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Religion and Power in World History

James W. Laine (Author)

Available worldwide

Paperback, 304 pages
ISBN: 9780520281370
January 2015
$34.95, £28.00
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Whereas many textbooks treat the subject of world religions in an apolitical way, as if each religion were a path for individuals seeking wisdom and not a discourse intimately connected with the exercise of power, James W. Laine treats religion and politics as halves of the same whole, tracing their relationship from the policies of Alexander the Great to the ideologies of modern Europe secularists, with stops in classical India, China, and the Islamic world. Meta-Religion is a groundbreaking text that brings power and politics to the fore of our understanding of world religions, placing religion at the center of world history. This synthetic approach is both transformative and enlightening as it presents a powerful model for thinking differently about what religion is and how it functions in the world. With images and maps to bring the narrative to life, Meta-Religion combines sophisticated scholarly critique with accessibility that students and scholar alike will appreciate.
List of Illustrations


1. Alexander and Ashoka: Cosmopolitan Empires and Religious Policy from Egypt to India, 330–230 B.C.
2. Imperial Religion: China to Rome, 250 BC–250 A.D.
3. The Debate over Dharma: Hindus and Buddhists Compete for Ideological Dominance in South Asia
4. Confessional Religion and Empire before the Rise of Islam
5. The Rise of Islam and the Early Caliphate, 622–711 A.D.

6. Imperial Islam, 690–1500 A.D.
7. The Great Islamic Empires of the Early Modern Era (ca. 1500–1700)

8. Putting Religion in Its Place: Reformers, Kings, and Philosophers Challenge the Church
9. Putting Religion in Its Place: Revolution and Religious Freedom
10. The Contemporary Era: The Worldwide Regime of Meta-Religion


Suggested Readings
James W. Laine is Arnold H. Lowe Professor of Religious Studies at Macalester College.

Meta-Religion is a tour de force. This bracing account of the intertwining of religion and empire across world history is not only a useful tool for classroom use; it is also, in itself, a significant scholarly contribution. In compelling, accessible prose, the author traces the history of imperial religion and the political uses of religion—from the Greeks to the post-9/11 world—while also examining post-Enlightenment pieties about our own purportedly secular era. The comparative and global scope make this an ideal textbook for courses in world history or global religions, of course, but also for classes in European and U.S. history and politics, where a broader perspective is often sorely needed. Laine’s startling conclusion, that the ways in which modern multicultural societies contend with pluralism are not so new or politically innocent as we might believe, will stimulate readers to reconsider their own pious certainties and the nature of belief itself.” —Katrina Olds, Professor of History at the University of San Francisco and author of Forging the Past: Invented Histories in Counter-Reformation Spain

“This is a challenging and sophisticated revisioning of the standard ‘introduction to world religions’ textbook. Covering a broad sweep of time and place, the book takes seriously a society’s actual ‘world building,’ of which religions are a central part, and describes well how they are managed by the state.”—Andrew O. Fort, Professor of Religion at Texas Christian University

“In Meta-Religion, James Laine offers an original and provocative exploration of religion and power, and he brings to light the unspoken assumptions behind the modern concept of religion. With its global scope and fascinating examples, this book is a must-read for anyone who wants to know what religion is really about.”—Carl W. Ernst, Kenan Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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