REFLECTIONS – “Lending to God: Charitable Giving in an Age of Commerce” with Dr. Adam Davis

by Savannah H. Finver

On December 1, 2022, Dr. Adam Davis, Professor of History at Denison University, delivered the annual Don and Barbara Davis Lecture in Christianity, co-sponsored by the Department of Comparative Studies, the Center for the Study of Religion, the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, and the Department of History. The lecture, entitled “Lending to God: Charitable Giving in an Age of Commerce,” focused on the emergent connection between charitable giving, especially in the form of almsgiving, and the increase in rhetoric around the profit economy popularized in the 12th and 13th centuries.

Davis’ argument stems in part from his recent book, The Medieval Economy of Salvation: Charity, Commerce, and the Rise of the Medieval Hospital (2019) which was awarded the Ohio Academy of History’s 2021 Publication Award for best work published in the previous year by an author from the state of Ohio. While the book focuses more heavily on the founding of hospitals during the 12th-13th centuries, Davis’ lecture focused primarily on the ideas circulating through both churches and the emerging market economy which led to charitable giving being reframed as a kind of spiritual capital; that is, as a loan that a layperson could make to God which God would then be obligated to repay “tenfold” or even “a hundred fold.” Crucially, this reframing of charitable giving in economic terms directly challenged prior notions of the very definition of “charity” put forth in the gospel as Christian clergymen had interpreted the text before.

The problem with framing charitable giving as a “loan,” as Davis explains it, is that by definition, a loan requires reciprocity, meaning that which is given must be compensated or repaid in full. Furthermore, usury, or the taking of interest on a loan (being paid back tenfold, for example), was explicitly denounced as a sin in early Christian and Catholic teachings, and in certain cases in Jewish and Muslim teachings as well. Charity, then, at least prior to the 12th century, implied a certain type of attitude towards the act of giving, that the giving must be performed without any expectation of compensation or reward in return, even emotional or spiritual reward. In the 12th and 13th centuries, though, it was the very promise of spiritual reward or spiritual capital in Heaven—indeed, sometimes even material rewards on Earth—that clergymen used to encourage their congregations to engage in almsgiving. Though the idea of performing good works, especially in the form of charitable giving, in order to secure favor with God may sound like a familiar idea to readers today, in the 13th century it amounted to a fundamental paradigm shift, one which would usher in a new era of conceiving God as a debtor to his human creations, who were in turn conceived as merchant creditors with the power to force or manipulate God into providing them material or spiritual wealth in exchange for their good deeds. In other words, the language used in churches to discuss charitable giving began to take on the same terms and ideas that were emerging from the profit market. Put differently, churches began borrowing the language of economy to make sense of the gospel to their congregations. You can see some examples of how this language was equated and interchanged in the table below:

Economy Church
loan charity
debtor God
creditor layperson
repayment spiritual reward
profit favor
market congregation

At the end of the lecture, many audience members remarked that, though they very much enjoyed the lecture, they were unsurprised by Davis’ findings and felt that the language of market/profit economy was still very present currently in churches and in matters of charitable giving. For my part, I was reminded multiple times throughout Davis’ talk of Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (originally published in English in 1930) and my own undergraduate advisor Craig Martin’s Capitalizing Religion. Because the rise in free market capitalism coincides pretty closely to the height of Protestant Reformation (in the 16th century), it hardly seems surprising that the commercialized language that would become the center of the modern world would inevitably have an impact on those discourses we call “religious” as well. Relying in part on Weber’s argument that the Calvinist expectation for engaging in good works drove the development of modern capitalism, Martin argues that many kinds of so-called “religious” discourses have been adapted to produce a particular kind of docile worker–one which won’t protest worsening conditions in the workplace and accepts individual responsibility for systemic issues. No corner is truly safe, it would seem–even the supposedly “separate” sphere of religion–from the jaws of the gods of the marketplace.

We look forward to continuing these conversations at next year’s Davis Symposium, a day packed with discussions about Christianity and Capitalism, on Oct. 27, 2023. We hope to see you there!

Research Notes from the Field, 2022 – Dr. Hugh Urban

Our faculty blog contains short posts from faculty members affiliated with the Center for the Study of Religion updating us on current events in Religious Studies and the progress of their research. Read on to learn more about Dr. Hugh Urban’s recent trip to India to continue his studies on the practice of Tantra.

Research Notes, 2022

Hugh B. Urban

Professor, Department of Comparative Studies

From January to February 2022, I traveled to northeast India to continue research on a project that I have been working on since around 2001. With the working title of “The Path of Desire: Living Tantra in Northeast India,” the project focuses on the lived, popular, and vernacular forms of Hindu Tantra in the state of Assam. Historically, Tantra is one of the most important forms of Asian religions, which spread throughout both Hindu and Buddhist traditions from roughly the sixth century CE onward. But it is also one of the most widely misunderstood and misrepresented. While most European Orientalist scholars and Christian missionaries of the nineteenth century dismissed Tantra as “black art of the crudest and filthiest kind,” modern American popular audiences have celebrated Tantra as a form of “spiritual sex” and a “cult of ecstasy” (as we see in books such as The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Tantric Sex). My project looks instead at Tantra as it is practiced today in Assam, which is often identified as one of the oldest centers and perhaps original heartland of Tantra. Known in early sources as Kamarupa (the “place” or “form” [rupa] of “desire” [kama]), Assam is the seat of the mother goddess Kamakhya (the goddess of desire), whose temple is believed to be the locus of the goddess’ yoni (womb and/or sexual organ; see figures 1 and 2). The most important festival at the temple is Ambuvaci Mela, which celebrates the goddess’ annual menstruation and coincides with the coming of the monsoon in early summer.

Kamakhya Temple, Assam

Kamakhya Temple, Assam (Fig. 1)

Lajja Gauri, the Goddess giving birth, outer wall of Kamakhya Temple

Lajja Gauri, the Goddess giving birth, outer wall of Kamakhya Temple (Fig. 2)

In my project, I am not only interested in understanding this fascinating tradition and its historical development; more importantly, I am also grappling with the changing nature of this tradition in the twenty-first century, in the face of Hindu nationalism, globalization, neoliberal capitalism, tourism, and a rapidly developing Indian economy, all of which have radically transformed many traditional religious sites. For the sake of these brief research notes, I will highlight just two examples from my recent research.

Perhaps the most striking transformation concerns the goddess’ annual menstruation festival, Ambuvaci Mela. For the last five or six years, the festival has been aggressively promoted by conservative Hindu politicians, including India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, and Assam’s Chief Minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma.  Modi and others are explicitly trying to use goddess temples and pilgrimage sites as new symbols of Hindu nationalism and as a means of accelerating India’s economic growth, particularly in the northeast states. When I visited the festival in 2017, for example, I noted huge billboards featuring Prime Minister Modi himself, welcoming visitors to come “Come, seek the blessings of Maa Kamakhya” in the “Cradle of Tantra” (Figures 3 and 4). This promotion by the conservative BJP government is profoundly ironic, however. This is, after all, a Tantric festival based on the goddess’ menstruation, which involves practices that are typically condemned by conservative Hindus like Modi. Perhaps most controversial is the practice of animal sacrifice, which is considered to be essential to the goddess’ worship in Assam, where large numbers of goats, buffaloes, pigeons, fish, and sheep are sacrificed each year (Figure 5). In Assam and throughout India, conservative religious and political groups have attempted to ban the practice, which they see as barbaric, primitive, and fundamentally “un-Hindu.”

Billboard for Ambuvaci Mela featuring Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Assam state politicians.

Billboard for Ambuvaci Mela featuring Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Assam state politicians. (Fig. 3)

Billboard for Ambuvaci Mela

Billboard for Ambuvaci Mela (Fig. 4)

Another key focus in my project is the practice of magic in Assam, where it is usually referred to as tantra-mantra or jadu. From very early sources, Assam has been known as the “land of magic,” and still today it retains a reputation of a realm of enchantment and particularly of black magic or sorcery. Indeed, Assam has the dubious distinction of having the most witchcraft accusations and witch killings in South Asia; since 2010, over 100 suspected witches have been murdered in the region – most of them women. In this part of my project, I discuss the village of Mayong, Assam, which has a widespread reputation as the quintessential “land of black magic.” In recent years, the village has also been promoted as a tourist destination, with posters reading “Welcome to Mystic Mayong,” and numerous Youtube videos and social media sites advertising this as “India’s own Hogwarts” and as the center of Tantric magic in South Asia (Figures 6-7). For this part of the project, I interviewed three male practitioners of tantra-mantra in Mayong, as well as one female activist who is fighting against witch-hunting in Assam (Figures 8-10). I was basically trying to understand how these individuals navigate the complex terrain of Tantra, magic and witchcraft in the twenty-first century, particular in the context of globalization and social media in which they might become the subjects of a Youtube video or a Facebook post, or — conversely – the target of viral witchcraft accusations.

Goat sacrifice, Kamakhya Temple

Goat sacrifice, Kamakhya Temple (Fig. 6)

Poster from the Mayong Museum

Poster from the Mayong Museum (Fig. 7)

Prabin Saikiya, a local bej (healer) and practitioner of tantra-mantra in Mayong

Prabin Saikiya, a local bej (healer) and practitioner of tantra-mantra in Mayong (Fig 9)

Tilok Hazarika, a practitioner of tantra-mantra in Mayong

Tilok Hazarika, a practitioner of tantra-mantra in Mayong (Fig. 9)

Birubala Rabha, a female activist who fights against witch-hunting in Assam

Birubala Rabha, a female activist who fights against witch-hunting in Assam (Fig. 10)

At least at this point in my research, I am concluding that Tantra today lies at the complex intersection or “node” between a great number of different social, political, and religious interests. To borrow Michel Foucault’s term, it is a kind of “linchpin” at the intersection of many tensions – tensions between religion and magic, between local identity and Hindu nationalism, between “tradition” and modernization, between spiritual practice and the inexorable forces of globalization, tourism, neoliberalism, and economic development.  In fairly simplistic schematic terms, these tensions could perhaps be diagrammed as follows:

tantra diagram

Why Study Religion? with Interim Director Dr. Hannibal Hamlin

Why Study Religion? is a video series in which the CSR asks its faculty, students, and staff what is important to them about the academic study of religion and why more folks should consider pursuing it. Find out more about the Center and its initiatives HERE. To learn more about OSU’s Religious Studies Major, visit our website at THIS LINK.

Why does Dr. Hannibal Hamlin, Interim Director of the Center and Professor of English, think it’s important to study religion? Watch the video below to find out!

Transcript: “I’m Hannibal Hamlin. I’m the Director for the Center for the Study of Religion and a Professor in the English Department specializing in literature of the English Renaissance–Shakespeare’s time. And I’m particularly interested in literature and religion and in the influence of the English Bible on English literature.

“Why study religion? Well, in my particular period, in the English Renaissance, everybody was required to attend church by law. And there was only one Church–the Church of England. After the Reformation, there was a minority Catholic population, but religious belief and practice was virtually universal. And religion gets at the heart of what people think and believe, what they hold to be most important. It’s not just a sort-of ‘weekend thing;’ it touches every aspect of life in the period I study. And you’d be hard-pressed to find any work of literature that doesn’t, in some way or another, connect with religious questions, religious ideas. Salvation, sin, and death. More broadly speaking, religion is still a central part of so many aspects of people’s lives across the world. The majority of Americans are believers, are practitioners in one religion or another, and that percentage increases as you go across the world. And centers like Pew [Research Center], or people who keep that sort of data, tell us that over the next decades, that percentage is even going to increase. Religion simply gets at the heart of what is most important to people. Life; death; life after death, if you hold that sort of belief; sin; salvation; love; grief; forgiveness: all of these things connect to religion, and so, why not study religion?”

Why Study Religion? with Dr. David Brakke

Why Study Religion? is a video series in which the CSR asks its faculty, students, and staff what is important to them about the academic study of religion and why more folks should consider pursuing it. Find out more about the Center and its initiatives HERE. To learn more about OSU’s Religious Studies Major, visit our website at THIS LINK.

Why does Dr. David Brakke of OSU’s Department of History think it’s important to study religion? Watch the video below to find out!

Transcript: “You should study religion, not just because it’s a ubiquitous and important phenomenon of human culture and history–that is, that it really motivates and explains, if we can use that word, a lot of what has happened in our world. And so, it’s a basic motivation for why people do what they do. But the other reason you should study religion is because it is the quintessential interdisciplinary topic; that is, you do a little history, you do some anthropology, you do literary criticism. We look at religion in a variety of different ways, and it really introduces an undergraduate student to the different ways the Humanities are studied, rather than to just one single approach. And, of course, you should study religion because, in the end, we really don’t know what it is. And that‘s what makes studying it so fun and interesting. Because the whole time you’re doing it, you’re like, ‘what is this thing we call religion?’ and ‘does it really exist?’ and so forth, so there are just many great reasons to study religion.”

Interested in sharing with us what brought you to the academic study of religion? Send us an email at!


Spring 2022 Courses are Live!

Our website has been updated to include all of our course offerings for Spring 2022! As a friendly reminder to undergraduate students, Dr. David Brakke will be offering Theory and Method in the Study of Religion, a mandatory course for all Majors and Minors, on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2:20-3:40pm. Watch the video below to hear a little bit from Dr. Brakke about what you’ll be studying!

Transcript: “In the spring, I’ll be teaching RELSTDS 3972, which is Theory and Method in the Study of Religion. It’s required for all Religious Studies Majors because it really talks about what religion is in a kind of more abstract comparative sense than looking at any one specific religious tradition. But the class, I think, could be really useful to anybody who’s working in the Humanities because it asks very basic questions about how we interpret human phenomena like religious beliefs, religious activities, religious rituals, organizations, and the like. So, we’ll be reading what religious studies people call the ‘classic’ theorists, which are people like Mircea Eliade, Emile Durkheim, Sigmund Freud, and so forth. And this is a 3000-level class, so we’re going to be reading Freud, not other people telling us about what Freud said, which should be lots of fun. But then we will work on problematizing, or kind of thinking about what these people missed, by reading some more recent theory in anthropology and feminist/womanist studies, African American theory, and the like, so that we can kind of see how religious phenomena are studied from a wide variety of perspectives.”

You can view a PDF of all of the Religious Studies courses on offer next semester here: SP2022 RELSTDS Courses

You can view a PDF of all courses that count toward the Major and Minor here: SP2022 Course Flyer 2

View a list of courses on our website HERE.

We look forward to seeing you next spring!

Community Lecture: “The Gnostic Jesus” with Dr. David Brakke

The CSR is gearing up for our upcoming Community Lecture: “The Gnostic Jesus: The Divine Savior in the Gospel of Judas and Other Early Christian Writings” with the Department of History’s Dr. David Brakke at 7pm EST on Nov. 4, 2021 at St. John’s Episcopal Church. Watch our brief interview with Dr. Brakke below and visit for more information about the event and location. Not located in Columbus? Registration is free via Zoom! We hope to see you there!


“My Lecture on the 4th will be on the Gospel of Judas, which is an early Christian gnostic text that first appeared in 2006, so it’s still relatively new. I’m going to focus narrowly on the question of how Jesus appears in this work. That is, what we traditionally call Christology, the study of who Christ is and what he does. So, we’ll be looking at the divine and human natures of Christ. Is he a divine being? What god sent him? And what does Jesus do to save people according to the Gospel of Judas? So, that will be our topic!”

Greetings from our Interim Director!

by Hannibal Hamlin

Warmest greetings to all in the CSR Community!

Though I know many of you who are Ohio State faculty, let me introduce myself to everyone as the Interim Director of the Center for Studies in Religion. First, though, thanks to Hugh Urban for his terrific job directing the Center over the past years! He also made my transition so much easier. Most importantly, we’re still reaping the benefits of the grant the Center received, under Hugh’s leadership, for the two-year-long “Living Well/Dying Well” program (about which more shortly). My own field is not religion per se, but English Literature. I specialize in the Renaissance period, and most of my work focuses on literature and religion, especially the English Bible and its literary/cultural influence. I am, you might say, one of those among us who studies religion, though not someone in Religious Studies.

My family is Unitarian, my wife’s is Mennonite, but I grew up in the Anglican Church of Canada, where I was a choirboy and later an adult singer, though as I moved into professional music-making I also sang in Catholic and United churches (the latter a Methodist-Presbyterian blend), as well as a synagogue and loads of concert halls. A vast amount of the vocal music repertoire is sacred or biblical, and decades of singing lodged passages deep in my head, which proved useful when I eventually arrived at graduate school and studied the Bible and religious history more seriously. The Bible is an inexhaustible collection of mesmerizing writing, and the history of its interpretation would take lifetimes to master. Nothing has had a greater influence on Western literature, and as I tell my students, vastly more copies of the Bible have been printed and disseminated than any other book in the history of the world. The historian Christopher Hill, who as a Communist had no vested interest in Christianity, wrote that if you read one book to understand seventeenth-century England it should be the Bible. But more than all this, the study of religion—whether Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, or any other—draws me because it gets to what people hold most dear: good and evil, human nature, love and family, law and politics, temptation and sin, the meaning of life, which we all seek in one way or another.

Enough about me and my interests (though if you want more, I’m available for lunch or coffee anytime!). I’m delighted to announce that the Center for Studies in Religion has a year of terrific events and activities. This Fall, David Brakke will be giving a community lecture, “The Gnostic Jesus: The Divine Savior in The Gospel of Judas and Other Early Christian Writings,” based on his new translation and definitive commentary, coming out this spring. We’ll also be having at least one of our regular “No More Than a Page” discussions, letting us all explore the compelling work so many in the CSR community are doing. In the spring, the main event will be our two-day conference, The End of Life and What Comes Next: Perspectives from Healthcare, History, Anthropology, and Religion, March 29-April 1, featuring a keynote lecture by Thomas Laqueur, author of the brilliant The Work of the Dead, and a talk by Thomas Lynch, poet, best-selling author of The Undertaking: Life Studies in the Dismal Trade, and former funeral director. Other speakers will address topics including burial practices and the current migration crisis, healthcare and end of life issues, and death, burial, and the beyond in Southeast Asia, ancient China, and among African Americans.

CSR is also very happy to be co-sponsoring several lectures with other OSU centers (GO CENTERS!). In January, CSR and the Center for Folklore Studies are presenting Solimar Otero (Indiana University), author of Archives of Conjure: Stories of the Dead in Afrolatinx Cultures. On February 25, CSR and the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies are presenting Amy Appleford (Boston University), author of Learning to Die in London, 1380-1530. Finally, on April 14, CSR, American Indian Studies, and the Newark Earthworks Center are presenting Chadwick Allen, Co-Director of the University of Washington’s Center for American Indian and Indigenous Studies, and author of the forthcoming Earthworks Rising: Mound Building in Native Literature and Arts. We also hope to arrange a visit to the Earthworks in conjunction with the lecture.

Even if you can attend only one of these events, I look forward to seeing you, but if you’re like me you’ll want to attend them all!

REFLECTIONS: Physical Space and Reproductive Rights for a More Just World

by Savannah Finver, originally posted to the Center for the Study of Religion website on 03/03/2021

On February 25, 2021, the Center for the Study of Religion hosted the fourth installment of its Living Well, Dying Well: Religion, Health, and Healing series entitled “The Movement for Black Lives.” This was the final panel for the first of a two-year Global Arts + Discovery Theme grant that was focused on the topic of “Living Well,” while next year’s panels will turn to the topic of “Dying Well.”

The first speaker for the panel was Dr. Elise Edwards, Assistant Professor of the Department of Religion at Baylor University. Her talk was entitled “Black Spirituality and the Creation of Spaces for Healing and Liberation” and focused primarily on the need for construction of physical spaces in which black bodies, lives, achievements, and joys can be celebrated. For Edwards, religion intersects with both violence and liberation, but emphasis on liberation and restorative justice can’t and won’t be effectively reached until there has been greater focus on developing the physical spaces necessary for ensuring the safety of black bodies. While Christian theology can provide a kind of moral structure for a more just world, physical buildings provide the more tangible structures that ensure freedom from acts of violence, protection from toxic conditions in the environment such as pollution, and celebration of a black aesthetic that focuses on black joy rather than black trauma or death. Only once these bodily needs have been met can spiritual transformation be sought and achieved. Thus, for Edwards, it is our responsibility as scholars to engage in community-based scholarship where we actively participate in and critique the world around us in order to create a more just world.

The second speaker for the panel was Dr. Monique Moultrie, Associate Professor of African American Studies and Religious Studies at Georgia State University. Her talk was titled “Trusting Black Women: Reproductive Justice as Black Liberation” and focused on the need to trust black women to make their own decisions about their reproductive health. For Moultrie, reproductive health encompasses three main rights: (1) the right to have a child under the conditions of one’s choosing, be that a hospital or at home with a doula or midwife; (2) the right to not have a child if bearing children is not desired; and (3) the right to raise children in healthy and safe environments when motherhood is desired. Moultrie further notes that visible black mothers are a source of resistance against injustice, which she describes as “revolutionary mothering.” Because black women have historically been barred from parenthood, women who have chosen to parent visibly—and especially the mothers of the many black men who have been subject to police brutality and violence—have become the leading activists and representatives advocating for safe spaces in which to raise their children. However, Moultrie also emphasized the important role ethicists must play in celebrating all of the procreative choices of women, including the choice not to procreate. Religion and ethics can provide us with some of the logics and language needed for understanding the importance and value of human and specifically black life by emphasizing the sacredness of human life, redescribing women’s choices as being made in a Godly image, and the imperative of moral agency embodied in procreative choices.

Where both of the speaker’s presentations converged was on the importance and centrality of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in social justice initiatives for black bodies, health, and lives. The hashtag #blacklivesmatter was developed in 2013, according to the movement’s website, as a response to the acquittal of the police officer responsible for the shooting death of Trayon Martin. Though it is best known for its protests against police brutality, Drs. Edwards and Moultrie both emphasize the growth of the movement since its origin to focus on many different aspects of black liberation and social justice initiatives. These initiatives include the creation of safe spaces within communities where black joy can be celebrated, children can be raised, healing can occur, and spiritual development and transformation become more accessible within black communities. Both speakers also discussed the importance of involvement on behalf of both scholars and religious groups/movements in communal social justice initiatives. The obligation to create a more just world does not belong to the members of the BLM movement alone. If we want to live in a world where health and healing are possible for all citizens, we share the collective responsibility of participating in black life and movements and elevating black voices.

REFLECTIONS: Magic & Healing Workshop

by Sarah Dove, originally posted to the Center for the Study of Religion website on 02/02/2021

The Center for the Study of Religion recently hosted a “Magic & Healing Workshop,” programmed as a part of their Living Well, Dying Well: Religion, Health, & Healing series for the first year of a two year Global Arts + Humanities Discovery Theme grant. This event was co-sponsored by the Center for Folklore Studies, and is the third event in the first year of programming focused around the topic of “Living Well.”

This event featured a diverse panel of experts and practitioners of religious healing and magic. The panel was moderated by Michael Swartz of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at OSU. The first presenter was Sabina Magliocco of the University of British Columbia, and her contribution was titled “Italian Vernacular Healing Modalities: Story & Song.” During this part of the panel, Dr. Magliocco shared about her work with the breadth of magical religious healing traditions embedded in the everyday life of rural cultures in and around the Tuscan Apennine region of Campagnia, Italy. Her primary argument delivered a counter-Weberian view, laying out the “enchanted worldview” of her interlocutors, perceiving the world as interconnected and permeated by spirits. Members of the communities that Dr. Magliocco comes into contact with engage deeply with the practice of magical religious healing through song and dance as a means to instill a re/integration to balance with and agency within the world around them.

The second panelist, Michael Dangler of Three Cranes Grove, is a practitioner of druidism and gave a presentation on “Healing Through Inspiration and Relationships.” Rev. Dangler’s focusing question as someone both invested in this ritual tradition and critically investigating it was, how does the body (broadly conceived) react to the healing ritual and what is the role of the spirits that aid fellow practitioners also participating in the healing ritual? In the druid tradition, “inspiration” (Aren) is a process of external internal connectivity, it is a path to healing. Directly addressing the ritual practice of “toning,” or the drawing forth of blessings and transforming it into sounds, Rev. Dangler noted the importance of the ritual intent more than the ideas behind the ritual itself. In other words, “the act of healing is healing” for those involved in the ritual.

Third to speak was Alexander Rocklin of Otterbein University. The research he discussed concerned itself with magic and religion in the context of historical colonization. He gave keen attention to radicalized religious practices as marked by colonial suspicion and practices of criminalization, especially ritual healing practices. But as these practices were being examined for their negative association by colonizers, Dr. Rocklin told us, they also demonstrated a mode of identification not hemmed in by blood or borders, but embodiment of spirit through ritual. Essentially, ritual healing practices in this context demonstrate that healing spans divisions.

Last to present of the panelists was Hugh Urban of the Department of Comparative Studies here at OSU. He delivered research from his latest project that undertook a study of “Magic and Healing in Mayong, Northeast India.” The long history of magical religious tradition that has continued into present day. Specifically, Dr. Urban tells us that the region is becoming increasingly well known through news and social media, and national tourism campaigns. As attention in the area increases the magical, religious rituals that permeate the region have also been subjected to increasing scrutiny and accusations of fraud or “black magic.” His overarching question is—and remains—how local practitioners and recipients of magical healing are negotiating their position and efficacy in the world of globalization and digital media.

The intersections of the panelists’ work became clarified across these seemingly disparate field of investigation in two primary ways. First, each presentation in some way discussed the role of sound produced in, around, or by the body of the practitioner or the recipient of healing as integral in some way to the underlying meaning of the ritual practice. Sound, located between the material and the ephemeral, thus becomes a slippery source of power in refiguring agency and efficacy but also allowing suspicion to seep in. A second unifying point of discussion that arose concerned the idea of efficacy more directly. Initially introduced by a member of the audience, the panelists and moderator undertook a lengthy discussion concerning the power of belief in confirming magical, religion healing. In this light, healing is able to move from the level of awareness, into practice, into reality. This stirring affirmation of what Dr. Magliocco called the “enchanted world view” coalesced around a singular defense of practice driving truth for those invested in magical, religious healing: “It may not be true, but I believe it.”

The Center for the Study of Religion would like to thank our panelists for their wonderfully rich and fascinating contributions, and our audience for attending and participating in our lively discussion. If you are interested in viewing a recording of this event, you can locate it using this LINK. For more information or for trouble shooting tips, contact Be sure to catch out next event on February 25, 2021 which will discuss Religion, Healing, and the Movement for Black Lives.

Catching Up with Ilana Maymind

by Sarah Dove, originally posted to the Center for the Study of Religion website on 10/26/2020

Dr. Ilana Maymind is currently Lecturer in Religious Studies at Chapman University in the Wilkinson College of Arts, Humanities, and Sciences. Her work focuses on East/West comparative religious thought. She made her way to Chapman after completing a PhD in Comparative Studies right here at OSU in 2011. I recently caught up with Dr. Maymind to ask her about her academic journey and talk about her most recent publication.

We started by discussing what initially led Dr. Maymind to the Comparative Studies Department at OSU. She foregrounded the value she places in the kind of critical thinking that doesn’t allow one to simply accept things the way that they appear on the surface, but demands probing deeply below the surface. She found herself right at home in Comparative Studies among scholars demonstrating the kind of approach she wanted to emulate such as Professor Emeritus Dr. Tom Kasulis, and especially the late Professor Emeritus Dr. Lindsey Jones and current CSR director Dr. Hugh Urban. Dr. Maymind credits Jones influence in particular with illuminating methodological approaches to deep study that were pivotal in sparking her ongoing research and pedagogy. She made clear to me during this portion of our interview 

Dr. Ilana Maymind

that she wanted to extend special gratitude to Dr. Jones for his effort, trust, and belief.

Since coming on at Chapman, she has been able to develop many original courses for their curriculum that she first came into contact with at Ohio State, such as Religion and Medicine, Religion and Love, Women and Religion, and New Religions Movements. She also teaches Introduction to Judaism.  She felt supported by Chapman to build on pedagogical frameworks she had been using in Comparative Studies at OSU where she felt encouraged to infuse her courses with material suited to her expertise and research interests.

Our primary topic of conversation, though, was her recent publication: Exile and Otherness: The Ethics of Shinran and Maimonides which was published as a part of Roman & Littlefield’s Studies in Comparative Philosophy and Religion series. Dr. Maymind shared that this book was born, at least in part, from the research she undertook in completion of her PhD, but also took on a life of its own. Primary questions that animated her investigations for this publication included, “What does it mean to be a ‘transplant?’” and, “How do we come to identify ‘home?’” Though she thought wading into a political landscape as a part of this work initially fraught with tensions, she kept returning to it, poking at the threads between the exile, universalism, particularism, and nationalism. Her final conclusions involved asking how accepting “the other” as an equal and willing partner re-inscribes the terms of nationalism to the ultimate exclusion of the exile.

Dr. Maymind also has a few projects on the horizon firmly rooted in her background as a comparativist, while also challenging her to push the boundaries of her methodology. Keep your eyes peeled for more exciting work from Dr. Maymind in the future! If you are interested in obtaining Dr. Maymind’s most recent publication, you can find it from the publisher HERE!