1st Edition

Contemporary Theories of Religion
A Critical Companion

Edited By

Michael Stausberg

ISBN 9780415463478
Published August 7, 2009 by Routledge
320 Pages

USD $46.95

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Book Description

Interest in theories of religion has never been greater. Scholars debate single theoretical approaches in different scholarly journals, while the ‘new atheists’ such as Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett criticize the whole idea of religion. For everyone eager to understand the current state of the field, Contemporary Theories of Religion surveys the neglected landscape in its totality.

Michael Stausberg brings together leading scholars of the field to review and discuss seventeen contemporary theories of religion. As well as scholars of religion, it features anthropologists, archaeologists, classicists, evolutionary biologists, philosophers and sociologists. Each chapter provides students with background information on the theoretician, a presentation of the theory’s basic principles, an analysis of basic assumptions, and a review of previous critiques. Concluding with a section entitled 'Back and Forth', Stausberg compares the different theories and points to further avenues of discussion for the future.

Table of Contents

Introduction  1. Cognitive Structures and Religio-Cultural Systems  2. From Neo-Tylorianism to the Cognitive Science of Religion  3. Religion at the Intersection of Need and Violence  4. Ritual as the Heart of Culture and of Religion  5. Religion as Rational Choice: The So-Called New Paradigm in the Sociology of Religion  6. Ritual as a System of Communication  7. Naturally Counterintuitive Evolutionary Byproducts  8. Phylogony of the Gods, or, how to naturalize religion  9. Boundary Maintenance: Religion as Organic-Cultural Flows  10. Roots in the Brain: The Origin and Explanation of Religion  11. The Atheistic Approach in the Cognitive Science of Religion  12. Religion as Crisis Intervention  Where to Go from Here? Prospects and Epilogues

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Michael Stausberg is Professor of Religion at the University of Bergen (Norway). Recent publications include Zarathustra and Zoroastrianism (2008) and Theorizing Rituals (co-editor, 2 vols. 2006-2007). Stausberg is the European editor of the journal Religion.


'It is ironic that scholars usually cite their predecessors when discussing theories of religion, as if theories were a precious relic from a prior age. With Michael Stausberg's new volume this odd sort of ancestor worship comes to an end, for readers now have no excuse not to be familiar with theories of religions origin and function-theories that take well beyond the work of our ancestors. Contemporary Theories of Religion therefore makes evident that a natural science of religion was not merely a nineteenth-century ambition.'Russell McCutcheon, University of Alabama, USA

‘The book as a whole makes very intriguing reading, and demonstrates well the vitality of the theoretical debate in the study of religion. The rise of the naturalistic paradigm over the past 20 years has clearly done good for the study of religion, and […] the book at hand draws a fine picture of the contemporary state of the debate.’Heikki Pesonen, University of Helsinki, Finland in Temenos: Nordic Journal of Comparative Religion