1st Edition

Jonathan Z. Smith on Religion

By Christopher I. Lehrich Copyright 2021
    184 Pages
    by Routledge

    184 Pages
    by Routledge

    Jonathan Z. Smith (1938–2017) was unquestionably one of the most important and influential voices of critical reflection within the academic study of religion in the last century. His work explored the nature and history of religious phenomena across cultures—from ancient Jewish practices to Maori cults, from early Christianity to mass suicide in the twentieth century—while critiquing the assumptions underlying the very category of "religion."

    This important volume offers the first full critical assessment of the influence of Jonathan Z. Smith’s thought on the subject of religion. Christopher I. Lehrich systematically examines and develops a critical overview that will assist others in engaging more fully with Smith’s scholarship.

    This book is an essential reading for students and scholars interested in the work of Jonathan Z. Smith as well as the history of religion more broadly.


    1. Biography

    2. No data for religion: classification and definition

    3. Magic rather than science: comparison

    4. Laboratories for comparison: founders and traditions

    5. An enterprise undertaken in bad faith: disciplines and professions

    6. What’s the difference?: toward reconstruction



    Christopher I. Lehrich is the author of The Language of Demons and Angels and The Occult Mind and the editor of On Teaching Religion: Essays by Jonathan Z. Smith. He was formerly Vice President of the North American Association for the Study of Religion.

    "Because Jonathan Z. Smith’s work has proved invaluable in many of our careers—helping us to rethink what it means to be a scholar, to engage in comparison, and to teach others—Christopher Lehrich’s volume on Smith’s career and method is a welcome addition to the literature, providing the only extended commentary on the work of one of the international field’s most important writers and teachers. Jonathan Z. Smith on Religion will surely become the starting place for a new generation of scholars curious as to how reading Smith can make them better scholars too."

    Russell T. McCutcheon, University of Alabama, USA

    "Lehrich has done a superb job of distilling and interpreting the complexity of J.Z. Smith’s work. This user-friendly guide is a must-have resource for those who want to think about someone who thought about religion in new and creative ways."

    Aaron W. Hughes, University of Rochester, USA