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Memento Mori: Gary Lease and the Study of Religion

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Gary Lease wrote vividly about the entanglement of religion and power, pursuing critical histories of religious claims and their social support structures. He sought to replace a standard story of religion's ubiquity (often coupled with an attitude of approval) with a much darker version of the human desires and conflicts embedded in, and masking as, religious discourse. But Lease seems to have been fundamentally ambivalent about the object in question. Is it "religion," namely the ideological dynamics deployed by human beings to dominate one another (and themselves), or is it religion, a void or death wish at the heart of human existence, a now-refashioned ubiquity but without the happy ending? I claim that there are profound, and ultimately productive, ambivalences in Lease's attempt cleanly to circumscribe the object of study—ambivalences which makes him a vital interlocutor in the effort to move beyond conventional histories of religion and consciousness.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Religious Studies, Indiana University

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