Shenandoah University Assistant Professor of Religion Meredith Minister, Ph.D., saw three of her books published this fall.
She served as co-editor, with Sarah J. Bloesch, for “Cultural Approaches to Studying Religion: An Introduction to Theories & Methods,” and the “Bloomsbury Reader in Cultural Approaches to the Study of Religion,” and as the sole author of “Rape Culture on Campus.”
Crafting needed classroom resources
The first two books, with Bloesch, came about after the pair complained about the lack of resources for teaching introductory theory courses in religion, Dr. Minister said. And then, within the course of the conversation, they asked each other, “Do you want to write a textbook?”
However, the pair soon realized that they wanted the resource in hand faster than they could write it, and settled upon creating an edited volume featuring works by a variety of contributors. One of their contributors, from Yale University, connected them to the publishing house Bloomsbury, which liked their proposal and asked them to compile an accompanying volume of primary works by the theorists featured in the initial book.
“‘Cultural Approaches to Studying Religion: An Introduction to Theories & Methods,’ and its accompanying reader, are designed to work well for a course like Shenandoah’s Religion 101 offering, Religion Outside of Religions,” Minister said. The course explores the meaning of religion and how it shapes the world in unseen ways. During the course, Minister said she outlines things like myths, rituals, ethical systems – all common among religious traditions – and how such things work outside of the religious sphere.
For example, the course could look at sports as a religious phenomenon, or ask, “How are myths working in self-help culture?” Minister said. The books should help give students tools to ask such a question and come up with different possible answers, according to Minister. If one considers why people believe so fully in different health concepts, the work of a thinker like Mary Douglas, featured in the books, who asserts that people need to control environments and make a hard distinction between purity and pollution, or purity and impurity. In health movements, this can be seen as one ingredient, like coconut oil, becomes known as “pure,” while another, canola oil, is cast as its opposite, Minister said.
The books also help students understand why people invest deeply in certain beliefs, and discern whether the belief is an outgrowth of an individual, internal need, or a social phenomenon, Minister said. The theorists covered in the books are mostly concerned with social approaches and movements, she added.
Those featured in the volumes are considered important to the field of religious studies, even if their work isn’t primarily in religious studies, Minister said. One of those covered is the novelist Alice Walker (“The Color Purple”) whose work, Minister said, has been hugely influential for womanist theology and black feminist approaches to theology.
“We’re thrilled about both volumes,” Minister said of her and her co-editor’s reactions to the books. The volumes, she noted, have already generated interest from faculty at the Ohio State University, Stanford University, University of North Carolina, Rhodes College, Southern Methodist University and Middle Tennessee State University.
Creating a campus resource
While Minister said the Bloomsbury volumes were written for classroom use, the other new book she authored, “Rape Culture on Campus,” is a resource for cultivating campus cultures that resist sexual violence. It will be particularly useful for people doing Title IX work and for faculty who are concerned about students and are interested in addressing issues of sexual violence, when they appear in coursework.
If figures are correct that one in every five college women has experienced sexual assault during the college years, it’s possible that in a class of 20 students, several could be fairly recent survivors of sexual assault, she said. Faculty need to be cognizant of this, and when they’re addressing certain issues in class, and they must explain that the issue is a live one; that the experience of assault is common, and note, for example, that resources are available to students dealing with the aftermath of an assault. At Shenandoah, these resources include the Counseling Center, [Not Just] Women’s Center, and the Mosaic Center for Diversity and Inclusion. The book offers theoretical and practical guidance for faculty, staff, and administrators who seek to work toward a campus culture that resists sexual violence.
More work on the way
While authoring the book and editing two others, all of which appeared almost concurrently this fall, felt almost overwhelming for Minister, she’s definitely not resting on her laurels as an author and editor.
She’s currently compiling an edited volume with Rhiannon Graybill and Beatrice Lawrence, “Rape Culture and Religious Studies: Critical and Pedagogical Engagements,” and authoring a chapter in the book, drawing on Octavia Butler’s speculative fiction (the Xenogenesis trilogy) and its relationship to consent.
Learn more about Dr. Minister at meredithminister.org.