There are lots of introductory books to the study of religion. Craig Martin
, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at St. Thomas Aquinas College, has added his own contribution to this ever-growing canon, A Critical Introduction to the Study of Religion
(Acumen Publishing, 2012). But why? What does this new intro offer? Well, if you are interested in learning how to penetrate the deep true meaning of the sacred or how we can understand the nature of religious belief or experience then keep looking. Martin offers an alternative to most introductions by presenting a socio-functional approach to cultural traditions and generally attempts to demystify religion as a natural category. In A Critical Introduction
, Martin offers an explanation of various elements of society by exploring notions of classification, structure, and habitus. He also walks readers through the social components of religious traditions, touching upon the concepts of legitimation, authority, and authenticity. Martin is very much influenced by authors such as Karl Marx, Peter Berger, Pierre Bourdieu, and Bruce Lincoln, among many others. Overall, this new introduction presents a critical approach to religious phenomena, which provides methods to determine the historical contexts, material consequences, and beneficiaries of particular cultural practices. In our conversation we discussed functionalism, social boundaries, classification, social constructionism, the relationship between words and things, animism, stereotypes, essentialism, the naturalization of the social order, class difference, the supernaturalization of claims, cultural toolboxes, absent authority, projection, and the difference between religions and other cultural practices.