Chris's Reviews > The Invention of World Religions: Or, How European Universalism Was Preserved in the Language of Pluralism

The Invention of World Religions by Tomoko Masuzawa
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's review
Sep 18, 2010

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bookshelves: theory, religions
Read from June 06 to 16, 2016

A genealogy of method in the modern study of religion is, almost by definition, a specialist's endeavor. Within that admittedly narrow frame, I found myself pretty much the target audience. Early modern fabulists! Victorian Anglo-Catholics! C19 German philologists! A concluding deconstruction of Ernst Troeltsch!! This stuff is catnip to me, and would have been even more at the end of my college career, which is ... exactly when Masuzawa published this book, actually. Like, by a matter of weeks.

One story that was new to me here, and that I found especially fascinating: The question of what makes a religion "universal" or "world". The claim, which I first encountered in Lamin Sanneh, that Christianity is uniquely "translatable", and the elision of language and culture he performs, turns out to have a long history: It's not new in missiological discourse, but rather retrieved from being buried first by European racists and then by colonial pluralists. (Would you be shocked that the word "Aryan" is all over this story?)

If either my raving or the GR book summary grabs you at all, definitely read it. Masuzawa writes much better and more accessibly than most academics; it's the subject matter, not the jargon, that's specialized. There's nothing here to spark a revolution, but there's plenty to chew on.
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