Imagining Religion: From Babylon to Jonestown

Front Cover
University of Chicago Press, 1982 - Religion - 165 pages
1 Review
With this influential book of essays, Jonathan Z. Smith has pointed the academic study of religion in a new theoretical direction, one neither theological nor willfully ideological.

Making use of examples as apparently diverse and exotic as the Maori cults in nineteenth-century New Zealand and the events of Jonestown, Smith shows that religion must be construed as conventional, anthropological, historical, and as an exercise of imagination. In his analyses, religion emerges as the product of historically and geographically situated human ingenuity, cognition, and curiosity—simply put, as the result of human labor, one of the decisive but wholly ordinary ways human beings create the worlds in which they live and make sense of them.

"These seven essays . . . display the critical intelligence, creativity, and sheer common sense that make Smith one of the most methodologically sophisticated and suggestive historians of religion writing today. . . . Smith scrutinizes the fundamental problems of taxonomy and comparison in religious studies, suggestively redescribes such basic categories as canon and ritual, and shows how frequently studied myths may more likely reflect situational incongruities than vaunted mimetic congruities. His final essay, on Jonestown, demonstrates the interpretive power of the historian of religion to render intelligible that in our own day which seems most bizarre."—Richard S. Sarason, Religious Studies Review

 

What people are saying - Write a review

We haven't found any reviews in the usual places.

Contents

Fences and Neighbors Some Contours of Early Judaism
2
Comparison a Magic Dwells
20
Sacred Persistence Toward a Redescription of Canon
37
The Bare Facts of Ritual
54
The Unknown God Myth in History
67
A Pearl of Great Price and a Cargo of Yams
91
The Devil in Mr Jones
103
Appendixes
122
Notes
136
Index
164
Copyright

Common terms and phrases

Popular passages

Page xi - That is to say, while there is a staggering amount of data, of phenomena, of human experiences and expressions that might be characterized in one culture or another, by one criterion or another, as religious — there is no data for religion. Religion is solely the creation of the scholar's study. It is created for the scholar's analytic purposes by his imaginative acts of comparison and generalization. Religion has no independent existence apart from the academy.

References to this book

All Book Search results »

About the author (1982)

Jonathan Z. Smith is the Robert O. Anderson Distinguished Service Professor of the Humanities at the University of Chicago where he is also a member of the Committee on the History of Culture. Among his numerous books are To Take Place, Drudgery Divine, and Map Is Note Territory, all published by the University of Chicago Press.

Bibliographic information