"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?

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.

This episode has not been transcribed yet. 

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

Related Resources

Evangelicalism and Civic Space

Podcast

In this podcast, Anna Strhan talks to Katie Aston about her research among evangelical Christians, exploring their search for coherence in the contemporary city. How do the members of conservative Anglican congregations negotiate their place in a secular multicultural society, ...
Minority Religions in the Secret Police Archives

Podcast

James Kapaló takes us inside the Eastern European secret police archives to show us how minority and new religious groups were portrayed. We explore the visual and material presence of religious minorities in the secret police archives in Hungary, Romania and the Republic of Moldova.
In Praise of Polyvocality

Response

Perhaps my greatest argument against ‘non-religion’ has been based on the notion that it stands as a relational umbrella... A few weeks back, I found myself engaged in a one-sided debate with a colleague friend over the use of the term ‘non-religion.’ As it was at the end of a two-day conference, it was one of those casual conversations wherein certain sophisticated aspects of the preceding academic discourse spill over into the informality of a chat over drinks.

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

Belief, Belonging, and Academic Careers

Podcast

Almost twenty years ago, Grace Davie observed that despite plenty of studies into the ‘exotic edges’ of religion, ‘the picture in the middle remains remarkably blurred’. Seeking to address this imbalance and engage with the ‘beliefs of ordinary British people in everyday life’, Abby Day's recent book, ...
Conversion and Deconversion as Concepts in the Sociology of Religion

Podcast

For this interview with Lynn Davidman, we focus on the concepts of conversion and deconversion, illustrations of these processes in various contexts, what each term means and how each is experienced in someone's life, the histories of these terms and their use in scholarship, and issues that arise from their conceptualization or use.
Prayer, Pretense, and Personification: How God becomes real

Podcast

Luhrmann details the rise of evangelicals in the 60’s and 70’s, and how anthropological work can be informed by evolutionary psychology. This serves as a framework to understand the unique training processes that teach an individual that their mind is not only open to their own thoughts, but God’s as well.
Pilgrimage in Japan and Beyond: Part 2

Podcast

Professor Ian Reader discusses his publication ‘Pilgrimage in the Marketplace’, which explores the very ‘worldly’ conditions of development, popularisation, and ultimately, survival of pilgrimage centres in connection to the dynamics of the marketplace through which the ‘sacred’ as a category can be sustained.
Religious Studies as a Discipline

Podcast

Aaron Hughes (University of Rochester) has been a vocal critic of some of the theories and methods used by religious studies scholars working on Islam. In this podcast, he discusses his critique of the discipline and practice of religious studies he has made through works such as Situating Islam (Equinox, 2008), Theorizing Islam (Equinox, 2012), Abrahamic Religions (Oxford, 2012), The Study of Judaism (SUNY, 2013), and, most recently, Islam and the Tyranny of Authenticity (Equinox, 2015).
Historical Approaches to (Losing) Religion

Podcast

How can we use historical approaches in the study of religion? More specifically, can we use historical approaches to understand why people are losing it? Professor Callum Brown tells us why historical approaches have much to tell us about religious change. How can we use historical approaches in the study of religion?

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).