Monday, August 20, 2012


I'm getting with the program! Both of my Fall courses will assign not only readings and site visits but podcasts. They're from this project, put together by some graduate students at the University of Edinburgh. I've not had a chance to listen to more than a half dozen of them, but the idea is good, and when they're good they are very good. For instance, the conversation with Linda Woodhead about secularization theory will frame the subject for my first year seminar. It gives a beautiful overview of the topic, and why secularization theory remains important even as discredited. Indeed, it'll help me situate The New School in its special place as a bridge between European and American academic worlds, as it features Peter Berger's and José Casanova's contributions quite prominently.

The Religious Studies Project interviews teaching or attending conferences in the UK and so clearly has a British focus - not a problem unless you're unaware of it. To me it's a gift, a corrective to the preoccupations of American academe. It introduces a younger generation's map of what's living and what's dead in the field. And it's reminder of conversations with folks with assorted British accents and mannerisms back in my Oxford days!

Not all the podcasts are quite as satisfying as the Woodhead discussion, showing the difficulties of the genre. Interviews are hard! In one case, the interviewee seems to be playing dumb, reporting that only 40% of Buddhists in the American Religious Identification Survey indicated that they believed strongly in the existence of God, and contextualizing statistical factoids from ARIS with snibbets from interviews with American college students. In another, one of the major religioclasts seems to dodge all but his own questions to the field (kudos to the interviewer for pressing him). And in another, the interviewer interrogates a Norwegian scholar about the legitimacy of gender studies in religion with an aggressive obtuseness I thought long extinct, certainly among younger scholars. Think again!

A good interview doesn't just happen, anymore than a good article or talk or exhibition; it takes craft and care. A student of religious studies could learn valuable lessons from the content of these podcasts, as well as from their form - even when they're not entirely successful.

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