chief progenitors of cultural products in human societies..." Clearly there is no shortage of data for scholars wishing to delve into this broad topic. But what do we actually mean by ‘cultural product’? How can we claim that ‘religion’ is producing these things in any meaningful way?

Listen Now

This episode has not been transcribed yet. 

Consider a donation to pay for the cost of editing a transcript?

About this episode

Cusack In the second of our podcasts since our summer ‘break’ we are delighted to welcome back Professor Carole Cusack of the University of Sydney, who has previously appeared on the RSP speaking on Invented Religions, and offering advice in our roundtable discussions on building an academic career, and academic publishing. In this interview with Chris, recorded in July in Edinburgh, Carole provides a broad introduction and overview of the study of religion and cultural production, making particular reference to her recent publication, Alex Norman, and featuring chapters from many of our contributors, including our own David Robertson.

In the introduction to their volume, Cusack and Norman write:

It is a truth generally acknowledged that religions have been the earliest and perhaps the chief progenitors of cultural products in human societies. Mesopotamian urban centres developed from large temple complexes, Greek drama emerged from religious festivals dedicated to deities including Dionysos and Athena, and in more recent times Christianity has inspired musical masterpieces including the ‘St Matthew Passion’ by the Lutheran Johann Sebastian Bach (1686-1750), the motets of the Catholic William Byrd (1540-1023), and the striking paintings of the Counter-Reformation Spaniards Ribera, Zurbaran, and Murillo in the seventeenth century (Stoichita 1995). Nor can we forget the cinematic renderings of biblical story in such works as William Wyler’s epic Ben Hur (1959) starring Charlton Heston, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s (1922-1975) Il Vangelo Secondo Matteo (1964), or Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ (2004). The Indian religious tradition contributes the magnificent Hindu and Buddhist temples of Angkor (Cambodia), and the exquisite Chola bronze statues, and the many extraordinary renditions of the India epics the Ramayana and Mahabharata onto the small and large screens. Likewise, Islam too has generated the sophisticated Timurid illustrated manuscripts of Firdausi’s Shahnama, the paintings of the various Rajput kingdoms, and from Sufi traditions the devotional qawwali music. Architecturally, perhaps the most obvious cultural products of Islam for those in the West has been the Islamic architecture of Spain such as the Alhambra and the Great Mosque or Cordoba, both now sitting as beautiful cultural legacies (Lapunzina 2005). Many more examples could be adduced, including forms of dance, systems of education, theories of government, special diets, and modes of costume and fashion.

Clearly there is no shortage of data for scholars wishing to delve into this broad topic. But what do we actually mean by ‘cultural product’? How can we claim that ‘religion’ is producing these things in any meaningful way? What can we ascertain about a ‘religion’ from its cultural products? And what makes this approach different from that of Material Religion? This broad-ranging interview tackles such questions, and more, via examples as diverse as religious celebrity, Rudolf Steiner’s Goetheanum, and Sacred Trees and finishes by addressing whether or not the ‘secular’ university – and, in turn, Religious Studies – can be seen as a cultural product of a particular form of Christianity.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us. And remember, you can use our Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com links to support us at no additional cost when buying your important books etc.

 Fund the RSP while you shop! Use an Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.ca, or Amazon.com affiliate link whenever you make a purchase. There’s no additional cost to you, but every bit helps us stay on the air! 

We need your support!

Want to support us directly? Become a monthly Patron or consider giving us a one-time donation through PayPal

Related Resources

Race and Religion: Intertwined Social Constructions

Podcast

In this interview, we focus the topic of race: particularly how it has been examined (and ignored) in the field of religious studies, how it has been confused with ethnicity, how race and religion have been theorized as mutually constitutive, limitations and occlusions in the study of race and religion, and why race is a category scholars of religion cannot afford to ignore.
The Sacrality of the Secular and Philosophy of Religion

Podcast

In this week's podcast, we speak with Bradley Onishi about the ways in which philosophy of religion has thought "with" religion rather than for or against religion. "It's possible," he says, "to hold an enchanted secularity" if we think about religions themselves as tools for questioning our basic assumptions about the world.
Challenges in the Study of Gender and Contemporary Occultism

Response

Were publications written decades ago for "women-only" already part of history or not? What to do when a certain publication was designated as "available to women scholars only" in one feminist archive but was unrestricted in another?

Responses to this episode

Religious Artefacts of the Contemporary World

"through examining [religions'] cultural products we come to notice the different kinds of relationships that exist between how these products are portrayed and intended by their creators, and how they actually go on to be perceived and experienced in wider society." The Religious Studies Project’s interview with Professor Carole M. Cusack of the University of Sydney covers an ambitious range of issues by tackling some huge open-ended questions:

Other EPISODES YOU MIGHT ENJOY

Religion and Authority in Asia

Podcast

Given its contextual and perspectival malleability, the notion of ‘authority', and even more so of ‘religious authority’, is challenging to define and to study. In today’s interview with Paulina Kolata, Dr Erica Baffelli discusses the notion of authority and charismatic leadership in the context of her research on New and ‘New’ New religions in contemporary Japan.
Decolonizing the Study of Religion

Podcast

How can the field address its whiteness and the legacy of its colonial origins? In this final episode of our 2019/2020 season Christopher Cotter speaks with Malory Nye about decolonizing Religious Studies.
Claude Lévi-Strauss

Podcast

Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908-2009) was the founder of structural anthropology, and is widely considered to be a foundational figure for modern anthropology. In books including Les Structures élémentaires de la parenté (1949, The Elementary Structures of Kinship), Tristes Tropiques (1955) and La Pensée sauvage (1962, The Savage Mind, 1966),...
Christian Beauty Pageants: Beauty is in the eye of the creator

Podcast

By comparing the Miss Christian America pageant to other more well known pageants Miss USA and Miss America, Chelsea's study provides a look at the intersections between religion, gender, and collective identity. Using Christian Smith's ideas of subcultural identity, Belanger examines how the structure of the Miss Christian pageant helps develop a unique form of embodied religion.
David Voas on Quantitative Research

Podcast

Sociological research has followed two broad paradigms – qualitative and quantitative. Qualitative studies seek depth, typically based on interviews and observation with a relatively small pool of subjects. Quantitative studies, on the other hand, survey a larger pool – in some cases, such as the UK National Census, practically the entire population of a country – relying on mass methods such as questionnaires with a limited set of questions and responses.
Special 2019: Only Sixty Seconds!

Podcast

For our eighth(!) annual special, Only Sixty Seconds returns! This time, Chris Cotter is your host, as David G. Robertson returns to defend his 2018 crown against Bettina Schmidt, Douglas Davies and Theo Wildcroft. We may not have avoided repetition, but I do not hesitate in promising you no deviation from hilarity!

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- NonCommercial- NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

The views expressed in podcasts, features and responses are the views of the individual contributors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Religious Studies Project or our sponsors. The Religious Studies Project is produced by the Religious Studies Project Association (SCIO), a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation (charity number SC047750).