Posts Tagged ‘religious studies’

Read: Bruce Lincoln’s “Gods and Demons, Priests and Scholars”

In comment, read on May 22, 2013 at 10:54 am

I received my copy of Bruce Lincoln‘s latest book, titled Gods and Demons, Priests and Scholars: Critical Explorations in the History of Religionsand finished it last night (See here for a short review of a previous book of his). It is an excellent book, full of the sort of provocative, clearly-argued, and most-often compelling arguments about the field of religious studies, its methods, and, to a slightly lesser extent, application. These subjects have been at the heart of Lincoln’s academic project for quite awhile, and it is not an accident that this volume, which is a collection of essays and articles, many of which have been published in journals previously, begins with a piece of writing that is one of Lincoln’s most famous and provocative: his “Theses on Method.” These theses have provoked much response and discussion by those who challenge Lincoln as overly reductive, or hostile, to religion, though I have never seen his approach in that way. You can read Timothy Fitzgerald’s criticism of this piece, and Lincoln’s response, here and here.

I studied under and worked with Lincoln for a few years as a doctoral student at the University of Chicago Divinity school. Having taken several classes with him, met with him as an advisee, and attended many public talks, I never found him hostile to religion as such. He might have been occasionally reductive, but only in the sense that he was willing to examine phenomena very closely, which I take as a characteristic of scholarship, and indeed, language.

Two pieces (Chapters Two and Twelve) offer straightforward advice on how to accomplish particular tasks within Religious Studies (“How to Read a Religious Text” and “Theses on Comparison”). Others deal with cosmogonic (universe-creation) myths, modern and ancient science and how they dealt with phenomena that don’t confirm their cosmologies, differently-characterized types of mythic discourse, World Religions as a discourse of its own, as well as the traditional themes of sanctified violence. His final essay, “On the (Un)discipline of Religious Studies,” begins with an anecdote – and an essay unpacking that anecdote’s relevance – of an argument between Mircea Eliade and Jonathan Z. Smith on whether chaos or order should be prioritized in time (i.e., ‘which comes first, order or chaos?’). Each essay is worth careful study.

I will be using parts of this book for my first version of my “Introduction to Theory and Method” course, which I’ll be teaching this fall. At a minimum, I intend to have us

  1. Work through “Theses on Method” and its responses
  2. Read “How to read a religious text,” and apply those rules to both (a) a religious text, and (b) the essay itself
  3. The (Un)discipline of Religious Studies, with a discussion on the importance of institutions that study Religion, such as the American Academy of Religion (AAR), which Lincoln discusses in this chapter.

I recommend this book to all those who study Religion, especially those for whom the primary goal of Religious Studies is something other than the celebration of religion as sacred and beyond interrogation. As Lincoln phrases it, “As it happens, with the possible exception of Economics, ours [Religious Studies] is the only academic field that is effectively organized to protect its (putative) object of study against critical examination.” (in his response to Fitzgerald, p. 167).

Link Dump for October 2011

In sounding on October 24, 2011 at 4:51 pm

It’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to post anything here; on the other hand, my book writing is going well. Here are some things that I wanted to post here, with very little commentary.  Just getting caught up:

General Academic, and Religious Studies, Links

Ever curious about what the Religious Studies Book Review is really for? What it’s supposed to accomplish? Or, how to write one? Here’s the first third of a good essay on the topic! The Nature and Function of the Religious Studies Book Review (Part 1 of 3): Writing the Book Review

This excellent visualization of the relative isolation of various academic departments. Hint: anthro is very isolated!

As the financing and operation of the higher education industry becomes an increasingly heated topic, expect more radical discussions, or even (as here, pretty conservative discussions of radical topics) like this – “Do Faculty Strikes Work?” – in places like Inside Higher Ed.

Here’s a nice piece on “New Religious Movements” as an interpretive category. Good to read, for those interested in religion and innovation.

Good advice for the adoption of a ‘Five Year Plan’ strategy (with important distancing rhetoric from the USSR and the PRC!) for academic careers, from Kerim Friedman over at Savage Minds.

This brutal quote about Gender and Success in the Academy, from Kate Clancy’s excellent “The three things I learned at the Purdue Conference for Pre-Tenure Women: on being a radical scholar”:

To be clear, it’s not that academia weeds out the weak. The research on attrition for women and people of color indicates it’s not that women who leave are not confident, or are weak, but that they know their self-worth and have decided they’d rather take their toys to another sandbox where they’ll actually be appreciated.
But those of us who insist on playing with our toys in the academic sandbox need to be radicals. And I do think a lot of the ways we need to be radical involves how we perform our job: we need to set boundaries so that we aren’t always doing the service work no one wants, we need to make our passions our scholarly interests in the face of some who would invalidate it, we need to perform our confidence in front of people who might undermine us. We need to get tenure.

Buddhism Links

Those following the fascinating development of Ven. Luon Savath, Khmer Buddhist monk currently promoting “Engaged Buddhism” in Cambodia and receiving a lot of negative pressure from authorities as a result, will be interested to know that Ven. Savath has his own page, and hosts live and recorded lectures there.

Prof. Bryan Cuevas, whose work on death and the afterlife in Buddhism is the subject of a new book by him, is interviewed in an hour-long interview on the great site, New Books in Buddhist Studies!

General Funereal Studies

A good critique of the interminably stupid iGrief masquerading as compassion in the world, with the passing of Steve Jobs. I certainly wish the man no ill, and do not begrudge him compassion, but am more than a little disturbed at the hagiographical saint-making going on here, when videos like this one, below, are almost completely ignored.

A gorgeous HDR photo of a Japanese cemetery should be seen by all (from the astonishingly wonderful “Stuck in Customs“)

A small burial site found in Northern Vietnam, changing the way we think about pre-history.

Arch West, the inventor of Doritos, passed. Doritos were sprinkled on his grave. Rest in Powdery Flavor, Arch.

The great Khmer language scholar Khin Sok, also recently passed. The world of Khmer studies is considerably poorer for his passing. Rest In Peace, Lokkru.

Some Random Stuff

For my upcoming “Defense Against the Dark Arts” class, a book I’d like to read: “The Inquisitor’s Apprentice.”

And, a lovely piece from on “love, duty, and marriage in a Thai novel,” on the novelist Siburapha’s “Behind the Painting,” originally published in 1938, and translated into English by David Smyth.

Macalester Religious Studies a “Thriving Department”

In faculty on February 15, 2010 at 10:58 am

Whoo-hoo.  Macalester Religious Studies gets a nod in Newsweek as one of the “Thriving” religious studies departments.  In an article largely critical of Harvard’s religious studies, (not critical of the faculty, but of the organization of the faculty), the author writes

Religion at Harvard doesnt even merit its own department. Professors who teach religion classes generally belong to other departments—anthropology, say, or Near Eastern languages. A Committee on the Study of Religion oversees the courses, but it cant hire and fire, and it cant grant tenure. Diana Eck, the top scholar of world religions who runs the program, argues that its second-class status prevents it from drawing the biggest talent to campus—and, as a result, the most gifted students. There are great teachers of religion at Harvard, she says, but because theyre members of other departments, their reputations dont enhance the religious-studies program. Eck mentions Emory, Oberlin, Swarthmore, Smith, Carleton, and Macalester as places where religion departments thrive. Read the rest of this entry »

Mircea Eliade On Drugs

In Uncategorized on July 4, 2008 at 5:15 pm

I took a break from writing before lunch today to peruse Exquisite Corpse, looking for the second part of that Burroughs interview I linked to last week. (It’s Here). And lo and behold, what did I find but a strange, well-documented article which seems to have as its mission to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that not only were illicit narcotics a part of Mircea Eliade’s early experience, but may have played an important and formative role in some of his earliest (and still best) works: Yoga, and Shamanism.

For those not already familiar with Eliade, whose cachet and importance has declined over the years as the encyclopedia ‘perennial philosophy’ style of religious studies has lost its disciplinary validity, and with increasing revelations that he was an active member of a fascist youth group in his Romanian youth, Eliade remains one of the most important figures in the study of religions. He trained some of the most important current scholars of religion, and his name adorns a chairship at the University of Chicago’s Divinity School, where I am writing my dissertation.

Here are some of the more interesting (to me) paragraphs from the piece. You can go to the Corpse to read more.

What he dared not recount in his volume of Memoirs (published in his old age), namely his own experience with narcotics, he did in his Indian travelogue (published in his young age). On this occasion, Eliade described several plants with medicinal and hallucinogenic properties from the garden of the Nepalese Brahmacari, including “a species of cannabis that causes an intoxication similar to opium.” “Many of the plants I picked,” confesses Eliade, “I experimented either personally, or in the hospital of Laksmanjula.” Among other psychotropic plants, close to the Nepalese recluse’s hut grew several “bhang bushes” (cannabis indica), “whose leaves,” Eliade writes, “boiled or smoked in a wooden hookah [a kind of narghile – my note] induce a state of torpor much praised by the saddhus, for it is said to facilitate mental concentration and to clarify meditation”.
These pages in the volume India are also highly interesting in virtue of the fact that Eliade tried to describe there (with uncertain language) the mental states that he had experienced during narcosis: “Once I smoked bhang and I recall that I had a vertiginous night, for the sense of space had shifted and I felt so light that whenever I wanted to turn on one side, I would fall from the bed. […] [The plant] bhang has a curious quality to focus and to deepen the thought, any thought that dominates consciousness at the moment of intoxication. Certainly, if it is a religious thought – as it is assumed to be – the meditation is a perfect one. I remember, nonetheless, that I had had that evening a literary discussion with a visitor of the ashram and that that night was for me riddled with nightmares […].”15

In the period 1930-1932, in Calcutta, Rishikesh and Bucharest, Eliade prepared his doctoral thesis. He presented this thesis, entitled The Psychology of Indian Meditation. Studies on Yoga [Psihologia meditaţiei indiene. Studii despre Yoga], in 1933, at the University of Bucharest, in front of a commission presided by Dimitrie Gusti, and published it in French in 1936. A few paragraphs are dedicated there to the way in which Indian ascetics used psychotropic plants: “the majority of the yogi and the sanyasis have been using plant drugs for centuries, in the form of boiled leaves, roots, narcotics – either for precipitating a dubious trance, or for revigorating the nervous system. In Himalayan monasteries, plant drugs are still in use today, a sizable part of which make up the Indian folk pharmacopoeia.”16


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