Consuming Religion: A Selected Bibliography

January 14th, 2018

What are you drawn to like, to watch, or even to binge? What are you free to consume, and what do you become through consumption? These questions of desire and value, Kathryn Lofton argues, are questions for the study of religion. In eleven essays exploring soap and office cubicles, Britney Spears and the Kardashians, corporate culture and Goldman Sachs, Lofton shows the conceptual levers of religion in thinking about social modes of encounter, use, and longing. Wherever we see people articulate their dreams of and for the world, wherever we see those dreams organized into protocols, images, manuals, and contracts, we glimpse what the word “religion” allows us to describe and understand.
With great style and analytical acumen, Lofton offers the ultimate guide to religion and consumption in our capitalizing times. Kathryn Lofton will discuss Consuming Religion, April 2, 2018 at the Co-op (details coming soon).

Other Peoples' Myths, by Wendy Doniger O'Flaherty - The bibliography of works I consulted for my recent book is huge, so I decided to narrow the field to some of my favorite volumes published by the University of Chicago Press (this is the same imprint that supports Class 200: New Studies in Religion). Chicago is a legendary press in the study of religion, not least of which because they published so many leaders in the History of Religions: Mircea Eliade, Bruce Lincoln, and Jonathan Z. Smith. For anyone who wants to begin to engage this nerd arena, there is no better introduction than this volume, which is imaginative, beautifully written, and brilliantly comparative.
Dissent in American Religion, by Edwin Scott Gaustad - Originally published in 1973, this book is my favorite introduction to the study of religion in the United States. The vitality of dissent appears in three central chapters on schismatics (i.e., Isaac Backus), heretics (Orestes Brownson), and misfits (D.T. Suzuki). This structure, however, fails to convey the stunning elegance of Gaustad’s perceptions. “Society as it moves in pendulum-like fashion from one over-correction to another displays a great gift for just missing the truth,” the Epilogue rhapsodizes, “When a vision of truth is perceived and announced, it then is codified and institutionalized and distorted.” Even dissent becomes rote, even if never so in its examination by Gaustad.
Visions of Queer Martyrdom from John Henry Newman to Derek Jarman, by Dominic Janes - I didn't read this book until after I finished a chapter on the Ritualism Crisis, and if I had read it I simply would have said over and over: READ THIS BOOK. Jarman shows what a specific and repeated resource ecclesial materials have been for queer persons. Every time you imagine something is in opposition to something else (say, for example, "the Church" versus "homosexuals"), the study of religion will tell you: those two things are bound together in ways you have not yet perceived.
Seeking the Straight and Narrow, by Lynne Gerber - On the face of it this book is simply an ethnographic study showing the connections between evangelical efforts to reorient sexuality and to help people lose weight. But on closer reading -- which this book rewards, and then some -- you realize this is a book about how our desires for change are a specific and profound erotic all their own. Our wanting is worth even more to us than our getting. Evangelicals get this, but Gerber exposes the very specifically human sadomasochistic pain with incomparable grace and compassion.
Throughout Your Generations Forever, by Nancy Jay - I don't know what I have to do to get this book taught in every Religious Studies classroom, but until I do, I won't rest. Like all acts of genius, this book begins with a simple observation -- the ritual of sacrifice requires gender dichotomy -- and then proceeds devastatingly forth from that observation, unfolding a feminist critique without equal in the study of religion. If it isn't enough that she explains the entirety of the history of religions through men's dependence on women's reproductive capacities, she also blazes a metacritique of her analytical work as well. "To bring ‘sacrifice’ under our control as a perfectly defined object of analysis, to cut out and classify its constituent elements, is more like doing sacrifice than understanding it,” she writes. "The victim has indeed been brought under a kind of analytic control, but in the process it has been killed.” These words haunt everything I write, asking: what am I killing through this act of assessing control?
Articles of Faith: African-American Community Churches in Chicago, by Dave Jordano - Most of my work is overly slavish to text and dumbly blind to the rich archive of sensory culture, but this isn't for a lack of interest: images surround me as I write, and I am haunted often by particular gallery shows or exhibits I have seen. I won't put good words to why this set of photographs is so strong, except to say that you can see on every page how the photographer established a relationship of intimacy and care for the churches he visited. This book is a must-have for anyone interested in the community life of urban churches.
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