March 25 2017

Interview by Kristian Petersen

In the Zoroastrian Empire of Iran during late antiquity, what were the limits of Christian identity? Richard E. Payne, Neubauer Family Assistant Professor of Ancient Near Eastern History at the University of Chicago, explains how Christians were able to navigate the Iranian political world and how their identity as Christians did not necessarily preclude political participation in a thoroughly Zoroastrian empire.

Payne is the author of "A State of Mixture: Christians, Zoroastrians, and Iranian Political Culture in Late Antiquity" (University of California Press, 2015), which won the AAR's 2016 Book Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion in the category of historical studies.

Francis J. Beckwith with Kristian Petersen

Francis J. Beckwith, professor of philosophy & church-state studies at Baylor University, discusses how we form complex beliefs and if the difference between the process of developing so-called religious beliefs and secular beliefs might be smaller than we think.

Beckwith is the author of "Taking Rites Seriously: Law, Politics, and the Reasonableness of Faith" (Cambridge University Press, 2015). The book won the American Academy of Religion's 2016 Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion in the category of constructive-reflective studies.

Interview with Edward Slingerland, Project Director, Database of Religious History

screen shot from an entry in the Database of Religious History

The University of British Columbia, since 2016, has been working on the creation of the Database of Religious History, a crowd-sourced, interactive, dynamic, and searchable encyclopedia. The digital humanities project is premised on the Big Data approach—a comparative methodology popular among historians, linguists, and anthropologists, but as of yet, less prevalent with scholars of religion.

DRH director, Edward Slingerland, talks to RSN about the project’s theoretical groundings, obstacles to success, and the promise of data collection and the comparative approach to discovering some of the biggest questions in the development of religious practice across history and geography.

by Tuve Floden

Assessing the temporary school structure constructed by USAID

A degree in religion opens many opportunities for jobs outside or parallel to academia, especially in a field like national and international development. While searching for such jobs—let alone securing one—can seem a daunting process, I come bearing good news: a student of religion is a great fit for the development field. These employers value the fact that religious studies is multidisciplinary—incorporating fields like history, literature, political science, and anthropology. Graduates have a solid understanding of the pluralistic and multicultural world we live in, not to mention the diverse groups present within our nation itself. Religious studies also teaches strong critical thinking, reading, and writing skills—essential tools for managing programs, writing grant proposals, and working with a wide range of clients.

by Arvind Sharma, McGill University

Huston Smith

In my most recent conversations with Huston Smith, he had expressed a wish to see for himself what lies beyond the veil. His wish was fulfilled on December 30, 2016. May he rest in the Real, "should there be one," as he might have added cautiously.

Huston Smith was born to Methodist missionary parents in China, where he spent the first seventeen years of his life which are nostalgically recalled in his autobiography (Tales of Wonder, 2010). He set out to be one himself but soon discovered that he would rather teach than preach and found himself at the University of Chicago, where he obtained his PhD in 1945. He then taught at the University of Denver and Washington University at St. Louis before being hired by M.I.T. in 1958 to teach philosophy. Subsequently he went on to teach at Syracuse, and then at Berkeley after he had retired in San Francisco, rich in years and honors.

Huston Smith enters the Hall of Fame of the scholars of religion holding a book, which originally bore the title: The Religions of Man (1958) and subsequently The World’s Religions (1991), after it had been revised. Together these two versions have sold over three million copies. Wilfred Cantwell Smith said of this book that it made the (academic) study of religion possible. This is not an exaggeration, and I have used it throughout my professional life to introduce students, at all levels, to the world’s religions. 

by Wendy Crosby, Loyola University Chicago

A lit interior window at night

I never thought I would become a night owl. I was never one to pull an all-nighter, and I refuse to let a sleep deficit build up. But, here I am, staying up past 4 a.m. and sleeping past noon every day of the week. I've seen the sunrise before heading to bed more times than I'd like to admit. This crazy schedule allows me to balance doctoral studies with the moments of married life I value most. The life of a PhD candidate can be hard, but almost no other job or position would allow me this kind of flexibility.

with Kristian Petersen

David A. Lambert talks to Religious Studies News about his book How Repentance Became Biblical: Judaism, Christianity, and the Interpretation of Scripture (Oxford University Press, 2015), which won the American Academy of Religion’s 2016 Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion in Textual Studies. Lambert's book "considers the development of repentance as a concept around the turn of the Common Era and how it came to be naturalized as an essential component of religion through a series of reading practices that allowed nascent Jewish and Christian communities to locate repentance in Scripture."

Lambert is associate professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

by Courtney Wilder, Midland University

black and white photo of several pocket watches

That there is an AAR conversation on work-life balance reminds me of a very funny and too-close-to home tweet from the Twitter account called Shit Academics Say (@AcademicsSay): “Yes, I've heard of work-life balance. I gave a workshop on it last week and am co-editing a related special issue to which I'm contributing.” More beautifully, the poet Adrienne Rich asks in Twenty One Love Poems: “What kind of beast would turn its life into words? What atonement is this all about?” We might consider what kind of worker turns her words into her life, and back again, so that the lines between speech and writing and work and life blur?

by Erik Owens, Boston College, for the Committee on the Public Understanding of Religion

The AAR’s Committee on the Public Understanding of Religion is pleased to announce that public theologian Rev. J. Bryan Hehir, of Harvard University and the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, is the 2016 recipient of the Martin E. Marty Award for the Public Understanding of Religion.

Now in its twentieth year, the Marty Award recognizes extraordinary contributions to the public understanding of religion by individuals whose work has a relevance and eloquence that speaks not just to scholars but other “publics” as well.

The Committee honors Father Hehir for his important scholarship on the ethics of statecraft, war, and peace, and for his influential work as a public theologian who for more than forty years has constructively engaged scholars, church leaders, diplomats, elected officials, military leaders, policymakers and social workers on a range of issues at the intersection of religion and public life.

by Eric Michael Mazur, Virginia Wesleyan College

Many American Jews have felt uneasy during the current presidential campaign, largely because of how Judaism has been the object of campaign rhetoric—from various candidates and the media, and in ways that are neither flattering nor representative. Some of the rhetoric—seeming indifference to Jewish sensitivities, the deployment of anti-Semitic stereotypes, and even rhetorical threats of physical harm—is not unheard of in American politics. What seems new is the way this rhetoric has revealed a significant difference in how non-Jews and Jews understand “religion,” particularly with regard to Jewish identity.

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