Definition

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When Religion Is Not Religion: Inside Religious Studies’ Fight for Religious Literacy in the Public Sphere

As I listened to her interview about the book and its ramifications on the Religious Studies Project, I not only appreciated her balanced and thorough approach to this topic, but found myself wanting to focus on three points that she touched on in the talk: 1) the ways in which “religion” is defined in the public sphere; 2) whether or not we should listen to “fringe” Islamophobes and their rhetoric on religion; and 3) thinking about “when Christianity is not a religion.”
Podcast

When Islam Is Not a Religion

Asma Uddin is the author of When Islam Is Not a Religion: Inside America's Fight for Religious Freedom. In this book, Uddin examines an alarming trend to redefine Islam as a political ideology, not a religion. In our conversation, we track the history of this movement to redefine Islam and its implications for the rights of Muslims. We discuss the widespread presumption among American progressives that courts tend to protect religious freedom for Christians, but not for Muslims, and we examine particular stories that support and problematize that narrative. In particular, Uddin provides vivid examples of how American courts have reacted to arguments that Islam is not a religion.
Podcast

Study of Religion in Peru

In this RSP interview, we are joined by professor Dorothea Ortmann from University of Rostock, to delve more into the foundations of the science of religion in Peru. She first states the major differences between the confessional studies or studies oriented to theological or pastoral matters, and the social scientific study of religious phenomena (Ortmann, 2004).
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Healing and higher power: a response to Dr Wendy Dossett

While those that reject the concept of God can never associate the “higher power” with the divine, it is obviously still appropriate to explore whether a metaphysical force might lay behind it power and, if so, what it might be. After all the origins of Alcoholics Anonymous, founded in the late 1930s, are undeniably Christian.
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Theoretical Veganism: Practicing Religious Studies without Religion

Perhaps it is time to stop treating the word “religion” as a tool of the scholar and to start treating it as the very object of study. Aside from being an oxymoron, the thought of “meatless meatballs” can elicit strong reactions, whether of disgust, confusion, or hunger. Such products are capable of breeding suspicion, whether in regards to their taste, their origins, or their status as “food.” After all, what exactly is meatless meat?
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The Deconstruction of Religion: So What?

Scholars who deconstruct without re-construction undertake a feeble version of deconstruction that undermines itself (often without realising it).In his interview with the RSP, Teemu Taira refers to his work as in some sense a response to Kevin Schilbrack’s 2013 paper, “After We Deconstruct ‘Religion’, Then What?” However, I don’t find it speaking to the concerns of Schilbrack’s paper. This, is not to question the excellence of Taira’s work, scholarship, or methodology, all of which I am deeply impressed with.
Podcast

Categorising “Religion”: From Case Studies to Methodology

In this interview, Dr Teemu Taira discusses the role of marginal traditions in understanding the application of the term "religion" in differing context, in particular he discusses Karhun Kansa, the People of the Bear. This leads onto a methodological discussion on the use of the term and the role scholars play in this discourse.
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New Religious Movements and Contemporary Discourses About Religion

Increased attention to religion by international governments and NGOs has not necessarily resulted in less problematic models of religion being used by these governments and groups. As I listened to Susan Palmer’s RSP interview and read about her new co-authored book (with Stuart A. Wright) Storming Zion: Government Raids on Religious Communities (2015), I was reminded why NRMs make such useful case studies in the religious studies classroom. From a pedagogical perspective, ...
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There’s More Than One Way to Skin a Cat: Comments on Kocku von Stuckrad’s Discursive Approach

It seems to me to be perfectly possible for someone to agree on the problem of representation, highlight the importance of reflecting on the situatedness of observer, challenge essentialism and still show no particular interest in problematizing analytical definitions of religion. There is more than one discursive approach in religious studies. In his interview with the RSP, professor Kocku von Stuckrad outlines some of the key issues that are relevant for constructing a discourse theoretical framework for religious studies.
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The Expanding Thought Trench: Ivy League Authority in South Korea

While I respect Masuwaza’s work on many levels, I mostly like it because she reminds me, again and again, to look at my tools of inquiry and see how my tools have shaped what I have found. I spent two years as an English teacher in South Korea. I went because they wanted native speakers in their classrooms and promotional photos, particularly young American females,...
Podcast

21st Century Irish Paganism

in this interview, we discuss Jenny Butler's work on Paganism in Ireland, the impact of that particular context upon the Paganism/s she has researched - particularly in terms of language, mythology, and the natural landscape - and also some of the issues associated with the academic study of Paganism in general.
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Hyphenating Identities

We find ourselves in a time when countries like the UK and the US are, even now, officially providing their citizens the option of identifying via the use of hyphenated ethnicities. In yet another excellent Religious Studies Project interview, we hear from University of California Santa Barbara Associate Professor Rudy Busto talking about race and religion in the United States.
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Learning to Unlearn “Religion”: Jason Ānanda Josephson on the Invention of Religion in Japan

Would it be better to say “Japanese Religions”? How about “religions of Japan”? Or, is “religion” even the best word to use to describe the Japanese traditions we’re studying? One of the first Religious Studies courses in which I enrolled was titled “Japanese Religion.” There were several themes running through the course, but the one that stuck with me as the most important was something the professor asked during the first meeting of the class:
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Psychology of Religion at Its Best…and Less Best

In this hard-hitting report, Alex Uzdavines reflects on the highs and lows of his recent experience at the American Psychological Association Division 36 Society for the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality 2015 Mid-Year Conference hosted by Brigham Young University (BYU) in Provo, Utah, United States on March 20th and 21st 2015.
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Pilgrimage as Tension

The reasons people might go on what they call ‘a pilgrimage’ are complex. Amusement may be as important as communion, escape from everyday life as important as prayer. But, and this is an important point that does not come up in the interview, they may not be the reasons a person may give when asked by fieldworking scholars. That we now understand that people undertake pilgrimages for more than pious reasons has been one of the most significant advances in ‘pilgrimage studies’ to date.
Podcast

Pilgrimage in Japan and Beyond: Part 2

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.
Podcast

Pilgrimage in Japan and Beyond: Part 1

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.
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Now We Know Religion is Not Disappearing

Various new religious movements seek to establish a presence in politics through challenging the hegemony of traditional churches in a very peculiar way. Postsecular, like postmodern, is a title applied to phenomena in society that do not seem fit into an earlier paradigm and has thus been named post-something because it perhaps is not yet visible what comes next. It is an end of an era but also a shift towards another and has the academic world digging out all the blind spots of the earlier theories,...
Podcast

The Postsecular

Discussion focuses upon the history of the 'postsecular', potential definitions, disciplinary and geographical differences, and ultimately suggests that ‘postsecularity’ is effectively dressing up ‘secularity’ in obfuscating clothing.In his 2011 Presidential Address to the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion in Milwaukee,
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The Invention of the Emerging Church Movement

It might help to consider what exactly terms like “The Emerging Church Movement” (ECM) and its terminological correlates (e.g., emerging, emergence, or emergent) intend to describe. Social scientists frequently employ contested categories or concepts (Beckford 2003, 13) in the description and analysis of ethnographic data. In other words, a conceptual gap often exists between emic self-description and etic secondary formulation. Informants don’t always acknowledge or accept scholarly terms and definitions.
Podcast

The Emerging Church

The Emerging Church Movement (ECM) is notoriously difficult to define. What are scholars of ‘religion’ to do with a trend seemingly emerging both within and without many contemporary manifestations of (Western) Christianity, that is both anti-institutional and ecumenical, aims to avoid hierarchies and power structures, embraces creativity,...
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Religion and memory

"By shifting attention to the performance of religion, neuroscience might help understand the processes in the brain which support or bring forth such practices. This could then lead to better understandings of the workings of memory, the invocation of ‘religion’, and the relations between these, without essentialising strategies." The RSP interview with Alexandra Grieser established some useful connections between the study of religion and the study of memory. Probably the most helpful aspect of this relationship is methodological, ...
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A Response by James Cox to Bjørn Ola Tafjord on the Classification ‘Indigenous Religions’

By defining Indigenous Religions as focused primarily on ancestors and as rooted in location, I have restricted the term in a way that then opens up wide permutations of ancestral and localised traditions as they are affected by modernity, globalisation, travel and mass communication, including indigenous people living in diaspora...
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Religion, threskeia (θρησκεία) and the Return of the Hellenes: On Brent Nongbri’s Before Religion

Nongbri’s work, as I see it, offers a very valuable tool not only in approaching and interpreting the ancient usage of terms such as religio and threskeia and their respective history but also how those ambiguous terms are adopted and used by modern people who long for those ancient practices that scholars label “religious” in order to establish claims that touch upon different matters
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Tomato: Fruit or Vegetable? Discuss.

According to Oxford Dictionaries, scientifically speaking, a tomato is a fruit. In the culinary world, the tomato is referenced as a vegetable because it is savory. Notice that the argument has morphed from pertaining to what category the tomato is in based on its qualities to a matter of who is doing the speaking. Budding theorists may find themselves conscripted into the ideological battles over the nature of religion or, to put a finer point on the argument, how scholarship in religious studies should be done.
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The Problem with Myth

"‘Levi-Strauss argues that what “we” in “the West” call history is in fact myth by another name’ (Tremlett, 2008:56). Conversely, what we call myth is also history. But if so, what difference is there in calling a story myth or history? If Evolution can be called both history and myth what differs between each usage? It is, I suggest, the fact that when we speak, for example, of the Evolution myth we think of something that is false-prone and when we speak of the Evolution theory (here a synonym for history) we think of it as true-prone. The question of which is used depends on who is speaking."
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Concepts and Symbols, What Does It All Mean? Examining Immigrant Buddhists in Toronto

"Concerning this worry surrounding the “dilution” of Buddhism that Barua identifies amongst the Buddhist immigrants in Toronto, some important questions arise for scholars of religion as a whole. Throughout the interview terms like “religion”, “faith”, “theology” are thrown about, ironically often in close proximity to discussions on how Buddhism is tied into not just the immigrants religious lives but also and perhaps most importantly their culture."
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Ayahuasca as a Gateway Drug (Toward a Less Stigmatized Academic Discussion of Drugs and Religion)

"The assertion that an experience which takes place while under the influence of a drug should not be construed as having religious import implicitly makes a value-judgment about what true or valid religion can consist of, whereas an examination of how hermeneutic and discursive resources are drawn upon to develop a personal or communal account in which drugs and the experiences they elicit are ‘deemed religious’ (Taves 2009) is likely to provide significantly more analytical purchase."
Podcast

Situational Belief

“Belief” is a critical category in the study of religion. Indeed, for some scholars, it is the very essence of religion; as Clifford Geertz wrote, “To know, one must first believe.” Others, however, see the emphasis on belief as part of the Protestant bias in the development of the discipline, and have proposed various ways of avoiding talking about it at all. In this interview, ...
Podcast

Studying Nonreligion within Religious Studies

How we can position the study of non-religion within the discipline of Religious Studies? Sounds like a bit of an oxymoron, doesn’t it? Those of you who have been listening to the Religious Studies Project for some time will be somewhat familiar with the emerging sub-field of ‘non-religion’ studies. Perhaps you have listened to our podcast with Lois Lee, ...
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Redefinition of the eclectic group-identity

"In a way, when registering themselves, non-institutional religious groups take a step toward being more institutional and possibly even hierarchical – even if there is not much of hierarchy within the group to begin with." In the podcast Suzanne Owen refers to the Druidry's manifold self-identification situation. It seems to me this is a wide-spread phenomenon where there are conflicting ideas about how 'religion'...
Podcast

Druidry and the Definition of Religion

Contemporary Druidry often presents itself as the native spirituality of the British Isles. However, there is not one form of Druidry and there are also significant numbers of Christian and atheist Druids as well as those that combine Druidry with Wiccan or other perspectives and practices. From international organisations to local ‘groves’, there are diverse types of Druid groups, ...
Podcast

Non-religion

It is fast becoming a tradition in ‘nonreligion’ research to acknowledge that Colin Campbell’s seminal call in Toward a Sociology of Irreligion (1971) for a widespread sociological analysis’ of ‘nonreligion’ had until very recently been ignored (Bullivant and Lee 2012). Although there has been a steady stream of output on secularisation, and more recently on atheism, ...
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So What Is Religion Anyway? Power, Belief, the Vestigial State

Prof. Goldenberg’s interview raises as many questions as it answers, in a good way. It seems to square the circle. She puts the topic of “religion” into context by making it disappear — or, to put it less cryptically, she insists that the codes by which we understand religion to be defined, and perhaps “made official”, are in fact no different from any other codes of law.
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Circular Academia: Navigating the Dangerous Waters of Term Re-Assignment

" In our contemporary world we tend to find ourselves more absent-mindedly sailing toward the yawning mouth of that swirling vortex known as “a definition of religion.” We need to be cautious with the application of new terms. We seem too often prone to kneejerk patchwork, slathering layer upon layer of temporary fixes, either impudent in our knowledge of foundational issues, or victims of deep denial. We long to resolve ambiguity by applying more ambiguity, when we should just dig up the foundation and rebuild."