This book of readings is designed to help students become acquainted with contemporary scholars of religion at work, collecting and interpreting their own fieldwork or archival data and relating their findings to the work of others. It is offered as a supplement to textbooks on the anthropology of religion, which by their very nature summarize the history of this discipline, its theories, and its approaches. These readings were selected to allow for the temporary suspension of both textbook and instructor and to facilitate student access to the immense array of scholarly work available on the anthropological study of religion and religious movements.
By its very nature a collection of readings reflects the choices and perspectives of its editors. The subtitle of this collection, Contemporary Issues in the Anthropology of Religion, guided our consideration and discussion. We attempted to avoid traditional topics extensively covered elsewhere and settled upon five broad areas that we believe resonate particularly in current scholarship on religion. We chose articles that explored and illustrated these topics: Colonialism and Post- colonial Legacies, Gender and Sexuality, The Healing Touch and Altered States, Religion and the State, and (perhaps inevitably) Changes and Continuities.
Still, the material available is immense. We sought geographic distribution: papers representing as many different regions of the world and types of cultures as we could given inevitable space limitations. We included articles that reflect original field or archival research or imaginative reordering of classic research. We sought articles that broke new ground, asked new and important questions, challenged old views and interpretations. We focused on anthropological questions and methods; therefore, the vast majority of articles included are based in part on fieldwork and "on the ground" data collection. And above all, we wanted papers that eschewed jargon, were accessible to students, and fun to read.
The General Introduction and the introductory essays that precede each section explore some of the major themes found throughout the readings; they also raise questions for discussion. A selection of suggested readings is included for each section to guide students interested in pursuing research on any of these topics (see page 403). These suggested readings are not exhaustive but will provide an entrée, through their content and references, to a wider range of works on particular subjects. In this and all our essays, we provide few finite answers and seek primarily to stimulate additional inquiry.