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Gary Lease wrote vividly about the entanglement of religion and power, pursuing critical histories of religious claims and their social support structures. He sought to replace a standard story of religion's ubiquity (often coupled with an attitude of approval) with a much darker version of the human desires and conflicts embedded in, and masking as, religious discourse. But Lease seems to have been fundamentally ambivalent about the object in question. Is it "religion," namely the ideological dynamics deployed by human beings to dominate one another (and themselves), or is it religion, a void or death wish at the heart of human existence, a now-refashioned ubiquity but without the happy ending? I claim that there are profound, and ultimately productive, ambivalences in Lease's attempt cleanly to circumscribe the object of study—ambivalences which makes him a vital interlocutor in the effort to move beyond conventional histories of religion and consciousness.

In: Method & Theory in the Study of Religion
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This paper is a schematic consideration of the relationship between reason and history through the figure of St. Anselm of Canterbury, the very exemplar, one might suppose, of the pre-modern absence of historical consciousness. I argue that while Anselm may offend a maximal number of contemporary scholarly habits of mind, whether historicist, secular, or simply argumentative, he is at the front lines of a classic question recently posed by Alain Badiou, namely how much can one think outside of one's time? This question expresses an anxiety concerning both what it is possible and/or permissible to think at any given time and what time or history have to do with thinking as such—an anxiety neatly symbolized, I claim, by the leaden specter of the ontological argument. What, it might rightly be asked, is Anselm's argument to us? A provocation, certainly; a theory, possibly.

In: Method & Theory in the Study of Religion
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In working to understand myths, rituals, and the human beings who craft and use them, Jonathan Z. Smith involved himself in a debate located primarily in anthropology. What is one to make of cultural and linguistic differences? How do differences come to matter? Are there barriers to understanding between one culture-group-tribe and another that surpass the power of translation? Smith’s stance in this debate was partly negative. It cannot be the case that there are differences between cultures that entail ranking some higher than others. More constructively, Smith posed the question of the relationship of two approaches that shape the debate: on one side, the approach of structuralism, which seeks to identify what all cultures share, and on the other, the approach of history, which looks for anomalies and outliers, specificities and accidents. One must commit to both, he claimed. The question is, how?

In: Method & Theory in the Study of Religion
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A response to Donald Wiebe’s call for a scientific study of religion.

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In: Method & Theory in the Study of Religion