Episodes

  • Recognizing the absence of a God named Yahweh outside of ancient Israel, this study addresses the related questions of Yahweh's origins and the biblical claim that there were Yahweh-worshipers other than the Israelite people. Beginning with the Hebrew Bible, with an exhaustive survey of ancient Near Eastern literature and inscriptions discovered by archaeology, and using anthropology to reconstruct religious practices and beliefs of ancient Edom and Midian, this study proposes an answer. Yahweh-worshiping Midianites of the Early Iron Age brought their deity along with metallurgy into ancient Palestine and the Israelite people. Join us as we talk with Robert Miller about his latest book, Yahweh: Origin of a Desert God (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2021).
    Robert Miller, II, O.F.S., Ph.D., is Ordinary Professor of Old Testament and Associate Dean for Graduate Studies at The Catholic University of America.
    Michael Morales is Professor of Biblical Studies at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, and the author of The Tabernacle Pre-Figured: Cosmic Mountain Ideology in Genesis and Exodus(Peeters, 2012), Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord?: A Biblical Theology of Leviticus(IVP Academic, 2015), and Exodus Old and New: A Biblical Theology of Redemption(IVP Academic, 2020). He can be reached at mmorales@gpts.edu
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  • In Becoming Rwandan: Education, Reconciliation and the Making of a Post-Genocide Citizen (Rutgers UP, 2020), S. Garnett Russell argues that although the Rwandan government makes use of global discourses in national policy documents, the way in which teachers and students engage with these global models distorts the curricular intentions of the government, resulting in unintended consequences and an undermining of sustainable peace. She is assistant professor of international and comparative education and the director of the George Clement Bond Center for African Education at Teacher’s College, Columbia University.
    Susan Thomson is an Associate Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies at Colgate University. I like to interview pretenure scholars about their research. I am particularly keen on their method and methodology, as well as the process of producing academic knowledge about African places and people.
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  • Portrayed in Western discourse as tribal and traditional, Afghans have in fact intensely debated women's rights, democracy, modernity, and Islam as part of their nation building in the post-9/11 era. In Television ad the Afghan Culture Wars: Brought to You by Foreigners, Warlords, and Local Activists (University of Illinois Press, 2020), Wazhmah Osman places television at the heart of these public and politically charged clashes while revealing how the medium also provides war-weary Afghans with a semblance of open discussion and healing. After four decades of gender and sectarian violence, she argues, the internationally funded media sector has the potential to bring about justice, national integration, and peace. Fieldwork from across Afghanistan allowed Osman to record the voices of many Afghan media producers and people. Afghans offer their own seldom-heard views on the country's cultural progress and belief systems, their understandings of themselves, and the role of international interventions. Osman analyzes the impact of transnational media and foreign funding while keeping the focus on local cultural contestations, productions, and social movements. As a result, she redirects the global dialogue about Afghanistan to Afghans and challenges top-down narratives of humanitarian development.
    Wazhmah Osman is a filmmaker and an Assistant Professor in the Departments of Globalization and Development Communication, Media Studies and Production, Media & Communication at Temple University. 
    Reighan Gillam is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Southern California.
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  • How do women claim rights against violence in India and with what consequences? By observing how survivors navigate the Indian criminal justice system, Roychowdhury provides a unique lens on rights negotiations in the world's largest democracy. She finds that women interact with the law not by following legal procedure or abiding by the rules, but by deploying collective threats and doing the work of the state themselves. They do so because law enforcement personnel are incapacitated and unwilling to enforce the law. As a result, rights negotiations do not necessarily lead to more woman-friendly outcomes or better legal enforcement. Instead, they allow some women to make gains outside the law: repossess property and children, negotiate cash settlements, join women's groups, access paid employment, develop a sense of self-assurance, and become members of the public sphere. 
    Capable Women, Incapable States: Negotiating Violence and Rights in India (Oxford UP, 2020) shows how the Indian criminal justice system governs violence against women not by protecting them from harm, but by forcing them to become "capable": to take the law into their own hands and complete the hard work that incapable and unwilling state officials refuse to complete. Roychowdhury's book houses implications for how we understand gender inequality and governance not just in India, but large parts of the world where political mobilization for rights confronts negligent criminal justice systems throughout the world.
    Sneha Annavarapu is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Chicago.
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  • Ernst Cassirer (1874-1945) was a leading neo-Kantian who developed a systematic view of how we construct and experience culture, widely construed to include mathematics, science, religion, myth, art, politics, ethics and other social endeavors. In Cassirer (Routledge 2021), Samantha Matherne explains how Cassirer updates Kant to develop his critical idealism in the form of a distinction between substance and function – the mind-dependent objects we cognize, and the structure of our minds that these objects depend on. He uses this view in his broad philosophy of symbolic forms, unpacking the way we build up the cultural world around us and our lived experience in that cultural world. Matherne, who is an assistant professor of philosophy at Harvard University, brings Cassirer’s work to life for those beyond his contemporary influences in the metaphysics of science, the philosophy of art, and the insertion of myth into the politics of fascism.
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  • Tetyana Lokot's new book Beyond the Protest Square: Digital Media and Augmented Dissent (Rowman & Littlefield, 2021) examines how citizens use digital social media to engage in public discontent and offers a critical examination of the hybrid reality of protest where bodies, spaces and technologies resonate. It argues that the augmented reality of protest goes beyond the bodies, the tents, and the cobblestones in the protest square, incorporating live streams, different time zones, encrypted conversations, and simultaneous translation of protest updates into different languages. Based on more than 60 interviews with protest participants and ethnographic analysis of online content in Ukraine and Russia, it examines how citizens in countries with limited media freedom and corrupt authorities perceive the affordances of digital media for protest and how these enable or limit protest action. The book provides a nuanced contribution to debates about the role of digital media in contentious politics and protest events, both in Eastern Europe and beyond.
    Tanya (Tetyana) Lokot is Associate Professor in Digital Media and Society at the School of Communications, Dublin City University. 
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  • In More Than Medicine: Nurse Practitioners and the Problems They Solve for Patients, Health Care Organizations, and the State (Cornell UP, 2020), LaTonya J. Trotter chronicles the everyday work of a group of nurse practitioners (NPs) working on the front lines of the American health care crisis as they cared for four hundred African American older adults living with poor health and limited means. Trotter describes how these NPs practiced an inclusive form of care work that addressed medical, social, and organizational problems that often accompany poverty. In solving this expanded terrain of problems from inside the clinic, these NPs were not only solving a broader set of concerns for their patients; they became a professional solution for managing "difficult people" for both their employer and the state. Through More Than Medicine, we discover that the problems found in the NP's exam room are as much a product of our nation's disinvestment in social problems as of physician scarcity or rising costs.
    Claire Clark is a medical educator, historian of medicine, and associate professor in the University of Kentucky’s College of Medicine. She teaches and writes about health behavior in historical context.
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  • Between Muslims Religious Difference in Iraqi Kurdistan (Stanford UP, 2020) by J. Andrew Bush asks what it means to be Muslim, yet not pious, in Iraqi Kurdistan. Though Islam is often represented in terms of either daily devotion, such as prayer and fasting, or abandonment of faith, there are many who turn away from tradition without departing from Islam. J. Andrew Bush offers us a new way to understand religious difference in Islam, one that invites questions about divine texts and rejects easy answers about political or sectarian identities. 
    Exploring the lives of irreligious Muslims, Bush highlights the paradoxes of their ethical orientation. While profoundly averse to many aspects of Islamic traditions, irreligious Muslims nonetheless harbor attractions to other aspects--such as Sufi poetry. Exploring this complex weave of attraction and aversion, the book provides intimate portraits of irreligious Kurdish Muslims in everyday life and the historical conditions that have allowed such paradoxical religious orientations to appear very ordinary in contemporary Kurdistan. 
    Whether readers approach the book as Muslims with a commitment to Islam, or as Muslims with ambivalence to Islam, or as non-Muslims who bear their own forms of certainty or ambivalence about Islam, the book will open to the door to thinking about the relationship between commitment and ambivalence in Islamic traditions.
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  • Today I talked to Dilara Yarbrough about her article "Nothing About Us Without Us: Reading Protests against Oppressive Knowledge Production as Guidelines for Solidarity Research," published in the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography (2019).
    Dilara Yarbrough is an Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice Studies at San Francisco State University. Dilara’s research focuses on how different types of governmental responses to poverty perpetuate or interrupt racial, gender and economic inequalities. Her book manuscript Abolitionist Care describes how poverty relief services provided by and for sex workers and transgender women of colour incorporate radical harm reduction and grassroots organizing to disrupt carceral logics. In this podcast, Dilara discusses anti-oppressive approaches to the production and dissemination of knowledge, including Participatory Action and Solidarity.
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  • In Gentrification Down the Shore (Rutgers University Press, 2020), Molly Vollman Makris and Mary Gatta engage in a rich ethnographic investigation of Asbury Park to better understand the connection between jobs and seasonal gentrification and the experiences of longtime residents in this beach-community city. They demonstrate how the racial inequality in the founding of Asbury Park is reverberating a century later. This book tells an important and nuanced tale of gentrification using an intersectional lens to examine the history of race relations, the too often overlooked history of the postindustrial city, the role of the LGBTQ population, barriers to employment and access to amenities, and the role of developers as the city rapidly changes. Makris and Gatta draw on in-depth interviews, focus groups, ethnographic observation, as well as data analysis to tell the reader a story of life on the West Side of Asbury Park as the East Side prospers and to point to a potential path forward.
    Molly Vollman Makris is Associate Professor and Program Coordinator of Urban Studies at Guttman Community College, City University of New York.
    Mary Gatta is as an Associate Professor of Sociology at Guttman Community College, City University of New York.
    Schneur Zalman Newfield is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Borough of Manhattan Community College, City University of New York, and the author of Degrees of Separation: Identity Formation While Leaving Ultra-Orthodox Judaism (Temple University Press, 2020). Visit him online at ZalmanNewfield.com.
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  • How should we understand creative work? In Creative Control: The Ambivalence of Work in the Culture Industries (Columbia UP, 2021), Michael Siciliano, an assistant professor of sociology at Queen's University, Canada, explores this question through a comparison of a recording studio and a digital content creation company. The book considers the meaning and practice of ‘creative’ labour, considering its ambivalences, the passions and commitments, as well as the compromises and alienations associated with this area of economy and society. It represents a crucial intervention to the literature on cultural production, as well as offering an important understanding of the impact of digital modes of distribution and production on creative industries. A rich and fascinating comparative ethnography, the book is essential reading across humanities and social sciences, as well as for anyone interested in understanding contemporary culture.
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  • "… I am an axe; And my son a handle, soon; To be shaping again, model; And tool, craft of culture; How we go on."
    - Gary Snyder, Axe Handles (1983)
    "… wisdom comes to those who understand the student is more important than the teacher in the lineage of knowledge."
    - Wade Davis, New Books Network (2021)
    Of the three major influences on Wade Davis’ life and work one of the most important is the Pulitzer Prize winning poet Gary Snyder, and in this interview the professor shares how foundational that connection remains. This is just one highlight of many he shares about his thinking and writing as Wade indulges my interest in his ‘craft of culture’ on his path to becoming a renowned storyteller.
    This professor of anthropology at the University of British Columbia, former Explorer-in-Residence for the National Geographic Society, and award-winning author, Davis shares the interesting back stories of his best-selling first book, The Serpent and The Rainbow, about his research into Haitian ‘zombie poison’, how his hypothesis was publically challenged, and how the Hollywood movie version was just the kind of cultural distortion he was trying to overcome with his book.
    In the course of talking about this first book which helped launch his writing career he shares thoughts about academic writing more generally and in particular how his PhD thesis, Passage of Darkness, is really a sterile version of the richer and more textured narrative of the first book even though the latter is preferred by academics. For that matter, Wade has something to say about academic objectivity before we move on to talk about his influential One River, his CBC lectures-inspired The Wayfinders, and his award-winning Into The Silence. He also speaks at length about the influence of his Harvard mentors – the British anthropologist David May Ray Lewis, and the botanist and plant explorer Richard Evan Schultes, and how he and the late botanical explorer Tim Plowman made up the ‘coca project’ and the significance of ‘the divine leaf of immortality’.
    Keith Krueger teaching business and academic communication in the SILC Business School at Shanghai University - can be reached at: keith.krueger@uts.edu.au
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  • From submarines to the suburbs--the remaking of Pittsburgh during the Cold War During the early Cold War, research facilities became ubiquitous features of suburbs across the United States. Pittsburgh's eastern and southern suburbs hosted a constellation of such facilities that became the world's leading center for the development of nuclear reactors for naval vessels and power plants. The segregated communities that surrounded these laboratories housed one of the largest concentrations of nuclear engineers and scientists on earth. 
    In Nuclear Suburbs: Cold War Technoscience and the Pittsburgh Renaissance (University of Minnesota Press, 2021), Patrick Vitale uncovers how the suburbs shaped the everyday lives of these technology workers. Using oral histories, Vitale follows nuclear engineers and scientists throughout and beyond the Pittsburgh region to understand how the politics of technoscience and the Cold War were embedded in daily life. At the same time that research facilities moved to Pittsburgh's suburbs, a coalition of business and political elites began an aggressive effort, called the Pittsburgh Renaissance, to renew the region. For Pittsburgh's elite, laboratories and researchers became important symbols of the new Pittsburgh and its postindustrial economy. Nuclear Suburbs exposes how this coalition enrolled technology workers as allies in their remaking of the city. Offering lessons for the present day, Nuclear Suburbs shows how race, class, gender, and the production of urban and suburban space are fundamental to technoscientific networks, and explains how the "renewal" of industrial regions into centers of the tech economy is rooted in violence and injustice.
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  • Talking about social class and the American class structure is a challenge. It can be easy to talk about the class system too rigidly, implying that “the rich stay rich while the poor stay poor.” Yet in our individualistic culture, much rhetoric suggests that anything is possible, which can dismiss the privileges or constraints that come with social class.
    Dr. Jessi Streib, assistant professor of sociology at Duke University, is a social class researcher and scholar whose work focuses on interesting junctures and disjunctures where class reveals its influence on individual lives. In Privilege Lost: Who Leaves the Upper Middle Class and How They Fall (Oxford UP, 2020), Streib focuses on a cohort of over 100 men and women who began life in the upper middle class, interviewing them over a ten-year period as they transition from their teens to their late twenties. By looking at the interplay of resources and identity characteristics that influence each person’s class trajectory to maintain upper middle-class status or become downwardly mobile, Streib identifies the multifaceted elements that influence these outcomes.
    Each chapter highlights stories that exemplify and show the range of outcomes in various trajectories through a series of archetypes. Social class if often discussed through quantitative studies that can maintain an abstractness to the concept of class mobility, so there is a real power in telling the stories of individuals as an approach to demonstrating the multi-faceted factors that affect social class. The book explores stories of those who become professionals, stay-at-home moms and family men, aspiring athletes and artists, rebels, and explorers. Streib is able to show the interplay of complicated choices individuals make as they enter adulthood, focused on individual values and goals but with associated class implications.
    Privilege Lost brings to life the stories of the downwardly mobile, showing that class standing is only one way to measure one’s life satisfaction. This exploration of the coming of age of white upper middle class youth reveals much about class and privilege in American family life.
    Michelle Newhart is a sociologists and instructional designer at Mt. San Antonio College.
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  • In post-Suharto Indonesian politics the exchange of patronage for political support is commonplace. Clientelism saturates the political system through everyday practices of vote buying, influence peddling, manipulating government programs, and skimming money from government projects.
    In this episode of New Books in Southeast Asian Studies, Professor Michele Ford spoke with Professors Edward Aspinall and Ward Berenschot about their upcoming book, Democracy for Sale: Elections, Clientelism, and the State in Indonesia (Cornell University Press, 2019). Democracy for Sale is an on-the-ground account of Indonesian democracy, analysing its election campaigns and behind-the-scenes machinations. With comparative leverage from political practices in India and Argentina, Edward Aspinall and Ward Berenschot provide compelling evidence of the importance of informal networks and personal relationships that shape access to power and privilege in the messy political environment of contemporary Indonesia.
    Edward Aspinall is a Professor in the Department of Political and Social Change, Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, Australian National University. He researches politics in Southeast Asia, especially Indonesia, with interests in democratisation, ethnicity, and clientelism, among other topics.
    Ward Berenschot is a Professor of Comparative Political Anthropology at the University of Amsterdam, and a senior researcher at the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies (KITLV), studying contemporary politics in Indonesia and India. His work focuses on the role of money and informality in election campaigns, while a second field of research concerns the character of civil society and citizenship in democratising countries. He has also been involved in efforts to promote legal aid in Indonesia, particularly in relation to land conflicts sparked by palm oil expansion.
    Professor Michele Ford is the Director of the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre, a university-wide multidisciplinary center at the University of Sydney, Australia.
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  • Believers: Faith in Human Nature (Norton, 2019) is a scientist's answer to attacks on faith by some well-meaning scientists and philosophers. It is a firm rebuke of the "Four Horsemen"--Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens--known for writing about religion as something irrational and ultimately harmful. Anthropologist Melvin Konner, who was raised as an Orthodox Jew but has lived his adult life without such faith, explores the psychology, development, brain science, evolution, and even genetics of the varied religious impulses we experience as a species.
    Conceding that faith is not for everyone, he views religious people with a sympathetic eye; his own upbringing, his apprenticeship in the trance-dance religion of the African Bushmen, and his friends and explorations in Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, and other faiths have all shaped his perspective. Faith has always manifested itself in different ways--some revelatory and comforting; some kind and good; some ecumenical and cosmopolitan; some bigoted, coercive, and violent. But the future, Konner argues, will both produce more nonbelievers, and incline the religious among us--holding their own by having larger families--to increasingly reject prejudice and aggression.
    A colorful weave of personal stories of religious--and irreligious--encounters, as well as new scientific research, Believers shows us that religion does much good as well as undoubted harm, and that for at least a large minority of humanity, the belief in things unseen neither can nor should go away.
    Renee Garfinkel, Ph.D. is a psychologist, writer, Middle East television commentator and host of The New Books Network’s Van Leer Jerusalem Series on Ideas. Write her at r.garfinkel@yahoo.com.
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  • How are immigrants’ lives shaped by cultural and political dynamics in their homeland, hostland, and “elsewhere” countries whose geopolitical dynamics affect their experiences (such as South Asian Muslims who are affected by post-9/11 and more recent backlash against Middle Eastern nations)? In today’s podcast, we talk with Tahseen Shams, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto-St.George and author of Here, There, and Elsewhere: The Making of Immigrant Identities in a Globalized World. Tahseen talks about how her own background as a Bangladeshi immigrant to Mississippi inspired her to become an ethnographer, and how her positionality affected her research with other South Asian Immigrants. She describes how she used content analysis of Facebook to overcome her own effect on interviewees and some of the difficulties she had in managing relationships with her participants. Also, in a fascinating discussion of how her female research participants navigated contrasting identity categories of “Good Muslim” and “Moderate Muslim”, she reflects on what she learned from the tensions between what they said in interviews and what she observed them doing. Finally, Tahseen talks about finding inspiration in reading novels and her new research project on inter-ethnic relationships.
    Tahseen Shams is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto - St. George, and the Bissell-Heyd Research Fellow at the Centre for the Study of the United States of the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy.
    Alex Diamond is a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of Texas, Austin. Sneha Annavarapu is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Chicago. Dr. Sneha Annavarapu is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Chicago.
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  • Megan Ryburn’s Uncertain Citizenship: Everyday Practices of Bolivian Migrants in Chile (University of California Press, 2018) is a multi-sited ethnography of citizenship practices of Bolivian migrants in Chile. The book asks readers to think beyond a binary category of citizen/noncitizen when looking at migrant practices and spaces. Instead, Uncertain Citizenship emphasizes the transnational, overlapping, and fluctuating forms of citizenship that migrants engage with and inhabit as they move through their lives and across borders. While Ryburn understands the importance of legal and bureaucratic status as a determinant of the experience of migration, her book fundamentally considers “papeleo” as a practice and an experience in which there are many opportunities for regularization as well as marginalization.
    Uncertain Citizenship is an essential read for scholars of the Andes and the Southern Cone, as well as scholars of migration generally. Her reflections on ethnographic practice and engaging style make this book a good fit for undergraduate classrooms as well with chapters on solidarity, dance troupes, and the Chilean Dream. Dr. Ryburn is a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow in the London School of Economics Latin America and Caribbean Centre. Uncertain Citizens: Bolivian Migrants in Chile received an honorable mention for the Best Book of Social Sciences in 2019 from the LASA Southern Cone Studies Section She is the Book Review Editor of the Journal of Latin American Studies.
    Elena McGrath is an Assistant Professor of History at Union College in Schenectady, NY.
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  • Tropics of Savagery: The Culture of Japanese Empire in Comparative Frame (U California Press, 2010) is an incisive and provocative study of the figures and tropes of “savagery” in Japanese colonial culture. Through a rigorous analysis of literary works, ethnographic studies, and a variety of other discourses, Robert Thomas Tierney demonstrates how imperial Japan constructed its own identity in relation both to the West and to the people it colonized. By examining the representations of Taiwanese aborigines and indigenous Micronesians in the works of prominent writers, he shows that the trope of the savage underwent several metamorphoses over the course of Japan's colonial period--violent headhunter to be subjugated, ethnographic other to be studied, happy primitive to be exoticized, and hybrid colonial subject to be assimilated.
    Dr. Robert Tierney is professor of Japanese literature in the Departments of East Asian Languages and Cultures and Comparative and World Literatures in the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
    Samee Siddiqui is a former journalist who is currently a PhD Candidate at the Department of History, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His dissertation explores discussions relating to religion, race, and empire between South Asian and Japanese figures in Tokyo from 1905 until 1945. You can find him on twitter @ssiddiqui83
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  • The first in-depth study of the All World Gayatri Pariwar, a modern Indian religious movement. The All World Gayatri Pariwar is a modern religious movement that enjoys wide popularity in North India, particularly among the many STEM workers who joined after becoming disillusioned with their lucrative but unfulfilling private-sector careers. Founded in the mid-twentieth century, the Gayatri Pariwar works to popularize practices inspired by ancient religious texts and breaks with convention by framing these practices as the foundation of a universal spirituality. The movement appeals to science in its advocacy of these practices, claiming that they have medical benefits that constitute proof that rational people around the world should find persuasive. Should these practices become sufficiently widespread, the belief is that humanity will enter a new satyug, or “golden age.” 
    In The Science of Satyug: Class, Charisma, and Vedic Revivalism in the All World Gayatri Pariwar (SUNY Press, 2021), Daniel Heifetz focuses on how religion and science are objects of intense emotion that help to constitute identities. Weaving engaging ethnographic anecdotes together with readings of Gayatri Pariwar literature, Heifetz interprets this material in light of classic and contemporary theory. The result is a significant contribution to current conversations about the globalized middle classes and the entanglement of religion and science that will appeal to anyone interested in understanding these aspects of life in modern India. Daniel Heifetz teaches in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Pittsburgh.
    Raj Balkaran is a scholar, educator, consultant, and life coach. For information see rajbalkaran.com.
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