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James W. LaineMeta-Religion: Religion and Power in World History

University of California Press, 2015

by SherAli Tareen on June 23, 2015

James W. Laine

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Most world religions textbooks follow a structure and conceptual framework that mirrors the modern discourse of world religions as distinct entities reducible to certain defining characteristics. In his provocative and brilliant new book Meta-Religion: Religion and Power in World History (University of California Press, 2015), James Laine, Professor of Religious Studies at Macalester College challenges this dominant paradigm of world religions textbooks by showcasing an approach that instead focuses on the interaction of religion and power across time and space. At once ambitious and lucid, Meta-Religion narrates the story of the complex intersection of religion and politics in multiple moments, places, and traditions. A hallmark of this book is the way it engages the religious and political history of Islam and Muslim societies in conversation with other religious traditions. What emerges from this exercise is a rich and fascinating picture of the complicated and at times conflicting ways in which religiously diverse and plural societies have been managed through particular political arrangements and ideologies in different historical moments. In our conversation we talked about the idea of meta-religion, different varieties of meta-religion in India, Rome, and China, the marginalization of Islam and Muslim history in Euro-American world historical periodizations, Meta-Religion in Muslim history, Akbar and his experimentation with meta-religion, and meta-religion in the modern and contemporary context. This book will be of great interest to specialists in Islamic Studies and other scholars of religion and religious history; it will also make an excellent text for courses on Islam and world history, Introduction to Religion, and on theories and methods in Religious Studies.

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