A Critical Introduction to the Study of Religion, 2nd Ed.

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Craig Martin
  • New York, NY: 
    Routledge
    , May
     2017.
     192 pages.
     $39.95.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9780415419932.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

In A Critical Introduction to the Study of Religion, Craig Martin provides an alternative and arguably broader perspective to the standard discussion of religion. Martin does not narrate his introduction through history, geography, or even religions and spiritual practices. Instead what he offers is a concise discussion that is rooted in the social construction of religion. He provides contemporary and historically relevant examples to trace the mechanisms that promoted the traction of certain beliefs and ideas in lieu of others. Martin details a humancentric rationale for the progression of religion that eliminates the perception of religion as being outside cultural discussion. He draws examples from politics, economics, public opinion, accepted norms, and psychology, among other behavioral attributions. One significant contribution of his assessment is the application of the discussion to human behavior. Martin easily conveys the historical relevance of relevant action along with the contemporaneous seeming indifference to such action to the development of religion. In this manner, he establishes how power, manipulation, and economic gain have been significant across time in the development of religion.

Following his first chapter, which addresses the definition of religion and surfaces the social construction and bias of the term and its evaluation, Martin addresses the role that religion has in society. Martin then divides his text into two broad sections: “How Society Works” and “How Religion Works.” Using tangible examples, he explores the role of societal perceptions, classification, recognition, and structure in enabling societal behaviors and their corresponding frameworks and institutions. Over the course of four chapters, he clearly and effectively conveys how ideas spread within a society, what determines the ideas that are transferred between generations, and encourages the reader to acknowledge the role of historical time and context in the evolution of societal beliefs. Martin prompts the reader to assess the rationale for the dominance and acceptance of religious ideologies and explicitly highlights the role of self-interest in the conveyance of specific religious beliefs and practices. In his discussion of how religion operates within a society he highlights three roles of religion: it legitimizes behaviors, provides authority, and enables the differentiation and promotion of relative authenticity.

In a reader friendly and compelling manner, Martin establishes a needed perspective and an arguably often overlooked discussion as a starting point to exploring religion. Throughout his text, he clearly provides the justification of the interdisciplinary of the study of religion and promotes the significance of the relationship between human behavioral norms and religion. Using examples, analogies, and even drawings and cartoons, Martin creates a much-needed introduction that enhances understanding of the dynamic and static nature of both perception and reality when it comes to religious traditions as well as the evolution of religion.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Madhavi Venkatesan is assistant professor of economics at Bridgewater State University.

Date of Review: 
September 24, 2017
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Craig Martin is associate professor of religious studies at St. Thomas Aquinas College.

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