I found this part most interesting:
“Chapter Four shifts to the next gear by exploring how ancient authors do conceptualize themselves and others. Drawing on Manichaeism, a practice of Eastern Christianity that drew together Buddhist belief and practice and Christian tradition, Nongbri notes that Augustine did not consider them to be of ‘a different religion’, but as ‘half-Christian’ (semichristianos). Even John of Damascus (7th century C.E.), a well-known monastic, does not consider Islam a distinct religion, but ‘one of the many erroneous Christian sects’ (75). Barlaam and Ioasaph attests to this even more because it was derived from Buddhist stories. Appropriation of the story for Christian use implies that Christians did not manage differences in Buddhist stories and practice by discussing distinct religions, but by reworking it for their own purposes. These three representative example demonstrate how pre-modern people differentiated between themselves and others outside of the framework of “religion” or World Religions. While part of me wishes that Nongbri had explored more extensively how pre-modern peoples differentiated themselves, I am aware that their would not have been space for that. Fortunately, he provides valuable end notes to enable people to move engage more deeply with variations of pre-modern differentiation.”
Brent Nongbri. Before Religion: A History of a Modern Concept. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2015, 288pp., $25.00 (paperback).
Within the field of history, modern scholars tend to project religion backwards into a pre-17th century world. They do so because religion tends to be thought of as a “natural” thing in human history, even if it expressed as “embedded religion”. Consequently artificial, non-native paradigms are applied to other cultures and times in order to interpret them. Brent Nongbri, a postdoctoral researcher at Macquarie University with a focus on the ancient Mediterranean world, explores the dimensions of “religion” through a representative selection of key historical moments and literature in order to demonstrate that the modern concept of religion, especially World Religions, is anachronistic. Of course, as Nongbri notes, all modern concepts applied to the ancient world are anachronistic. The issue with the term “religion” arises, though, when people are…
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