Theses on Professionalization: Barbara Krawcowicz


In this series with the Bulletin, we have asked 21 early career scholars to weigh in on Russell McCutcheon’s Theses on Professionalization, first published in 2007. In his 21 theses, McCutcheon offers advice to young scholars entering (or soon to enter) the job market, addressing the all-to-important (but often overlooked) question of professionalization. Each of the contributors in this series has been asked to comment on a single thesis, addressing its contemporary relevance, and how it relates to their own experience moving forward in the academic world. For other posts in this series, see here

by Barbara Krawcowicz

Thesis #9. A structural element that must be taken into account is that Departmental search committees often fail to entertain the difficult questions in advance and, instead, go on “fishing expeditions” by defining their open positions far too broadly and vaguely, such as looking for “the best qualified” applicant (without ever articulating what counts as “qualified”). Making explicit their implicit and often competing preferences may strike members of a Department as being too costly an exercise. It is into this mix of unstated disagreements and longstanding rivalries that job applicants can be thrust, affecting such things as how their letters of application are read, their credentials judged, and their performance during campus interviews measured. While one cannot control such factors, when representing oneself one at least ought to be aware of their potential presence and impact.

An interesting job advert appeared not long ago on the Higher Ed website:

Untitled SS

Minimum education: no response. Minimum experience: no response. The plethora of information regarding the position contained in the advertisement took my breath away. There is no doubt whatsoever that the hiring department had spent a significant amount of time considering all the important factors before it went public with the search. Imagine those long discussions: we need someone to teach X but it would be great if they could teach Y and Z as well. We could use someone with an expertise in the field of A; that would greatly enhance our program. But it is also essential that the person we hire has experience in B and C because our department really needs that! And also… But as well… And let us not forget about…

Alright, I know, the advertisement was obviously a mistake and thus it cannot serve as an illustration of McCutcheon’s thesis #9. However, every single one of us, (i.e. of people in the trenches of what is commonly known as the job search but feels much more like one of the protracted and exhausting battles of World War I), has seen more than one advertisement that was, to say the least, vague in its description of the vacant position, required qualifications, job’s responsibilities, etc.

As a grad student at Indiana University Bloomington, I attended a workshop where several tenured faculty members shared some of the knowledge they gathered while serving on job search committees. Among many interesting things said, one in particular caught my attention. In response to a complaint that many job descriptions were formulated in such a way that it was quite impossible to decide whether or not one was qualified and should apply for the job, one of the professors replied: well, the truth of the matter is that oftentimes the search committee doesn’t really know what it is looking for. The professor smiled saying this and his words were met with chuckles among the audience. I don’t think I laughed. Somehow it did not seem funny.

On the Chronicle of Higher Education discussion board, there is a long thread entitled Apply For The Damn Job. Am I really qualified to apply for this position? AFTDJ! I’m not sure whether they’re actually looking for someone doing this-and-that. AFTDJ! The description is so broad that I don’t really know if… AFTDJ! You are never going to know for sure. So just AFTDJ if it seems that you may be a good fit. Seems. Yes, that’s all you’re going to know because, sometimes, the search committee itself does not have a clear picture of the ideal candidate.

So we apply for those damn jobs. One problem we immediately encounter is this: how can one tailor application documents to a job description if the description happens to be hopelessly vague? How can I prove that I am the best qualified candidate if I don’t know what counts as qualified (let alone best)? The advertisement says they want a person whose work is interdisciplinary. Ok, great, but what exactly does that mean? Does it even mean anything? Or is only a convenient placeholder instead of which the advert should actually say, “well, we don’t really know what we want” or “we will make up our minds once we see the applications and know who is available”?

That is not all, however.

Not long ago I applied for a job in Europe. The job description in the advertisement was surprisingly detailed. Moreover, there was an even more informative package available through the institution’s online application system. From what was called a job specification I could learn infinitely more than I ever had from any analogous advertisements in the US.

The description was divided into following sections: 1) Job Purpose, 2) Main Responsibilities, 3) Knowledge, Skills and Experience Needed for the Job, 4) Key Contacts/Relationships, 5) Dimensions, 6) Job Context and any other relevant information. The list of knowledge, skills, and experience was divided into two sections: essential and desirable. The former consisted of five points. The latter – of another three.

My goodness, I thought, could one ask for a better job description? Admittedly, parts of it did leave a bit too much room for interpretation. For example, one of the essentials was an “ability to plan and deliver excellent teaching.” One could ask, rightfully, what exactly counts as excellent teaching. Or what is meant by “high level competence in university lecturing,” but then we all know that there are things that are not easily captured within any definite rubric. Especially in a limited space of a job advert.

Either way, I thought I had all the information I needed to prepare an excellent application. And so I did. In my letter I highlighted how I met all the essential requirements and some of the desirable ones. I made sure it was clear that I am capable of successfully discharging the main responsibilities listed.

I was invited for the interview.

The last position on the list of the desirables was occupied by – and here I will allow myself to replace the actual content of the job specification with a bit of a metaphor– an ability to cook vichyssoise. Well, I said to myself, I’ve never actually made this particular soup but I am no stranger to cooking in general and to cooking soups in particular. Besides, it is the very last of the desirables. Obviously it is not as important as the others.

How surprised I was when the interviewing panel presented me with leeks, potatoes, chicken broth and whipping cream and requested that I prepare a delicious vichyssoise right there and then!

Evidently the desirables were considerably more essential than they appeared given the advertisement.

How was that possible, I wondered. Why making vichyssoise was not listed among the essentials? It clearly should have been!

Well, a knowledgeable person told me, probably the committee members were not in agreement regarding this ability’s importance. Or perhaps they changed their mind sometime between the advert’s publication and the interviews. Additionally, you need to keep in mind that in the country where the institution is located, it is often the case that the advertisement is not created by people who later serve on the committee. It is possible that the vichyssoise advocate(s) had less impact on the job description content and more on the actual interview and decision making.

It is not only that, as McCutcheon has written, “Departmental search committees often fail to entertain the difficult questions in advance and, instead, go on ‘fishing expeditions’ by defining their open positions far too broadly and vaguely.” It is also the case that sometimes they define and redefine the position as the search unfolds.

“While one cannot control such factors” as nebulous job descriptions, “unstated disagreements and longstanding rivalries,” McCutcheon writes, “when representing oneself one at least ought to be aware of their potential presence and impact.” I’m not sure how this awareness should translate into action. Unless what McCutcheon is saying is simply: AFTDJ!

Barbara Krawcowicz received her PhD in Religious Studies from Indiana University Bloomington and in Philosophy from Warsaw University. Currently, she serves as an adjunct lecturer at the Polish Academy of Sciences. She’s working on a book devoted to Jewish Ultra-Orthodox responses to the Holocaust. Her research interests include modern and contemporary Jewish thought, religious radicalism, gender and religion, as well as method and theory in religious studies.

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Theses on Professionalization: Jeffrey Wheatley


by Jeffrey Wheatley

In this series with the Bulletin, we have asked 21 early career scholars to weigh in on Russell McCutcheon’s Theses on Professionalization, first published in 2007. In his 21 theses, McCutcheon offers advice to young scholars entering (or soon to enter) the job market, addressing the all-to-important (but often overlooked) question of professionalization. Each of the contributors in this series has been asked to comment on a single thesis, addressing its contemporary relevance, and how it relates to their own experience moving forward in the academic world. For other posts in this series, see here

Thesis #8: Like all institutions, academia provides a case study in the complex relationship between structure and agency; for, although there are a variety of things that one can do to increase one’s competitiveness, job candidates must recognize that there are also a host of factors of which they are unaware and which are therefore beyond their control (e.g., the unstated needs, interests, goals, and even insecurities of the hiring Department; the number of other candidates qualified at any given time in your area of expertise; the impact of world events on the perceived need for scholars in your subject area, etc.). Success likely requires one to learn to live with the latter while taking control of the former.

Most of Russell McCutcheon’s theses on professionalization provide important suggestions for how young scholars can develop their academic careers. The eighth thesis is a bit different. It suggests that we might do well to embrace on some level the vicissitudes of pursuing an academic career. McCutcheon writes that:

[A]lthough there are a variety of things that one can do to increase one’s competitiveness, job candidates must recognize that there are also a host of factors of which they are unaware and which are therefore beyond their control.

However deserving we might think ourselves to be and however much we professionalize and develop research that fulfills our particular field’s current desires, the truth is that academia in all of its institutional, personal, financial, and political dimensions will in all likelihood defy any attempt on the part of young scholars to understand the academic job market fully, much less master it completely. There are always unknowns. The academy is a game of risks.

In some ways Thesis #8 resonates with Tara Baldrick-Morrone’s response to Thesis #6. Regarding the demands of professionalization, she writes that:

[Th]is constant ratcheting-up of expectations does not guarantee us a thing, not even an interview with a third-tier institution. Performing any combination of the aforementioned tasks (or all of them, for that matter) does not equate to a job.

Acknowledging the reality of these vicissitudes does, I think, contribute to the development of a healthier realistic mentality in young scholars. To put it one way: failure to get a secure job does not indicate a failure in effort. But as I consider Thesis #8 and the Theses on Professionalization broadly, I am stuck thinking not about the “additional” skills, forms of consciousness, or exercises that will serve young scholars should they pursue an academic career (even if one of these skills is the acceptance of a lack of control), but, as Tara notes at the end of her post, I am stuck thinking about the responsibilities that the field broadly has toward young scholars. Furthermore, Thesis #8 prompts me to consider the structural forces that are more harmful and open to challenge than the examples McCutcheon provides. So, even as I acknowledge the utility and intent of Thesis #8, I want to use this opportunity to pivot towards these issues.

As a graduate student in the early stages of a PhD program, I cannot lay claim to any direct knowledge of the visceral realities of being on the job market—the ways in which the unknowns play into hiring; the ways in which the ideals of a meritocracy cannot capture the messiness of the whole process. In some ways the academic career market to me remains an abstraction, albeit one whose presence looms. Thankfully, I have been fortunate enough to have graduate colleagues and faculty members who have made frank discussions about the job market a part of academic training and central to my sense of being a member of an academic (and social) community. Furthermore, many scholars have utilized digital spaces to give priority to discussing #altac, the future of tenure, contingent labor conditions, the presumptuous privileging of those trained at elite institutions, and the ways in which gender and race structure academia today. We need to continue to examine and scrutinize these variables and how they influence our relationships, our hierarchies, and our scholarly production. Because of the efforts of these vocal scholars, I and many other young graduate students, it seems, are getting a much better sense of what awaits us and what the costs (and the rewards!) might be should we pursue an academic career.

Some of the persistent “unknowns” in academic hiring are inevitable. In truth, the phrase “the unspokens,” rather than “unknowns,” better captures what I mean in this post. We might do better to accept some of the academy’s “unspokens” as they are. The latter two examples that McCutcheon provides in Thesis #8 qualify for this treatment. However, McCutcheon’s first example—“the unstated needs, interests, goals, and even insecurities of the hiring Department” as factors beyond the control of applicantsdeserves more criticism. I think hiring institutions have a responsibility to craft pointed and relevant job descriptions that provide as transparent a view as possible to their intentions. Surely, this is a burden on these hiring committees. But I care more about the burden placed on job applicants lured by job descriptions whose authors have not disclosed (or figured out) what or whom they are really looking for. Applying to jobs is a costly and time-consuming endeavor that often occurs during a period in which many young scholars have diminishing or no support from their graduate institutions. We should question and challenge such a damaging “unspoken” variable alongside the ones I list in the previous paragraph.

I use “we” in a broad sense. I use it normatively, with the hope of drawing in scholars at all levels of academia to openly engage these issues. Young scholars have the most reason to be vocal about some of the more problematic unspokens that structure the academy today. Young scholars also occupy a position of vulnerability, which might be exacerbated if they are vocal in challenging the structures of the academy, especially if they are alone in doing so and especially if their social positionality (e.g., gender, class, race) already weakens their placement in the academy. The critique of some of the academy’s unspokens, I would like to think, should be the responsibility of our institutions, not just a burden placed upon young scholars as they navigate the complicated world of the academy. I make this claim not because I think Religious Studies is a site that, because of its objects of study (variously defined), creates a unique demand for ethical practices and responsibilities. I do not. I make this claim because I am invested in these institutions and fields. I care about the knowledges, methods, and theories we produce, and I care about the professional exercises and institutions that undergird this production.

Jeffrey Wheatley is a doctoral student in American Religions at Northwestern University. Jeff holds an MA from Florida State University. He is primarily interested in studying religion alongside politics, race, and imperialism. His current project explores the dynamics of race and religion within US colonial governance of the Philippines. Other research areas include secularism, capitalism, theory and method, and US Catholic history. He is on Twitter @wheatleyjt.

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Using World Religions


by Steven Ramey

Note: This post originally appeared on the Culture on the Edge blog.

“World religions” as a way of organizing the world have become the focus of scholarly critiques (including my recent post) that connect this discourse to the interests and assumptions of European Christians. In the midst of such critiques, some minority/marginalized groups also have adopted the concept of world religions because it can be useful to them. As a case in point, Rajan Zed,who self-identifies as a “Hindu statesman” and the president of the Universal Society of Hinduism, issued a press release earlier this week over the release of information on the cheating website Ashley Madison and subsequent headlines that 1 in 5 in Ottawa are enrolled. The press release declared,

Zed, who is President of Universal Society of Hinduism, in a statement in Nevada today, said that as all major religions strongly condemned adultery, this was a good cause to show religious unity in fight against the evil of adultery, which was the major cause of divorces resulting in break-up of families.

Roman Catholics being the single largest religious group in Ottawa, Archdiocese of Ottawa should lead the effort, involving other Christian denominations— Anglican, United Church, Orthodox, Presbyterian, Baptist, Pentecostal, etc.—, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Sikhs, etc.; Rajan Zed suggested.

Zed urged Archbishop of Ottawa, Most Reverend Terrence Thomas Prendergast, to take the lead, and offered Hindu help for the cause. Religions needed to act before infidelity became a norm, Zed added.

His reference to “major religions” and delineation of communities employs a world religions paradigm in a way that places Hinduism on par with Christian denominations in a society where those denominations are well-established. Such references further naturalize his position as a leader of Hindus alongside others recognized more broadly in society, such as the Archbishop. By offering Hindu help to the Archbishop, Zed attempts to insinuate himself into that religious leadership. If the Archbishop took up the call, then Zed’s leadership in instigating an action of interreligious cooperation is affirmed. Even if other leaders ignore his statements, he can claim a moral high ground of calling for action and garners attention and status for himself and his organization that draws on the broad acceptance of the concept of world religions. He further uses that paradigm and his construction of religious unity over sexual fidelity and marriage to present issues that are important to him as being both universal and essential.

While the comments on the article in the Ottawa Sun suggest that the reception to his suggestion has been relatively cool, the ways that he attempts to construct a coalition illustrate well how various groups today find the world religions paradigm quite useful, despite the colonial and Christian interests in its early construction. As with other symbols and discourses, the interests that we can identify in their development do not limit their malleability and usefulness for various groups today.

Image photographed by Richard Cocks (Own work, Banksy Graffiti (Park Street) Close shot) [CC BY-SA 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

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Science, Religion & Culture: Special Issue on “Atheism, Secularity, and Science”


Announcing the publication of “Atheism, Secularity, and Science,” a special issue of the journal Science, Religion & Culture, guest edited by John R. Shook, Ralph W. Hood Jr., and Thomas J. Coleman III. The journal issue contains theoretical and empirical articles covering a wide range of topics related to atheism and secularity. It begins with an introduction by the editors discussing key areas in the field, within which they situate this issue’s articles on topics such as definitions and discourse, measurement, mental wellbeing, organized nonbelief and humanism, growth of the “nones,” secularity of academics, hypothetical god image, and deconversion narratives in Rabbis. The issue concludes with three book reviews on The Problem of Animal PainThe New Atheist Novel, and Living the Secular Life.

Science, Religion & Culture is an open access peer reviewed journal and the special issue, “Atheism, Secularity, and Science” can be viewed here:

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Theses on Professionalization: Andrew Durdin


In this series with the Bulletin, we have asked 21 early career scholars to weigh in on Russell McCutcheon’s Theses on Professionalization, first published in 2007. In his 21 theses, McCutcheon offers advice to young scholars entering (or soon to enter) the job market, addressing the all-to-important (but often overlooked) question of professionalization. Each of the contributors in this series has been asked to comment on a single thesis, addressing its contemporary relevance, and how it relates to their own experience moving forward in the academic world. For other posts in this series, see here

by Drew Durdin

Thesis 7: For some of those who will be judging candidates’ credentials to determine their admission to the profession, the reputation of the school from which they have earned their Ph.D. plays a significant role in assessment of applicants’ skills and future promise as colleagues. Although one’s alma mater does communicate with whom one has trained and what traditions of scholarship one may pursue, for yet others the reputation of candidates’ schools is secondary to the quality of their current research, the places where they have published their work, and the experience they have had in the classroom.

The academic job market is not a level playing field. This should not come as any surprise. But in my conversations and commiserations with other early-career scholars, I’ve frequently found that the full implications of this sentiment are rarely appreciated, nor are they taken as a potential point of empowerment to those facing the uphill battle for employment where the odds seem always stacked against them. In my view, embracing the fact of the uneven field and using it to adjust our expectations can help us avoid some of the negative dispositions that authors have raised in these posts during the past few weeks. It also frees us up to be strategic with those things we can control in potentially new and creative ways.

In thesis #7 McCutcheon has pointed us to two criteria on which candidates for academic jobs might be assessed: “some” will weight a candidate on the reputation of her institutional affiliation while “others” might find this secondary to the quality of her scholarly work. My almost automatic response to this duality is to claim that things are far more complicated: as written, thesis #7 is a false dichotomy. As Tara Baldrick-Morrone indicated in last week’s post, many factors are at play when considering an applicant for a particular position. Even as I’ve perused the first job postings of the season, I’m struck by the list of qualifications (preferred and essential) that departments claim are relevant in judging applicants. In addition to the obvious qualities such as possessing a PhD, submitting letters of recommendation, and having an “active” and “competitive” research agenda as well as teaching qualifications, most job postings also contain administrative and “catch-all” language that point to a general desire for a candidate willing to act as an overall team player, a “good” colleague to work with. These latter qualities are much more intangible and interpersonal, less able to be assessed on paper, and must be navigated “in the room,” i.e., in the interviews where both applicants and committee members can negotiate between explicit matters on the page and more implicit qualifications.

While a number of things can and likely do get factored into assessing candidates, in my experience—albeit limited—and based on my rather anecdotal and informal interactions with others on the job market, the two elements McCutcheon gives us here—institutional affiliation versus individual quality—often take on a specific relationship. Put plainly, the latter is often appealed to as a response to the frustration felt in relation to the former. In fact, these two criteria seem already morally coded. That is, it’s not really a choice among equals: the quality of a candidate’s work is almost intuitively preferable to said candidate’s institutional affiliation. We’re struck with a sense of injustice when we entertain the possibility that hiring committees might select job candidates based solely—or mostly—on the prestige of their degree. After all the years of work and financial hardship in graduate school, it is a disquieting thought that it all might come down to a question of affiliation. This disquiet is not helped by recent studies (which perhaps reinforce our intuitions) that show a small coterie of elite academic programs perpetuate themselves through hiring practices in a closed network. [1]

By contrast, we often hope that solid scholarly work will somehow allow us to punch through the inequalities of our field and the academy in general—that by sheer effort alone, we’ll be able to transcend the disproportionate accumulations of social capital and end up being the exception to the bleak landscape testified to in article after article floating across our social media feeds. But merit—as a possible response to the inherent unevenness of the job market—simply defers the issue. In appealing to merit, we’re acting as though long-entrenched status hierarchies don’t exist or don’t matter—at least not to “us.” To plow ahead in a game rigged in advance, all the while acting as though this isn’t the case, leads to burnout, frustration, and resentment. It results in the loss of confidence or the compulsive need to “do more,” as other contributors have touched on in past weeks. To paraphrase a sentiment from Slavoj Žižek: many of us are fetishists in practice but not in theory when it comes to the job market. We know the general state of the academic job market—we’ve read the stats on the shrinking number of tenure positions, the indentured servitude of adjuncting, and the closing of religious studies departments as STEM fields reign supreme. And we know that the whole idea of meritocratic “bootstraps” is a myth often perpetuated by the most privileged. Yet, for all this, our own particular situation often remains mystified, and a latent conception of meritocracy lingers. We are perfectly content to commiserate over the abysmal state of the job market, in what can only be understood as the antecedent to a future explanation of why we never made it or the beginnings of a triumph narrative, in which we succeeded against all odds (likely because of the quality of our work, not the prestige of our degree). Either way, we are perpetuating the idea that if one works hard enough and produces quality scholarship then one might breakthrough the entrenched hierarchies in our field and beat the house at its own game.

Of course this is not a call to give up and go get a “real job,” nor is it to say that we shouldn’t strive to produce quality scholarship or present ourselves as well-rounded applicants. On the contrary, as Mike Altman put so nicely in a comment a few weeks back, we should embrace job market nihilism. We should put off notions that one can “game” the system and spend our energy instead on what we might have some control over. Acknowledging that the game is rigged might open us up to playing the game more skillfully and strategically and to resist hanging our potential success on any one factor, whether it’s the reputation of our program or the quality of our work. We should accept that, despite our best efforts, we can’t know or control most aspects of the job search in advance. Based on what we can know—through whatever channels and connections—of the preferences and priorities of those “some” and “others” who here represent the judges and gatekeepers of vocational academic work, we should carefully craft our self-representation and qualities for each application and interview, tailoring ourselves as best we can to each specific imagined audience who will read our application, conduct our interviews, and, with any luck, eventually become our colleagues.

[1] While Religious Studies departments have not been included in these studies, a quick look at the websites of some “top” schools in our field and the degree-granting institutions of their faculty members suggests a provisional pattern.

Andrew Durdin is a PhD candidate in History of Religions at the University of Chicago Divinity School. His research focuses on Roman religion, magic and religion in the Roman Empire, and scholarly historiography of ancient Mediterranean religions. His dissertation offers a critical redescription of certain evidences often taken as “magical” or as attesting to a strong concept of magic in the late Roman republic and early principate.

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Religious Proximity and Cultural Distance: An Introduction on the East/West Dichotomy

BSOR June CoverThe following is the editorial introduction to the June 2015 issue of the Bulletin for the Study of Religion (the full table of contents having already been posted). We offer this editorial here on the blog in order to give readers an overview of the most recent issue of the Bulletin.


By Philip L. Tite


A few years ago I was asked to teach the Western religions course for our summer session. This is a required course for all majors, its twin being the course on Eastern religions. Typically, such introductory courses are designed to offer basic information on a tradition’s history, beliefs, sacred texts, rituals, and modern challenges. This is where the reification of “religion” is firmly established for students. Most of us who have gone through the gauntlet of the discipline have studied in programs designed around such an East/West division and many of us find ourselves having to teach within such a paradigm. Although several have raised challenges about the “world religions paradigm” (see the discussions in Owen 2011 and Tite 2013), rarely are students introduced to those processes by which such East/West divisions are constructed and rendered normative or obvious. In my version of this course, we focused less on the Western traditions and more on the discursive construction of “Western religions” as a category. In my theories course, the historical construction of the East and the West, as mutually dependent concepts, arises with far more clarity.

The East/West is the product of colonial expansion, where understanding is interwoven within the maintenance of power relations. As I mention in class, all categorization is an act of establishing, reinforcing, or challenging power relations. No categorization is benign. To categorize is to create a center and a fringe, to discursively locate social actors to the benefit of some and the disadvantage of others. Geographic categorization is an effective tool for such rhetorical moves, as many of us tend to see geography in a simple sense of physical locations such as in basic mapmaking. Indeed, to present students with a global map of the “world religions” often reinforces monolithic cultural divisions. Cultural or human geography, however, draws our attention to the contestation over spatially advocated values and meanings, be those spaces large physical geographies (such as nation states), personal geographies (such as in personal dress choices), or political geographies (ideological “camps”). As Justin Tse insightfully observes, such approaches to religious geographies “are grounded insofar as they inform immanent processes of cultural place-making, the negotiation of social identities, and the formation of political boundaries” (2014, 202). Conflict is a key component in such geographies; there is power distribution through contestation, as social actors take on the authority to “draw maps” and thus create peoples. Often such geographies are tied into an “us/them” dichotomy. As is widely recognized, the study of “the East” (and thus necessarily “the West”) arose within European Orientalism. Orientalist research (and teaching) create links between some people (“proximity”) while reifying distance with other people. Torre and Rallet (2005) have explored mechanisms of such geographic proximity/distance. Geographic relations can be established through (co-)localizations, institutional proximity (“the logic of belonging”), systems of representation (“the logic of similarity”), or some combination thereof (see also Tomlinson 2000).

What Torre and Rallet offer for economic analysis nicely fits religious geographies. The dichotomy of East/West creates moments of proximity, especially between the so-called Abrahamic traditions (Hughes 2015) but also the Eastern traditions —relating diverse traditions within particular localizations. By the very act of grouping various traditions together, they are given conceptual proximity for the researcher (e.g., stereotypes of Eastern mysticism and Western monotheism, as if traditions are interchangeable due to sharing some essential “core”). The dichotomy also creates distance, rendering particular traditions “other” even while sharing physical space (e.g., the large Sikh population in Canada or the Christian population in South Korea), as if the “other” is only a “migrant faith” (thus, lacking authenticity within public discourse in, especially, “the West”).

This issue of the Bulletin offers a panel of papers reassessing the construction of Eastern traditions. Originally this exchange began on our blog, and we are delighted to offer readers a more developed engagement between these scholars. James Mark Shields, Nicole Goulet, Sarah Haynes, and Marianne Fibiger engage the continued problem of “the East” within the academic study of religion. Whether they address Tibetan Buddhism’s positioning in the grey area of the East/West dichotomy, the exoticized portrayal of Taoism and Buddhism as part of neo-colonial processes, the “repackaging” of Japanese Buddhism by a Japanese modernist, or the transformation of “the Westerner” through engagement with the East, each of these articles highlights the continued impact of the East/West dichotomy not only in scholarship but also within the classroom. This exchange continues in a brief roundtable, where each author responds to their fellow panelists. This exchange functions as an invitation to the reader to enter this discussion, for the field to continue theorizing the religious geographies that continue to dominate our discipline.

In addition to our panel and roundtable, we are pleased to include a pedagogical piece by Melissa Deckman for our “Tips for Teaching” section. She offers a helpful tip on using fieldwork assignments to highlight for students the intersection of the political and the religious. This issue also includes two pieces that highlight our affiliation with NAASR. Our associate editor, Matt Sheedy, interviews NAASR’s new president, Russell McCutcheon. Russ has a long history with both NAASR and the Bulletin, having served as the Bulletin’s editor in the 1990s (one of the most formative periods for the Bulletin thanks to Russ’s indefatigable efforts). This interview offers key insights into NAASR’s pivotal role in transforming the academic study of religion. We also are including a set of NAASR Notes, a recent feature on the Bulletin’s blog where several NAASR members offer us a glimpse into their scholarship. As any academic society is a composite of its members, we hope that by sharing these Notes, readers will gain further insights into the dynamic ebb and flow shaping the association. Further NAASR Notes are appearing on the blog and readers are encouraged to follow that Bulletin feature.



Hughes, Aaron. 2015. “Abrahamic Religions: A Genealogy.” Bulletin for the Study of Religions 44(1): 3–11.

Owen, Suzanne. 2011. “The World Religions Paradigm: Time for a Change.” Arts & Humanities in Higher Education 10 (3): 253–68. http://dx.doi. org/10.1177/1474022211408038

Tite, Philip L. 2014. “Teaching Beyond the World Religions Paradigm.” Bulletin for the Study of Religion Blog. teaching-beyond-the-world-religions-paradigm/.

Tomlinson, John. 2000. “Proximity Politics.” Information, Communication & Society 3 (3): 402–14.

Torre, Andre and Alain Rallet. 2005. “Proximity and Localization.” Regional Studies 391: 47–59.

Tse, Justin K. H. 2014. “Grounded Theologies: ‘Religion’ and the ‘Secular’ in Human Geography.” Progress in Human Geography 38 (2): 201–20.

Posted in Announcements, Editorial, James Dennis LoRusso, Matt Sheedy, NAASR Notes, Pedagogy, Philip L. Tite, Politics and Religion, Religion and Society, Religion and Theory, South Asian Studies, Southeast Asian Studies, Theory and Method, Theory in the Real World | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Now Published – Bulletin for the Study of Religion 44.2 (June 2015)

BSOR June CoverThe June issue of the Bulletin has been published and is available. Below is the table of contents of this issue, which includes a panel of papers on the construction of “East/West” in the study of religion. This debate began on the Bulletin’s blog and has been continued in this issue, with the hope that others will jump into the discussion both on the blog and in the Bulletin itself. This issue also includes a “Tips for Teaching” entry by Melissa Deckman, who teaches a course on religion and politics. We are also pleased to include an interview with the new president of NAASR, Russ McCutcheon, as well as a selection of NAASR Notes that have become a regular feature on the Bulletin’s blog.

As always, we welcome submissions for future issues – including responses to published articles – from established scholars and graduate students engaged in the study of religion (regardless of discipline) for either publication in the Bulletin or for here on the Bulletin‘s Blog. Our guidelines for the journal are available online.


Table of Contents

Bulletin for the Study of Religion Volume 44, Issue 2 (June 2015)

“Religious Proximity and Cultural Distance: An Introduction on the East/West dichotomy” Philip L. Tite (University of Washington) [Editorial introduction] – (pgs. 1-2)



 “‘Never the Twain Shall Meet’: Disorienting East and West in Teaching and Scholarship” James Mark Shields (Bucknell University) – (pgs. 3-8)

“The Grey Matters: The Use and Abuse of East/West Taxonomies” Sarah F. Haynes (Western Illinois University) – (pgs. 8-11)

“The Pedagogical Issues of Teaching ‘Eastern’ and ‘Western’ Traditions” T. Nicole Goulet (Indiana University of Pennsylvania) – (pgs. 11-15)

“‘Weasternization’ of the West: Kumbh Melā as a Pilgrimage Place For Spiritual Seekers  from the West” Marianne C. Qvortrup Fibiger (Aarus University) – (pgs. 15-21)

Roundtable on East/West (exchange between Professor Shields, Haynes, Goulet, and Fibiger) – (pgs. 22-26)



Tips for Teaching: “Getting Students Out of the Classroom and into the Pew” Melissa Deckman (Washington College) – (pgs. 26-28)

North American Association for the Study of Religion (NAASR): An Interview with Russell McCutcheon by Matt Sheedy (University of Manitoba) – (pgs. 29-31)

NAASR Notes (including Sean Durbin, Jason Blum, Russell McCutcheon, Naomi Goldenberg, and Dennis LoRusso) – (pgs. 31-39)

Posted in Academy, Announcements, James Dennis LoRusso, Matt Sheedy, Pedagogy, Philip L. Tite, Politics and Religion, Religion and Society, Religion and Theory, South Asian Studies, Southeast Asian Studies, Theory and Method, Theory in the Real World | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment