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Introduction

Narratives, Ontologies, Entanglements, and Iconoclasms

Sondra L. Hausner, Simon Coleman and Ruy Llera Blanes

This volume of Religion and Society offers a personal portrait from a self-described shy academic, who also happens to be an intellectually powerful scholar of South Asia—Ann Grodzins Gold. Anthropologists of religion and South Asia know Gold’s work to portray an astonishingly subtle evocation of the realities of women’s lives, families’ lives, village lives, and everyday existence. Her respondents in this volume’s portrait section all note their admiration for the impact of her work, illustrating further Gold’s capacity to write Rajasthan into the anthropological canon, along with her poignant reflections on the nature of fieldwork, the ways in which texts and people speak to one another, and the nature of religion as lived on the ground, particularly in rural India. Well-known through her ethnographic accounts of rural India, Gold has often incorporated stories about her own experiences into her powerful, larger narratives about Rajasthan, but this volume is the first time we read of her own personal history as the basis from which she learned to observe, research, and write about religion.

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Introduction

The Borders of Religion

Ruy Llera Blanes, Simon Coleman and Sondra L. Hausner

This volume of Religion and Society is marked by borders, boundaries, and limits. The borders here are those that make religion operative and politically powerful, as well as those that are enabled and put into place by religious arguments and worldviews. All these dimensions of borders are included in the special section of this volume, coordinated by Valentina Napolitano and Nurit Stadler, entitled “Borderlands and Religion: Materialities, Histories, and the Spatialization of State Sovereignty.” The section includes articles by Alejandro Lugo, Nurit Stadler and Nimrod Luz, Alberto Hernández and Amalia Campos-Delgado, and Alexander D. M. Henley. They dwell upon two of the most notorious and contentious borders in the world: the one that separates Lebanon and Palestine from Israel, and the one that separates the US from Mexico. Both Israel and the US are known for their fenced and walled frontier politics. From these contributions, we learn how borderlands and their religious framing become spaces of political negotiation by affirmation and/or by exclusion: they determine sovereignty, ontology, history.

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Debate

In Response to Charlie

Faisal Devji, Jane Garnett, Ghassan Hage and Sondra L. Hausner

There is a close relation between satire and secularism as the latter came to emerge in Europe. Secularism, as is well-known, gained strength historically as a reaction to an era of European interreligious violence and massacres. It was not only a desire for the separation of church and state, as the classical formula has it. It was also an attempt to keep religious affect out of politics. This was in the belief that religion, because it is faith rather than reasoned thinking, produces too much of a narcissistic affect—that the faithful are unable to ‘keep their distance’ from what they believe in. It was thought that this narcissism was behind the murderous intensity of religiously driven conflicts. Being able to laugh at yourself literally means being able to not take yourself overly seriously. This, in turn, is crucial for the deintensification of the affects generated by the defense of what one believes in and for the relativization of one’s personal beliefs. Such relativization, as Claude Lévi- Strauss argued, is crucial for thinking oneself comparatively and in relation to others (the opposite of narcissism).

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Introduction

Religions, Histories, and Comparisons

Simon Coleman, Ruy Llera Blanes and Sondra L. Hausner

Religion and Society is constructed out of themes and variations. While we have a basic grammar of contents, we try to innovate within a recognizable frame. In previous volumes, we have always begun with a portrait of a living scholar. In this volume, however, we are publishing a portrait around an absence as a tribute to J. D. Y. Peel. John Peel was an extraordinary man and scholar—a great thinker on religion—who died in November 2015. His influence, writings, and memory continue to resonate strongly in many fields and networks. Our six memorial portraits give a flavor (to use a suitable culinary metaphor) of Peel’s wide range of interests and friends, all nourished by his generosity and enthusiasm and his ability to live his life through his work and his work through his life.

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Introduction

Performing Religion

Ruy Llera Blanes, Sondra L. Hausner and Simon Coleman

Professor Eileen Barker, one of the key figures in recent sociology of religion and the subject of this volume’s portrait, recalls in her text how her first goal in life was to become an actress. Only later on and quite by accident did she stumble upon the social sciences of religion, without, however, losing interest in performing. Those reminiscences are somewhat of a motto for what we find in this volume of Religion and Society: texts concerned with the performance of religion in society from different angles and perspectives—from ritual to reflexivity, from advocacy to opposition (here Eileen’s piece is illuminating in its subtleties of approach), and from definition to regulation.