Religion and Culture Web Forum

January 2015

A Conversation between Andrew Durdin and Brent Nongbri on Brent Nongbri's Before Religion 

A Conversation between Andrew Durdin and Brent Nongbri on Brent Nongbri's Before Religion 

This conversation emerged from remarks given at a 2014 AAR/SBL panel dedicated to exploring Brent Nongbri's Before Religion: A History of a Modern Concept.

Andrew Durdin's paper, rather than offer a full review of Nongbri's engaging text, attempts to converse with, test, and offer constructive criticism of certain aspects of Nongbri's considerations, most generally the viability of "religion" as a category useful for understanding the ancient Roman world. It specifically focuses on his conception of "prematurity" in Chapter 3.

Brent Nongbri's response to Andrew Durdin offers a critical rejoinder to Durdin's assertion of the need for a second order category like "religion" and the potential issues with how such a category might be used in the academic study of the ancient Western world.

Andrew Durdin is a PhD Candidate in History of Religions at the University of Chicago Divinity School.  His research focuses on ancient Roman religion prior to the ascent of Christianity. Specifically, his dissertation (titled Redescribing Magic: Discourse, Alterity, and Religion in the Roman Empire) takes up the issue of how the Romans theorized religious alterity in light of their empire and, further, explores the problems that the category of "magic" poses for understanding the motivations and aspirations of such theorizing. Andrew is a 2014-2015 Marty Center Junior Fellow and holds the 2014-2015 Alma Wilson Teaching Fellowship.
Brent Nongbri is an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Early Career Research Fellow in the Department of Ancient History at Macquarie University. He received his PhD from Yale University in 2008 in the field of religious studies and has held teaching posts at Yale University and Oberlin College.  His interests center on method and theory in the study of religion and the material culture of the ancient Mediterranean world. With regard to the former, he is especially interested in problems surrounding the use of religion as category for studying the ancient world.  Nongbri is the author of Before Religion: A History of a Modern Concept
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About the Web Forum

The Martin Marty Center's Religion and Culture Web Forum is an online forum for thought-provoking discussion on the relationship of scholarship in religion to culture and public life. Each month the Marty Center, the research arm of the University of Chicago Divinity School, invites a scholar of religion to comment on his or her own research in a way that "opens out" to themes, problems, and events in world cultures and contemporary life. Scholars from diverse fields of study are invited to offer responses to these commentaries.

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The Religion and Culture Web Forum is edited by Emily D. Crews, Divinity School PhD student in the History of Religions.