Religious Affects

Animality, Evolution, and Power

Religious Affects

Book Pages: 304 Illustrations: 3 illustrations Published: November 2015

Cultural Studies > Affect Theory, Religious Studies, Theory and Philosophy > Critical Theory

In Religious Affects Donovan O. Schaefer 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, Schaefer 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 religion's animality and how it works affectively, Schaefer 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, Schaefer 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, Schaefer provides a new model for mapping relations between religion, politics, species, globalization, secularism, race, and ethics.


"Religious Affects represents a challenge to decenter our anthropocentric presuppositions more broadly, and, by appealing to human animality, provides a provocative angle for imagining affect over and above the all-toohuman parameters that usually characterize religious studies.... [M]any scholars will find Schaefer’s animal religion and his strategies for affective readings of religious phenomena both theoretically exciting and critically useful."  — Abigail Kluchin, Journal of the American Academy of Religion

"Schaefer’s book is fascinating, mind-expanding, and entirely worth a read." — Barbara J. King, Atlantic

"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." — Matt Sheedy, Religious Studies Review

"For all its breadth in Religious Affects Schaefer develops a well-crafted argument and clarion call:the study of religion must include,at its very core, the study of affect.... Schaefer's project is timely in an urgent sense." — Jonathan Russell, Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory

"Religious Affects offers a new way to use affect theory to understand religion that better accounts for its connections with politics, globalization, and power." — Staci Poston Conner, Affectsphere

"Schaefer . . . is blazing a trail in religious studies." — Jonathan Benthall, TLS

"[I]nteresting, provocative, and important." — Mike Grimshaw, Animal Studies Journal

"Schaefer is certainly attempting to bring religion into intimate conversation with material reality, as well as scientific research. But what most distinguishes his approach, perhaps, is his attention to animal bodies and the affective pulses that run through, and animate, them." — Beatrice Marovich, Marginalia

"Religious Affects is a truly interdisciplinary work that does a good job synthesizing a range of social and critical theory, phenomenology, and religious studies material in service of its goal—namely, to affectively theorize religion beyond the confines of certain reified contemporary debates in religious studies theory and method." — Lucas Scott Wright, Critical Research on Religion

"Religious Affects is, in many ways, a turn within a turn, or perhaps more aptly, a coordination of multiple steps and turns into a dance. The materialist turn in religious studies." — Jonathan Russell, Syndicate

"Religious Affects is an important book, rendering helpful therapy for some of the myopic methodological tendencies that can afflict the field of religious studies." — Jason N. Blum, Syndicate

"One of the strengths of Schaefer’s book is the fitting empirical analyses that accompany his enriching theoretical insights." — Yasemin Ural, Syndicate

"Inasmuch as Donovan Schaefer has offered a provocative and fruitful reimagining of the study of religion, his book also functions as an extended meditation on elements residing at the boundaries of intellection, of palpable and perceptible surges and flows that rise up into consciousness (or not), but which defy or elude the linguistic frame. His book is an invitation to pay attention." — Devin Singh, Syndicate

"[Schaefer's] approach to reading affect theory through the lens of animality will enrich critical engagement with the concept of religion as a theoretical tool and as a word of power in the world." — Pamela Klassen, Syndicate

"Religious Affects reads like stepping outside of the Florentine church, itself built on a hill teeming with life, to see the city landscape as the nature-culture assemblage that it in fact is, and to refuse the black and white distinction between humans and animals that has dominated theology and religious studies." — Pooyan Tamimi Arab, Reading Religion

Religious Affects is a strident critique of the linguistic paradigm of religion. . . . It is also an equally strident critique of the idea of religion as a discrete object, named and nameable, easily differentiated from its occasional bedfellows.” — S. Jonathon O'Donnell, Journal of the British Association for the Study of Religions

"Religious Affects comfortably belongs on the bookshelves of those who work with affect theory or in critical animal studies. For religious scholars, or anyone interested in affect theory or critical animal studies, it serves as a concise and valuable introduction to these theories, providing explanations, histories, applications, and paving ways for future scholarship." — Alexander Cox-Twardowski, Journal of Religion and Popular Culture

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


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Donovan O. Schaefer is Departmental Lecturer in Science and Religion at the University of Oxford.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  ix

Introduction. Species, Religious Studies, and the Affective Turn  1

1. Religion, Language, and Affect  19

2. Intransigence: Power, Embodiment, and the Two Types of Affect Theory  36

3. Teaching Religion, Emotion, and Global Cinema  60

4. Compulsion: Affect, Desire, and Materiality  92

5. Savages: Ideology, Primatology, and Islamophobia  120

6. Accident: Animalism, Evolution, and Affective Economies  147

7. A Theory of the Waterfall Dance: On Accident, Language, and Animal Religion  178

Conclusion. Under the Rose  206

Notes  219

Bibliography  261

Index  281
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