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Before Religion: A History of a Modern Concept
For much of the past two centuries, religion has been understood as a universal phenomenon, a part of the “natural” human experience that is essentially the same across cultures and throughout history. Individual religions may vary through time and geographically, but there is an element, religion, that is to be found in all cultures during all time periods. Taking apart ...more
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published January 22nd 2013 by Yale University Press
(first published January 1st 2013)
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What has the 5-paragraph essay wrought? This was a book on an interesting topic written in a hideous style that I would prefer not to call "academic", but perhaps is the terrible state of academic writing today, after decades of teaching kids how to write painfully awful essays. This book actually has sections labeled "Introduction" and "Conclusion" for each chapter, where he actually says "in this chapter I will show..." and "in this chapter I have shown..." Ugh it is horrible. Horrible. Every ...more
"An especially popular way of viewing religion is as a kind of inner disposition and concern for salvation conceived in opposition to politics and other “secular” areas of life. In this model, religion is presumed to be a universal feature of human cultures, and the individual World Religions are culturally specific examples of this general phenomenon of religion. Such a view is so common that many people in the modern world would, I think, consider it self-evident. In this book I argue that ...more
This book is a really good idea. To introduce the idea of "religion" as a modern concept to people who might not be familiar with it and to apply the idea to the ancient world. At times, Nongbri's execution is quite good, especially in the initial chapters. But then, he gets lost in the weeds. There are too many details without enough direction. There are several points you can really tell he's not in his element (this was expanded from a dissertation on Paul). And, also, I found the ending a ...more
I really liked Nongbri's book. For me he took what Asad and McCutcheon have been writing about - that religion is a modern cultural concept - and explained how that modern concept of religion is read back into historical studies of Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and ancient Greek and Latin religions, etc. While his review of this history is detailed - perhaps more than necessary - it offers very concrete examples of how modern understandings of religion (which he defines, rather insightfully, as ...more
Brent Nongbri is a postdoctoral researcher at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia.More about Brent Nongbri...