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2018 AAR Book Awards Announced

September 24, 2018
Contact: Sarah Levine / (404) 727-3059

The AAR has selected the 2018 recipients of the Awards for Excellence in the Study of Religion and the Best First Book in the History of Religions. This annual competition recognizes new scholarly publications that make significant contributions to the study of religion. The awards honor books of distinctive originality, intelligence, creativity, and importance—books that affect decisively how religion is examined, understood, and interpreted.

Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion: Analytical-Descriptive Studies

Jenna Reinbold, Colgate University
Seeing the Myth in Human Rights
University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017
Reinbold shows how analytic tools and perspectives from religious studies can speak to the major academic and public issues of our time…Her original and nuanced rereading of the story of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights offers a new way through debates about the foundations of human rights…The jurors were impressed by the originality, theoretical sophistication and clarity of the work.

Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion: Constructive-Reflective Studies

Nancy Levene, Yale University
Powers of Distinction: On Religion and Modernity 
University of Chicago Press, 2017
This is an ambitious and supremely relevant critique of dominant views of the Enlightenment and Modernism that seeks to reclaim a place for religion and theology by arguing that the Enlightenment was not essentially anti-theological…an engaging, deep conversation…it serves to highlight and value the Modern demand for critical analysis, even (or especially) of our most sacrosanct beliefs.

Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion: Historical Studies

Bissera V. Pentcheva, Stanford University
Hagia Sophia: Sound, Space, and Spirit in Byzantium
Penn State University Press, 2017
The jurors were struck by the uniquely intense variety and content of interdisciplinarity in the volume: the arguments that Pentcheva makes are based on creative fieldwork, careful research in primary sources, and imaginative readings of secondary works written by scholars who work in a wide range of disciplines. The book is extraordinarily erudite and well written…never anything other than an exciting and captivating read. 
Honorable Mention: Eve Krakowski, Coming of Age in Medieval Egypt: Female Adolescence, Jewish Law, and Ordinary Culture (Princeton University Press, 2017)

Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion: Textual Studies

Wallace D. Best, Princeton University
Langston's Salvation: American Religion and the Bard of Harlem
NYU Press, 2017
Best recovers Langston Hughes’s poetry as religious texts and retrieves Hughes, long described in binary terms as atheist or agnostic, as a religious persona with a complicated relationship to both biblical antecedents and to contemporaneous African American Christianity in Harlem…Informed by ethnography and cultural theory, Langston’s Salvation is elegantly written and may well inspire a vigorous reclamation of Hughes as a canonical religious author.

Best First Book in the History of Religions

Lincoln Mullen, George Mason University
The Chance of Salvation: A History of Conversion in America
Harvard University Press, 2017
Mullen takes a common trope about American religions—that they are about conversion and choice—and deploys it in astonishingly illuminating ways across the breadth of religious traditions…Mullen clearly and convincingly demonstrates how pressures to convert changed the foundations of American religions…This book is innovative, accessible, highly teachable, wise and mature.
Honorable Mention: Amy Paris Langenberg, Birth in Buddhism: The Suffering Fetus and Female Freedom (Routledge, 2017)