2014 - Comparison and the Analytical Study of Religion

Friday, November 21, 2014 12:45 -5:15 p.m.


One aspect of Weber’s comparative project that I have found puzzling, however, is the absence of any theorization on his part of the comparative method itself, its historical ontology, its logic, even its purposes…….Wolfgang Schluchter, one of the great Weber scholars of our time and an editor of the Gesamtausgabe, assured me that the fault lay not with me, and at the same time sought to provide the methodological gloss that Weber himself did not: “Indeed, you are looking in vain. There is no essay on the comparative method written by Weber. He practiced it, with the self-imposed qualification that only dilettantes compare (a famous statement in a letter to von Below written in 1914). He practiced it in order to identify the distinctive features of a phenomenon, not to explain it. For explanation, we need nomological knowledge, not only in sociology, but also in historiography.”

                          Sheldon Pollock, “Comparison without Hegemony” (2011, emphasis ours)

In its fourth year, toward better design and deployment of comparative work in studies of religion, the SORAAAD workshop will focus on the act of comparison itself. How has comparison served as a method in the study of religion? How do we design research projects wherein data vary across space, time, or conceptual valence? How do we structure comparative studies in order to identify and mitigate hegemonic assumptions? How do we relate deep studies of small populations to larger populations and discourses? How transferable are the insights and mechanics developed within different settings? Addressing these and related questions, SORAAAD seeks not only to recover subfields from essentialism, but also to foster new inter- and intra-disciplinary development.

The SORAAAD workshop will be of interest to scholars who already enact social science and critical humanities research methodologies; to those interested in research design wherein comparison is a critical component; and to anyone who wants to rethink how comparison itself shapes and frames the study of religion.   

The full program is available as a PDF.

We ask that everyone read:

Pollock, Sheldon. 2010. "Comparison without Hegemony." In The Benefit of Broad Horizons: Intellectual and Institutional Preconditions for a Global Social Science. Festschrift for Bjorn Wittrock on the Occasion of his 65th Birthday, edited by Barbro Klein and Hans Joas, 185-204. Leiden: Brill.

Skocpol, Theda and Margaret Somers. 1980. “The Uses of Comparative History in Macrosocial Inquiry.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 22, 2: 174-97.

Frankfurter, David. 2012. Comparison and the Study of Religion in Late Antiquity In Comparer en histoire des religions antiques Controverses et propositions, edited by Claude Calame and Bruce Lincoln, 83-98. Liège: Presses Universitaires de Liège.

Lincoln, Bruce. 2012. “Theses on Comparison.” Gods and Demons, Priests and Scholars. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Calame, Claude et Bruce Lincoln. 2012. “Les approches comparatives en histoire des religions antiques : controverses récurrentes et propositions nouvelles” in Comparer en histoire des religions antiques Controverses et propositions, 7-11 edited by Claude Calame and Bruce Lincoln. Liège: Presses Universitaires de Liege.  Announcement: With Bruce Lincoln's permission this article is available as a PDF, please scroll to the bottom of the page)


Introduction: “SORAAAD Workshop Year Four, ‘Comparison and the Analytical Study of Religion.’”  Ipsita Chatterjea


In the first half of the workshop, our speakers will explore the deployment of comparison in research operating within broadly accepted understandings of periodization and assumed understandings of space.

Part One: Comparison in the Study of Religion in Mediterranean Late Antiquity.

John Kloppenborg University of Toronto, Study of Religion

“Comparing Christ Groups and Graeco-Roman Associations”

David Frankfurter - Boston University, Department of Religion

“Comparison and the Conceptualization of Ancient Religion”

William Arnal, moderator


Part Two: Comparison and Reconceptualizing ‘Black Atlantic Religions.’ 

Paul Christopher Johnson University of Michigan - Department of History and Department of Afroamerican and African Studies

Kathryn Lofton Yale University, LGBT Studies, Religious Studies & American Studies,  Respondent


Workshop Break: The Workshop break is by design long enough to allow a break and for all participants to talk to one another without a moderator as well as to enable follow up questions for the speakers for the first half of the workshop and pre-presentation questions for the speakers for the second half. 


To balance ‘periodization,’ ‘space,’ and (per Paul Johnson) “theoretical geographies” as large-scale frames of comparison, parts three and four of the workshop will address how the study of religion has been organized around certain human activities (e. g. violence and ritual) and examine about how comparison might be integrated into study design of human behaviors.

Part Three: Comparison and the Analysis of Religion and Violence.

Jamel Velji Haverford College, Department of Religion

(De)limiting the end: comparative dimensions of apocalyptic religion and violence”

Margo Kitts Hawaii Pacific University, Religious Studies and East-West Classical Studies 

“On ritual and violence”


Part Four: Comparison and the Analysis of Religion and Ritual.

Jens Kreinath - Wichita State University, Department of Anthropology

"Mimesis, Interrituality, and the Comparative Study of Rituals" 

Michael Houseman  École Practique des Hautes Études, Department of Anthropology and Department of African Religions

"'Ritual' and Other Modes of Participation as Tools for Comparison"


Registration is free, thanks to sponsorship by the University of Regina Department of Religion. 

To Register: please place  "SORAAAD -  2014 - Registration"   in the subject line of an email to CTDR.Group@gmail.comRegistration Limit: 70 people. The location will be disclosed to registrants.

 The full program is available as a PDF.