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Constructing Data in Religious Studies

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Constructing "Data" in Religious Studies provides a critical introduction to the ways in which the category “data” is understood, produced, and deployed in the discipline of religious studies. The volume is organized into four different sections, entitled “Subjects,” “Objects,” “Scholars,” and “Institutions,” with an epilogue by Russell McCutcheon and Aaron Hughes.

The volume’s aim is to reflect, first, on the problems, strategies, and political structures through which scholars identify (and therefore create) data, and second, on the institutions, extensions, and applications of that data. The first three sections are spearheaded by a key essay and followed by four responses, all of which consider how the politics of the academy determine the very nature of the things we purport to study. The fourth section considers what these concepts look like as they are applied and further institutionalized in college and university structures, and itself includes four essays on “teaching,” “departments,” “research,” and “labor.” Finally, the epilogue closes the volume with a consideration on the politics of scholarly collegiality, transforming the data-makers (scholars) into data themselves.

Published: Oct 8, 2019

Book Contributors


Section Chapter Authors
"If I had a Nickel for Every Time...": Thinking Critically about Data Leslie Smith
Part I: Subjects
1. Partitioning "Religion" and its Prehistories: Reflections on Categories, Narratives and the Practice of Religious Studies Annette Yoshiko Reed
Part I Responses
2. A More Subtle Violence: The Footnoting of "the Aboriginal Principle of Witnessing" by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Adam Stewart
3. Categorization and its Discontents M Adryael Tong
4. Catagorizing Contrariety: Narrative and Taxonomy in the Construction of Sikhism John Soboslai
5. Interrogating Categories with Ethnography: On the "Five Pillars" of Islam Jennifer Selby
Part II: Objects
6. Objects and Objections: Methodological Reflections on the Data for Religious Studies Matthew Baldwin
Part II Responses
7. The Red Hot Iron: Religion, Nonreligion and the Material Petra Klug
8. Surprised by History: Encountering Data in Religious Studies Holly White
9. Governance and Public Policy as Critical Objects of Investigation in the Study of Religion Peggy Schmeiser
10. Negative Dialektik and the Question Concerning the Relation between Objects and Concepts Lucas Wright
Part III: Scholars
11. "The Thing itself Always Steals Away": Scholars and the Constitution of their Objects of Study Craig Martin
Part III Responses
12. Scholars and the Framing of Objects Vaia Touna
13. Serial Killers and Scholars of Religion Martha Smith-Roberts
14. Caffeinated and Half-baked Realities: Religion as the Opium of the Scholar Jason Ellsworth
15. On the Seminal Adventure of the Trace Joel Harrison
Part IV: Institutions
16. Labor: Finding the Devil in Indiana Jones: Mythologies of Work and the State of Academic Labor James LoRusso
17. Teaching: Teaching in the Ideological State of Religious Studies: Notes Towards a Pedagogical Future Richard Newton
18. Departments: Competencies and Curricula: The Role of Academic Departments in Shaping the Study of Religion Rebekka King
19. Research: Religious Studies Research in an Era of Neoliberalization Gregory Alles
The Gatekeeping Rhetoric of Collegiality in the Study of Religion Russell McCutcheon, Aaron Hughes
End Matter
Index Leslie Smith


This exemplary edited volume takes J.Z. Smith’s famous dictum, “there is no data for religion” as an insight to be elaborated and applied rather than a contention to be debated, and proceeds to interrogate how, why, and for whom religious “data” are created through scholarly identification, as well as the theoretical and institutional implications of the construction and deconstruction of religion.
Constructing “Data” is dedicated to J.Z. Smith, who passed away a month after the NAASR papers were given, and models the productive theoretical and methodological insights that can emerge when scholars of religion heed his advice to take their own self-consciousness as their primary expertise.
Religious Studies Review