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Deus in Machina Movet: Religion in the Age of Technological Reproducibility

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image of Method & Theory in the Study of Religion

This essay demonstrates that the concept of feedback—as a technological condition, historical ontology, and theoretical frame—challenges traditional ways of conceiving of religion and writing its history. This essay "begins" in 1920's America, a moment when the capacity of machines to regulate both nonhuman and human systems reached a point of critical mass and intensity. Integrating theoretical exploration with historical specificity, I address responses to this changing technological atmosphere among Anglo-Protestant leaders as well as leaders of the infamous "Revival" of Herman Melville and his long-forgotten Moby-Dick (1851). Historically, I argue that Protestant strategies of self-centering, so pervasive in the early twentieth century, failed to hold their ground against the billowing nature of feedback technology. Theoretically, I argue that Protestant-inspired definitions of what constitutes religious belief and practice, still pervasive in the modern academic study of religion, are not equipped to deal with crises of the natural within (post)modernity.


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