Hindoos, Hindus, Spelling, and Theory

What is the relationship between spelling and theory? I often tell people my research is about "Hinduism in nineteenth century America." But it's really not. It's not about Hinduism at all. It can't be because the idea of "Hinduism," a world religion comparable to other world religions, isn't invented until the late nineteenth century. That's … Continue reading Hindoos, Hindus, Spelling, and Theory

Europeanizing the Buddha and Constructing a World Religion

The Buddha, as many in the West understand him, was invented in the nineteenth century, says Donald Lopez. This Europeanized image of the Buddha emerged after hundreds of years of Christian misconceptions about the Buddha, argued Lopez. During visits to Asia, Europeans had seen different images of the Buddha, represented in the various artistic styles … Continue reading Europeanizing the Buddha and Constructing a World Religion

Religious Difference and the Monkey King of Oklahoma City

In 2012 private funds paid to erect a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the Oklahoma State Capitol. A 2009 state law allowing privately funded religious monuments on public grounds paved the way for the Ten Commandments to sit in granite outside the capitol. Seeing an opening in the new law and the new … Continue reading Religious Difference and the Monkey King of Oklahoma City

Remember Zelmo Beaty: Race, Religion, and Basketball in Salt Lake City

One of my favorite weekly podcasts is Slate's Hang Up and Listen, a sports podcast that deconstructs sports media and culture with a wry wit that deflates American sports of all its self-seriousness. If sports talk radio is Duck Dynasty, Hang Up is 30 Rock. Every week host Josh Levin signs off with the phrase … Continue reading Remember Zelmo Beaty: Race, Religion, and Basketball in Salt Lake City

Reza Aslan and the Impossibilty of an Expert in Religion in America

I think there has been one thing missing from all the blogging and twittering and Facebook posting over the Reza Aslan interview with Fox News: For many Americans, the idea of an expert in religion is impossible. Sure, you may have a Ph.D., you may know texts in their original languages, you may even have … Continue reading Reza Aslan and the Impossibilty of an Expert in Religion in America

AAR Redux: Roundups, NY Times Story, Twitter Fail, and Butchering the Elephant #sblaar

The American Academy of Religion's annual shindig is over and with Thanksgiving in the rear view mirror and a fridge full of leftovers it's back to work. I won't do a full recap, but I will say that my favorite two panels were both "author meets critics" style. One on Tracy Fessenden's Culture and Redemption … Continue reading AAR Redux: Roundups, NY Times Story, Twitter Fail, and Butchering the Elephant #sblaar

The Metaphysics of the Internet; or Can Lydia Maria Child’s Ghost Read My Comment?

I'm in the midst of the metaphysical chunk of my dissertation. In these two chapters I examine how American writers in the middle of the nineteenth century looked to India for sources to build religious alternatives to orthodox Protestantism. Thoreau, Emerson, Blavatzky, all the usual suspects are there. Today I'm working on the writings of … Continue reading The Metaphysics of the Internet; or Can Lydia Maria Child’s Ghost Read My Comment?

WaPo Column Ignores History, Colonialism, and the Problem of Religion

The Washington Posts' foreign affairs columnist David Ignatius has written a remarkably simplistic column based on the findings of the Pew Research Center. Here's how it starts: God had a good convention: The Almighty’s name was mentioned (albeit at the last minute) in the platform at the Democratic National Convention. And He was invoked no … Continue reading WaPo Column Ignores History, Colonialism, and the Problem of Religion

James Freeman Clarke and the Post-Protestant Metaphysical Roots of Comparative Religion in America

I came across this on page 1 of James Freeman Clarke's Ten Great Religions (1871): [The present work] is an attempt to compare the great religions of the world with each other. When completed, this comparison ought to show what each is, what it contains, wherein it resembles the others, wherein it differs from the … Continue reading James Freeman Clarke and the Post-Protestant Metaphysical Roots of Comparative Religion in America

On the Anniversary of Thoreau’s ‘Walden’ and Its Place in American Religious History

Today marks the 158th anniversary of Henry David Thoreau's Walden. It couldn't have come at a better time. Right now I am knee deep in Transcendentalists, Thoreau included, as I wade through my chapter on Transcendentalist representations of Hinduism. The combination of today's anniversary and my current writing work got me thinking about how Henry … Continue reading On the Anniversary of Thoreau’s ‘Walden’ and Its Place in American Religious History