Over in Postscripts: The Journal of Sacred Texts and Contemporary Worlds, I have an article that has gone to press. It's called "Reading Alex Haley's Roots: Toward an Anthropology of Scriptures."
“Religion” is a concept that people frequently talk about without much precision. In this class we will introduce humanistic theories and social scientific methods to raise the level of discourse around religion. Our local community and the news of the day will serve as the laboratory where we will learn to seek answers and ask better questions about religion.
Indeed, the comparative method has long been the preferred tool of those seeking to prove the similarity—and especially the equality—of religions across time and space. That agenda, however, has not always been successful and has at times engendered ironically problematic scholarship.
Because portions of the world developed differently due to histories and geography unique to their specific region, they in turn cultivate traditions organic to the heritage of their area—they develop a culture. It is this culture from which all traditions of a given region are derived, including particular rituals relating to as well as the practice of specific forms of spiritual maintenance. From this culture, ethnic identities manifest symbiotically, coexisting in the continuation and evolution of a society’s cultural climate.
The drastic reversal of many essential elements of Maoism by Deng Xiaoping indicates that in order to preserve the very survival of the Party, the founding principle, as sacred as Maoism, can be rejected. In this sense, Maoism was treated in a transactional way, so much so that once its utility ceased to exist, it was immediately thrown away.