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Religious Affects

Religious Affects challenges the notion that religion is inextricably linked to language and belief, proposing instead that it is primarily driven by affects.

 

Drawing on affect theory, evolutionary biology, and poststructuralist theory, Religious Affects builds on the recent materialist shift in religious studies to relocate religious practices in the affective realm—an insight that helps us better understand how religion is lived in conjunction with systems of power. To demonstrate how religion works affectively, it turns to a series of case studies, including the documentary Jesus Camp and contemporary American Islamophobia. Placing affect theory in conversation with post-Darwinian evolutionary theory, Religious Affects explores the extent to which nonhuman animals have the capacity to practice religion, linking human forms of religion and power through a new analysis of the chimpanzee waterfall dance as observed by Jane Goodall. In this compelling case for the use of affect theory in religious studies, Donovan Schaefer provides a new model for mapping relations between religion, politics, species, globalization, secularism, race, and ethics.

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Amazon.com Duke University Press (North America) Combined Academic (UK and Europe)

Reviews

“Blending seamlessly the most fecund insights of affect theory, evolutionary biology, and critical animal studies, as well as feminist, queer, and postcolonial theories of materiality and embodiment, this bold and trenchant challenge to the ideology of human exceptionalism and its accompanying linguistic fallacy—the refusal to analyze religion and power outside of language and texts—offers a revolutionary and more capacious approach to religion that recovers its visceral intensity and animal generativity.”

— Manuel A. Vásquez, author of More Than Belief: A Materialist Theory of Religion

 

“Writing on the side of apes, awesome animality, and the creaturely dimensions of human religious experience, Donovan O. Schaefer powerfully and persuasively shows how much religious studies has to benefit from its encounter with affect theory and critical animal studies. Religious Affects is urgent, necessary, and utterly compelling reading.”

— Ann Pellegrini, coauthor of Love the Sin: Sexual Regulation and the Limits of Religious Tolerance

 

“Rejects the Euro-American tendency to equate religion with belief, text, and language. Religion is something we feel in and express with our whole bodies, Schaefer insists, and once we realize this, we are free to see religion in other animals in certain instances of their embodied and emotional practices. Schaefer’s book is fascinating, mind-expanding, and entirely worth a read.”

Barbara J. King, The Atlantic

 

“An imaginative exploration of how religion can be experienced without language.”

— Jonathan Benthall, Times Literary Supplement

 

“[O]ne of the great strengths of Religious Affects is Schaefer’s meticulous genealogy of affect theory. This feature will make the book of interest to scholars in literary studies, English and comparative literature, and philosophy, as well as in religious studies…. This is an impressive accomplishment in what can be a bewildering theoretical landscape.”

— Abigail S. Kluchin, Journal of the American Academy of Religion

 

“Religious Affects is at once a whirlwind introduction to the relevance the fields affect theory, critical animal studies, and evolutionary biology have for religious studies, and a laser-focused critique of the contemporary context in religious studies.”

— Jonathan Russell, Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory

 

Religious Affects is an original and challenging argument for the discipline, especially to social-constructionist approaches, as it aims to radically reconfigure how we think about religion as a phenomenon grounded in feelings and emotions (affects) that humans share with the animal world.”

— Matthew Sheedy, Religious Studies Review

What is
Affect Theory?

Affect theory is an approach to culture, history, and politics that focuses on the role of nonlinguistic forces, or affects.

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