Let's Read About Religion!

Author

Cynthia Eller

Last Updated Date

Monday, July 18, 2016 - 03:10
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Welcome to the wonderful world of books about religion! If you’re here, you probably already know something about this world, or are eager to dive in. This is, I promise, a happy place for bibliophiles of all stripes, and especially for anyone with a professional or personal interest in religion.

Our mission—not a modest one—is to review everything published in English related to the topic of religion so long as it is (a) scholarly, and (b) not solely and specifically about the texts of the Hebrew Bible and/or the New Testament, since our sister organization, the Society for Biblical Literature, already maintains a fine review site for books in this area.

Whether or not we meet our goal is largely up to you, our readers and future reviewers. If you see an interesting book that is marked “available for review,” just click the button that says “Want to review this book? Click Here.” You will be prompted to send us your name, email address, scholarly credentials, and a short description of your interest in reviewing that particular book. If you’ve had anything beyond undergraduate training in an academic field related to religion, you are probably eligible to serve as a reviewer. If we approve your request, the book will be winging its way to you via the United States Postal Service. Read, review, publish . . . it’s that simple. (We will, of course, edit your reviews before they are published, because we’re editors. It’s right there in the job title.)

Though many things divide scholars of religion—who approach religion with methods as diverse as economics and theology—one thing that unites us is that we are voracious readers. We read for our own research, to keep up with developments in our fields, to learn about fields outside our own, to decide what to assign for our classes, and, sometimes, simply because we enjoy it.

Many of us are also writers. We write for various reasons—tenure, professional advancement, the desire to work out a tangled skein of thought—but surely one reason we write is to be read. Here at Reading Religion we perform this service for one another: reading, reflecting, and responding to each other’s scholarly productions. And if others should join us and learn about what we are writing? Well, there are worse things than large reading audiences and booming book sales!

In this first iteration of the Reading Religion website, there are a few tools you should familiarize yourself with. The tabs at the top allow you to look at all the books we have received, or to look at them according to their status: books that are already reviewed; books for which reviews have been commissioned; and books that are available for review. The most recently published books—or the most recently reviewed books—are always at the top. We also have a small selection of featured books, and an editor’s corner where we get to whet your appetite with brief posts about specific books or, more often, interesting publishing trends.

If you want to browse the books in search of a specific topic or subject area, use the large box on the right to search by Traditions, Places, Approaches, Elements, Topics and Movements, Texts, Genres, and Chronologies. Click on the arrows to open up each heading to see what categories lie under them. Once you are within a category, you will have additional search options: by review status and by keyword. For keywords, enter a term for whatever you're interested in. Chances are, there's a keyword associated with it. If there's a keyword you would like to see that isn't already there, let us know.

One caveat: If you’ve never tried to reduce books about religion to a finite list of categories, I can assure you that it is a tricky, contentious, and perhaps insane undertaking. But before you take offense at what is left out, or what order things appear in, please remember that this is just our best effort to categorize the books that publishers have sent to us. None of these categories should be read as a commentary on what does or doesn’t matter in the study of religion. We’re just trying to help you find the books you want to read about. With luck, our ability to do this will improve over time—and we’re always open to suggestions.

The search box on the top right is more global in nature: whether what you enter is a book’s title, an author’s name, a keyword, or just a word that you hope appears somewhere in a book’s description, this search box will find it for you.

When you click on an individual book jacket, you will see publication information for the book and a link to the publisher’s website. If that $300 hardcover edition seems a little rich for your pocketbook, a click on the publisher’s website will let you know if it’s also available as a $34.95 paperback or e-book. The descriptions of each book come from the publishers. When a book has been reviewed, the description is replaced by the review, but you can always get back to the description by clicking the link to the publisher's website.

If you are familiar with book reviews in scholarly journals, you’ll notice that these reviews may be a bit different—often shorter, occasionally informal. Some reviewers write for their peers in a narrow subfield, while others write for general readers outside the academy. The rest will write from other places on the spectrum in between these extremes. Though we encourage reviewers to make their reviews accessible, different books merit different types of reflections, and different reviewers have different things to say. Some reviews are very short, others are longer.

If you love a review you've read and want to say so, if you think something was missing and want to draw attention to it, or if you want to correct what you feel is an error of fact or interpretation, you will find a comment button at the bottom of the review. Make sure your AAR membership is up to date (required if you want to comment on reviews), and then say your piece! We will make sure conversation stays on topic and civil. Save your flame wars for other sites on the internet; they are not welcome here. But spirited conversation? We’re all for that.

Reading Religion is a website for you, readers and writers of books about religion. Let us know what’s working for you and what is not by putting a note in our virtual suggestion box at readingreligion@aarweb.org.

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