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An Author Meets His Critics

Around Manuel A. Vásquez’s “More Than Belief: A Materialist Theory of Religion”

Manuel A. Vásquez, Abby Day, Lionel Obadia, David Chidester and Chad E. Seales

Manuel Vásquez begins his book by describing university courses that frustrate his students by being text-based and divorced from real life. He rightly concludes that analyzing sacred texts does not alone explain lived religion and complex issues such as globalization, transnationalism, and hybrid identities. He is writing from a Religious Studies perspective that, as he says, sometimes suffers from an overly theological bias. Moves within the discipline to abandon ‘religion’ for something as equally diverse and difficult to pin down as ‘faith’ do not, he argues, take us any further, particularly because religion really matters to many people and therefore cannot be dismissed just because we scholars find it problematic. To adopt an approach that explores how religion is understood and lived by the people who practice it is, I agree, the most important task for people studying religion. If this serves as a wake-up call for people who still study religion as something, in Vásquez’s words, of angels rather than of people, then the book has done a great job.

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