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Theory in a Time of Excess

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What does it mean to “do theory” in the study of religion today? The terms “method and theory” are now found in course titles, curricula/degree requirements, area/comprehensive exams, and frequently listed as competencies on the CVs of scholars from across a wide array of subfields. Are we really that theoretically and methodologically sophisticated? While a variety of groups at annual scholarly conferences now regularly itemize theorizing among the topics that they examine and carry out, it seems that few of the many examples of doing theory today involve either meta-reflection on the practical conditions of the field or rigorously explanatory studies of religion’s cause(s) or function(s). So, despite the appearance of tremendous advances in the field over the past 30 years, it can be argued that little has changed. Indeed, the term theory is today so widely understood as to make it coterminous with virtually all forms of scholarship on religion. This volume seeks to re-examine just what we ought to consider theory to signify.

The core of the book consists of chapters by leading theorists in the field -- an anthropologist of religion, a literary theorist, a specialist in cognitive science of religion, and a philosopher of religion. Each statement is then followed by shorter response papers, and concludes with a response by the theorist.

Published: Jan 6, 2017

Book Contributors

Section Chapter Authors
Introduction: Theory in a Time of Excess Aaron Hughes
Part I
1. Establishing a Beachhead: NAASR, Twenty Years Later Luther Martin, Donald Wiebe
Part II
2. On the Restraint of Theory Jason Blum
3. It's Hard out there for a Theorist Michael Altman
4. Signifying 'Theory': Toward a method of Mutually Assured Deconstruction Richard Newton
5. On the Restraint of Consciousness Tara Baldrick-Morrone
6. A Reply Jason Blum
Part III
7. The High Stakes of Identifying (with) One's Object of Study K. Merinda Simmons
8. New Materialism and the Objects of Religious Studies Martha Smith-Roberts
9. Killing the Scholar: Critical Theory, Relevance, and Objects of Study Thomas Whitley
10. The Rhetoric of Disinterest for Authorizing our Critical Position: Historicizing Critical Theory in Religious Studies Stephen Young
11. A Reply K. Merinda Simmons
Part IV
12. What the Cognitive Science of Religion Is (And Is Not) Claire White
13. 'Show me the Money': Big Money Donors and the Cognitive Science of Religion Brad Stoddard
14. Of Elephants and Riders: Cognition, Reason, and Will in the Study of Religion Matt Sheedy
15. A Reply Claire White
Part V
16. The Study of Religion, Bricolage and Brandom Matt Bagger
17. Precision and Excess: Doing the Discipline of Religious Studies Rebekka King
18. On Druids, the Dude, and Doing Excessive Theory Dennis LoRusso
19. Reliabilism and the Limits of Pragmatism Robyn Walsh
20. A Reply Matt Bagger
Part VI
21. Theory is the Best Accessory: Branding and the Power of Scholarly Compartmentalization Leslie Smith
End Matter
Afterword: Feast and Famine in the Study of Religion Russell T. McCutcheon
Index Aaron Hughes


A compelling and stimulating read.
In light of this plurality of approaches to understanding and implementing theory, Hughes's expectation that "a multi-hued theoretical vision" might emerge from the volume accurately reflects the book's potential contribution to the meta-reflection on the mode, manner and scope of doing religious studies.
Reading Religion