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Abstract

The exorcism of Michael Taylor in 1974, which led to murder, pushed Anglican exorcisms into the public gaze. This article proposes a particular trajectory of Anglicanism and the preternatural into popular culture and popular awareness of religion. The Taylor case was one of the catalysts for private anxiety among clergy about the preternatural in the Church of England. By the early 1970s, some clergy ignited public debate including open letters and television appearances to declare the Church of England should not exorcise and complete belief in the accounts of the Gospels was not necessary. Their debate moved to television, some clergy declaring on talk shows the Church should not exorcise, others consenting to be filmed exorcising. Clergy exorcising on screen gave visual cues and content to fictional drama that traversed different genres and channels. This article identifies a common element to drama showcasing the Church and the preternatural, showing the institution and its clergy as weak or absent in the face of evil. Drama brought to the fore clerical concerns that engaging publicly with the preternatural made the Church seem theologically confused and denuded of spiritual authority, a point reinforced by the tragic real-world consequences of the Anglican exorcism of Michael Taylor.

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In: Journal of Religion in Europe
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Abstract

This article presses on some of the key insights from Mack’s seminal essay on Christianity vis-à-vis scholarship on a different religion, namely Hinduism. I suggest some extensions of Mack’s argument to the academic study of Hindu traditions, such as identifying the harms posed by the soft inclusion of Christian theology within the discipline of Religious Studies. I argue that this is a structural problem in the modern academy that sidelines scholars of non-Christian, especially non-Abrahamic, religions and creates a model for uncritical influence from ideological and political sources. Following on Mack’s analysis of the pressures of Christian theology, I identify specific non-academic threats to critical studies of Hinduism, namely the political commitments of Hindu nationalists and the embrace of orientalist ideas by scholars and practitioners. I argue it is imperative to counter both harmful trends, while recognizing significant challenges to doing so. I also draw on insights from scholarship on Hinduism to point to strategies potentially beneficial to scholars of Christianity keen to pursue Mack’s ideas, such as a milder interest in questions of origins that embraces multiplicity. I conclude that scholars of Hinduism are ready to tell our stories – based on critical analyses of a diverse and complicated religious tradition – but whether our academic peers in Religious Studies are ready to hear and incorporate our insights is another matter.

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In: Method & Theory in the Study of Religion
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Abstract

This paper experiments with Burton Mack’s invitation to rethink how scholars frame the past by examining two discourses in Copto-Arabic studies. First, I present the scholarly discourses of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries about the medieval Coptic past, and second, I examine how the traditional past is perceived in two medieval Copto-Arabic legal collections. I claim that closely reading these collections reveals the ways that their authors theorized and negotiated the authority of the past. There are marked differences between the two collections – differences that defined their intellectual contributions and their place in the tradition. More broadly, I demonstrate that Mack’s invitation to rethink and redescribe our subjects’ narratives about themselves can enrich Copto-Arabic scholarship by opening hitherto untapped areas, especially in the sociolegal realm.

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In: Method & Theory in the Study of Religion

Abstract

This is a republication of an article by the late Burton Mack (1931–2022, formerly Professor Emeritus at Claremont School of Theology). “On Redescribing Christian Origins” was originally presented as one of the papers at the inaugural session of the Society of Biblical Literature Consultation on Ancient Myths and Modern Theories of Christian Origins (Philadelphia, 1995) and then published in Method and Theory in the Study of Religion 8:3 (1996), pp. 247–269. Following this reprint are a series of contemporary scholars connecting Mack’s approach, as outlined in this paper, to their own research in other fields, thereby demonstrating the relevance of his work for the wider field.

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In: Method & Theory in the Study of Religion
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Abstract

In recent years, there has been an increasing number of scholars who have argued that “religion” is a specifically modern category which first emerged in Western Europe in the seventeenth century and was further developed, and extended to the rest of the world, in the context of colonialism. This, in turn, has led to a discussion of what these studies mean for the study of religion. In this article, I examine an influential answer to this question as it emerges in the work of Kevin Schilbrack, who argues in favour of a critical realist position. I argue, however, that Schilbrack misrepresents the nature of one of the other main theoretical approaches on offer, namely the discursive study of religion. This is a problem because of the relational nature of Schilbrack’s project, in that he argues for his own position based on the problems he identifies in other alternatives.

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In: Method & Theory in the Study of Religion

Abstract

Burton Mack’s 1996 article “On Redescribing Christian Origins” was a classic of the discipline. In my view, one of its most enduring contributions is its recognition that the centrality of the New Testament’s view of Christian Origins survives despite a growing recognition that, technically, it ought to be sidelined – that it is protected by a “ring of fire.” Further, he argued that the perseverance of this centrality was a major factor inhibiting the influence of New Testament studies on other disciplines. In this essay, I argue that the centrality of the Hebrew Bible’s vision of Israelite origins as a starting point for contemporary debates, even among those who regard it as a fiction, is characterized by a similar avoidance of certain necessary recognitions and is inhibiting to a similar degree.

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In: Method & Theory in the Study of Religion
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Abstract

Burton Mack was the most influential and, perhaps, controversial scholar of the Christian bible and Christian origins of his generation. He exposed the conventional story of Christian origins as a myth that needed to be studied not on its own terms but in terms of a general theory of religion that would be useful also in the study of religions other than Christianity. This article provides a brief summary of the main features of Mack’s work for readers who are not familiar with it. Its purpose is also to be a setup for a set of essays that engage Mack in their own areas of specialization in the study of religion.

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In: Method & Theory in the Study of Religion

Abstract

Using Burton L. Mack’s work in Christian origins and its subsequent influence across the field as an example, this essay argues for a form of scholarship in which working on shared problems and curiosities, across seemingly discrete content specialties, is seen as an expertise to be cultivated among scholars in the study of religion.

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In: Method & Theory in the Study of Religion

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In this article we suggest a shift to a performative perspective on animism. After identifying problems with essentialism, agency, and the object/subject dichotomy in previous animism studies, we engage with posthumanist theorists and bring in perspectives from new materialism and ritual studies. From the perspectives we suggest, performative animism exists in a variety of contexts, which should be acknowledged even when studying “religion.” Performative animism also allows us to explore normative modern, technological, secular animism, which most take for granted and which is even at times naturalized. Finally, we suggest that the concept “performative animism” can be used as an analytical tool in religious studies and that it has potential to overcome the shortcomings of the concept “religion” itself.

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In: Method & Theory in the Study of Religion

Abstract

This article seeks to apply Marianne Qvortrup Fibiger’s theoretical concept of a “religious hotspot” to the case of representations of the French Catholic shrine of Lourdes in Danish (Protestant or post-Protestant) public media from 1858 to 1914. While suggesting that hotspots could be seen as centers in wider interest spheres, I seek to demonstrate the push and pull effects of the hotspot of Lourdes, moving from the local level of the Pyrenees to the national level of France and, further, to the broader Catholic and freethinking-intellectual worlds before I finally arrive at relatively distant Denmark. Here, the development of the representations of Lourdes from 1858 to 1914 mirrors public representations of “the fantastic” and of religiosity as such in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Beginning with disdain, the Lourdes representations end in nostalgic fascination – in a longing for the enchanted hotspot no longer available (that is, no longer deemed plausible) in Denmark at the opening of the twentieth century. Further, this case helps evaluate the dynamics of exoticism that I propose to be an integral part of religious hotspots per se; in addition, it helps tweak out the commercial nature intrinsic to religious hotspots.

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In: Numen