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March 21, 2005
Religion department shows off diversity of publication
BY Eric Rangus
Recently, faculty in the Department of Religion have been prolific in their publishing. Deborah Lipstadt, Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies, has received well-earned international acclaim for her book History On Trial: My Day In Court With David Irving (Ecco/HarperCollins, 2005), but she is just one of a half-dozen religion faculty who have hit bookshelves over the past several months.
Those books encompass a wide range of subjects and styles. They include works that investigate religious studies through Afro-Caribbean and Indian cultural lenses; interpretations of symbolism in historical texts; finely detailed reference works both on Islam around the world and religion in general in the United States; as well as Lipstadt’s engaging first-person account of her libel trial in England, which saw her square off against Holocaust denier Irving. The authors and their books are listed below.
• William Gilders, assistant professor of religion, Blood Ritual in the Hebrew Bible: Meaning and Power (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004). Among the ancient Israelites, sacrifice—as represented in the ancient Hebrew Bible—and the use of the blood of sacrificed animals took a variety of forms and served many functions.
The Hebrew Bible refers to tossing sacrificial blood onto an altar or an assembly of people, daubing it on an altar’s horns or parts of the human body, and sprinkling it on or in front of sacred objects. Through his new book, Gilders, whose research interests include theoretical and comparative studies of ritual and sacrifice, explores the meanings of these ancient rites.
• Gary Laderman, associate professor of religion and director of the Graduate Division of Religion, Religion and American Cultures: An Encyclopedia of Traditions, Diversity and Popular Expressions (ABC-Clio, 2003). This three-volume set, co-edited by Laderman and Luis Leon of the University of California, Berkeley, is a multicultural survey of both established and “new” religions in the United States.
“What we wanted to do was take an innovative and cultural look at religious life,” Laderman said of the work, which won Library Journal’s “Best Reference Source” award in 2003. “The book is informed more by cultural perspectives than theological perspectives, to a degree.”
Ethnicity, for instance, can play a major role in Christian beliefs, and Religion and American Cultures takes this into account by offering separate pieces on Asian Americans and Hispanic Americans. Practically no religious or quasi-religious belief is deemed unworthy. Vampires are mentioned, and the third volume—devoted to primary source material—includes not only important religious documents dating back centuries, but writings from authors ranging from Jimmy Carter to Shirley MacLaine.
• Richard Martin, professor of religion, Encyclopedia of Islam and the Modern World (Macmillan, 2004). Years in the making, the two-volume Encyclopedia of Islam is a scholarly, yet accessible, in-depth reference work exploring the past and present of the religion.
As the encyclopedia’s editor-in-chief, Martin led a production team that included associate editors from several different countries who belong to a variety of Islamic sects. The work numbers some 504 articles ranging from 200–5,000 words. More than 500 scholars contributed pieces, and the encyclopedia includes 170 photographs, drawings, maps and charts.
• Laurie Patton, Winship Distinguished Research Professor and religion chair, Bringing the Gods to Mind: Mantra and Poetry in Early Indian Sacrifice (University of California Press, 2004). Vedic ritual, an ancient Hindu practice that incorporates sacrifice, also included a scriptural element. Patton’s book offers interpretations of early Vedic texts and explores the artistic and religious crossings of Vedic rituals.
• Dianne Stewart, assistant professor of religion, Three Eyes for the Journey: African Dimensions of the Jamaican Religious Experience (Oxford University Press, 2004). Stewart’s book explores African-derived and African-centered religious traditions in contemporary Jamaica.
Her themes include evidence that anti-African and Afro-phobic sentiments adversely affected African-derived religious cultures in early Jamaica; and that these religions, while based in the New World, have a common African-derived emphasis on healing, well-being and a positive, purposeful life experience.
• Lipstadt’s book has received glowing reviews, such as the following from The Washington Post: “Lipstadt’s story is personal, compelling and intriguing. She presents her mixed emotions as the trail progresses—aghast at Irving’s testimony and the public forum the trial gives him, but gratified to see him exposed and condemned.”
Not only has Lipstadt’s book been in the news, but the author herself has been prominent in the media. “We exposed as bogus virtually every argument and contention that Holocaust deniers, like Irving, make to supposedly prove that the Holocaust didn’t happen,” Lipstadt told U.S. News and World Report. “We showed that you can’t take history and twist it any way you want.”