This month, Eerdmans releases “Christians in South Indian Villages, 1959-2009: Decline and Revival in Telangana,” by John Carman and Chilkuri Vasantha Rao. The publisher’s description follows:
A discerning study of a slice of modern Indian Christianity and Christian-Hindu encounter.
This book revisits South Indian Christian communities that were studied in 1959 and written about in Village Christians and Hindu Culture (1968). In 1959 the future of these village congregations was uncertain. Would they grow through conversions or slowly dissolve into the larger Hindu society around them?
John Carman and Chilkuri Vasantha Rao’s carefully gathered research fifty years later reveals both the decline of many older congregations and the surprising emergence of new Pentecostal and Baptist churches that emphasize the healing power of Christ. Significantly, the new congregations largely cut across caste lines, including both high castes and outcastes (Dalits).
Carman and Vasantha Rao pay particular attention to the social, political, and religious environment of these Indian village Christians, including their adaptation of indigenous Hindu practices into their Christian faith and observances.
In October, Basic Books released “Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms: Journeys Into the Disappearing Religions of the Middle East,” by Gerard Russell (Foreign Policy Centre – London). The publisher’s description follows:
In this spellbinding journey across the past and present of the Middle East, a former diplomat takes us into the fascinating religious communities that have survived for centuries under Muslim rule.
Despite its reputation for religious intolerance, the Middle East has long sheltered many distinctive and strange faiths: one regards the Greek prophets as incarnations of God, another reveres Lucifer in the form of a peacock, and yet another believes that their followers are reincarnated beings who have existed in various forms for thousands of years. These religions represent the last vestiges of the magnificent civilizations in ancient history: Persia, Babylon, Egypt in the time of the Pharaohs. Their followers have learned how to survive foreign attacks and the perils of assimilation. But today, with the Middle East in turmoil, they face greater challenges than ever before.
In Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms, former diplomat Gerard Russell ventures to the distant, nearly impassable regions where these mysterious religions still cling to survival. He lives alongside the Mandaeans and Ezidis of Iraq, the Zoroastrians of Iran, the Copts of Egypt, and others. He learns their histories, participates in their rituals, and comes to understand the threats to their communities. Historically a tolerant faith, Islam has, since the early 20th century, witnessed the rise of militant, extremist sects. This development, along with the rippling effects of Western invasion, now pose existential threats to these minority faiths. And as more and more of their youth flee to the West in search of greater freedoms and job prospects, these religions face the dire possibility of extinction.
Drawing on his extensive travels and archival research, Russell provides an essential record of the past, present, and perilous future of these remarkable religions.
This January, Oxford University Press will release “Buddhism in Mongolian History, Culture and Society” edited by Vesna A. Wallace (University of California, Santa Barbara). The publisher’s description follows:
Buddhism in Mongolian History, Culture, and Society explores the unique elements of Mongolian Buddhism while challenging its stereotyped image as a mere replica of Tibetan Buddhism. Vesna A. Wallace brings together an interdisciplinary group of leading scholars to explore the interaction between the Mongolian indigenous culture and Buddhism, the features that Buddhism acquired through its adaptation to the Mongolian cultural sphere, and the ways Mongols have constructed their Buddhist identity. The contributors explore the ways that Buddhism retained unique Mongolian features through Qing and Mongol support, and bring to light the ways in which Mongolian Buddhists saw Buddhism as inseparable from “Mongolness.” They show that by being greatly supported by Mongol and Qing empires, suppressed by the communist governments, and experiencing revitalization facilitated by democratization and the challenges posed by modernity, Buddhism underwent a series of transformations while retaining unique Mongolian features.
The book covers historical events, social and political conditions, and influential personages in Mongolian Buddhism from the sixteenth century to the present, and addresses the artistic and literary expressions of Mongolian Buddhism and various Mongolian Buddhist practices and beliefs.
In September, Ashgate Publishing released “Sensible Religion” edited by Christopher Lewis (University of Oxford) and Dan Cohn-Sherbok (University of Wales). The publisher’s description follows:
Around the globe religion is under attack. Humanists, secularists and atheists depict believers as deluded and dangerous. The aim of this book is to challenge this perception. Sensible Religion defends the validity and emphasises the excitement of the religious quest across the faiths. It demonstrates that the practice of sensible religion is often a courageous path pitted against religious extremism and secularism. Written by committed believers from the major world’s faiths, the book endorses the term ‘sensible’ as expressing religious reasonableness as well as sensitivity to criticism and new insights. Followers of the different traditions live ordinary lives in the mainstream of the world. This volume therefore addresses beliefs and the manner in which these convictions relate to social, political and ethical action. Countering the argument that religion is at root extremist and irrational, “Sensible Religion” brings together thoughtful and critical reflections by leading thinkers about humanity’s spiritual quest.
This month, Ashgate Publishing releases “Sociological Theory and the Question of Religion” edited by Andrew McKinnon and Marta Trzebiatowska (both at the University of Aberdeen, UK). The publisher’s description follows:
Religion lies near the heart of the classical sociological tradition, yet it no longer occupies the same place within the contemporary sociological enterprise. This relative absence has left sociology under-prepared for thinking about religion’s continuing importance in new issues, movements, and events in the twenty-first century. This book seeks to address this lacunae by offering a variety of theoretical perspectives on the study of religion that bridge the gap between mainstream concerns of sociologists and the sociology of religion.
Following an assessment of the current state of the field, the authors develop an emerging critical perspective within the sociology of religion with particular focus on the importance of historical background. Re-assessing the themes of aesthetics, listening and different degrees of spiritual self-discipline, the authors draw on ethnographic studies of religious involvement in Norway and the UK. They highlight the importance of power in the sociology of religion with help from Pierre Bourdieu, Marx and Critical Discourse Analysis. This book points to emerging currents in the field and offers a productive and lively way forward, not just for sociological theory of religion, but for the sociology of religion more generally.
In December, Routledge Press will release “Tibetan Buddhism in Diaspora: Cultural Re-signification in Practice and Institutions” by Ana Cristina O. Lopes (University of São Paulo). The publisher’s description follows:
The imperialist ambitions of China – which invaded Tibet in the late 1940s – have sparked the spectacular spread of Tibetan Buddhism worldwide, and especially in western countries. This work is a study on the malleability of a particular Buddhist tradition; on its adaptability in new contexts.
The book analyses the nature of the Tibetan Buddhism in the Diaspora. It examines how the re-signification of Tibetan Buddhist practices and organizational structures in the present refers back to the dismantlement of the Tibetan state headed by the Dalai Lama and the fragmentation of Tibetan Buddhist religious organizations in general. It includes extensive multi-sited fieldwork conducted in the United States, Brazil, Europe, and Asia and a detailed analysis of contemporary documents relating to the global spread of Tibetan Buddhism. The author demonstrates that there is a “de-institutionalized” and “de-territorialized” project of political power and religious organization, which, among several other consequences, engenders the gradual “autonomization” of lamas and lineages inside the religious field of Tibetan Buddhism. Thus, a spectre of these previous institutions continues to exist outside their original contexts, and they are continually activated in ever-new settings.
Using a combination of two different academic traditions – namely, the Brazilian anthropological tradition and the American Buddhist studies tradition – it investigates the “process of cultural re-signification” of Tibetan Buddhism in the context of its Diaspora. Thus, it will be a valuable resource to students and scholars of Asian Religion, Asian Studies and Buddhism.
Last month, Ashgate Publishing released Armenian Christianity Today: Identity Politics and Popular Practice, edited by Alexander Agadjanian (Russian State University for the Humanities). The publisher’s description follows:
Armenian Christianity Today examines contemporary religious life and the social, political, and cultural functions of religion in the post-Soviet Republic of Armenia and in the Armenian Diaspora worldwide. Scholars from a range of countries and disciplines explore current trends and everyday religiosity, particularly within the Armenian Apostolic Church (AAC), and amongst Armenian Catholics, Protestants and vernacular religions.
Themes examined include: Armenian grass-roots religiosity; the changing forms of regular worship and devotion; various types of congregational life; and the dynamics of social composition of both the clergy and lay believers. Exploring through the lens of Armenia, this book considers wider implications of ‘postsecular’ trends in the role of global religion.
This January, Oxford University Press will release “Provincial Hinduism: Religion and Community in Gwalior City” by Daniel Gold (Cornell University). The publisher’s description follows:
Provincial Hinduism explores intersecting religious worlds in an ordinary Indian city that remains close to its traditional roots, while bearing witness to the impact of globalization. Daniel Gold looks at modern religious life in the central Indian city of Gwalior, drawing attention to the often complex religious sensibilities behind ordinary Hindu practice. Gold describes temples of different types, their legendary histories, and the people who patronize them. He also explores the attraction of Sufi shrines for many Gwalior Hindus. Delicate issues of socioreligious identity are highlighted through an examination of neighbors living together in a locality mixed in religion, caste, and class. Pursuing issues of community and identity, Gold turns to Gwalior’s Maharashtrians and Sindhis, groups with roots in other parts of the subcontinent that have settled in the city for generations. These groups function as internal diasporas, organizing in different ways and making distinctive contributions to local religious life. The book concludes with a focus on new religious institutions invoking nineteenth-century innovators: three religious service organizations inspired by the great Swami Vivekenanda, and two contemporary guru-centered groups tracing lineages to Radhasoami Maharaj of Agra.
Gold offers the first book-length study to analyze religious life in an ordinary, midsized Indian city, and in so doing has created an invaluable resource for scholars of contemporary Indian religion, culture, and society.
In October, Bloomsbury Publishing released “Post-Materialist Religion: Pagan Identities and Value Change in Modern Europe” by Mika T. Lassander (Abo Akademi University, Finland). The publisher’s description follows:
Post-Materialist Religion discusses the transformations of the individual’s worldview in contemporary modern societies, and the role general societal value change plays in these. In doing so, Mika Lassander brings into conversation sociological theories of secularisation and social-psychological theories of interpersonal relations, the development of morality, and the nature of basic human values. The long-term decline of traditional religiosity in Europe and the emerging ethos that can be described as post-secular have brought religion and values back into popular discussion. One important theme in these discussions is about the links between religion and values, with the most common assumption being that religions are the source of individuals’ values. This book argues for the opposite view, suggesting that religions, or people’s worldviews in general, reflect the individual’s priorities.
Mika Lassander argues that the transformation of the individual’s worldview is a direct consequence of the social and economical changes in European societies since the Second World War. He suggests that the decline of traditional religiosity is not an indication of linear secularisation or of forgetting traditions, but an indication of the loss of relevance of some aspects of the traditional institutional religions. Furthermore, he argues that this is not an indication of the loss of ethical value base, but, rather, a change in the value base and consequently the transformation of the legitimating framework of this value base.
In January, Ashgate Publishing will release “The Making of a Postsecular Society: A Durkheimian Approach to Memory, Pluralism and Religion in Turkey” by Massimo Rosati (University of Rome ‘Tor Vergata’). The publisher’s description follows:
Drawing on the thought of Durkheim, this volume focuses on societal changes at the symbolic level to develop a new conceptualisation of the emergence of postsecular societies. Neo-Durkheimian categories are applied to the case of Turkey, which in recent years has shifted from a strong Republican and Kemalist view of secularism to a more Anglo-Saxon perspective. Turkish society thus constitutes an interesting case that blurs modernist distinctions between the secular and the religious and which could be described as ‘postsecular’.
Presenting three symbolic case studies – the enduring image of the founder of the Republic Atatürk, the contested site of Ayasofia, and the remembering and commemoration of the murdered journalist Hrant Dink – The Making of a Postsecular Society analyses the cultural relationship that the modern Republic has always had with Europe, considering the possible implications of the Turkish model of secularism for a specifically European self-understanding of modernity.
Based on a rigorous construction of theoretical categories and on a close scrutiny of the common challenges confronting Europe and its Turkish neighbour long considered ‘other’ with regard to the accommodation of religious difference, this book sheds light on the possibilities for Europe to find new ways of arranging the relationship between the secular and the religious. As such, it will appeal to scholars of social theory, the sociology of religion, secularisation and religious difference, and social change.