The Modern Spirit of Asia is a book about India and China and the ways in which they have been transformed by Western imperial modernity. In my understanding, the onset of modernity is located in the nineteenth century and is characterized politically by the emergence of the nation-state, economically by industrialization, and ideologically by an emphasis on progress and liberation; “imperial modernity” is the formation of modernity under conditions of imperialism. This book is an essay in comparative historical sociology, informed by anthropological theory. Comparative historical sociology of culture is a field that was founded by Max Weber and practiced by his followers, of whom the late Robert Bellah and the late S.N. Eisenstadt are among the best known. It has been connected to interpretive anthropological theory and to insights gained in ethnography, especially in the work of Clifford Geertz.
Posts Tagged ‘religion’
In The Myth of Religious Violence, William Cavanaugh argues that the assumption that religion is inherently authoritarian, divisive, and predisposed to irrational violence is a myth. This myth has its origins in the so-called “Wars of Religion,” which, he states, did not precipitate the rise of the modern state as is commonly assumed. Rather, he argues that these wars served as a justification for the nascent nation-state, which then used them to assert its power over the church. The church, correspondingly, was either absorbed into the state or relegated to an essentially private realm. It was only through the creation of a distinct private sphere for religion that the divisive properties of religion could be kept at bay—or so it was claimed. The myth of religious violence, propagated by political theorists of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, has been used to legitimize the state’s claim to a monopoly on violence, lawmaking, and public allegiance in the name of Western secular ideals.
On March 7-8, 2014, Harvard University will be hosting an international conference entitled “Theorizing Religion in Modern Europe.”
I have always been puzzled by the fact that Charles Taylor starts his book A Secular Age with a long quote from Bede Griffith in order to describe a religious type of experience. It is the description of a scene experienced by the author as a school-boy: trees are blossoming, birds are singing, the author has the sensation that angels are present and that God is looking down on him. My question is: Why this quote? Why choose an image and a language of sunset, trees and birds in order to describe something for which the different languages of theology have worked out precise and elaborate codifications? I understand, of course, that in the context of the introduction to A Secular Age, Taylor uses this quote in order to make a soft claim to the human openness to experiences of transcendental nature. He uses the rest of the eight-hundred pages of the book to explore why it has become increasingly rare and difficult in our secular age to live these kinds of experiences, let alone to look for them in the context of an organized religious tradition. Most of us, he says, live our lives in an “immanent frame” and religious belief “has become one option among many.”
Editors Gillian Frank (Stony Brook University), Heather White (New College of Florida), and Bethany Moreton (University of Georgia) have issued a Call for Proposals for a new anthology on Histories of Sexuality and Religion in the 20th Century United States.
In their recent publication, No Longer Invisible: Religion in University Education, Douglas Jacobsen and Rhonda Hustedt Jacobsen discuss how religion has increasingly become more intertwined with the work higher education as well as how the “religious” and “secular” are blending together.
A central source of support for the Social Science Research Council’s program on religion and the public sphere (including ongoing support for the efforts of The Immanent Frame), the Henry R. Luce Initiative on Religion and International Affairs “seeks to deepen understanding of religion as a critical but often neglected dimension of national and international policies and politics.” […]
According to a recent poll by 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair, a majority of Americans do not believe that Scientology is a real religion.
At the end of August, the two of us joined approximately 30 scholars from around the world in Antwerp, Belgium for the 2012 Universitair Centrum Sint-Ignatius Antwerpen (UCSIA) Religion, Culture and Society Summer School. UCSIA annually invites select early-career researchers (doctoral and post-doctoral) and senior scholars for a weeklong program designed to stimulate interdisciplinary and international discussion on a theme, this year’s being “secularism(s) and religion in society.”
In the most recent issue of Religion (subscription required), a peer-reviewed journal which publishes original research in the comparative and interdisciplinary study of religion, a number of TIF contributors reflect on the subject of this special issue, The Study of American Religion: Critical Reflections on Specialization.
In his new publication, Wild Religion: Tracking the Sacred in South Africa, David Chidester explores South African indigenous religious heritage and the meaning and power of this religion in a changing South African society.
Charles Mathewes, of The American Interest, discusses the role of religion in evolutionary theory and analyzes two publications on this topic.
The Knight Program at the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism is accepting applications until July 1st, for the Knight Grants for Reporting on Religion and Public Life.
The first thing that strikes you when looking at Frequencies is the scope of the project and the breadth of contributions it includes. The breadth of the essays is truly amazing—people, events, places, books, a CD, ideas. The project covers a lot of ground. And just for the pleasure of reading some of these essays, I’m grateful and moved. I wonder, however, about two things. One is about form and one is about content. First, the question about form: Is this a genealogy? Second, the question about content: What are the avenues of spirituality that the project maps?
Occupy Wall Street and cognate groups around the world are part of a protest movement that is both global and local. It is global in terms of geographic scope, thematic range, and social composition. It is local in terms of the specific objects of protest and the protesters’ goals. The organic blending of the global with the local is reflected in the very unfolding of this worldwide wave. As the Egyptian activist Asmaa Mahfouz has remarked, the various groups “work in symbiosis, learning from and imitating each others’ strategies . . . the call for Occupy protests came from Canada, the General Assembly structures came from Spain, and the outcry of ‘We are the 99%’ came from Italy. Many occupiers took inspiration from our Tahrir Square; now the Occupy movement across the United States is inspiring us in Egypt.”
There are reductive categories . . . that have been and should be abandoned in scholarly discourse because the terms are inherently pejorative. But there are other terms—such as religion—that, while not explicitly denigratory, can very rarely be used without legitimating a deeply problematic political position.The issue is ideology and not only oversimplification.
Reflecting on the consequences of the recent events in Egypt for the theory of religion, Carl Raschke writes that the insurrection “probably will cut significantly into the commercial relevance of today’s generations of Islamic and religous [sic.] studies scholars.” In the face of a major political movement in the Middle East that is—as Slavoj Žižek insists—based upon appeals to universal, secular values, the category of religion, Raschke’s reasoning goes, will no longer have much explanatory power. . . . Here, I want to briefly hint at how Talal Asad’s thought can help us make sense of religion in the context of the revolution in Egypt.
At the Martin Marty Center’s Religion and Culture Web Forum, Slavica Jakelić shares a chapter from her Collectivistic Religions: Religions, Choice, and Identity in Late Modernity, with responses from Grace Davie, Edin Hajdarpasic, and Kevin Schultz.
Television broadcasting has played a significant role in the creation of a public governed by norms of secular reason in Turkey. The state-owned Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT) held a monopoly on broadcasting until the liberalization of television and radio broadcasting in the 1990s. . . . TRT represented “religion” only in the form of limited mosque sermon broadcasts on officially designated religious holidays, as well as a 15-30 minute show called “The World of Faith” (“İnanç Dünyası”) played every Thursday evening to mark the beginning of Islam’s day of special worship on Friday. The overall effect of TRT’s demarcating such programming as “religious”—and its dealing with issues only related to “personal faith” in these shows (as emphasized in its title)—was to subtract “religion” from other factors regulating the public lives of Turkish citizens (such as education, politics, high culture, and so on) and to reinforce the notion that Islam is primarily a matter of “faith.”
There is something very liberating about Jonathan Sheehan’s call for moving orthogonally into the mundanities of everyday research, even though a part of me is skeptical of ever proceeding without at least tacitly presupposing the very ideological commitments he suggests we shy away from. As my former graduate colleague, Sean Silver, notes in a wonderful essay “Locke’s Pineapple and the History of Taste“: “The problem with empiricism, the argument goes, is that it doesn’t know that it is an ideology.” Be that as it may, perhaps this willing suspension of disbelief (to dip into my literary critic’s toolkit) is just the type of maneuver that can gain some traction in our attempt to think critique immanently.
On April 16-17, 2010, Macaulay Honors College of The City University of New York is hosting an international conference on The Politics of Religion.
In the New York Times, Robbie Brown reports on a local debate in Georgia over the appropriateness of cheerleaders using biblical language on their banners during public high school football games.
Charles Taylor: If the human relation to religion and to God is not as shallow as the mainstream theory thinks, then what would happen in many cases is religion would be recomposed in new forms that meet the new situation. And that is in fact what I would argue has happened in the West. So this is a much more adequate theory to understand this historical and sociological reality, but what it required is a deep understanding of the place of religion in human life. So I would claim that there’s a single discourse and it’s made up of elements that look as though they are drawn from three disciplines, but in fact they cohere together as a single discourse. The three discourses would be philosophy, history and sociology. You can’t do sociology without history, history without sociology, and you can’t do either without a proper philosophical understanding of human motivation. So the whole thing hangs together from those three sources. […]
Like others in this discussion, I’m not sure that recent neurological studies will dramatically change contemporary religious belief or practice, though my reasons are more historical than philosophical or psychological. To put it simply, American Christians and Jews—Brooks‘s embattled Bible believers—have shown themselves remarkably adept at harmonizing new scientific insights with older religious notions and practices. Let me offer three historical examples that illustrate this, and a few final comments concerning the astonishing survival power not of a generic new religion (neural or otherwise) but of an older, doctrinal one: Christianity. […]
The New York Times opinion piece by David Brooks, titled “The Neural Buddhists,” drives a wedge between mystical and “revealed” religions by citing recent philosophical and scientific scholarship. Brooks suggests that neuroscience (including psychology) poses a considerable challenge to religions that emphasize divine law or revelation. Brooks is right to predict that neuroscience will profoundly affect our culture’s thinking. Neuroscience forces us to revise our concept of self. And I agree that the investigation into universal moral intuitions raises interesting questions about the emergence of religion. My guess is that its most significant cultural contribution will be, simply, increased happiness. […]
A century ago, in “Religion and Neurology,” the opening chapter of The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James argued against a “medical materialism” that would reduce religious experiences to their neurological causes for the purpose either of dismissing them or confirming them. Since that time, many have tried to understand religion through the study of religious experience and, like James, many have given special attention to mysticism. New techniques for the study of the brain have brought great advances, but David Brooks’s New York Times column “The Neural Buddhists” and the work of Andrew Newberg, to whom he refers, stand squarely in the tradition James was criticizing. […]
Not long ago, researchers wired up the atheist Richard Dawkins with a helmet that would create magnetic fields partially simulating the brain activity of temporal lobe epilepsy, which they linked to dramatic visionary religious experiences and to less dramatic feelings of sensed presences. It turns out, though, that hooking up a hardboiled atheist to a machine, known as the transcranial magnetic stimulator, produced no such experiences. “It was a great disappointment,” Dawkins related after 40 minutes on the machine. “Though I joked about the possibility, I of course never expected to end up believing in anything supernatural. But I did hope to share some of the feelings experienced by religious mystics when contemplating the mysteries of life and the cosmos.” As my own mind was being massaged with images of Richard Dawkins having his temporal lobes stimulated, an odd notion popped into my head: namely, when it comes to religion, history and culture trump neurology. […]
The past fifteen years or so have been a period of extraordinary activity in pursuit of what are called “cognitive” and/or “evolutionary” explanations of religion. These include, in addition to Pascal Boyer’s Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought (the focus of my previous post), a number of other self-consciously innovative books with titles like How Religion Works: Towards a New Cognitive Science of Religion, In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion, and Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. What unites these works and distinguishes them from the broader naturalistic tradition in religious studies is, first, the centrality for their approach of methods and theories drawn from evolutionary psychology and the rather sprawling field of “cognitive science” and, second, the more or less strenuous identification of their efforts with “science,” itself rather monolithically and sometimes triumphalistically conceived. In these two respects, these and related works constitute what could be called the New Naturalism in religious studies. […]
What’s so bad about heteronomous thinking, anyway? Stathis Gourgouris has used the term in several posts here on The Immanent Frame. He says that Charles Taylor’s book A Secular Age is an example of heteronomous thinking, and he also thinks that Saba Mahmood’s post on secularism and critique exemplifies it. Though Gourgouris doesn’t define “heteronomous thinking,” he seems to mean something like “thinking that depends at some crucial point on something outside itself.” He thinks this kind of thinking is pretty bad—though it’s less clear exactly why he thinks so. […]
One of the most influential works among recent “cognitive” and/or “evolutionary” studies of religion is a book by French anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist Pascal Boyer. It is titled, with imposing finality, Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought. […]
One great problem is that the term “secular” is a western term, and corresponds to a very old distinction within Christendom. Then it goes through a series of changes in order to surface in such neologisms as “secularization,” and “secularism.” But even so, some of the original meanings carry over. These terms are then applied unreflectingly to what are seen as analogous processes and ideas elsewhere, and the result can be great confusion. […]