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Reinventing Graduate Education in the Study of Religion

Education_Apple-prvWe spend a lot of time on the Religious Studies Project discussing Religious Studies as a discipline or field of study, what it means to study ‘religion’ with or without quotation marks, and what exactly it is that the critical, scholarly study of societal discourses surrounding ‘religion’ might have to offer. However, up until today we have never tackled head-on the institutional location of Religious Studies within a higher education environment that is becoming increasingly stretched, and dominated by market forces and political whims. In particular, how might this situation affect graduate education it the study of ‘religion’? What can scholars of ‘religion’ do about this situation? Are we powerless? Must we simply sit on the sidelines and stick to our guns, or are there constructive alternative ways forward? To discuss these questions, and and an exciting new graduate programme looking at Religion in Culture.I am joined today by Drs Merinda Simmons and Michael Altman, both of the University of Alabama.

Blog post about the course: https://religion.ua.edu/blog/2016/12/theres-a-new-m-a-in-town/

Details of the course: http://religion.ua.edu/MA.html

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A transcription of this interview is also available, and has been pasted below.


Podcast with K. Merinda Simmons and Michael J. Altman.

Interviewed by Christopher Cotter.

Transcribed by Helen Bradstock.

Chris Cotter (CC): We spend quite a lot of time on the Religious Studies Project discussing Religious Studies as a discipline or a field of study, what it means to study religion with or without quotation marks, and what exactly it is that the critical study of societal discourses surrounding religion might have to offer. However, up until today, we’ve never tackled the institutional location of Religious Studies within a higher education environment that is becoming increasingly stretched and dominated by market forces and political whims. In particular, how might this situation affect graduate education in the study of religion? What can scholars of religion do about this situation? Are we powerless? Must we simply sit on the sidelines and stick to our guns? Or are there constructive, alternative ways forward? To discuss these questions and an exciting new graduate programme looking at religion in culture, I’m joined today by Drs Merinda Simmons and Michael Altman, who are both Associate Professors of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama. Merinda’s books include Changing the subject: Writing women across the African Diaspora, and two co-edited volumes: The Trouble with Post-Blackness and  Race and Displacement. She’s the editor of the book series, Concepts in the Study of Religion: Critical Primers and is a member of the collaborative research group: Culture on the Edge. Mike’s research ranges from American Religious History to Critical Theory and his first book, Heathen, Hindoo, Hindu: American Representations of India, 1721- 1893, will be published by OUP in 2017. He’s also published an article in the journal Religion, entitled “Podcasting Religious Studies, that features the Religious Studies Project. And we might even discuss that later on, who knows? First of all, Merinda, Mike, welcome to the Religious Studies Project.

Merinda Simmons (MS): Thank you

Michael Altman (MA): Thanks. You gave me a free promotion there, Chris! I’m only an Assistant Professor.

CC: Oh no!

MS: Congratulations

MA: It’s ok. I’ll take it! That’s how good the book is!

CC: That you get instant promotion with it. Excellent. Well on that note, that’s an institutional dynamic that we don’t quite know here in the UK, the associate/ assistant thing. But we’re talking today about reinventing graduate education in the study of religion. Why are we even talking about that? What’s the context?

MS: One of the conversations that we’ve been having over the past handful of years has been about what a lot of people call the “crisis in the Humanities”. So that’s really what began the conversation here, departmentally. We have a Humanities speaker series that our chair is on the committee for planning, we’ve been doing some things within the department to try to talk about that issue. And we also have been – in the last handful of years especially – on the front end of social media in the department, making videos, doing things to promote the department. Because a lot of people don’t come into their undergraduate programmes, anyway, knowing what the academic study of religions is. So we have to do a lot of self-promotion and just getting the word out about what it is to even get a degree in Religious Studies. So with those two things in mind, with our social media presence and with the conversations that have been going on about the so-called crisis of the Humanities, that’s really what began the conversation of : What would it look like if we don’t. . . We don’t want to think about the Humanities as “Crisis-ville”. We all have jobs in this space of perceived crisis, so maybe we should be thinking about that, or doing something about that? Or what does it mean to re-conceive that? So that’s the background for where the conversation initially began.

CC: And just for the benefit of our listeners who could be at any level. . .

MS: What is that crisis?

CC: Yes.In broad brush strokes.

MA: I don’t know. I think it’s a combination of a lot of things.(5:00) It’s a shift. I was introduced to this crisis through the 2008 financial crisis. That’s when I snuck into graduate school just before Emory University’s endowment tanked in September 2008. And you can just look around over the next two years and watch all the free lunches on campus literally go away. And I think that moment of. . . that financial moment, and the impact it had on jobs in the US, kind of created a bit of a panic about, “Well, if I’m going to spend money on a degree, if I’m going to spend time on a degree” – especially at under graduate level , where you had a financial crisis happening as a bubble was growing around higher ed and higher ed prices were going up, everyone taking out theses student loans –  “ I ‘d better damn well be able to get a job when it’s over.” And I think, the idea that Humanities – because they were not very vocational – didn’t prepare one for that, that has been a longstanding discussion-point and problem-point I think since the ’70s, became even more acute. So students came in, I think. . . . As I transitioned out of grad school into teaching, in the last four years, I’ve seen all these undergraduate students who went through who were in high school or middle school when this happened, and they don’t know a world that wasn’t in financial crisis, or where financial anxiety wasn’t dominant. I grew up in a world dominated by terrorism fear, they grew up in a world dominated by banking and stock market fear.

MS: At the same time, when I came to grad school, which was like in 2001- 2002, I was exposed to a kind of generational shift from the faculty perspective, where. . . . I think the reason that this so-called crisis is resonating for academics themselves, is that there was also a kind of sea-change from a faculty perspective and from an academic perspective about what it meant to study the Humanities. Suddenly – in response to these kinds of economic factors and the sorts of anxieties about job markets that our students were grappling with – suddenly it didn’t make as much sense to approach one’s teaching and one’s research in quite the same classic model of:  “I know all. I will tell all. Come learn at my feet and then take this knowledge to do whatever, but that’s your thing to process later, and it’s not really so much my jam as your faculty advisor.” So in response to that shifting landscape, too, I think there’s been, within people who already have jobs and are trying to get a sense of what they’re doing as faculty within the Humanities, and scholars in the Humanities, what it is that their job is – because it doesn’t seem like it’s quite so much the same sort of: receptacles of knowledge that we dispense nebulously to people and then just take that as self-evidently important as some kind of service that we’re doing them.

MA: Yes, for better or worse, the self-evidence of the value of Humanities research isn’t taken for granted any more.

MS: Right. And so that’s a thing that students, who want to go get jobs, have to grapple with. And it’s also a thing for those of us doing research in the Humanities to also kind-of start re-conceiving as well. So, into that space, enter cutting-edge new grad programme!

CC: Wonderful! And that scans quite well with my impression of things here in the UK. Here we certainly don’t have college fees to quite the same level as you have in the States, but when I started as an undergrad you were talking just about £1,000 a year. And now its gone up to £9,000 a year.

MS: Wow.

CC: . . .in that length of time. So there’s a real sense of: “What am I going to get out of this?”, students as consumers, and also the perceived value of,“Well, a degree in study of religion, that’s kind of near the bottom of the pile in terms of monetisation, isn’t it?” But need it all be doom and gloom?

MS: Not necessarily.

CC: Well, first of all, before we talk about your graduate programme, graduate students are going to be slightly different to undergraduate students. (10:00) So, again, maybe if you just tell us a little bit about that dynamic and then let’s see what you’ve been doing.

MS: You mean: what do we conceive of as our student cohort, coming in?

CC: Yes. The general purposes of graduate school.

MA: Oh yeah, that’s a whole bees’ nest of questions! There’s a whole argument going on in the US about graduate school. There was an article yesterday in the Chronicle, or this week, basically wagging its figure at literature professors around the country, saying: “Your entire career is built on the exploitation of graduate students!” And yet, at the same time – I’ve become such a reactionary old man at he age of 32 – I’m like: “You’re getting paid to go to school” in lots of cases! So there’s a whole back-and-forth about graduate school. And there’s a whole conflation of different programmes and the way they rely on graduate student labour to teach large classes, which keeps costs down, and buttresses the explosion of administrations and administrative costs. So there’s a whole big argument about the value, the importance, the ethics of graduate education in the US that I think we’re trying to navigate. We’ve thought hard about it. I want people to know that the committee who’s been working on this – from the proposal all the way down to the implementation – take those concerns very seriously. But they’re very real and they’re very thorny, I think.

MS: Mike and I were just talking about this earlier. I think, before the economy changed so dramatically, there was a sense that education and more of it was just a net gain. You know, education is an end in itself: it is always a good. The more you get of it, the more it will enrich your life, or pay you back monetarily, or just be this net gain to pursue. And I do think that – as we’ve already been discussing – those dynamics have shifted a bit. But I don’t think that means that, just because students are interested in making sure that they try to at least stack the odds for some kind of professional return on their investment, they leave their BA programmes without still this kind of sense of: “I don’t know, necessarily, if I have this very specific career path set out ahead of me. I’m still interested in all of these ideas that I’ve only just barely been exposed to. What do I want to do with those? Is there a space for me to continue to think about things in more depth?” So I don’t want there to be a kind of mutually exclusive, sort-of antagonistic relationship between professional security or job sensibility on one hand and intellectual curiosity on the other. And so one approach from academia I think, in a lot of ways, has been to sort of stake its flag, and sort of double-down and say, “No! What we study is super important! Did you hear? I’ll say it louder for the kids in the back – it is SUPER IMPORTANT!” Or on the other side, they just turn into a kind of profit machine, which I think results in . . . and maybe those things work together – I don’t know that those are two sides of the same coin – maybe they’re the same thing. So there’s this kind of exploitative factory of grad student labour on one hand and contingent adjunct labour that even spreads into the faculty arena. But there’s also, I think three’s been an ongoing failure – which I think is not too strong a word – on behalf of academicians to rethink and retool why it is that what we study matters, and why that should translate to student interest and to the lives that they’re living.(15:00) Because their interest does not live and die with their intellectual pursuits inside of that classroom. It’s also about the lives that they want to live, it’s also about the jobs they want to have, the places they want to live. It’s geographical concerns, its family concerns, it’s all sorts of different kinds of things. And so to try to think seriously about all of these issues, yes, is the job for people in Humanities in the 21st century now.

CC: Excellent. So that’s set a really good scene. So your department. . .Is your department called “Religion in Culture” or is it..I know that that’s quite a thing at Alabama.

MA: Yes, with the italics on the in.

MS: We have a webpage explaining our approach to that.

MA: The department is the Department of Religious Studies but when we came up with the Master’s – I don’t know who came up with the idea.Maybe it was on an email?

MS: We went back and forth about it.

MA: We decided to just call it the MA in Religion and Culture.

MS: It’s not quite. . . . You know, my PhD is from an English department, another colleague’s PhD is from an Anthropology department: we come at the study of religion from a lot of different disciplinary angles and we knew that this wasn’t going to be a traditional Religious Studies degree, as it’s popularly conceived still in the academy. But we also wanted to establish it as an intervention into that field, where a lot of us still have a great deal of a stake. But it’s not quite Cultural Studies, we didn’t want to go completely off the grid. So it’s our attempt at, kind of, charting out a specific path within a field that we all still have a great deal of stock in.

CC: And so you’re approaching it with two broad stands then: social theory and Digital Humanities. Why those choices?

MS: I’ll pitch this one to Mike with a little bit of background, because he’s one of our resident Digital Humanities gurus. But from me – with a background and training in literary theory – the reason I’m in a Religious Studies department is because of a commitment to social theory and questions about identity studies, and a kind of critical theory analytic that’s operative in my work. So the department has a longstanding commitment to thinking broadly about why it is that we study what we study, rather than just landing upon the self-evidency of  “what we do matters”. So in that sense, social theory has been something that we’ve been already flexing our muscles with for quite a number of years. And again, we also just got into the social media thing. It started with just advertising events on campus through Facebook and then having a Facebook page for our student association. But then our students started writing blog posts and then: “Well, maybe we should have a blog?” So the grad degree is emphasising two strengths that we already had. We’re not inventing anything new in either of these two platforms, but it is – especially for me who still is relatively new to the Digital Humanities scene – taking it to a kind of new and more substantive direction, especially with the Public Humanities bit.

MA: Yes, I think of it as really the two strengths of the department. And I think for a long time, because of Merinda’s work and Steven Ramey’s work and Russell McCutcheon’s work, our department has been known for its theoretical rigour. Theoretical swagger, I like to think of it as! So I think that’s manifest in this programme. So if you’re a student and you don’t want to be hemmed in by the same school of religious theorists, or if you’re not even thinking about religious theorists but you don’t want to be hemmed in by a content area, then what we’ve envisioned beginning with. . . . One of the first classes students take in this programme is a foundation course in social theory. And they’re introduced to a whole bunch of social theorists. This is something Merinda’s helped develop with Steven Ramey, and she can say more about that. But on the other side I think people have known less, until the last couple of years – it’s sort-of blossomed. (20:00) It’s like, we were one of the first departments to really utilise a website and to do all sorts of things. I mean back in the day, before cell phone cameras (I wasn’t here, I don’t know what I was doing, I was in high school) but they were taking photographs at events and scanning them, putting them up on the webpage. I say “they”, it was Russell and the faculty that were there then: Russell McCutcheon. And so that website predates Facebook. There was no Facebook but we had this website – and it’s actually about to get a facelift, soon – but you can go look at the archives of all this old stuff that we have buried, if you’re interested.

MS: And so much of that is this sense of trying to tell students what it is that we do in this department. Because so often they come out of high school without a sense of what Religious Studies, as a kind of academics base, is. And so I think that there is this hard work of just self-awareness, but then self-promotion and advertising that a department like ours had to do. And so, since we’ve been doing that for so long already, and since we have this analytical approach, by and large, how do we make the most of both of those two things?

MA: And so the website gave way to Facebook, gave way to the blog, that came in under . . . that was invented by Ted Trost, that began as a promotion of a Humanities series on campus, but then became this blog that is now read internationally. And people send us guest posts. And I think it’s become a pretty interesting space in the field. I mean, I’m a little biased, but. . . . And now our Twitter feed is doing really well, and we have an Instagram, and we’ve done all sorts of videos, and so I look at this as the next step in both those aspects of the department that have been going for the past ten-twelve years. And actually we have a podcast coming up soon, of our own, that I was just talking to Russell McCutcheon on as I was recording that. And there’s a great interview with him where he talks about this. And actually, the two are more connected than you think. We posit them as: there’s going to be a foundation class in social theory and a foundation class in Public Humanities and digital methods (that I’m putting together with Nathan Loewen) but they work together. Because really, all the stuff that we’ve begun to do in a social media space on the website is just applying social theory to our own environment,. Like: Why do we have a blog? Because getting students to write little pieces and see them creates a sense of. . . . It’s Durkheim!

MS: Right.

MA: We ought to know. . . . Academics who study religion from a social theory/social science/ human science perspective ought to be really good at understanding how to form a tight social group. That’s what we’re studying. That’s what we’re talking about. And we’ve kind of taken that seriously in a way. And so there’s the way these two things kind of feed off of each other, and have done in the life of department, and now we’re sending that momentum spinning forward into this graduate programme.

MS: It also means that their culminating thesis project can be a traditional publishable academic work that will send them to a PhD programme of their choice, or into a different kind of academic arena. But they can also, for their thesis requirement, do a digital project of equal substantive weight and value. So [we’re] thinking seriously about what that looks like and what that means, how to make them marketable. And not just in relation to how they can talk about themselves and their own skill sets – which I think is just such a thing that grad students could use – because I think that a lot of them with all of these kinds of critical skills, writing skills, argumentative skills, can only really talk about themselves of think about themselves in relation to the professoriate. Which I think is a shame, because those skills are super-marketable and very much in demand across a lot of different kinds of jobs sectors. (25:00) So, not only will they be able to talk abut themselves and think about their skills differently, but will also have a thing in hand that they can go to a museum with, or to a non-profit with, or to academic publishing, or. . .

MA: A start-up

MS: Or a start-up, or whatever kind of. . . and to help them get creative about where they can take those skills and equipped with something that isn’t just: “I have this killer essay, that’s an amazing, critical intervention.” They can do both.

CC: We’ve been nattering away here and time is already running away with us. This sounds fantastic and it sounds right in the same ballpark as why we started the Religious Studies Project five years ago: to try and find a way to get academia out there in a more accessible form.

MS: Right.

CC: But two questions just to maybe finish with, one would be: so, you know, stereotypical student wants to come and do a Master’s in the study of religion and they find themselves getting social theory and Digital Humanities. I can well imagine, based on some of the experiences that I’ve encountered , a jarring sense of: “Where’s the religion here? I just wanted to study some Buddhists!” So that’s one, and then the other question is: it sounds like you’ve got a really supportive department and university there. I can imagine in a perhaps more. . . I’ll use the word straight-laced or more traditional university, you might meet some resistance to proposing a course of this nature. So what advice might you have for scholars of religion who are working within the same context as you and are trying to instil the same sense of excitement and career development into their students, but maybe can’t quite found this innovative course? So on the one hand there’s the “Where’s the religion?” and two, advice for others in different contexts.

MS: Well, I mean to the first – at the end of the day we are still a department of Religious Studies and can still call ourselves that. So whatever kind of nominal traction we have to make ourselves legible in a field called Religious Studies is still present in the kinds of faculty areas and research that we do. Our approach is different, though, in relation to how it is that we think about the importance of [for example] the question of Hindus and American religion or a colleague who studies the spread of global Christianities in the global south, and Japan migration. So we have areas of the world and traditions that we use as data sets. There are still levels of study that people can kind-of come into and get that sort of traction if they want to do that. Especially if they want to go on to have an even more focussed approach with that, with their PhD. They have the opportunity to do language study while they’re here within the Master’s programme. But, you know, yes it is right that someone who is coming into our programme is probably not satisfied with thinking about a specific group of ritual practitioners in the 18th century, from this space, and then leave their enquiry to live and die inside of that space. So. . .

CC: And given that what you’re already saying about your social media presence etc, it’s going to be quite unlikely that a grad student’s going to turn up at the door not knowing what goes on.

MS: Right!

MA: They should certainly know what they’re getting themselves into!

MS: But I do think it needs to be said that this is still for those people who are really still diehard, interested in getting a PhD in Religious Studies, as long as they think of that approach as kind of cool, this is still something that will still put them in a really nice position and I think, if anything, make their application stand out. Because they do have this other little edge to it.

MA: I think, to be completely honest, that our students coming out of here will be better prepared for a more traditional PhD programme. Because our programme will require them to go back to first questions.(30:00) Like we said earlier, that taking it for granted that your study of Vedic sacrifice is valuable just because it’s about something really old, that it is inherently valuable, that’s not. . . You’re going to be pushed to be able to articulate what is it about your study of Ancient Vedic sacrifice that has purchase for  larger theories about social formation, ritual, the way communities work, the way people think, the way texts are passed down, like. . . whatever: something bigger. And that emphasis will allow you, when you get to a PhD programme and beyond when you’re on the job market later, to talk to people outside of your super-small speciality in a way that will make you a better scholar.

MS: And that’s exactly the answer, too, that I would suggest for the second part of your question, Chris, about what this suggests to scholars implicitly in their field. Because I think that there is a way in which the field itself, as a disciplinary phenomenon, can also be taken for granted as a self-evidently important thing.

MA: Of course religion’s important!

MS: Right, and “because we’ve been studying it in these ways for this many years, this is what we should continue or because the field is so dominated by area studies, and continues by area studies, and descriptive ethnographies, that that’s how we should continue to approach our work”. And I think that our programme is an experiment in thinking otherwise about that, and really putting our programmatic money where our mouths are, in terms of thinking differently about how we can conceive this field. Because there are a lot of different directions it can take. And why do we need to think in classic terms about area studies? Because then, why should we win the battle over how to get grad students who would otherwise go into a History grad programme, or a Cultural Studies programme, or in Anthropology? You know, why go into Religious Studies? So I think this is also a way for scholars and faculty members and administrators to think about how to organise differently around the kinds of area studies that they have, and how to make more marketable students coming out of those programmes in the process.

MA: And I’ll underline . . . .You asked the second question about how are we able to do this, and the support. At the risk of sounding too parochial, I think we have had a lot of support from the College of Arts and Sciences here at the university. And I think that’s because we’ve shown that the approaches we’ve chosen work in other settings. We’ve been out in front of other departments in a lot of ways, with the blog and social media. And a number of different projects that we’ve done have pushed everyone in the college, in a way, and so that’s given us a certain amount of institutional capital that has opened the door for this. And I think part of that is because we haven’t taken for granted that we’re valuable. And on the flip side of that: I think we’re the hardest working department in the country, we’re incredibly productive pound for pound and – I mean, that’s enough bragging!

MS: I’ll also say our Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences is a mathematician who is, nonetheless, deeply invested in the Humanities, and that’s just so, so nice. It’s really nice.

CC: So, effectively: get out there, embody what you want the field to be! If you want to be relevant, get out there and make yourselves relevant! That’s probably a good rallying call.

MA: Yes. The entrepreneurism we want in our Master’s students has been modelled by this department for the past 10-12 years.

MS: And interestingly – I know you’re probably trying to close this down because it sounded like a nice [ending], but only very quickly – this is why social theory is so useful too, to make that entrepreneurial vein of professional emphasis, not become some super-problematic, “Pull yourselves up by your bootstraps kiddos! And if you just try hard enough you’ll get that job in blah blah blah”. Like, No! We’re thinking really seriously about structural dynamics, about power dynamics, about the kinds of economic underpinnings that create certain sorts of environments that allow you to take various modes of agency in different kinds of spaces. And I think that that’s also super-important, because I think it can be really disheartening as a grad student to hear the equation of, “If you just try hard, and if you just publish enough, you’ll get that job.” Because that’s just so not any more the case.

MA: No. Scholars of large institutions and large social formations ought to be really good at navigating university bureaucracy.

CC: (35:00) Well, on that note, thanks so much Merinda Simmons and Mike Altman for joining us, and hopefully you will both get some sign-ups for this course.

MA: Applications are open now!

CC: You’ve also given our listeners a lot of food for thought and a lot of inspiration, and hopefully we’ll have a couple of interesting responses to this – fingers crossed!

MS: Thanks so much for talking to us.

MA: Thank you.

CC: Thanks so much for joining us.


Citation:  Simmons, K. Merinda, and Michael J. Altman  2017. “Reinventing Graduate Education in the Study of Religion”, The Religious Studies Project (Podcast Transcript). 3 April 2017. Transcribed by Helen Bradstock. Version 1.1, 4 April 2017. Available at: https://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/podcast/reinventing-graduate-education-in-the-study-of-religion/

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“Would You Still Call Yourself an Asianist?”

There’s a group on Facebook devoted to the History of Religions. Apart from a quite regularly posted Christian bible study blog that’s devoted to scriptural exegesis—and which prompts reader comments such as this recent one:

It seems obvious God is a God who feels. I am imagining He grieved, felt sorry not only to see the depravity of man whom He made in His image, but of every single cell which He created, His art, His masterpiece. God as an artist experiencing the destruction and loss of it all. Every flower, creature, piece of nature which He had created GOOD.

—almost all that gets posted on its wall are links to articles or announcements about the things we study: decaying scrolls found here or there, rituals practiced by this or that group, etc. Once in a while you see a link to an article on methodology—how we study things—but rarely does someone post an item related to why we study them or why our work should matter to people who don’t happen to share our focus on this piece of pottery or that ancient text. That’s because it seems that, for many if not most of us, there’s an obviousness to the things that we’re interested in, both for us, as scholars, as well as for the wider groups in which we live and shop and work: we all know they’re important because, well…, they’re important, simple as that.

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What’s therefore intriguing about Steven Ramey’s work is that while he, like all of us, was trained in a specific expertise related to a world religion, to fieldwork, to languages, and to texts and distant lands—he did his Ph.D. at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, in the religions of south Asia, and came to the University of Alabama in 2006, after a couple years working at UNC Pembroke—over the course of his career he has gradually and smoothly made a significant shift. Of course he still studies material relevant to his earlier training, but a shift in research focus from inter-religious cooperation to diaspora religion, eventually studying south Asian communities in the U.S. south, led the way to a far broader interest not only in social theory but in the practical implications of categorization for creating identities. Now, apart from regularly blogging on wide topics in identity formation at Culture on the Edge (a research group in which he participates), he is among the few who paused when some Pew survey data came out not long ago, on the so-called “Nones” (people who responded to a questionnaire saying that they had no religious affiliation), and asked how reasonably it is for scholars to assume that an entire, cohesive social group somehow exists based on a common answer to this or that isolated question when the respondents differed so much on the rest of the survey? The point? Why do we, as scholars, think the Nones are out there and what effect does our presumption of their identity have on making it possible for others to think and act as if the Nones are real and of growing influence?

It was this career arc—moving from what or how we study to why we study something, focusing on the wider theoretical interests that motivate our work with specific e.g.s and which ought to be relevant to scholars in fields far outside the academic study of religion—that prompted Russell McCutcheon to sit down with Steven, his colleague at Alabama, on a chilly day last December, to talk about Steven’s training and earlier interests but then to learn more about how a scholar who heads up our interdisciplinary minor in Asian Studies found himself at the Baltimore meeting of the American Academy of Religion inviting Americanists and sociologists to give the Nones a second thought.

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Thanks to Russell McCutcheon for writing this piece, and for conducting the interview. You can read a Huffington Post article by Ramey on the ‘Nones’ here. 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 philosophical tomes etc.

Emile Durkheim

durkheim

Emile Durkheim (1858-1917)  is widely regarded as the founder of sociology, and has been enormously influential on the entirety of the modern social sciences. The author of The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, Suicide: A Study in Sociology, and The Division of Labor in Society among others, he is perhaps most well-known in Religious Studies for his definition of religion as

“a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say set apart and forbidden, beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community, called a church, all those who adhere to them” (1965 [1912]: 62).

Within this well-worn definition we can glimpse the basic foundations of an entire approach to the study of religion, which places emphasis upon the role of social interaction and discourse in ‘setting things apart’ – in constructing the ‘sacred’ and the ‘religious’- rather than assuming or advocating for an inherent, sui generis, religion.

In this wide ranging and in-depth interview with Chris, Ivan Strenski discusses Durkheim’s life and work in a broader context, tracing his impact through the ‘Durkheimian school’ – which includes Claude Levi-Strauss – and presenting an understanding of the academic study of religion as a Durkheimian project.

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, Amazon.ca or Amazon.com links to support us at no additional cost when participating in the ‘sacralizing’ of the social and buying your Christmas presents etc.

This is the final episode in a series on early 20th century theorists of religion. The first featured Robert Segal on C. G. Jung and the second featured Paul-François Tremlett on Claude Levi-Strauss.

Heavy Metal as Religion and Secularization as Ideology

Heavy metal as religion and secularization as ideology: a sociological approach

By Mohammad Magout, University of Leipzig, Germany

Published by the Religious Studies Project on 9 October 2013, in response to François Gauthier’s interview on Religion, Neoliberalism and Consumer Culture (7 October 2013).

In this thought-provoking interview, Professor François Gauthier from the University of Fribourg gives his remarks on a variety of theoretical, methodological, and empirical issues in social sciences. It would be impossible to cover even a tenth of those issues within the limits of this brief article, so I will restrict my response to two themes only: defining religion and critiquing secularization theory and post-secularity.

Gauthier states at the beginning of the podcast that current social theory fails to explain some recent developments in the social world, particularly in reference to subcultures and popular protest movements. He specifically criticizes sociologists of religion for not recognizing certain cultural notions, practices, or movements as religious even when people involved declare them as such. He says that if ravers, for example, believe rave to be just as religious as Catholicism, then sociologists should adjust their definitions of religion in order to accommodate rave as a religious phenomenon.

While I acknowledge that in social research there is always the risk of imposing inadequate, external categories on meanings conveyed by informants, I do have considerable reservations about conflating informants’ self-descriptions with theoretical terms. By saying that rave culture is as religious as Catholicism, a raver might be, for example, making a statement of identity; that is, defining his/her identity as a raver against or in relation to a Catholic identity, which is, of course, a personal right that no one should deny him/her. From a scientific perspective, however, “religion” is a theoretical term that is used to categorize and analyze a specific class of social phenomena. If we were to leave it solely to informants to decide which theoretical concepts and categories apply to them, social research would become very fragmented and incomparable, because different people can and do use complicated terms such as “religion” in widely different ways. Of course, their perspective is important and one should always take it into consideration, but scientific research requires at least some minimum degree of uniformity and consistency in the application of terms and categories.

I am not very well-informed about rave culture, but I can say something about another music-based youth culture with which I am familiar—both as a researcher and as a member—namely, heavy metal. Heavy metal can be seen as one of the most “quasi-religious” youth cultures, not only because religious imagery and symbolism are embedded in heavy metal lyrically, sonically, and visually, but also because of the “striking resemblance” between many aspects of heavy metal (especially live concerts) and religious rituals (Weinstein 2000, p. 231-2). Heavy metal, in addition, defines itself explicitly against traditional religion (Christianity in particular), which in a few extreme cases has reached the level of waging an open war against it (as it was the case with some members of the Norwegian black metal scene in the early 1990’s who were involved in dozens of arson attacks against churches). Some people have even considered heavy metal to be their “religion.” There was a campaign in the United Kingdom to answer the question about religion in the 2011 census with “heavy metal,” which resulted in more people identifying their “religion” as “heavy metal” than Scientology, Baha’ism, or Taoism.

Even if we grant that some of those who reported their religion as “heavy metal” were serious about it, does that justify changing our definitions of religion, so that they can accommodate heavy metal together with Christianity, Hinduism, Shamanism, and ancient Egyptian religion in the same analytical category? I myself do not think so, and no one so far—to the best of my knowledge—has presented a convincing case of the conceptual and analytical utility of treating a youth culture such as heavy metal as some type of religion.[i]

Gauthier seems to justify his position by stating that religion in the past few decades has morphed into something different than it used to be. It is now more concerned with personal life-style, identity, and morality, rather than correct belief and clerical institutions. This perhaps makes religion (at least some forms of contemporary religion) closer to youth cultures than traditional or institutional religion, which may justify grouping them together in the same category. Still this is not enough to change our definitions of religion. I think social scientists need to be a bit “conservative” about their definitions and conceptual frameworks in order to maintain the consistency of their work and measure change when it occurs. As stated by Steve Bruce, “Fixity of definition is not a refusal to recognize change; it is essential to describing change” (2009, p. 9).

Gauthier concludes his interview by warning us not to repeat the failure of secularization theory by adopting post-secularity, which he refers to as “the greatest threat to sociology of religion today.” He says quite bluntly, “Let’s try not to be as stupid, as ideological.” Since I originally conceived my PhD research project in terms of secularization theory, and have now started to drift toward post-secularity, I felt somehow challenged by Gauthier’s strong words. My intention in this article, nevertheless, is not to present a defense of secularization and post-secularity—especially given that I acknowledge many of the criticisms of these concepts—but rather to problematize one particular critique, which is the claim that secularization and post-secularity are based on certain ideologies or philosophical ideas.

First of all, I would like to say that I do not disagree with this critique: yes, secularization theories often reflected a modernist understanding of history and social change, and post-secularity is a concept that emerged in philosophical and normative discussions of the role of religion in the public sphere in contemporary Western societies. The problem is that many social scientists, in dismissing these concepts as ideologically biased, tend to gloss over the ideologies behind them as sociologically irrelevant. The impact of ideologies on social theory might be something undesirable, albeit unavoidable, but their impact on society is of utmost importance to the social scientist.

Modernism, in its various manifestations (liberalism, communism, nationalism, colonialism, etc.), has transformed our world, including religion, irreversibly.[ii] Most modern states—together with their political, legal, educational, and economic systems—have more or less been established along the lines of some modernist ideology that may have actively sought to marginalize, control, or privatize religion.[iii] Of course, how this might have developed or to what extent it has worked out in different contexts is widely variable. What is certain, I think, is that these ideologies have shaped and continue to shape the world today, despite the fragmentation of their hegemony and the rise of alternative ideologies. It is therefore implausible to think they have hardly changed anything with regard to religion, as some staunch critics of secularization seem to imply (e.g. Stark 1999).

The question I am trying to frame is related to the more general issue of the complicated relationship between ideology and social theory. Social science, more than any other branch of science, is prone to the undesired influence of philosophical and ideological perspectives. The question is, then, how should social scientists deal with ideologically-infused theories without glossing over the ideologies behind them? I don’t have a straightforward answer to this question, but I can refer to Gauthier’s nuanced approach to studying neo-liberalism, which he outlines in his interview.

Gauthier criticizes rational-choice/market theories of religion for interpreting religion in economic terms, as if it were a commercial product. In doing so, these theories fail to understand and explain the relationship between religious change and neo-liberalism, which is not only a dominant economic theory or political ideology, Gauthier asserts, but also a “cultural ideology” that conditions our ways of thinking and behaving. He stresses that any examination of religion, politics, or social relations is not adequate without taking into consideration the impact of neo-liberalism and consumerism, which have become the “structuring” force of our societies. In other words, while Gauthier rejects rational-choice/market theories of religion, he does not dismiss neo-liberalism and emphasizes the importance of studying its impact on religion.

The same approach, in my opinion, should be applied to secularization theory and post-secularity. Criticisms of secularization as an ideologically-infused theory should not make us gloss over its constituting ideology and the concrete sociological implications of this ideology. Similarly, the philosophical origins of the concept of post-secularity do not mean that it is irrelevant for social scientists. One should remember that the boundaries between social theory and social philosophy are not clear-cut and that philosophers and theologians are playing an important role—perhaps more than sociologists—in setting the parameters for public debates about religion (Turner 2012, p. 649). This is not only a matter of intellectual debates, but also of policy-making. There are religious groups, public institutions, and political organizations which are adopting, in one way or another, a “post-secular perspective” toward religion and society and making their policies accordingly. One domain in which this current is becoming evident is academia as some earlier research (Schmalzbauer and Mahoney 2009) and also my ongoing research project on Ismaili institutions of higher education in London seem to suggest.

This material is disseminated under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. and can be distributed and utilised freely, provided full citation is given.

References

  • Bruce, S. (2009) “The Importance of Social Science in the Study of Religion”, Fieldwork in Religion, Vol. 4 No. 1, pp. 7–28.
  • Casanova, J. (2012) “Are We Still Secular? Explorations on the Secular and the Post-Secular”, in Nynäs, P., Lassander, M. and Utriainen, T. (Eds.), Post-secular society, Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick, N.J, pp. 27–46.
  • Moberg, M. (2012) “Religion in Popular Music or Popular Music as Religion? A Critical Review of Scholarly Writing on the Place of Religion in Metal Music and Culture”, Popular Music and Society, Vol. 35 No. 1, pp. 113–130.
  • Schmalzbauer, J. and Mahoney, K. (2009) “Religion and Knowledge in the Post-Secular Academy”, SSRC Working Papers. Available at http://blogs.ssrc.org/tif/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/post-secular-academy.pdf (Accessed 6 June 2013)
  • Stark, R. (1999) “Secularization, R.I.P”, Sociology of Religion, Vol. 60 No. 3, pp. 249–273.
  • Turner, B.S. (2010) “Religion in a Post-secular Society”, in Turner, B.S. (Ed.), The new Blackwell companion to the sociology of religion, Wiley-Blackwell, Malden, MA, pp. 649–667.
  • Weinstein, D. (2000) Heavy metal: the music and its culture. New York: Da Capo Press.


[i] For a survey of literature on the relationship between heavy metal and religion, see Moberg (2012).

[ii] This is what José Casanova calls “secularism as stadial consciousness,” i.e. secularism as a philosophy of history, according to which humanity progressively “emancipates” itself from religion. Secularization thereby functions as a “self-fulfilling theory” (2012, p. 31-2).

[iii] Another common criticism of secularization theory is its Euro-centrism, which is true, but it is almost forgotten that not very long time ago European powers ruled most countries of the world, established their political systems, wrote their laws, educated their elites, and planned their economies. This certainly does not entail that these countries should follow the same trajectories of modernization followed earlier by European countries, but it does mean that European ideas, theories, and ideologies are very relevant to other countries too.

Podcasts

Reinventing Graduate Education in the Study of Religion

Education_Apple-prvWe spend a lot of time on the Religious Studies Project discussing Religious Studies as a discipline or field of study, what it means to study ‘religion’ with or without quotation marks, and what exactly it is that the critical, scholarly study of societal discourses surrounding ‘religion’ might have to offer. However, up until today we have never tackled head-on the institutional location of Religious Studies within a higher education environment that is becoming increasingly stretched, and dominated by market forces and political whims. In particular, how might this situation affect graduate education it the study of ‘religion’? What can scholars of ‘religion’ do about this situation? Are we powerless? Must we simply sit on the sidelines and stick to our guns, or are there constructive alternative ways forward? To discuss these questions, and and an exciting new graduate programme looking at Religion in Culture.I am joined today by Drs Merinda Simmons and Michael Altman, both of the University of Alabama.

Blog post about the course: https://religion.ua.edu/blog/2016/12/theres-a-new-m-a-in-town/

Details of the course: http://religion.ua.edu/MA.html

You can 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.ukAmazon.com, or Amazon.ca links to support us at no additional cost when buying academic texts, cute kittens, and more.


A transcription of this interview is also available, and has been pasted below.


Podcast with K. Merinda Simmons and Michael J. Altman.

Interviewed by Christopher Cotter.

Transcribed by Helen Bradstock.

Chris Cotter (CC): We spend quite a lot of time on the Religious Studies Project discussing Religious Studies as a discipline or a field of study, what it means to study religion with or without quotation marks, and what exactly it is that the critical study of societal discourses surrounding religion might have to offer. However, up until today, we’ve never tackled the institutional location of Religious Studies within a higher education environment that is becoming increasingly stretched and dominated by market forces and political whims. In particular, how might this situation affect graduate education in the study of religion? What can scholars of religion do about this situation? Are we powerless? Must we simply sit on the sidelines and stick to our guns? Or are there constructive, alternative ways forward? To discuss these questions and an exciting new graduate programme looking at religion in culture, I’m joined today by Drs Merinda Simmons and Michael Altman, who are both Associate Professors of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama. Merinda’s books include Changing the subject: Writing women across the African Diaspora, and two co-edited volumes: The Trouble with Post-Blackness and  Race and Displacement. She’s the editor of the book series, Concepts in the Study of Religion: Critical Primers and is a member of the collaborative research group: Culture on the Edge. Mike’s research ranges from American Religious History to Critical Theory and his first book, Heathen, Hindoo, Hindu: American Representations of India, 1721- 1893, will be published by OUP in 2017. He’s also published an article in the journal Religion, entitled “Podcasting Religious Studies, that features the Religious Studies Project. And we might even discuss that later on, who knows? First of all, Merinda, Mike, welcome to the Religious Studies Project.

Merinda Simmons (MS): Thank you

Michael Altman (MA): Thanks. You gave me a free promotion there, Chris! I’m only an Assistant Professor.

CC: Oh no!

MS: Congratulations

MA: It’s ok. I’ll take it! That’s how good the book is!

CC: That you get instant promotion with it. Excellent. Well on that note, that’s an institutional dynamic that we don’t quite know here in the UK, the associate/ assistant thing. But we’re talking today about reinventing graduate education in the study of religion. Why are we even talking about that? What’s the context?

MS: One of the conversations that we’ve been having over the past handful of years has been about what a lot of people call the “crisis in the Humanities”. So that’s really what began the conversation here, departmentally. We have a Humanities speaker series that our chair is on the committee for planning, we’ve been doing some things within the department to try to talk about that issue. And we also have been – in the last handful of years especially – on the front end of social media in the department, making videos, doing things to promote the department. Because a lot of people don’t come into their undergraduate programmes, anyway, knowing what the academic study of religions is. So we have to do a lot of self-promotion and just getting the word out about what it is to even get a degree in Religious Studies. So with those two things in mind, with our social media presence and with the conversations that have been going on about the so-called crisis of the Humanities, that’s really what began the conversation of : What would it look like if we don’t. . . We don’t want to think about the Humanities as “Crisis-ville”. We all have jobs in this space of perceived crisis, so maybe we should be thinking about that, or doing something about that? Or what does it mean to re-conceive that? So that’s the background for where the conversation initially began.

CC: And just for the benefit of our listeners who could be at any level. . .

MS: What is that crisis?

CC: Yes.In broad brush strokes.

MA: I don’t know. I think it’s a combination of a lot of things.(5:00) It’s a shift. I was introduced to this crisis through the 2008 financial crisis. That’s when I snuck into graduate school just before Emory University’s endowment tanked in September 2008. And you can just look around over the next two years and watch all the free lunches on campus literally go away. And I think that moment of. . . that financial moment, and the impact it had on jobs in the US, kind of created a bit of a panic about, “Well, if I’m going to spend money on a degree, if I’m going to spend time on a degree” – especially at under graduate level , where you had a financial crisis happening as a bubble was growing around higher ed and higher ed prices were going up, everyone taking out theses student loans –  “ I ‘d better damn well be able to get a job when it’s over.” And I think, the idea that Humanities – because they were not very vocational – didn’t prepare one for that, that has been a longstanding discussion-point and problem-point I think since the ’70s, became even more acute. So students came in, I think. . . . As I transitioned out of grad school into teaching, in the last four years, I’ve seen all these undergraduate students who went through who were in high school or middle school when this happened, and they don’t know a world that wasn’t in financial crisis, or where financial anxiety wasn’t dominant. I grew up in a world dominated by terrorism fear, they grew up in a world dominated by banking and stock market fear.

MS: At the same time, when I came to grad school, which was like in 2001- 2002, I was exposed to a kind of generational shift from the faculty perspective, where. . . . I think the reason that this so-called crisis is resonating for academics themselves, is that there was also a kind of sea-change from a faculty perspective and from an academic perspective about what it meant to study the Humanities. Suddenly – in response to these kinds of economic factors and the sorts of anxieties about job markets that our students were grappling with – suddenly it didn’t make as much sense to approach one’s teaching and one’s research in quite the same classic model of:  “I know all. I will tell all. Come learn at my feet and then take this knowledge to do whatever, but that’s your thing to process later, and it’s not really so much my jam as your faculty advisor.” So in response to that shifting landscape, too, I think there’s been, within people who already have jobs and are trying to get a sense of what they’re doing as faculty within the Humanities, and scholars in the Humanities, what it is that their job is – because it doesn’t seem like it’s quite so much the same sort of: receptacles of knowledge that we dispense nebulously to people and then just take that as self-evidently important as some kind of service that we’re doing them.

MA: Yes, for better or worse, the self-evidence of the value of Humanities research isn’t taken for granted any more.

MS: Right. And so that’s a thing that students, who want to go get jobs, have to grapple with. And it’s also a thing for those of us doing research in the Humanities to also kind-of start re-conceiving as well. So, into that space, enter cutting-edge new grad programme!

CC: Wonderful! And that scans quite well with my impression of things here in the UK. Here we certainly don’t have college fees to quite the same level as you have in the States, but when I started as an undergrad you were talking just about £1,000 a year. And now its gone up to £9,000 a year.

MS: Wow.

CC: . . .in that length of time. So there’s a real sense of: “What am I going to get out of this?”, students as consumers, and also the perceived value of,“Well, a degree in study of religion, that’s kind of near the bottom of the pile in terms of monetisation, isn’t it?” But need it all be doom and gloom?

MS: Not necessarily.

CC: Well, first of all, before we talk about your graduate programme, graduate students are going to be slightly different to undergraduate students. (10:00) So, again, maybe if you just tell us a little bit about that dynamic and then let’s see what you’ve been doing.

MS: You mean: what do we conceive of as our student cohort, coming in?

CC: Yes. The general purposes of graduate school.

MA: Oh yeah, that’s a whole bees’ nest of questions! There’s a whole argument going on in the US about graduate school. There was an article yesterday in the Chronicle, or this week, basically wagging its figure at literature professors around the country, saying: “Your entire career is built on the exploitation of graduate students!” And yet, at the same time – I’ve become such a reactionary old man at he age of 32 – I’m like: “You’re getting paid to go to school” in lots of cases! So there’s a whole back-and-forth about graduate school. And there’s a whole conflation of different programmes and the way they rely on graduate student labour to teach large classes, which keeps costs down, and buttresses the explosion of administrations and administrative costs. So there’s a whole big argument about the value, the importance, the ethics of graduate education in the US that I think we’re trying to navigate. We’ve thought hard about it. I want people to know that the committee who’s been working on this – from the proposal all the way down to the implementation – take those concerns very seriously. But they’re very real and they’re very thorny, I think.

MS: Mike and I were just talking about this earlier. I think, before the economy changed so dramatically, there was a sense that education and more of it was just a net gain. You know, education is an end in itself: it is always a good. The more you get of it, the more it will enrich your life, or pay you back monetarily, or just be this net gain to pursue. And I do think that – as we’ve already been discussing – those dynamics have shifted a bit. But I don’t think that means that, just because students are interested in making sure that they try to at least stack the odds for some kind of professional return on their investment, they leave their BA programmes without still this kind of sense of: “I don’t know, necessarily, if I have this very specific career path set out ahead of me. I’m still interested in all of these ideas that I’ve only just barely been exposed to. What do I want to do with those? Is there a space for me to continue to think about things in more depth?” So I don’t want there to be a kind of mutually exclusive, sort-of antagonistic relationship between professional security or job sensibility on one hand and intellectual curiosity on the other. And so one approach from academia I think, in a lot of ways, has been to sort of stake its flag, and sort of double-down and say, “No! What we study is super important! Did you hear? I’ll say it louder for the kids in the back – it is SUPER IMPORTANT!” Or on the other side, they just turn into a kind of profit machine, which I think results in . . . and maybe those things work together – I don’t know that those are two sides of the same coin – maybe they’re the same thing. So there’s this kind of exploitative factory of grad student labour on one hand and contingent adjunct labour that even spreads into the faculty arena. But there’s also, I think three’s been an ongoing failure – which I think is not too strong a word – on behalf of academicians to rethink and retool why it is that what we study matters, and why that should translate to student interest and to the lives that they’re living.(15:00) Because their interest does not live and die with their intellectual pursuits inside of that classroom. It’s also about the lives that they want to live, it’s also about the jobs they want to have, the places they want to live. It’s geographical concerns, its family concerns, it’s all sorts of different kinds of things. And so to try to think seriously about all of these issues, yes, is the job for people in Humanities in the 21st century now.

CC: Excellent. So that’s set a really good scene. So your department. . .Is your department called “Religion in Culture” or is it..I know that that’s quite a thing at Alabama.

MA: Yes, with the italics on the in.

MS: We have a webpage explaining our approach to that.

MA: The department is the Department of Religious Studies but when we came up with the Master’s – I don’t know who came up with the idea.Maybe it was on an email?

MS: We went back and forth about it.

MA: We decided to just call it the MA in Religion and Culture.

MS: It’s not quite. . . . You know, my PhD is from an English department, another colleague’s PhD is from an Anthropology department: we come at the study of religion from a lot of different disciplinary angles and we knew that this wasn’t going to be a traditional Religious Studies degree, as it’s popularly conceived still in the academy. But we also wanted to establish it as an intervention into that field, where a lot of us still have a great deal of a stake. But it’s not quite Cultural Studies, we didn’t want to go completely off the grid. So it’s our attempt at, kind of, charting out a specific path within a field that we all still have a great deal of stock in.

CC: And so you’re approaching it with two broad stands then: social theory and Digital Humanities. Why those choices?

MS: I’ll pitch this one to Mike with a little bit of background, because he’s one of our resident Digital Humanities gurus. But from me – with a background and training in literary theory – the reason I’m in a Religious Studies department is because of a commitment to social theory and questions about identity studies, and a kind of critical theory analytic that’s operative in my work. So the department has a longstanding commitment to thinking broadly about why it is that we study what we study, rather than just landing upon the self-evidency of  “what we do matters”. So in that sense, social theory has been something that we’ve been already flexing our muscles with for quite a number of years. And again, we also just got into the social media thing. It started with just advertising events on campus through Facebook and then having a Facebook page for our student association. But then our students started writing blog posts and then: “Well, maybe we should have a blog?” So the grad degree is emphasising two strengths that we already had. We’re not inventing anything new in either of these two platforms, but it is – especially for me who still is relatively new to the Digital Humanities scene – taking it to a kind of new and more substantive direction, especially with the Public Humanities bit.

MA: Yes, I think of it as really the two strengths of the department. And I think for a long time, because of Merinda’s work and Steven Ramey’s work and Russell McCutcheon’s work, our department has been known for its theoretical rigour. Theoretical swagger, I like to think of it as! So I think that’s manifest in this programme. So if you’re a student and you don’t want to be hemmed in by the same school of religious theorists, or if you’re not even thinking about religious theorists but you don’t want to be hemmed in by a content area, then what we’ve envisioned beginning with. . . . One of the first classes students take in this programme is a foundation course in social theory. And they’re introduced to a whole bunch of social theorists. This is something Merinda’s helped develop with Steven Ramey, and she can say more about that. But on the other side I think people have known less, until the last couple of years – it’s sort-of blossomed. (20:00) It’s like, we were one of the first departments to really utilise a website and to do all sorts of things. I mean back in the day, before cell phone cameras (I wasn’t here, I don’t know what I was doing, I was in high school) but they were taking photographs at events and scanning them, putting them up on the webpage. I say “they”, it was Russell and the faculty that were there then: Russell McCutcheon. And so that website predates Facebook. There was no Facebook but we had this website – and it’s actually about to get a facelift, soon – but you can go look at the archives of all this old stuff that we have buried, if you’re interested.

MS: And so much of that is this sense of trying to tell students what it is that we do in this department. Because so often they come out of high school without a sense of what Religious Studies, as a kind of academics base, is. And so I think that there is this hard work of just self-awareness, but then self-promotion and advertising that a department like ours had to do. And so, since we’ve been doing that for so long already, and since we have this analytical approach, by and large, how do we make the most of both of those two things?

MA: And so the website gave way to Facebook, gave way to the blog, that came in under . . . that was invented by Ted Trost, that began as a promotion of a Humanities series on campus, but then became this blog that is now read internationally. And people send us guest posts. And I think it’s become a pretty interesting space in the field. I mean, I’m a little biased, but. . . . And now our Twitter feed is doing really well, and we have an Instagram, and we’ve done all sorts of videos, and so I look at this as the next step in both those aspects of the department that have been going for the past ten-twelve years. And actually we have a podcast coming up soon, of our own, that I was just talking to Russell McCutcheon on as I was recording that. And there’s a great interview with him where he talks about this. And actually, the two are more connected than you think. We posit them as: there’s going to be a foundation class in social theory and a foundation class in Public Humanities and digital methods (that I’m putting together with Nathan Loewen) but they work together. Because really, all the stuff that we’ve begun to do in a social media space on the website is just applying social theory to our own environment,. Like: Why do we have a blog? Because getting students to write little pieces and see them creates a sense of. . . . It’s Durkheim!

MS: Right.

MA: We ought to know. . . . Academics who study religion from a social theory/social science/ human science perspective ought to be really good at understanding how to form a tight social group. That’s what we’re studying. That’s what we’re talking about. And we’ve kind of taken that seriously in a way. And so there’s the way these two things kind of feed off of each other, and have done in the life of department, and now we’re sending that momentum spinning forward into this graduate programme.

MS: It also means that their culminating thesis project can be a traditional publishable academic work that will send them to a PhD programme of their choice, or into a different kind of academic arena. But they can also, for their thesis requirement, do a digital project of equal substantive weight and value. So [we’re] thinking seriously about what that looks like and what that means, how to make them marketable. And not just in relation to how they can talk about themselves and their own skill sets – which I think is just such a thing that grad students could use – because I think that a lot of them with all of these kinds of critical skills, writing skills, argumentative skills, can only really talk about themselves of think about themselves in relation to the professoriate. Which I think is a shame, because those skills are super-marketable and very much in demand across a lot of different kinds of jobs sectors. (25:00) So, not only will they be able to talk abut themselves and think about their skills differently, but will also have a thing in hand that they can go to a museum with, or to a non-profit with, or to academic publishing, or. . .

MA: A start-up

MS: Or a start-up, or whatever kind of. . . and to help them get creative about where they can take those skills and equipped with something that isn’t just: “I have this killer essay, that’s an amazing, critical intervention.” They can do both.

CC: We’ve been nattering away here and time is already running away with us. This sounds fantastic and it sounds right in the same ballpark as why we started the Religious Studies Project five years ago: to try and find a way to get academia out there in a more accessible form.

MS: Right.

CC: But two questions just to maybe finish with, one would be: so, you know, stereotypical student wants to come and do a Master’s in the study of religion and they find themselves getting social theory and Digital Humanities. I can well imagine, based on some of the experiences that I’ve encountered , a jarring sense of: “Where’s the religion here? I just wanted to study some Buddhists!” So that’s one, and then the other question is: it sounds like you’ve got a really supportive department and university there. I can imagine in a perhaps more. . . I’ll use the word straight-laced or more traditional university, you might meet some resistance to proposing a course of this nature. So what advice might you have for scholars of religion who are working within the same context as you and are trying to instil the same sense of excitement and career development into their students, but maybe can’t quite found this innovative course? So on the one hand there’s the “Where’s the religion?” and two, advice for others in different contexts.

MS: Well, I mean to the first – at the end of the day we are still a department of Religious Studies and can still call ourselves that. So whatever kind of nominal traction we have to make ourselves legible in a field called Religious Studies is still present in the kinds of faculty areas and research that we do. Our approach is different, though, in relation to how it is that we think about the importance of [for example] the question of Hindus and American religion or a colleague who studies the spread of global Christianities in the global south, and Japan migration. So we have areas of the world and traditions that we use as data sets. There are still levels of study that people can kind-of come into and get that sort of traction if they want to do that. Especially if they want to go on to have an even more focussed approach with that, with their PhD. They have the opportunity to do language study while they’re here within the Master’s programme. But, you know, yes it is right that someone who is coming into our programme is probably not satisfied with thinking about a specific group of ritual practitioners in the 18th century, from this space, and then leave their enquiry to live and die inside of that space. So. . .

CC: And given that what you’re already saying about your social media presence etc, it’s going to be quite unlikely that a grad student’s going to turn up at the door not knowing what goes on.

MS: Right!

MA: They should certainly know what they’re getting themselves into!

MS: But I do think it needs to be said that this is still for those people who are really still diehard, interested in getting a PhD in Religious Studies, as long as they think of that approach as kind of cool, this is still something that will still put them in a really nice position and I think, if anything, make their application stand out. Because they do have this other little edge to it.

MA: I think, to be completely honest, that our students coming out of here will be better prepared for a more traditional PhD programme. Because our programme will require them to go back to first questions.(30:00) Like we said earlier, that taking it for granted that your study of Vedic sacrifice is valuable just because it’s about something really old, that it is inherently valuable, that’s not. . . You’re going to be pushed to be able to articulate what is it about your study of Ancient Vedic sacrifice that has purchase for  larger theories about social formation, ritual, the way communities work, the way people think, the way texts are passed down, like. . . whatever: something bigger. And that emphasis will allow you, when you get to a PhD programme and beyond when you’re on the job market later, to talk to people outside of your super-small speciality in a way that will make you a better scholar.

MS: And that’s exactly the answer, too, that I would suggest for the second part of your question, Chris, about what this suggests to scholars implicitly in their field. Because I think that there is a way in which the field itself, as a disciplinary phenomenon, can also be taken for granted as a self-evidently important thing.

MA: Of course religion’s important!

MS: Right, and “because we’ve been studying it in these ways for this many years, this is what we should continue or because the field is so dominated by area studies, and continues by area studies, and descriptive ethnographies, that that’s how we should continue to approach our work”. And I think that our programme is an experiment in thinking otherwise about that, and really putting our programmatic money where our mouths are, in terms of thinking differently about how we can conceive this field. Because there are a lot of different directions it can take. And why do we need to think in classic terms about area studies? Because then, why should we win the battle over how to get grad students who would otherwise go into a History grad programme, or a Cultural Studies programme, or in Anthropology? You know, why go into Religious Studies? So I think this is also a way for scholars and faculty members and administrators to think about how to organise differently around the kinds of area studies that they have, and how to make more marketable students coming out of those programmes in the process.

MA: And I’ll underline . . . .You asked the second question about how are we able to do this, and the support. At the risk of sounding too parochial, I think we have had a lot of support from the College of Arts and Sciences here at the university. And I think that’s because we’ve shown that the approaches we’ve chosen work in other settings. We’ve been out in front of other departments in a lot of ways, with the blog and social media. And a number of different projects that we’ve done have pushed everyone in the college, in a way, and so that’s given us a certain amount of institutional capital that has opened the door for this. And I think part of that is because we haven’t taken for granted that we’re valuable. And on the flip side of that: I think we’re the hardest working department in the country, we’re incredibly productive pound for pound and – I mean, that’s enough bragging!

MS: I’ll also say our Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences is a mathematician who is, nonetheless, deeply invested in the Humanities, and that’s just so, so nice. It’s really nice.

CC: So, effectively: get out there, embody what you want the field to be! If you want to be relevant, get out there and make yourselves relevant! That’s probably a good rallying call.

MA: Yes. The entrepreneurism we want in our Master’s students has been modelled by this department for the past 10-12 years.

MS: And interestingly – I know you’re probably trying to close this down because it sounded like a nice [ending], but only very quickly – this is why social theory is so useful too, to make that entrepreneurial vein of professional emphasis, not become some super-problematic, “Pull yourselves up by your bootstraps kiddos! And if you just try hard enough you’ll get that job in blah blah blah”. Like, No! We’re thinking really seriously about structural dynamics, about power dynamics, about the kinds of economic underpinnings that create certain sorts of environments that allow you to take various modes of agency in different kinds of spaces. And I think that that’s also super-important, because I think it can be really disheartening as a grad student to hear the equation of, “If you just try hard, and if you just publish enough, you’ll get that job.” Because that’s just so not any more the case.

MA: No. Scholars of large institutions and large social formations ought to be really good at navigating university bureaucracy.

CC: (35:00) Well, on that note, thanks so much Merinda Simmons and Mike Altman for joining us, and hopefully you will both get some sign-ups for this course.

MA: Applications are open now!

CC: You’ve also given our listeners a lot of food for thought and a lot of inspiration, and hopefully we’ll have a couple of interesting responses to this – fingers crossed!

MS: Thanks so much for talking to us.

MA: Thank you.

CC: Thanks so much for joining us.


Citation:  Simmons, K. Merinda, and Michael J. Altman  2017. “Reinventing Graduate Education in the Study of Religion”, The Religious Studies Project (Podcast Transcript). 3 April 2017. Transcribed by Helen Bradstock. Version 1.1, 4 April 2017. Available at: https://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/podcast/reinventing-graduate-education-in-the-study-of-religion/

All transcriptions for THE RELIGIOUS STUDIES PROJECT are currently produced by volunteers. If you spot any errors in this transcription, please let us know at editors@religiousstudiesproject.com. If you would be willing to help with these efforts, or know of any sources of funding for the broader transcription project, please get in touch. Thanks for reading.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- NonCommercial- NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. The views expressed in podcasts  are the views of the individual contributors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of THE RELIGIOUS STUDIES PROJECT or the British Association for the Study of Religions.

 

“Would You Still Call Yourself an Asianist?”

There’s a group on Facebook devoted to the History of Religions. Apart from a quite regularly posted Christian bible study blog that’s devoted to scriptural exegesis—and which prompts reader comments such as this recent one:

It seems obvious God is a God who feels. I am imagining He grieved, felt sorry not only to see the depravity of man whom He made in His image, but of every single cell which He created, His art, His masterpiece. God as an artist experiencing the destruction and loss of it all. Every flower, creature, piece of nature which He had created GOOD.

—almost all that gets posted on its wall are links to articles or announcements about the things we study: decaying scrolls found here or there, rituals practiced by this or that group, etc. Once in a while you see a link to an article on methodology—how we study things—but rarely does someone post an item related to why we study them or why our work should matter to people who don’t happen to share our focus on this piece of pottery or that ancient text. That’s because it seems that, for many if not most of us, there’s an obviousness to the things that we’re interested in, both for us, as scholars, as well as for the wider groups in which we live and shop and work: we all know they’re important because, well…, they’re important, simple as that.

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What’s therefore intriguing about Steven Ramey’s work is that while he, like all of us, was trained in a specific expertise related to a world religion, to fieldwork, to languages, and to texts and distant lands—he did his Ph.D. at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, in the religions of south Asia, and came to the University of Alabama in 2006, after a couple years working at UNC Pembroke—over the course of his career he has gradually and smoothly made a significant shift. Of course he still studies material relevant to his earlier training, but a shift in research focus from inter-religious cooperation to diaspora religion, eventually studying south Asian communities in the U.S. south, led the way to a far broader interest not only in social theory but in the practical implications of categorization for creating identities. Now, apart from regularly blogging on wide topics in identity formation at Culture on the Edge (a research group in which he participates), he is among the few who paused when some Pew survey data came out not long ago, on the so-called “Nones” (people who responded to a questionnaire saying that they had no religious affiliation), and asked how reasonably it is for scholars to assume that an entire, cohesive social group somehow exists based on a common answer to this or that isolated question when the respondents differed so much on the rest of the survey? The point? Why do we, as scholars, think the Nones are out there and what effect does our presumption of their identity have on making it possible for others to think and act as if the Nones are real and of growing influence?

It was this career arc—moving from what or how we study to why we study something, focusing on the wider theoretical interests that motivate our work with specific e.g.s and which ought to be relevant to scholars in fields far outside the academic study of religion—that prompted Russell McCutcheon to sit down with Steven, his colleague at Alabama, on a chilly day last December, to talk about Steven’s training and earlier interests but then to learn more about how a scholar who heads up our interdisciplinary minor in Asian Studies found himself at the Baltimore meeting of the American Academy of Religion inviting Americanists and sociologists to give the Nones a second thought.

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Thanks to Russell McCutcheon for writing this piece, and for conducting the interview. You can read a Huffington Post article by Ramey on the ‘Nones’ here. 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 philosophical tomes etc.

Emile Durkheim

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Emile Durkheim (1858-1917)  is widely regarded as the founder of sociology, and has been enormously influential on the entirety of the modern social sciences. The author of The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, Suicide: A Study in Sociology, and The Division of Labor in Society among others, he is perhaps most well-known in Religious Studies for his definition of religion as

“a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say set apart and forbidden, beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community, called a church, all those who adhere to them” (1965 [1912]: 62).

Within this well-worn definition we can glimpse the basic foundations of an entire approach to the study of religion, which places emphasis upon the role of social interaction and discourse in ‘setting things apart’ – in constructing the ‘sacred’ and the ‘religious’- rather than assuming or advocating for an inherent, sui generis, religion.

In this wide ranging and in-depth interview with Chris, Ivan Strenski discusses Durkheim’s life and work in a broader context, tracing his impact through the ‘Durkheimian school’ – which includes Claude Levi-Strauss – and presenting an understanding of the academic study of religion as a Durkheimian project.

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, Amazon.ca or Amazon.com links to support us at no additional cost when participating in the ‘sacralizing’ of the social and buying your Christmas presents etc.

This is the final episode in a series on early 20th century theorists of religion. The first featured Robert Segal on C. G. Jung and the second featured Paul-François Tremlett on Claude Levi-Strauss.

Heavy Metal as Religion and Secularization as Ideology

Heavy metal as religion and secularization as ideology: a sociological approach

By Mohammad Magout, University of Leipzig, Germany

Published by the Religious Studies Project on 9 October 2013, in response to François Gauthier’s interview on Religion, Neoliberalism and Consumer Culture (7 October 2013).

In this thought-provoking interview, Professor François Gauthier from the University of Fribourg gives his remarks on a variety of theoretical, methodological, and empirical issues in social sciences. It would be impossible to cover even a tenth of those issues within the limits of this brief article, so I will restrict my response to two themes only: defining religion and critiquing secularization theory and post-secularity.

Gauthier states at the beginning of the podcast that current social theory fails to explain some recent developments in the social world, particularly in reference to subcultures and popular protest movements. He specifically criticizes sociologists of religion for not recognizing certain cultural notions, practices, or movements as religious even when people involved declare them as such. He says that if ravers, for example, believe rave to be just as religious as Catholicism, then sociologists should adjust their definitions of religion in order to accommodate rave as a religious phenomenon.

While I acknowledge that in social research there is always the risk of imposing inadequate, external categories on meanings conveyed by informants, I do have considerable reservations about conflating informants’ self-descriptions with theoretical terms. By saying that rave culture is as religious as Catholicism, a raver might be, for example, making a statement of identity; that is, defining his/her identity as a raver against or in relation to a Catholic identity, which is, of course, a personal right that no one should deny him/her. From a scientific perspective, however, “religion” is a theoretical term that is used to categorize and analyze a specific class of social phenomena. If we were to leave it solely to informants to decide which theoretical concepts and categories apply to them, social research would become very fragmented and incomparable, because different people can and do use complicated terms such as “religion” in widely different ways. Of course, their perspective is important and one should always take it into consideration, but scientific research requires at least some minimum degree of uniformity and consistency in the application of terms and categories.

I am not very well-informed about rave culture, but I can say something about another music-based youth culture with which I am familiar—both as a researcher and as a member—namely, heavy metal. Heavy metal can be seen as one of the most “quasi-religious” youth cultures, not only because religious imagery and symbolism are embedded in heavy metal lyrically, sonically, and visually, but also because of the “striking resemblance” between many aspects of heavy metal (especially live concerts) and religious rituals (Weinstein 2000, p. 231-2). Heavy metal, in addition, defines itself explicitly against traditional religion (Christianity in particular), which in a few extreme cases has reached the level of waging an open war against it (as it was the case with some members of the Norwegian black metal scene in the early 1990’s who were involved in dozens of arson attacks against churches). Some people have even considered heavy metal to be their “religion.” There was a campaign in the United Kingdom to answer the question about religion in the 2011 census with “heavy metal,” which resulted in more people identifying their “religion” as “heavy metal” than Scientology, Baha’ism, or Taoism.

Even if we grant that some of those who reported their religion as “heavy metal” were serious about it, does that justify changing our definitions of religion, so that they can accommodate heavy metal together with Christianity, Hinduism, Shamanism, and ancient Egyptian religion in the same analytical category? I myself do not think so, and no one so far—to the best of my knowledge—has presented a convincing case of the conceptual and analytical utility of treating a youth culture such as heavy metal as some type of religion.[i]

Gauthier seems to justify his position by stating that religion in the past few decades has morphed into something different than it used to be. It is now more concerned with personal life-style, identity, and morality, rather than correct belief and clerical institutions. This perhaps makes religion (at least some forms of contemporary religion) closer to youth cultures than traditional or institutional religion, which may justify grouping them together in the same category. Still this is not enough to change our definitions of religion. I think social scientists need to be a bit “conservative” about their definitions and conceptual frameworks in order to maintain the consistency of their work and measure change when it occurs. As stated by Steve Bruce, “Fixity of definition is not a refusal to recognize change; it is essential to describing change” (2009, p. 9).

Gauthier concludes his interview by warning us not to repeat the failure of secularization theory by adopting post-secularity, which he refers to as “the greatest threat to sociology of religion today.” He says quite bluntly, “Let’s try not to be as stupid, as ideological.” Since I originally conceived my PhD research project in terms of secularization theory, and have now started to drift toward post-secularity, I felt somehow challenged by Gauthier’s strong words. My intention in this article, nevertheless, is not to present a defense of secularization and post-secularity—especially given that I acknowledge many of the criticisms of these concepts—but rather to problematize one particular critique, which is the claim that secularization and post-secularity are based on certain ideologies or philosophical ideas.

First of all, I would like to say that I do not disagree with this critique: yes, secularization theories often reflected a modernist understanding of history and social change, and post-secularity is a concept that emerged in philosophical and normative discussions of the role of religion in the public sphere in contemporary Western societies. The problem is that many social scientists, in dismissing these concepts as ideologically biased, tend to gloss over the ideologies behind them as sociologically irrelevant. The impact of ideologies on social theory might be something undesirable, albeit unavoidable, but their impact on society is of utmost importance to the social scientist.

Modernism, in its various manifestations (liberalism, communism, nationalism, colonialism, etc.), has transformed our world, including religion, irreversibly.[ii] Most modern states—together with their political, legal, educational, and economic systems—have more or less been established along the lines of some modernist ideology that may have actively sought to marginalize, control, or privatize religion.[iii] Of course, how this might have developed or to what extent it has worked out in different contexts is widely variable. What is certain, I think, is that these ideologies have shaped and continue to shape the world today, despite the fragmentation of their hegemony and the rise of alternative ideologies. It is therefore implausible to think they have hardly changed anything with regard to religion, as some staunch critics of secularization seem to imply (e.g. Stark 1999).

The question I am trying to frame is related to the more general issue of the complicated relationship between ideology and social theory. Social science, more than any other branch of science, is prone to the undesired influence of philosophical and ideological perspectives. The question is, then, how should social scientists deal with ideologically-infused theories without glossing over the ideologies behind them? I don’t have a straightforward answer to this question, but I can refer to Gauthier’s nuanced approach to studying neo-liberalism, which he outlines in his interview.

Gauthier criticizes rational-choice/market theories of religion for interpreting religion in economic terms, as if it were a commercial product. In doing so, these theories fail to understand and explain the relationship between religious change and neo-liberalism, which is not only a dominant economic theory or political ideology, Gauthier asserts, but also a “cultural ideology” that conditions our ways of thinking and behaving. He stresses that any examination of religion, politics, or social relations is not adequate without taking into consideration the impact of neo-liberalism and consumerism, which have become the “structuring” force of our societies. In other words, while Gauthier rejects rational-choice/market theories of religion, he does not dismiss neo-liberalism and emphasizes the importance of studying its impact on religion.

The same approach, in my opinion, should be applied to secularization theory and post-secularity. Criticisms of secularization as an ideologically-infused theory should not make us gloss over its constituting ideology and the concrete sociological implications of this ideology. Similarly, the philosophical origins of the concept of post-secularity do not mean that it is irrelevant for social scientists. One should remember that the boundaries between social theory and social philosophy are not clear-cut and that philosophers and theologians are playing an important role—perhaps more than sociologists—in setting the parameters for public debates about religion (Turner 2012, p. 649). This is not only a matter of intellectual debates, but also of policy-making. There are religious groups, public institutions, and political organizations which are adopting, in one way or another, a “post-secular perspective” toward religion and society and making their policies accordingly. One domain in which this current is becoming evident is academia as some earlier research (Schmalzbauer and Mahoney 2009) and also my ongoing research project on Ismaili institutions of higher education in London seem to suggest.

This material is disseminated under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. and can be distributed and utilised freely, provided full citation is given.

References

  • Bruce, S. (2009) “The Importance of Social Science in the Study of Religion”, Fieldwork in Religion, Vol. 4 No. 1, pp. 7–28.
  • Casanova, J. (2012) “Are We Still Secular? Explorations on the Secular and the Post-Secular”, in Nynäs, P., Lassander, M. and Utriainen, T. (Eds.), Post-secular society, Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick, N.J, pp. 27–46.
  • Moberg, M. (2012) “Religion in Popular Music or Popular Music as Religion? A Critical Review of Scholarly Writing on the Place of Religion in Metal Music and Culture”, Popular Music and Society, Vol. 35 No. 1, pp. 113–130.
  • Schmalzbauer, J. and Mahoney, K. (2009) “Religion and Knowledge in the Post-Secular Academy”, SSRC Working Papers. Available at http://blogs.ssrc.org/tif/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/post-secular-academy.pdf (Accessed 6 June 2013)
  • Stark, R. (1999) “Secularization, R.I.P”, Sociology of Religion, Vol. 60 No. 3, pp. 249–273.
  • Turner, B.S. (2010) “Religion in a Post-secular Society”, in Turner, B.S. (Ed.), The new Blackwell companion to the sociology of religion, Wiley-Blackwell, Malden, MA, pp. 649–667.
  • Weinstein, D. (2000) Heavy metal: the music and its culture. New York: Da Capo Press.


[i] For a survey of literature on the relationship between heavy metal and religion, see Moberg (2012).

[ii] This is what José Casanova calls “secularism as stadial consciousness,” i.e. secularism as a philosophy of history, according to which humanity progressively “emancipates” itself from religion. Secularization thereby functions as a “self-fulfilling theory” (2012, p. 31-2).

[iii] Another common criticism of secularization theory is its Euro-centrism, which is true, but it is almost forgotten that not very long time ago European powers ruled most countries of the world, established their political systems, wrote their laws, educated their elites, and planned their economies. This certainly does not entail that these countries should follow the same trajectories of modernization followed earlier by European countries, but it does mean that European ideas, theories, and ideologies are very relevant to other countries too.