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Review of Martin's 'Introduction to the Critical Study of Religion'

Review of Martin's 'Introduction to the Critical Study of Religion'

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Published by Jim West

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Published by: Jim West on Sep 12, 2012
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12/09/2012

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Craig Martin,
 A Critical Introduction to the Study of Religion 
, Sheffield: Equinox,2012, ISBN 978-1-84553-992-4, 192 pp. + bibliography and indices.
Craig Martin
s book is a superb introduction to the study of religion. He does not, herein,introduce readers to religions per se. That is, he does not include a chapter on Islam and a chapter on Taoism and one on Christianity, etc. Instead, he guides readers to a clearercomprehension of the phenomenon of religion itself, with a primary focus on Christianity as thesource of most of his examples.I had the privilege of reading through the manuscript in an earlier stage of its life and shared various ideas with the author; ideas which he seems to have taken to heart (to a certain extent). With that disclaimer out of the way, let me move on quickly to say that I very much enjoyed thefinal product and think others will as well.Craig 
s work is divided into eight chapters, as follows:1) Studying Religion: Laying the Groundwork (pp. 1-18); 2) How Society Works: Classification(pp. 19-44); 3) How Society Works: Structure (pp. 45-70); 4) How Society Works: Habitus (pp.71-92); 5) How Religion Works: Legitimation (pp. 93-116); 6) How Religion Works: Authority (pp. 117-144); 7) How Religion Works: Authenticity (pp.145-164); and finally, 8) Case Study: What Would Jesus Do? (pp. 165-188). The volume concludes with an Afterword (pp. 189-192)and the usual indices.Readers will note right off that the volume really is comprised of two parts: society (whichundergoes analysis in chapters 2-4), and religion (evaluated in chapters 5-7). The introductory chapter 1 lays the foundation for the discussion and the concluding chapter 8 illustrates how 
everything fits together
.Martin examines religion from the perspective of an outsider, and that may be the greatest  weakness of his treatment. It remains an excellent treatment, let me add, but it could have moredepth if there were a measure of personal investment by the author in the phenomenon. As a consequence, Martin
s work is more analytical, almost 
laboratory-esque
in its approach lacking the warmth and profundity of a person who is himself or herself 
religious
.Nevertheless readers should not at all be surprised by this approach since the title of the volumeitself informs us from the very beginning that it is to be a Critical introduction.Speaking of the title, one slight improvement may have been made if it had been An Introductionto the Critical Study of Religion. Such a title would leave readers without room formisunderstanding- since
 A Critical Introduction to the Study of Religion
may lead some toconclude that Martin
s evaluation is an attack on the phenomenon. It most certainly is not that!Its approach is, again, analytical. It is neither hot, nor cold, but lukewarm (in relation to itsauthor
s attitude towards religion).

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