Tuesday, March 31, 2015

“We’re here to talk about religion”: A Few Examples for Teaching Classification

By Charles McCrary

*This post originally appeared on the Bulletin for the Study of Religion's blog.

This post’s titular sentence was spoken Friday morning by a student during first lecture of the semester. It was a protest, playful but betraying frustration. She was sitting in the front row of a packed classroom, spending fifty minutes of her day on a class called “Religion in America.” But, ten minutes into class, she and her classmates were working to come to a collective decision as to whether or not a platypus is mammal. The main point of the lecture, like the point of most first-day religious studies lectures, I assume, is to argue that classification is not inherent. Nothing is intrinsically “sacred” or “secular.” Acts of classification are political acts, etc., etc. This point isn’t new, of course; it’s the cornerstone of religious studies, or at least a certain kind of religious studies. I think students can grasp it pretty easily. Many of them believe “religion” is so personal and individual that a sort of relativism about it doesn’t bother them. In the lecture, though, I did not talk much about things normally called “religious,” lest they think the point applies only or especially to “religion.” So, instead, I used a few examples from that supposedly unconstructed realm, “science.”

The first exercise was to place animals into categories. I showed a list of animals—alligator, marlin, box turtle, gray whale, sperm whale, platypus, jellyfish, fur seal—and asked for classification suggestions. The first was “land” and “sea,” so I made a T-chart on the board and we divided them up thusly, with alligator and fur seal triggering some ambivalence. The next suggestion was “mammal,” “fish,” and “reptile,” which raised not only the exasperating platypus question but also highlighted the curiosity of the jellyfish, whose name makes an unfulfilled promise of easy classification. The final suggestion was “big” and “small,” which is a fascinating choice since they’re thoroughly comparative categories, dependent entirely on the data in the larger set. I followed this exercise by describing the 1818 case Maurice v. Judd, drawing from D. Graham Burnett’s entertaining and excellent book Trying Leviathan. The trial hinged on the classification of whale oil as fish oil and, thus, the question, “Is a whale a fish?” The judge, after hearing a variety of testimony from naturalists and other experts, sided with common sense and popular opinion that the whale was indeed a fish. Some of the students seemed disconcerted by the notion that Jesus seems to have classified whales as fish (see Matthew 12:40).

The last anecdote I used is about James Dwight Dana and nineteenth-century American geology. I became aware of Dana only recently (my main sources here are Nathaniel Philbrick’s Sea of Glory and the sixth chapter of David Igler’s recent book, The Great Ocean, both of which I read over winter break), so the example is a new one, but I will use it again. Dana was a scientist on the United States Exploring Expedition (1838–1842), and he was particularly interested in volcanic activity and erosion in the Pacific. He wrote a number of books based on his research on the Expedition, including Geology (1849).

In his work, he relied on an oceanic-centric geology and discussed California as a part of the Pacific. By the 1850s, American geologists, including Dana, were much more interested in continental geology, situating California as part of the North American land mass. Why? What changed? For one, California became a U.S. state. During the Expedition it was part of Mexico. But why did it become a state? The answer, of course, is gold. Dana’s works from the 1840s never mention gold, nor do they show much interest in North America. By 1855, though, Dana gushed over the North American continent. He lauded its remarkable simplicity and symmetry, contrasting it with Europe, “a world of complexities,” “one corner of the Oriental Continent—which includes Europe, Asia, and Africa,” mapping geology and patriotism onto each other seamlessly.

“What is California?” The land itself was mostly unchanged—at least in geological terms—between the 1840s and 1850s, but the way geologists studied it changed dramatically. The question “What is California?”, like the question “What is religion?”, is not a question worth asking in a history course. We’ll do better to ask what’s at stake in a definition of California or religion or America or the good life, how those definitions have changed over time, who gets to decide, and so on. It is in this way that we study verbs, not nouns.

The lecture’s final PowerPoint slide, titled “religious things and secular things,” is just a list of things—Morality, Incense, George Washington, Crying, Cows, The Book of James, Oprah Winfrey, A Christmas Tree, Science. By the time we get to this slide, students (are supposed to) see the potential of studying acts of classification, as well as the lack of self-evidence for those categories themselves. Thus, “We’re here to talk about religion” is exactly the sort of claim whose employments we’ll be studying, because, well, that’s what we’re here to talk about.

Interview with the Author: From Yoga to Kabbalah: Religious Exoticism and the Logics of Bricolage, by VĂ©ronique Altglas

1. What is the main argument of your book?

This book is about religious exoticism. Surprisingly it is a theme that has not, as yet, been investigated by the sociology of religion. Yet, the popularisation of yoga and meditation, the curiosity for shamanism and the recent craze for kabbalah all demonstrate the appeal of these religious resources in western contemporary societies. It is in part their perceived otherness that lends them authenticity and nourishes hope for the discovery of mysteries and hidden truths. However, such popularisation has not led to mass conversions to Buddhism, Hinduism or Judaism. Indeed, religious exoticism implies a deeply ambivalent relationship to otherness and to religion itself: traditional religious teachings are uprooted and fragmented in order to be appropriated as practical methods for personal growth. As a consequence, religious exoticism tells us as much about the ways in which religious resources are disseminated globally as it does about the construction of the self in contemporary societies. How these ‘exotic’ religious resources cross cultural boundaries and become global, what makes them appealing in western societies, how they are instrumentalised and for what purposes, are the questions that this book addresses, by drawing on cross-national research about ‘neo-Hindu’ religions in the West since the 1960s and the recent interest for kabbalah. While it is often written that individuals increasingly craft their religious life and identity by picking and mixing from a wide range of religious traditions, this book by contrast insists on the fact that bricolage is neither personal, playful nor eclectic. It shows that in bricolage, otherness matters tremendously and arouses ambivalent feelings. It also identifies the historical and socio-cultural logics that shape social practices of bricolage.

2. What motivated your work?

The desire to define a common framework allowing us to understand ‘religious exoticism’ (the fascination for the religion of others), and hence the features of the popularization of Hinduism, Buddhism, shamanism, Sufism, or kabbalah. In addition, I wanted to contribute to sociological debates about bricolage and religious individualism: the sociology of religion has often approached the exploration of foreign religious traditions as a characteristic of a social world which has broken with tradition and historicity. In such a world, emancipated individuals are believed to choose, consume and combine religious resources of all kind in unique assortments, thereby elaborating personal, hence unique, religious identities and systems. This book aimed to demonstrate that this understanding of bricolage with foreign religions largely over-estimates its eclecticism, takes for granted the availability of religious resources, misunderstands religious individualism. Overall, inflating the eclectic and personal nature of practices of bricolage has led to a neglect of their social and cultural logics. Ultimately, beyond an understanding of religious exoticism and the logics of bricolage, this study is inscribed inside a larger effort to address important weaknesses of today’s sociology of religion, in particular what we could call the ‘the demise of the social’. Indeed, the sociology of religion often remains isolated from wider sociological debates; it privileges the detailed descriptions of religious experiences and beliefs to the detriment of consideration of social class, family organization, power and authority. The current tendency to over-estimate personal subjectivity, “choice” and “freedom” in the making of bricolage, or in the study of “spirituality”, makes these flaws of the sociology of religion even more acute.

3. What theory or theorists inform your methodology?

The book argues for the need for the sociology of religion to reintegrate issues of power, class formation, social interactions, and practice, and to renew the understanding of religious individualism. Accordingly, it draws on the sociology of religion, but also on mainstream sociology dealing with class (ie. Bourdieu, Skeggs), neoliberalism (Castel, Rose, Ehrenberg) as well as work, gender, consumption, therapies and wellbeing etc.

4. How might the book be used or how has it been used in a classroom?

While covering popular and topical issues such as kabbalah, the ‘mystical East’, and celebrities’ engagement with religious exoticism, this book enhances our understanding of the globalisation of religion (how religions are disseminated transnationally), syncretism and bricolage (how religions are modified through cultural encounters) and of religious life in neoliberal societies (how contemporary forms of religiosity reflects core features of contemporary social life). An in-depth investigation of ‘religious exoticism’ is in itself innovative and fills a void, but the book’s strength is also that it engages equally with French-speaking and English-speaking academic works that are rarely combined and confronted in today’s sociology of religion. This allows English-speaking students to access debates within the subfield which are not published in English.

5. How do you think students would most benefit from your book?

Drawing on research I have undertaken among Hindu-based movements in France and Britain since the mid-1990s, and more recently on the Kabbalah Centre in France, Britain, Brazil and Israel, this book offers an example of how one can undertake qualitative and cross-cultural empirical investigations and of the benefits of such approach. Ultimately, this book suggests an agenda for the future sociology of religion; it is hoped it will inspire future scholars to adopt a more critical approach and to reintegrate the social in their understanding of religion.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Way of the Road

By Adam T. Miller

*This post originally appeared on the author's blog.

With two exceptions–Outline of a Theory of Practice and “The Forms of Capital”–I have others to thank for my exposure to Pierre Bourdieu’s thought. In some ways, I count this as a good thing–after all, Bourdieu is not exactly famous for clarity of expression. Consider this definition of habitus:

The conditionings associated with a particular class of conditions of existence produce habitus, systems of durable, transposable dispositions, structured structures predisposed to function as structuring structures, that is, as principles which generate and organize practices and representations that can be objectively adapted to their outcomes without presupposing conscious aiming at ends or an express mastery of the operations necessary in order to attain them.

With this theory of habitus, Bourdieu was trying to explain how/why social groups tend to reproduce themselves through individuals without appealing to notions of pure freedom or hard determinism. The basic idea is this: the self is a result of socialization, and what the process of socialization looks like varies among social classes; therefore, by just “being oneself,” an individual tends to reproduce the social group in which she was raised.

After unpacking Bourdieu’s theory of habitus in the fourth chapter of A Critical Introduction to the Study of Religion, Craig Martin draws our attention to the fact that societies are rarely homogenous and, therefore, often contain multiple social groups, each with its own class habitus. He writes:
Much like so-called “common sense,” what is taken to be “normal” (or a normal habitus) varies from community to community and from society to society–in which case these things are not, in fact “common” or universally “normal.” Even within the same society, different subgroups have variable ideas about what is “normal.” What we have are societies where there are dominant and subordinate groups, and where each subgroup has its own idea of what is normal.
I happened upon one particularly humorous example of this idea on an episode of Trailer Park Boys titled “Way of the Road.” Watch the clip below. (Fair warning: strong language abounds; those of a certain habitus–that is, those with certain ideas about when it is [and is not] acceptable to use swear words–may find it offensive.)

Although he hasn’t driven a rig for twenty years, Ray continues to urinate into gallon jugs and toss them into the street (a practice apparently common among truckers, at least in the world of the show). On one hand, Ray’s son Ricky does not see this practice as odd; in fact, he gladly supplies his father with new jugs. Bubbles, on the other hand, thinks Ray ought to abandon the practice–it’s been twenty years after all. If anything, habitus is durable

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Interview with the Author: Righteous Rhetoric: Sex, Speech, and the Politics of Concerned Women for America, by Leslie Dorrough Smith

Interview with Leslie Dorrough Smith.

1. What is the main argument of your book?

The gist of Righteous Rhetoric is that scholars have generally overlooked the source of the Christian Right’s social clout by focusing mainly on its member groups’ beliefs or rigid moral rules.  Instead, I’m convinced that the greatest asset of the Christian Right is quite mundane:  it’s the way that they speak.  

The bulk of the book examines the speech of one prominent Christian Right group, called Concerned Women for America (CWA), and demonstrates that the group is persuasive because it employs a rhetorical technique that I call chaos rhetoric.  Chaos rhetoric is a type of speech that invokes widespread public appeal through its deployment of specific symbols designed to create a heightened sense of social chaos and threat (rather than the order and security that scholars often tout when describing the Christian Right).  By carefully manufacturing these negative emotions, the group is in a prime position to offer its own political platforms as the resolution to the threats that they construct. 

One could simply call chaos rhetoric a fear tactic, but I thought this was too simplistic, since I was more interested in looking at how, when, and under what circumstances CWA chose to portray certain things as chaotic or fearful rather than presuming that those emotions were self-evident or natural.  In other words, what is deemed frightening or threatening at one moment is often a non-event several years, or even months, later – it all depends on how the political and cultural winds are blowing. 

If chaos rhetoric is a technique of persuasion, it is also one of masquerade.  In the book I detail how chaos rhetoric serves four critical functions, two of which – creating urgency and inciting activism – are fairly predictable persuasive techniques.  But CWA’s chaos rhetoric also performs the dual functions of defensive argumentation and rationale-deflection, which are processes by which attention is shifted away from CWA and its perhaps less popular rationales for advocacy and onto more emotion-evoking platforms.  These are both really effective ways for the group to change more imperceptibly simply by convincing the audience to concentrate its attention elsewhere.

For example, CWA has frequently attempted to portray homosexuality as a public health threat, which it has done through studies that show things like an elevated risk for domestic violence among gay couples, or that pinpoint higher rates of suicide among gay teens.  Rather than describe the more subjective discomfort that characterize its members’ homophobia, or talk about anti-gay theologies (neither of which is a particularly persuasive tactic if the point is to attract a diverse audience), CWA persuades best by portraying homosexuality as a threat to something that virtually everyone values – their health.  Perhaps it goes without saying that if CWA were really concerned with public health issues, then they’d be discussing more than just the health risks associated with homosexuality (and ironically, the studies show that these risks are actually generated by an unaccepting culture rather than anything intrinsic to sexual orientation).  Nevertheless, deflecting the rationale from religious particulars or gut feelings onto what is perceived to be a more “legitimate” concern helps to make the message sound relevant.

This technique is also useful over time.  Focusing attention on its opponents (but less on itself) allows CWA to shift its own agendas more imperceptibly.  As the message about gay rights as a health threat grows stale, loses public appeal, or is otherwise debunked, it is abandoned for a new one that accomplishes a similar effect.  But once the similar effect is no longer possible to maintain, the group will be pushed to rework its stance on homosexuality, even if incrementally, so as to preserve its public relevancy.  For instance, this might involve the shift from seeing homosexual identity as a sin to regarding the practice of homosexuality as a sin; that nuance, however slight, provides some wiggle room that gives the group material to work with in crafting new rhetoric.  What this shows, then, is that the real persuasive force of chaos rhetoric lies in knowing how to repeatedly rework an opponent’s identity so that they remain perpetually threatening, and crafting one’s own rationale so that it always seems relevant.

2. What motivated your work?

Generally speaking, I was dissatisfied with the models and presumptions scholars were using to study the Christian Right, and, in turn, I was interested in asking a different set of questions about how social groups work.  I’ll elaborate a bit more:

First off, I was stumped by the way some scholars criticize the Christian Right for their persuasive tactics but then fail to notice that they are using virtually identical tactics in their own analyses.  Although there are many examples of this, I’m referring here to the fact that such scholars often describe the rhetoric of the Christian Right as a brand of fear-mongering, but then impart a similar message of fear when talking about why one should politically oppose them.  This common approach to the Christian Right was what actually inspired the last chapter of Righteous Rhetoric, wherein I provide examples of how chaos rhetoric is used by progressive groups just as easily (and frequently) as it is by conservatives.  That chapter’s function is not only to argue the normalcy of chaos rhetoric as an act ubiquitous to almost all groups trying to persuade, but also to interrogate the manner in which scholars have often treated the Christian Right as some sort of religio-political aberration rather just a common interest group doing what all other interest groups do.

On that same note, scholars also tend to describe the Christian Right as something unusual when they offer psychological explanations for its existence.  Many such models describe the movement as one embraced primarily by psychologically fearful people who need order and absolutism in order to function in the world.   I don’t doubt that this is the case with many conservatives, but I also think it applies to loads of other people, too, so these particular analytical frames that emphasize some sort of radical distinction have never much appealed to me.

I was also inspired to write this book because I found it interesting how frequently scholars point to theology as the key to a specific religious group’s allure.  That’s not to say, of course, that the attractiveness of this or that theology has nothing to do with it, but it overlooks the large number of social factors at play in the persuasion process, and it also glosses over the glaring reality that social groups are comprised of incredibly diverse populations of people who are members of the group for just as many different reasons.

This is why I was drawn, methodologically, to a rhetorical study, since no matter the smattering of beliefs that are out there (not to mention people’s relative lack of adherence to many of their stated beliefs), it’s very difficult to live in American culture without having some interface with these sorts of openly political messages. I think it’s a popular explanatory scheme to point to theologies or beliefs because it’s a frequent insider claim – that is, religious people often think that their theological positions are what make them attractive, true, or distinct – but I have never been particularly satisfied with the explanatory potential of that position. 

My motivations, then, were fueled in large part by the sense that scholars’ own biases (not only about the Christian Right, but religion in general) were causing them to overlook other, perhaps more fundamental, phenomena.

3. What theory or theorists inform your methodology?

For this particular project (and many others, besides), I relied heavily on Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, Susan Friend Harding, and Pierre Bourdieu (among countless others I could probably name).  While they individually contribute to my methodology in a variety of ways, what they all share is the notion that social phenomena should not be gauged as things in themselves, but as a reflection of certain power dynamics that are naturalized through language.  Since Foucault and Bourdieu’s contributions on discourse, sexuality, and habitus (respectively) are probably quite well known, it might be helpful if I illuminate something more specific about how the other figures helped me to take a theoretical position and use it to influence my methodological approach:

Roland Barthes was the first scholar I encountered who actively provided an explanation on how persuasion (as it occurs in naturalization discourses) happens.  Methodologically speaking, he helped me to stop thinking about a group’s claims as “worldviews,” insomuch as this term implies a relatively neutral description of reality.  Rather, his model of mythmaking asserts that the claims groups make often involve the fusion of a specifically chosen set of symbols that perform an equally specific sort of task upon which the group depends in order to fulfill its goals.  The more that the public sees these issues being presented together, the more they will believe that those things are connected. This different perspective allowed me to see “beliefs” as specific descriptive strategies that, if adopted by others and systematized in a larger sense, have enormous potential to transform social groups, even apart from whether the individual members of those groups buy into these notions. 

I also relied quite heavily on Butler’s concept of the signifying chain, which is a term she employs to describe the way that groups assign authority to a particular idea.  To illustrate this, Butler draws on the figure of a judge, whose legal power doesn’t come from any sort of specific quality of that individual judge per se, but only from the judge’s ability to refer to past precedent.  The past precedent to which that judge refers is also the result of another judge’s ruling (based, again, on that judge’s reference to past precedent, and so on).  Butler’s point here is that so many of the most enduring ideas that frame our social norms are authoritative because they have been around for so long, and yet no one can point to an actual reason for their authority apart from “the last generation did it.”  The usefulness of this concept, to me, is that it permits scholars to get outside of the contest surrounding the truth of a particular idea, and to focus, instead, on what dynamics, symbols, and often implicit rhetorics made possible the construction of that idea in the first place.

Finally, I need to give a large amount of credit to one of Susan Friend Harding’s works, entitled The Book of Jerry Falwell.  There are some really key concepts that Harding uses that have influenced my own analysis quite heavily.  For instance, she talks about flexible absolutism as a type of speech that argues for the enduring or eternal value of a particular position, but then changes as that idea becomes less popular.  Many scholars might argue that this is simple hypocrisy (particularly if it’s being used by a group that they don’t like), but Harding’s treatment of it as a rhetorical phenomenon (rather than moral failure) helped me to also reframe this apart from the hierarchical positioning that goes along with that common moral tone. 

But perhaps more than anything else, I’m really struck by Harding’s description of language as the instrument of conversion.  She notes that conversion is often something that we associate with a “change of heart” when it’s really a process of adopting a new type of speech.  If we can understand that our words directly shape the concepts that subsequently frame reality, then our choice of new words to describe the world – an important part of what happens when we persuade or are persuaded – forefronts rhetoric as a critical component of understanding social politics.

4. How might the book be used or how has it been used in a classroom?

I wrote the book to have specific applicability across a lot of fields.  It would be at home just as readily in a sociology, anthropology, political science, or rhetoric course as it would in the more obvious religious studies or gender studies setting.  I also structured it so that each chapter has the capacity to stand alone or perform a specific function, so there are lots of possibilities on how to use it. 

For instance, on a very simple level, I’ve used portions of chapter 1 to demonstrate that certain concepts have a history.  Chapter 1 provides an overview of conservative American attitudes towards sex, gender, and reproduction, so this is a great way for students to see that the current rhetoric on things like abortion and sexuality are not new, but have had a very long lifespan, indeed, and one often couched in racism and other unbalanced power relationships.

I also know of several others who have used the conclusion as a stand-alone essay to introduce/discuss methodological issues with upper level undergrads and early graduate students.  As I mentioned earlier, the conclusion questions the notion that chaos rhetoric is unique to the Christian Right, demonstrates that various other diverse groups use the same techniques, and then holds scholars to task for the manner in which they have treated otherwise similar groups much differently based on their own political commitments.

The chapters in between, while dealing more specifically with CWA as a group, also have a lot of usefulness outside of their specific inclusion in the book.  The more theoretically-focused chapter (chapter 2) provides an introduction to the way that ideas are naturalized in a culture through a discussion of rhetoric, discourse, and mythmaking.  While I end up tying this naturalization discussion directly into the normalization of sexual and gendered identities, these principles remain helpful to discuss almost any social norm formation.  Chapter 3 deals with CWA’s portrayal of itself as an expression of “true” feminism and women’s rights (a move being seen more and more by conservative women’s groups), and chapter 4 addresses the ways in which CWA manages to frame sexual issues as national issues.  So as you might guess, although I’m examining this through the lens of CWA’s rhetoric, there are many avenues, disciplines, and topics that might be mined from that material.

5. How do you think students would most benefit from your book?

Topically speaking, there are some more obvious benefits in the sense that CWA is a relatively understudied group, and the Christian Right is an enormously powerful force in American politics.  But one of the greatest benefits of the book, in my mind, is more methodological, because my hope is that this book normalizes the social process.  Put differently, it provides some overarching principles for understanding how many, if not most, groups work.  I think that many students (undergrads, in particular), are accustomed to learning about various phenomena by focusing on distinction (“this group is different from that one in this way”, etc.).  to the detriment of situating this group or that event as just one example of a much larger phenomenon.  I hope that this book can, at least to some degree, trouble that trend.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Interview with the Author: Before Religion: A History of a Modern Concept, by Brent Nongbri

1. What is the main argument in this book?

The main argument of the book is that the idea of religion as a sphere of life distinct from other areas (like politics, economics, or science) is a recent development in European history—a development that has been projected outward in space and backward in time with the result that religion now appears to be a completely natural part of the world. This line of argumentation has been developed considerably in the last forty years (the names Jonathan Z. Smith, Russell McCutcheon, Tomoko Masuzawa, and Peter Harrison--among others--come to mind). What Before Religion attempts to do is synthesize a lot of this work and provide a genealogy of the concept of religion--a narrative of how we came to see the world in this peculiar way, while at the same time showing how the ongoing discourse in "ancient religions" helps religion keep up this appearance of being universal, natural, and necessary.

2. What motivated your work?

The main motivation for the book came out of my struggle to work through scholarship on the apostle Paul.  My background is in the study of early Christians and Jews, and I found it curious that biblical scholars were happy to declare that Paul was Jewish, but often in the same breath they would then compare "Paul" or "Paul's religion" with Judaism.  This struck me as strange, and I came to see that one of the problems I was facing was the usefulness of the concept of religion for talking about ancient evidence.  As I got deeper into the considerable amount of literature working to historicize the concept of religion, I thought it would be a useful exercise to try to produce a reading of Paul's letters that just didn't invoke the category of religion at all. To justify this move, I needed to produce a coherent genealogy of religion, and that ended up being nearly half of my doctoral dissertation.  Readers of the dissertation thought that material would work well as a stand-alone book, and so that formed the core of what became Before Religion.

3. What theory or theorists inform your methodology?

It's hard to single out all the theorists that have influenced me.  The names mentioned in number 1 above have all been influential to me.  Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations always looms over my thinking. Although they are not cited in the book, two writers whose works have challenged me are Frederic Jameson ("Always historicize!") and Michel Foucault.  Foucault's writings especially have been formative for me.  My dissertation ended with what I think is the sharpest formulation of what genealogy helps us do: the object is "to learn to what extent the effort to think one's own history can free thought from what it silently thinks, and so enable it to think differently" (The Use of Pleasure, p. 9).

4. How might the book be used or how has it been used in a classroom?

For undergraduates, I think the book works either at the introductory level or in more advanced "Approaches to Religion" class.  For the former, Before Religion can serve as a nice counterpoint to traditional World Religions textbooks since it contains material that corresponds to most of the geographic areas or "faith traditions" one encounters in the textbooks.  The book can call into question a number of the assumptions about authenticity and universality that one usually finds in such textbooks.  For advanced undergraduates and graduate students, I think the book could function well in a methods class as an example of an approach that tries to take seriously Wittgenstein's thoughts on language (an interesting pairing I haven't tried is reading the book along with Benson Saler's Conceptualizing Religion [1999], which takes Wittgenstein in another direction).

5. How do you think students would most benefit from your book?

I would hope that students would find the book to be a stimulating read that challenges some of their assumptions. The notes are pretty thorough, so I would also be happy if book is able to help them find further more in depth reading in the topics that interest them.