cover image Seven Ways of Looking at Religion: The Major Narratives

Seven Ways of Looking at Religion: The Major Narratives

Benjamin Schewel. Yale Univ., $40 (248p) ISBN 978-0-300-21847-3

Schewel, associate fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia, compiles seven major narratives that scholars rely on in response to the following question: Why hasn’t secularism won out against religion? One line of argument is that advances in scientific knowledge will necessarily end religion’s influence while others claim that modernity’s ills can only be solved by a return to religion. A third group points out that the conflict between religion and modernity is a particularly Western fixation while another group articulates a cyclical recurrence of the same religious impulses in varying forms. For each narrative, Schewel introduces and carefully unpacks the arguments of three scholars. He does not provide much rationale or context for the scholars he includes, creating a sometimes-jarring juxtaposition of figures, such as when he pairs Hegel, Heidegger, or Rudolph Otto with scholars first published in the past five years. Schewel offers gentle and balanced critiques of each line of argument to highlight its limitations and, in his conclusion, briefly suggests that a nonteleological developmental model is the most compelling and can subsume the others. However, granting this idea more space would make his claim more persuasive. While the work is a little shallow for experts and too advanced for undergraduates, it will work well for beginning graduate seminars both to introduce a range of theories and to model a method of respectful critique. (Aug.)