The following was published in NEXT, the Graduate Journal of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
The following was written as an Honors Thesis for the Anthropology program at the University of California, Berkeley in 2014.
The following was published on Religious Theory, e-supplement to the Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory. You can read it here.
Author Note: The following was originally written as the introduction to a much longer comparative project between two religious myths. Additionally, the creation of the following model for comparative methodology in religious studies could not have been possible without the help and guidance of Dr. Amy Balogh.
The field of comparative religious studies has a negative reputation in the broader umbrella of religious studies. However, despite the failings of past comparative endeavors – which this article will detail – there is an imperative within the study of religion that comparisons among religions continue to be done: the act of comparison allows the comparativist and the readers to understand the original comparands in even greater depth than individual analysis. As a religious studies researcher, I believe that one of the duties of religious studies scholarship is to seek to understand the individual components that comprise a religion – practice, belief, and artifact – and (ideally) the religion as a whole. While the latter may be too lofty of an aspiration, it remains a goal of religious studies.
In a graduate level course at the University of Denver, I was told that I am racist because I am white.
“People are racist or sexist because they have power,” said the professor, who shall remain nameless. “A black man can’t be racist because he has no power, but he can be sexist. And white people are racist because – whether they have personally been racist themselves or not – they benefit from white privilege.”
As a population, humans have created various systems of classification by way of organizing that which is not easily understood into smaller, more digestible parts. By naming “something mysterious and out of control,” placing identities on people and things, and categorizing by those identities, humans have harnessed the ability to “gain mastery” over something (Luhrmann 45). While certain categorizations have evolved to be effective in organizing characteristics of people, the constructs created are not the most helpful in understanding the limitless ways of being. Maurice Leenhardt and Antonio Damasio have presented two different constructs for understanding, or classifying, a person. These constructs present defined boundaries that make it possible to understand the philosophical person as its own entity separate from other beings.
The notion of spirituality as being distinct from institutionalized religions is highlighted in both Talal Asad’s Reading a Modern Classic: W. C. Smith’s The Meaning and End of Religion and in Courtney Bender’s The New Metaphysicals, Spirituality and the American Religious Imagination. The distinction between religious life and spirituality represents a modern-day aversion to the institutional distortion of the individual’s uniquely transcendental experience. Further, the hope that spirituality should reside within the walls of a religious setting must be forgotten by those who desire a truly individual awakening without the coercive dogmas unnecessarily tied to religion’s doors. While spirituality and religion are thought to work in tandem, the clear divide, and yet unmistakable relationship, between the two presented by Asad and Bender epitomizes the underlying strife of both to seek that which can never fully be understood—the connection with the divine.
In the contemporary age, which is characterized by the phenomenon of globalization and an interconnected global-political economy, communication and interaction among previously disparate cultures and civilizations is becoming increasingly more common. The results of encounters between various modern cultures have the potential to create a world of bonded nations—fostered by positive trade relations and open borders—or a world divided by ideology. According to Samuel Huntington, his theory regarding “The Clash of Civilizations” argues that the fundamental source of conflict in this new age of globalization will primarily consist of ideological divisions of humankind, whereby cultural or religious distinctions between civilizations will encourage the greatest levels of violence and alienation, more so than any other distinction of humanity. Since the publication of Huntington’s theory, catastrophic events have been understood through this lens: the case of Charlie Hebdo, the events of September 11th, and the invasion of Iraq are seen as clashes between the civilizations of the West and Islam; wars in Croatia and Slovenia, as well as the crises in Ukraine constitute clashes between Orthodoxy civilizations and the West; and Boko Haram is seen as a clash between the civilizations of Islam and Africa.
In the contemporary world, characterized by an increasing interconnectedness among all human civilizations, it is vital to understand the phenomenon of globalization, what it means to live in a global culture, and what our roles are as transnational citizens of the world. As the abilities of our advancing human population increase to allow for a greater sense of connection between individual human civilizations—aided by technology, such as communication technologies (mass media and computerization) and transportation technologies—conflicts between the preservation of, and respect for, the particularities of individual cultures and the encroachment of outside values have become a significant part of our changing world. Though some theorists take opinionated stances encouraging the positive effects of a globalized world society—a hyperglobalist approach—and others take the opposing side, vilifying it for its detrimental effects on the uniqueness of human civilizations—a theorist of the cultural imperialism perspective would take this approach, potentially—the fact of the matter is that it is occurring and we are faced with the responsibility to understand what our role is in this new globalized society.
The establishment of place has been the defining element of Mormonism throughout its creation, development, struggles, and successes. The birth of Mormonism within the American landscape emerged with the aid of the right prophet—Joseph Smith—and with the right theological foundation and backstory to attract the attentions of those disenfranchised with the available religions of the time.