Diaspora, and with it 'diasporic religion', has exploded as an area of research in the field of Religion, opening important paths of inquiry and analysis. This article traces the itineraries and intersections of Diaspora and Religion over the last two decades, especially vis-à-vis groups that activate multiple diasporic horizons. It then evaluates the risks of the overdispersion of Diaspora. To counter this, the article recommends more narrowly circumscribing Diasporic Religion in relation to 'territory', while at the same time rendering the question of what territoriality means more complex and diverse.
Paul Christopher Johnson
A Critical Assessment
Recent cognitive and evolutionary approaches to the study of religion have been seen by many as a naturalistic alternative to conventional anthropological interpretations. Whereas anthropologists have traditionally accounted for the existence of religion in terms of social and cultural determinants, cognitive scientists have emphasized the innate—that is pre-cultural—constraints placed by natural selection on the formation and acquisition of religious ideas. This article provides a critical assessment of the main theoretical proposals put forward by cognitive scientists and suggests possible interactions, perhaps interdependencies, with more standard anthropological sensibilities, especially between cognitive and evolutionary perspectives that see religion as a by-product of innate psychological dispositions and anthropological approaches that take the 'meaningful' nature of religious symbols as their point of departure.
The Spatial Turn in Research on Religion
Following a consideration of the impact of the late twentieth-century spatial turn on the study of religion by geographers, anthropologists, sociologists, historians, and religious studies scholars, two trends are distinguished: the poetics of place and the sacred; and politics, religion, and the contestation of space. Discussion of these reveals substantially different approaches to religion, space, and place—one phenomenological, the other social constructivist. The spatial turn has been extremely fruitful for research on religion, bringing together scholars from a variety of disciplines, and connecting not only to traditional areas such as sacred space and pilgrimage, but to new ones such as embodiment, gender, practice and religious-secular engagements.
Exploring Spiritual Ecology
Leslie E. Sponsel
Many scholars have touched on the relationships between religion and nature since the work of late nineteenth-century anthropologists such as Edward B. Tylor. This is almost inevitable in studying some religions, especially indigenous ones. Nevertheless, only since the 1950s has anthropological research gradually been developing that is intentionally focused on the influence of religion on human ecology and adaptation, part of a recent multidisciplinary field that some call spiritual ecology (Merchant 2005; Sponsel 2001, 2005a, 2007a, 2007b, 2007c; S. Taylor 2006). At last this ecological approach is beginning to receive some attention in textbooks on the anthropology of religion, ecological anthropology, human ecology, and environmental conservation, though it is still uncommon in the anthropological periodicals (Bowie 2006; Marten 2001; Merchant 2005; Russell and Harshbarger 2003; Townsend 2009). This article summarizes a sample of the growing literature and cites other sources to help facilitate the eff orts of those who may find this new subject to be of sufficient interest for further inquiry.
Credit. From the Latin, credere, to trust or to believe. Crisis, from the Greek κρίσις, crisis, but also decision, judgment. Judgment day. I had imagined this article as a series of epistles, short missives with didactic aphorisms—postcards, really—from the credit crisis. Yet the effort foundered on two shores. First, my abilities are simply not up to the task, for this genre with its ancient history boasts so many predecessors and models that selection for the purposes of mimicry—or embodiment—became impossible. Second, and more important, I began to realize, in the effort, that the genre demands an analytical engagement with its material that this article in many respects stands athwart. How it does so will become apparent in due course. The credit crisis began in 2008 and continues to the time of my writing, in May 2010. In naming the credit crisis and its religion, I acknowledge I afford them a degree of reality they may not possess. I also acknowledge that this article comes with temporal limits, the limits of the time of its writing. My debts are many and cannot be fully acknowledged. Reality, time and debt are very much at issue in credit crisis religion. Worldly constraints narrow my inquiry to Anglophone and primarily United States examples. Christianity is, by necessity and design, over-represented.
Zdeněk R. Nešpor
The Czech Republic is widely known as 'the least religious' country in the world. However, Czechs might be considered unchurched rather than nonreligious, with various forms of modern New Age spirituality steadily gaining in popularity. The question is, therefore, what is the position of religion - both 'traditional' and 'new' - within a 'non-believing' society? The article commences with a presentation of data taken from two recent sociological surveys on religion, but the author mainly exploits ethnographical research carried out in the medium-sized Czech town of Česká Lípa to address the issue. This research examined both 'old' and 'new' church religion, 'alternative' spiritual outlets, and the religious attitudes of the general population. The author concludes that the traditional religionists of various denominations, followers of the New Age movement(s), and the 'rest' of the population can be seen as three distinctive groups within society and that mutual understanding and acceptance are practically non-existent.
Fieldwork, Biography, and Authorship in Southwest China and Beyond
This article is an exploration into how a distinct fascination with the study of religion traverses the biographies of researchers who, through fieldwork, episodically enter into the life-worlds of the peoples they study. In it, I offer up ethnographic and autoethnographic reflections on the experiential crossroads and personal biographies that are perhaps as constitutive of religion as they are of the persons who study it. Through a discussion of interconnected events that arose during and outside of my anthropological fieldwork among the Nuosu, a Tibeto-Burman group of Southwest China, I highlight how Nuosu claims to authoring my biography have brought their animistic religion and culture, as well as its international import, further into focus for myself, local scholars, and rural Nuosu persons. My argument pivots around the idea that fieldwork-based researchers and their interlocutors often appropriate each other’s biographies in rather cosmic ways, thus revealing the historically, socially, and personally contingent qualities that are involved in studies of religion.
Theorizing Religious Traditions from the Point of View of How They Disappear
What does it mean for a new religion to arise or take hold among a group of people? What does it mean for a religious tradition to endure? These are questions that are quite commonly addressed, at least implicitly, in the study of religion. Less frequently asked is the question of what it means for a religious tradition to come to an end. This article addresses this question, paying particular attention to the ways people actively dismantle a religious tradition that previously shaped their lives. I also consider what studying the process of religious disappearance can teach us about what it means for a tradition to arise and endure, arguing that a grasp on processes of religious dissolution is necessary for a fully rounded approach to the study of religious change. Throughout the article, I illustrate my arguments with material from the study of Christianity, Judaism and indigenous religious traditions, particularly from Oceania.
A Critical Review of Religious Pluralism
From the 1980s onwards, much research has been carried out in order to analyze and compare the situation and the management of religious plurality in Western countries. While scholars in the social sciences of religion have seized on the question of plurality, those in migration studies have started to pay more and more attention to the religious dimension of migrants and their descent. Although macro-level plurality is more commonly investigated, internal religious plurality is of equal importance. This article provides a critical review of the various approaches of religious pluralism and emphasizes some under-investigated areas such as conflicts and internal plurality.
A Practical Guide
This article discusses structural, logistical, and administrative issues associated with the use of participant observation assignments in teaching the anthropology of religion. Fieldwork presents extraordinary opportunities for teaching students about the nature of cultural difference, but it also poses pedagogical challenges that require careful planning and supervision. The article reviews problems including the scope and nature of the observation, student preparation and guidance, connecting with fieldsites, presentation formats, issues of ethics and confidentiality, and university administrative considerations.