The Cover art for Willi Braun's new book _Jesus and Addiction to Origins_

What happens when scholars take seriously the human-focused study of religious practices? In this episode, Willi Braun joins Andie Alexander to discuss the importance of critical approaches in the study of religion.

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What happens when scholars take seriously the human-focused study of religious practices? How might we study “sacred texts” while acknowledging that they are also human artifacts? Dr. Willi Braun, Professor Emeritus at the University of Alberta, joins Andie Alexander to discuss his recent book Jesus and Addiction to Origins: Toward and Anthropocentric Study of Religion (Equinox, 2020) where he demonstrates that “religious” behaviors and practices are exceptionally ordinary and human and argues for a critical, human-focused approach to the study of religion.

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Listeners might also enjoy “Ancient Christian Origins: A Heterogeneous History” with William Arnal, another closely related episode on this topic by Sidney Castillo.

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Comparing Methods in Christian Origins [transcript]

Comparing Methods in Christian Origins

Podcast with Willi Braun (19 April 2021).

Interviewed by Andie Alexander

Transcribed by Andie Alexander

Audio and transcript available at:


Christian Origins, New Testament, Critical Theory, Social Formation, Identity Construction, Comparison, Authority, Categorization, Academic Study of Religion, Method and Theory

Andie Alexander (AA)  00:00

Hello, I’m Andie Alexander and I am very pleased to be joined here today by Dr. Willi Braun, who is Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. Though Willi’s area of specialisation is early Christianities in the Roman Empire, his work focuses on methods and theories and the academic study of religion more broadly. He served as the editor for Method & Theory in the Study of Religion journal published by Brill, and recently co-edited (with Russell T. McCutcheon), Reading J. Z. Smith: Interviews and Essay, which was published with Oxford in 2018. Willi is the former president of the North American Association for the Study of Religion and the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies. And today, we are here to talk about your recent book, Jesus and Addiction to Origins: Toward an Anthropocentric Study of Religion, which was published by Equinox in 2020. It is edited by Russell McCutcheon and features and afterword from Bill Arnal. Although Willi is a long-time friend of the RSP, this is, I believe, your very first podcast appearance. So welcome, and thank you so, so much for being here today.

Willi Braun (WB)  01:06

Well, thank you, Andie. It’s great to be here. Yes, it is my first time. So, we’ll see how it goes.

AA  01:13

It’ll be fantastic. I want to first just ask you why you decided to do a Ph.D. in Christian Origins?

WB  01:21

Right. Well, I’m thinking here of Anthony Giddens, the social theorist, whom I quote, somewhere in the book. He said, something like human history is created by intentional choices and activities, but history is not, therefore, an intended project. In other words, the flow of human decisions and actions has many consequences, some negative, some positive. And those consequences lead to other decisions and consequences. And all of a sudden, you end up somewhere where you have never thought you’d be. But it really was an effect of intended decisions all along. It’s kind of a paradox. That’s kind of how my story goes, I grew up in a small Mennonite community in South America, and then we emigrated to Canada. And the Bible was, for many, many years that I remember as a child, the only book in the house, and I was an avid reader. So, I think by the time we got other literature, I’d read the Bible backwards and forwards—well, not backwards—but I’d read it entirely because that was the only thing to read. So, after high school, I decided I wanted to become a theologian of all things. It’s hard to believe now. And that’s many lifetimes ago. And that led me to go to a small Mennonite theological College in Winnipeg, Manitoba—it’s in the middle of Canada. And while studying there, I came across one professor, who was an expert in Paul—Paul the Apostle in the New Testament—and he taught me Greek. And I just became fascinated with Greek. And he didn’t read only the Greek New Testament texts, but many texts from Greco-Roman culture, the Hellenistic literature. And I became really, really fascinated with that, and started taking more Greek courses, then ended up going to the University of Manitoba to do a BA, where I met William Klassen. I don’t know if that name rings a bell…

AA  03:17


WB  03:18

…, but a famous New Testament scholar who recently died. And he was a charismatic, influential scholar. And his influence, I would suggest, that led me to go into Biblical Studies at the MA level, and then into Christian Origins at the PhD level at the Centre for the Study of Religion at the University of Toronto, which, as you may know, has produced many biblical scholars, largely through the extraordinary work and influence of John Kloppenborg. I think that’s about it. It’s not a linear story, but it ended up with some interests that changed over time. And here I am, after 30 years, scholar of Early Christianity. The interesting thing that you mentioned is my interest in method and theory. That, of course, came early on already during my doctoral studies, when the methods of New Testament studies, about which we can talk about a little bit later, became problematic to me. I could no longer believe in their efficiency or effectiveness for doing what I wanted to do with the text. So, I became interested in the study of religion and theories of religion more generally. And those two interests have really been the two focal points of my career.

AA  04:36

I wonder, when you started your Ph.D. was the subfield called Christian Origins or has that changed?

WB  04:45

The subfield, when I entered, was called New Testament Studies or Biblical Studies. Christian Origins became a commonly used category a little bit later. I think in part led by secular public universities who wanted to make the study of the New Testament and the Bible sound less Christian and more historical. Christian Origins is still used, but we also now frequently find Study of the Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean or Religions of Mediterranean Antiquity sometimes joined with Classics departments and History departments, as it is in my case. So, the terminology has changed. Whether anything has changed beneath the covers of the terminology, I’m not so sure.

AA  05:33

Interesting. Could you say a little more about that?

WB  05:36

In one respect, it has changed a great deal. It is much more heterogeneous now—varied in terms of approaches that scholars use. I mean, in the 1980s and early 90s, when I was in graduate school, you didn’t hear anything about things like gender criticism, or post-colonial, colonial criticism, or even literary criticism. That started coming into vogue just at the end of my studies. All that has changed. You’ll find most of the theoretical discussions and stances that are debated in the university at large or in the intellectual community at large, have made an influence on Biblical Studies. But at another level, very little has changed. I think, you know, in Biblical Studies, the text continues to be the centre, the focus, and the main question underlying all of the approaches that one can find, the main question is: “What is the original text? And what does it mean?” And the question, “what it means,” is a hermeneutic question. And the “meaning” is implied to be a theological meaning or a moral meaning. In other words, something that is useful to the faithful. So yes, there has been change, and at the same time, there hasn’t been—certainly not enough change. I should add here that there are a great many exceptions. Certainly, a humanistic or anthropocentric—a term that I’m a little tired of by now already—study of religion has made inroads into Biblical Studies, but it’s on the fringes: individual authors, small groups, people coming out of certain institutions. But there’s an irony here. The very fact that the Bible continues to be the centre of focus for how many biblical scholars are there in North America? 1000? 1500? The very fact that the Bible produces this tremendous industry—thousands of scholars; innumerable journals, commentaries; more books than anybody can read in a lifetime—produces this effect of the self-evident importance, even sacredness of the Bible. And it doesn’t matter whether you use a secular approach or not, as long as you focus on the Bible, and the focus of your studies are the early Christian texts, everything else is just illumination or background. The Bible is not displaced from its pedestal of monumental, self-evident, self-important, sacred text. So yes, there have been changes, but I think the changes have not been fundamental. But at the same time, a fundamental change would probably displace Biblical Studies entirely.

AA  08:40


WB  08:41

And sometimes, in my wildest imagination, I think that’d be a good thing.

AA  08:43


WB  08:45


AA  08:47

Could you tell me a little about the subfield of Christian Origins for our listeners who are less familiar?

WB  08:54

Yeah, well, the subfield is made up of more subfields. It’s heavily methodologically oriented—starts with textual criticism, which aims to establish the most original, the most authentic text, Greek text. So obviously, that requires very special skills. There are thousands and thousands of manuscripts of the whole or part of the New Testament. One has to be familiar with that, learn the languages, and make judgments about textual variants and so on. If you’ve ever looked at the fine print on the bottom of a page of a Greek New Testament, you see all kinds of almost unintelligible, sort of shorthand, sigla, and so on. Those are all references to the variants in the main text as printed on the page. So textual criticism, source criticism, many of the—in fact, all of the New Testament texts, in their writings refer to or quote or allude to other texts, usually texts from the Hebrew Bible and the Greek form, the Septuagint. Or sometimes they allude to other Greek texts. So, it’s kind of a source of criticism—it’s a discipline all on its own. And then from the 1940s and 50s on, under the influence of the Form-critical school—for which, in the New Testament, Rudolf Bultmann is the main guy—Form-criticism became in vogue. And it includes the study of the genres of the texts, and the little sub-genres, little forms, little stories, little sayings complexes, and so on, that Bultmann thought were the fundamental building blocks of the Gospels themselves. So, there are all kinds of methods. I took a methods course when I was in graduate school. And we went through all of these methods one by one, from text criticism to redaction criticism, to finally the question of interpretation. At the end came the question, “Okay, now that we’ve very ‘scientifically’ [quote unquote] and methodically examined a text, what does it mean?” And that is still—the heart of training for a New Testament scholar is to learn all of these methods. So, it’s a very sophisticated, very learned, very precise family of approaches. I think that’s part of what attracted me to it. In the end, of course, I learned that no matter how precise your method is, if you don’t ask the right questions, it doesn’t really give you an interesting and intellectual payoff.

AA  11:40

In that sense, what sort of questions are typically asked in New Testament Studies?

WB  11:46

I’m not sure there are typical questions. In reference to my comments earlier, the field is heterogeneous. There are many types of questions depending on the scholar’s interest, of course. In mainstream New Testament Studies, it’s all about the text. It’s front and centre, almost fetish-like. And by fetish-like, I mean it’s a revered object that, if one manipulates it carefully, it will reveal its hidden, deep meanings. The gaze of mainstream New Testament scholarship—I use the word mainstream, by the way, not to refer to a majority of scholars or individual scholars, but to the underlying ideology—or to use [Pierre] Bourdieu’s term “doxa”—that underlies the field. And I’m indebted to Steve Young, who, in his very important MTSR [Method & Theory in the Study of Religion] article a few years ago, described “mainstream” as the approach that structurally—not just in terms of individual scholars, but structurally, where things take place, what is produced, how knowledge is gained and spread—structurally, is a field that is protectionist. It employs all sorts of protective strategies to insulate and isolate the text so that mainstream scholarship really tends to paraphrase and take over the terms and the ideologies and the viewpoints of the texts themselves. Or, as Jonathan Smith would say, mainstream New Testament scholarship is really an affair of native exegesis and an affair of the data with large. So that’s what I meant by mainstream. Which mainstream New Testament scholarship is inward looking towards the text. The questions vary, but largely, what remains is the question, “How can we take the text seriously? What does it say to us?” It doesn’t matter whether you’re in post-colonial critical approach, or you’re taking a feminist critical approach, or you’re taking some other approach that interests you. What does the Bible have to say about gender? And very often motivating the question is, “Is there a place for women in Christianity?”

AA  14:13

So is your area of study considered to be part of the study of religion?

WB  14:20

I don’t know if this is coincidental or not. But I find it interesting that few biblical scholars, or scholars of the New Testament, Early Christianity, have read much in the literature of religion scholars, whether classical from [Karl] Marx to [Émile] Durkheim, or modern. There are exceptions, of course, I mean, I’m one and there are many, many others—I could give you a long list of names, but New Testament Studies are more isolated and insulated from theoretical discussions about religion than they are from just about any other theoretical discussion. And so, I find it interesting and dismaying, frankly, that scholars such as Jonathan Smith or Bruce Lincoln or Tim Fitzgerald or Russell McCutcheon or Dan Dubuisson are rarely cited, much less critically assimilated in New Testament scholarship. I don’t know if you know the name Burton Mack

AA  15:13


WB  15:14

… from Claremont, retired now. But he’s a really, really renowned scholar of Early Christianity, who brilliantly use social theory and myth theory to explain the emergence of Ancient Christianity in, what I call, anthropocentric terms. But he’s had very little influence on his field. Why is that I wonder? Why is the proximate other that is religion so disregarded?

AA  15:42

Given this apparent disconnect between New Testament studies and the study of religion, as well as the lack of engagement with the theorists that you’ve mentioned, are there different questions to ask? And if so, what are those questions?

WB  16:00

Yes, there are. If we’re going to make the study of early Christianity and its texts, a curricular part of the humanities and the social sciences in the university, I mean, certainly theological and apologetic interests should be sidelined or disregarded altogether. In other words, we should read these texts like we read any text. And when it comes to religious texts, I am most influenced by Bruce Lincoln, and his important article on “How to Read a Religious Text.” I don’t know if you read that text or if you know about it.

AA  16:36

Yes, I think it’s fantastic.

WB  16:38

Yeah, it’s become a bit of a charter text for some of us that we refer to when we say, “Well, what should we do with these texts? These are religious texts.” And he says, “Well, we ought to read them like any other texts.” That is the questions we ask is: “Who’s speaking here? What interests do they represent? What arguments are they making? And if they should be successful in their arguments, who would benefit and who would lose? And what would they lose?” Simply, questions that assume that these texts are written by humans who have interests, who are trying to gain some influence, or who trying to benefit themselves or somebody else through their writings. They’re not innocent writings. They’re argumentative. I spent a good many years studying ancient rhetoric as an attempt to gauge the argumentative features of the biblical texts. And they’re—all of them—are argumentative, even the Gospels, which appear to be merely stories. So those are certainly questions to be asked. Another question that is maybe not so much to be asked, but it’s for curriculum purposes—although maybe it is—is the question of stance, the stance we take towards these texts? Are we going to be protective of these texts? Are we going to take what Lincoln calls “a stance of the faithful”? I think I mentioned this in my response to Bill Arnal’s podcast on this same forum. Or are we going to treat these texts as outsiders? Context studies. Why do we study Christianity as if Christianity was the only really big and important thing that happened in the first and second and third centuries? Christianity really is a Roman religion, an upstart religion, that, for reasons we need to argue and show evidence, became a dominant one in the fourth century. But it is a Roman religion. So, context should not be merely the blur behind the focal point of Christianity but ought itself to be the subject of study, so we don’t reify Hellenistic background or Jewish background.

WB  18:47

I remember reading long ago, I think it was in the late 80s, when Luther Martin published a little book called Introduction to Hellenistic Religions—an under-read book, I think. And it’s an introduction to Hellenistic religions in which he demonstrates the important cosmological changes that were taking place during this period; the philosophical changes that were taking place during this period; the social, economic, political disruptions, dislocations, colonial realities; and all kinds of changes were taking place. And one of the consequences, he argues, near the end of his book, was the appearance of male savior religions. And it’s here that he lists Christianity and describes it only in a few paragraphs. Well, in New Testament studies, those few paragraphs, become the whole book, the whole library. And I would also think that we should shift away from meaning to social and political interests. I’ve already mentioned the modes of argumentation: the classifications that the authors use, the way they legitimize their truth claims, how do the texts work as “operational acts of identification”—that’s [Jean-Francois] Bayart’s term which I really like. So, these are different sorts of questions. They treat the texts not as reservoirs of deep and primordial and eternal meaning, but as very occasional texts that try to influence the world—probably very small worlds—the immediate worlds of the authors. Now, in truth, and to be honest and fair, much of this is happening already. I mean there’s the huge operation of voluntary association study in antiquity, led by John Kloppenborg. Many of the students are doing that. Studying ancient trade associations, ethnic associations, and so forth, in order to try out some analogies for the formation of early Christian communities but even there, the only Christian communities that we really know about are the ones that Paul writes to. We have absolutely no information, no evidence for communities that stand behind the Gospels, for example.

AA  21:11

I certainly agree with you about the importance of these questions just for the field more broadly even, and you definitely demonstrate this in your book. Could you talk a little about how your essays begin to address this issue?

WB  21:24

Well, I think maybe the subtitle is here important. There are of course some theoretical articles in the volume, but the bulk of them have to do with topics or texts related to early Christianity. But the subtitle “Toward an Anthropocentric Study of Religion,” which might sound a bit pretentious. As I said, I’m kind of tired of it—it sounds hard to say. But basically, it means that the study of religion ought to begin with the assumption, which is quite Smithian actually, that there is no data for religion, eo ipso—that is in itself as an autonomous object—there is nothing sacred in itself, hence the New Testament texts, even those that proclaim themselves to be sacred or not, sacredness gets imputed to them by others so that religion is, without reservation, a class of human doing. Period. And that, I think, ought to be the foundation for theorizing about religion and religiosity. And the new testament or the bible or any so-called sacred texts that are ordinary texts that, in my view of this study of religion, we should not study on their own terms. Ever. You hear it all the time in the circles and discussions and papers of the SBL [Society of Biblical Literature] that we have to take the text seriously, we ought to read it on its own terms. Well, I disagree with that. We ought to read these texts on our terms.

AA  23:00

Yeah, how else can we?

WB  23:01

Yeah, and we ought to make our judgments that are based on a humanistic study of religion. Terms such as sacred… It’s a useless term, analytically speaking. It doesn’t gain us anything.

AA  23:15

I want to ask you here, when you’re talking about engaging these texts “in their own terms” or reading something “in its own terms”—I completely agree with you, but I also know that there seems to be some misconception about what that means. It seems that, at least in my own experience in American religions, that not engaging something “in its own terms” is dismissive or disrespectful in some way. Could you speak to that discrepancy as you understand it and clarify perhaps what you mean when you say that we shouldn’t be approaching these texts in their own terms?

WB  24:04

Yeah. Burton Mack, who is a critic of early Christianity and Christianity in general and has been seriously silenced by the scholars who take what Lincoln calls the “stance of the insider”—that is, they think he’s going to destroy Christianity, or he exposes it as a myth and hence untrue. And this is an issue that comes up all the time in the classroom. I confront it—I don’t teach any longer, but when I did, I’d confront it all the time. And as you say, you confront it when you speak with folks who are working in American religion and maybe interview people for your project and so forth. I don’t know. My tendency is to begin with Smith. That religion or a specific religion, such as Christianity, does not exist. It’s not an empty category, but it is a concept. It is a concept, and concepts should not be confused with things or with data or objects. It’s a concept. And what does exist are people who identify themselves as religious or as Christian or as Muslim or whatever. And how that identification works is what I’m interested in, and how religious terms and religious categories and religious literature and ritual, how they play their part in this human, social, self-identification of individuals and groups. So, there’s nothing really disrespectful about this. It’s merely trying to understand why it is that people insist on using certain language, prefer reading certain texts, use worn rhetorics and various rituals repeatedly as a matter of self-identification. And they have to contest that in societies, like in the US and in Canada and most pluralistic societies, you have to contest your identifications. And how’s religion used to authorize your self-identities? Again, religious means are used, from authorizing your or legitimizing your positions and placing it in the various authority of unseen beings, gods, and ancestors, and so forth. So, my tendency is to try to say, “Listen I’m not discrediting you; I’m trying to figure you out!” But what is going on?

AA  26:40


WB  26:41

And students will then often come back and say, “Well, you know, you don’t have to figure us out. We already know what we’re doing.” And I say to them, “Well, yes, but I don’t. And I’m trying to understand it for myself, and I’m writing my stuff to try to clarify it for others who don’t have an insider understanding of what it is that you do, who it is that you think you are.”

AA  27:04

Yeah, no, I mean that makes a lot of sense, and it does have a very Smithian undertone in the ways that you’re thinking about looking at certain examples whether it’s textual or practice based that you can then use to explore larger issues…

WB  27:20

Larger issues, yeah.

AA  27:21

… in the study of religion.

WB  27:22

Yeah. You know, saying that already diminishes the difference, say, between Biblical Studies and American Religious History. We really share the same theoretical and methodological tasks—our data areas, our e.g.s if you will, are different.

AA  27:39

Mhmm. I am also very interested in this Smithian approach in my own work. I wonder if you could talk a little about J.Z. Smith’s preference for using data as e.g.s to illustrate larger concerns?

WB  27:55

Let’s begin with Drudgery Divine, which is, I think, probably his most important book. Although there are none of them that aren’t important. Certainly, I consider it among the most important books he published, and certainly the most important illustration of what he meant by comparison…

AA  28:13


WB  28:14

In this book, he takes on about four centuries of scholarship on the comparison of early Christianity with other Greco-Roman religions and does it with his typical precision and depth and so on. So, it’s sometimes hard to follow, but that’s what he does. But that wasn’t really his underlying purpose. Mere description of the history of comparison wasn’t his agendum at all; rather, he used the analysis, the description of this history, to show that biblical scholarship is based on a deeply biased apologetic between Protestants and Catholics. So, it was an important example a comparison—you compare two things in order to gain knowledge of clarity of a third. And this third is precisely how this biased historiography—Catholic and Protestant—has created a very interesting picture of early Christianity that ought to be critiqued. And that’s what he did. In fact, his criticisms of the scholarship on early Christianity is the most devastating one that we have. Among the many conclusions Smith draws is that the historically customary modes of comparison of early Christianities with the religions of late antiquity were conducted in bad faith, so to speak, in that they draw all kinds of protective strategies to insulate Christianity from other religions—from paganism on the one hand and Judaism, especially Jewish contemporaries, on the other end. And Protestant scholarship—for me this was a tremendous insight—placed an extraordinary emphasis on Paul. In the Protestant myths of Christian origins, it is Paul who stands at the centre and is the holder, the keeper of the myth of an imagined, pristine, pure Christianity. Paul holds it. Paul protects it. And it was later subjected to various corruptions by other Christians. So, he exposed all sorts of things: the bias of early Christian historiography, the apologetic and theological agenda that drove and continues to drive New Testament scholarship, the irresponsible use of backgrounds. I’ve said this several times, but I absolutely detest the word “background” in highlighting the uniqueness of early Christianity. You know, I’m a bit, as you know, a bit of a bird photographer, and…

AA  31:01

Yes, a very good one.

WB  31:03

Oh, well, thank you. And the perfect bird picture is when you isolate the bird on a branch and there is separation from the bird and the background, which might be a forest or a field, so that when you take the picture, the bird is in perfect, sharp focus and the background is entirely blurred, like creamed honey. That’s sort of the bird photographer’s ambition. And I sometimes see backgrounds in those terms. You know, here we have Christianity standing in all its glory and precision and detail and largeness against a very blurry background. It seems to want to show that Christianity is unique. And the only thing of importance going on in that time. This I’ve learned from Smith, and I think he has influenced me, although I’m not nearly as an accomplished a comparatist as he is, but I do try to step out of the apologetic and theological mode, stance in my own scholarship.

AA  32:07

Could you give us an example from your book that draws on this Smithian approach to comparison?

WB  32:14

Yeah, Smith has definitely influenced me. I consider him a friend, who unfortunately is no longer with us, and an important mentor. One example, there’s one essay in the book that has to do with the formation of an early Christian group. And it really is an essay about a document, which is referred to as the Sayings Gospel Q. Q is a hypothetical document because nobody’s ever seen it or held it, but it is a product of literary excavation from Mark and from Matthew and Luke, who have all kinds of material that they share verbatim. Anyway, we don’t have to go into that complex history and the Q hypothesis and all that. But let’s just assume it exists as a Sayings Gospel. It’s a gospel that has no biographical information. It’s just a collection of the sayings of Jesus. And in this article, I tried to show that the authors or the producers of Q saw themselves analogously, to a school, a school of philosophy or early Rabbinic schools, and so on. And that is, to make this very short, that in the end, the end of the day, what this document shows is that the producers of it weren’t so much interested in the subject, in the sayings of Jesus themselves, but were using the sayings as a way of forming a group. In the end, the group superseded the sayings in value and importance. And there are a couple of texts, which seem to say almost explicitly, times may be tough, but stick with us folks. This is trying to build loyalty, community affinity, and things like that. So that’s about the formation of a group, not so much an ideological document that they believed in as literally true. That’s way too simplistic, but that would be one example where I use comparison in order to show what the argumentative strategy is in a particular document.

AA  34:35

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I wonder how would a non-specialist benefit from your book, and how would it apply more broadly to the study of religion?

WB  34:48

Well, I think, more broadly, it demonstrates that this anthropocentric study of religion, this human-focused study of religion, where you begin with the basic presupposition that it’s people who perform certain things that, by whatever definition we call religious, that there are performances that are made for all sorts of self-serving reasons, chief among them, I think, the acts of and performance of self-identification. And legitimating those acts of identification by giving contingent self-identity—you know, all of our identities are contingent—a kind of a superhuman authority, a kind of ontological quality. I demonstrate this in a few of the Christian texts, but as think they can possibly—and I hope they will be—used as analogies for how people who work in other fields can do the same thing with the texts, or the data that they use. You know, religion is, in the end, a social category, and religion scholars are—whatever else we are—we’re also sort of social scientists. So, we examine the human practices from rhetoric to ritual, as human means for building our own worlds, our own communities, and contesting them, legitimating them, classifying them as “them vs. us” as “bad vs. good,” aesthetically, ethically, morally. I hope my essays can be, if not an immediate help—just as Smith isn’t an immediate help, you can’t use him as a recipe for writing what you’re doing—that at least as an indication of what’s possible when you take the human-centred, human-focused study of religion seriously.

AA  36:40

Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right because, at the end of the day, these are questions that are happening across the field.

WB  36:46


AA  36:46

I mean, they’re questions that people are wrestling with just in our current political world. And so, they’re absolutely relevant, I think, to really anyone doing any type of work…

WB  36:57


AA  36:57

… focusing on humans.

WB  36:59

Yeah. And to study humans, we don’t need the gods.

AA  37:03

Very true.

WB  37:04

In fact, the gods are human creations. And why humans have created gods and other intuitive or unseen beings is an interesting question. But that’s a question for another day.

AA  37:15

We’ll have to save that for the next podcast.

WB  37:17

Yeah. (laughs) I’d urge readers to go through Bill Arnal’s afterword. It’s the very last little essay in the book. And the reason I’m suggesting that is because he makes sense of my essays and my work in a clear and compelling way. So that I understand—I even understand my own work better after he’s told me what I’ve been doing. So maybe others will find the same help. Okay, if you don’t know what Braun is doing, go to Arnal, he’ll tell you. (laughs)

AA  37:50

(laughs) Well, I’m afraid we’re running out of time. Honestly, I could keep talking to you about this all day because I think it’s a very important conversation for our field broadly. I think that it’s a fantastic book. It was a pleasure to read. So, thank you so much for being here and chatting today about this. It’s been a pleasure.

WB  38:07

Thank you, Andie, and all the best for your work.

Citation Info:

Braun, Willi and Andie Alexander. 2021. “Comparing Methods in Christian Origins”, The Religious Studies Project. Podcast Transcript. 19 April 2021. Transcribed by Andie Alexander. Version 1.0, 19 April 2021. Available at:

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