Writing History, Constructing Religion
I will answer some of the comments on other posts soon but I thought I should blog in order for a bit of free self publicity (why else?). I have just received my copy of a book I co edited with the sociologist/social anthropologist Christian Karner called Writing History, Constructing Religion (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005). I think it is officially out on 21 November and is available at the, ahem, bargain £50. It has some stuff of relevance for biblical studies even though it is an interdisciplinary discussion of the nature of history and how it is used in a variety of contexts relating to religious studies.
Here are some of the details from the Ashgate site:
Writing History, Constructing Religion presents a much-needed interdisciplinary exploration of the significance of debates among historians, scholars of religion and cultural theorists over the 'nature' of history to the study of religion. The distinguished authors discuss issues related to definitions of history, postmodernism, critical theory, and the impact on the study and analysis of religious traditions; exploring the application of writing 'history from below', discussions of 'truth' and 'objectivity' as opposed to power and ideology, crises of representation, and the place of theory in the 'historicized' study of religion(s).
Addressing conceptual debates in a wide range of historical and empirical contexts, the authors critically engage with issues including religious nationalism, Nazism, Islam and the West, secularism, religion in post-Communist Russia, ethnicity and post modernity. This book constitutes a significant step towards the self-reflexive and interdisciplinary study of religions in history.
Here are the contributions:
James G. Crossley and Christian Karner, 'Writing History, Constructing Religion'
James G. Crossley, 'Defining History'
Christian Karner, 'Postmodernism and the Study of Religions'
Philip Goodchild, 'On "religion": speeches to its cultural despisers'
Alan Aldridge, 'Postmodernism Before and After: The Fate of Secularization'
Hugh Goddard, 'The Crisis of Representation in Islamic Studies'
Kathryn Tomlinson, 'Living Yesterday in Today and Tomorrow: Meskhetian Turks in Southern Russia'
Maurice Casey, 'Who's Afraid of Jesus Christ? Some Comments on Attempts to Write a Life of Jesus'
James G. Crossley, 'History from the Margins: The Death of John the Baptist'
Maria Varsam, '"If Isaac could speak…": Redefining Sacrifice'
Seth Kunin, 'Ideological "Destructuring' in Myth, History and Memory'
Christian Karner, 'Writing Hindutva History, Constructing Nationalist Religion'
Obviously a couple of these are directly relevant for biblical studies. Maurice Casey looks at the impact of a Christian discipline and Nazism on the scholarly quest for the historical Jesus. My article on the death of John the Baptist develops a few of Roger Aus' insights into the haggadic background along with general anthropological approaches to history. There's a fair bit of sex in it too for those who get bored with these things. Seth Kunin's article uses his Levi-Strauss influenced (neo-) structuralist approach to look at various texts from the Hebrew Bible, particularly the book of Judges, with some extra fieldwork material on the Crypto-Jews of New Mexico. Maria Varsam's article has a wide ranging discussion of sacrifice which also includes stuff on the binding of Isaac.
There is also some general interdisciplinary material which is of some relevance. My chapter on 'Defining History' discusses the various approaches to history and historiography (e.g. postmodernism, objectivity and neutrality, ideology, history from below, history and the social sciences etc. etc.) with some examples from biblical studies and early Judaism. Christian Karner's chapter on postmodernism analyses the contemporary debates surrounding the notion of postmodernism and related issues such as identity. Alan Aldridge's article has much to say on Bryan Wilson (of 'sects' fame) and on how some of the older sociology has been misunderstood by its critics. For those philosophically minded then Philip Goodchild's is the paper for you. In many ways it is how the study of religion can be practicised and how it is practised. The introductory chapter by me and Karner goes over how history is used in a variety of religious traditions.
Karner also shows in more detail how history is used in the context of modern day India and Hindu nationalism, applying various insights from postmodernism. There are also two articles on Islam, both of which show very strongly how much ignorance and misunderstanding there is about Muslims and their religion. Kathryn Tomlinson gives the examples of Meskhetian Turks in Southern Russia (using some of her fieldwork) which due to my ignorance was nothing like what I had ever come across in discussions of Islam and some very interesting attitudes towards what we might think of as official religion. Hugh Goddard's article provides a variety of perceptions of Islam and Muslims from both insiders and outsiders. A broad range of opinions are covered on both 'sides'. It also shows that much of the polemics often peddled by the right, including the right wing press and media, is often factually inaccurate and misleading. I am obviously (to regular readers) pleased this article was in the volume because as regular readers of this blog will know (sometimes deliberately) distorting views of Islam is something that I have discussed a few times.