2022 AAR Book Awards

The American Academy of Religion is pleased to announce the 2022 recipients of the Awards for Excellence in the Study of Religion, the Best First Book in the History of Religions, and the Religion and the Arts Book Award.

This annual competition recognizes new scholarly publications that make significant contributions to the study of religion. The awards honor books of distinctive originality, intelligence, and creativity, and these titles affect decisively how religion is examined, understood, and interpreted. Congratulations to the winners!

Religion and the Arts Book Award

Kathryn R. Barush  

Imaging Pilgrimage: Art as Embodied Experience (Bloomsbury Publishing)

From the jury:

We found this thoroughly researched book to be expansive: it expands the concepts of “pilgrimage” and art as lived experience as it extends the idea of communities as culture. It is delightfully multidisciplinary: it engages material religion, multiculturalism, history, pluralism, dialogical encounter, spiritual expression, disability, illness, dying, visual arts, and music. Well written, creatively constructed, and accessible, Imaging Pilgrimage provides a new way of thinking about the arts, religion, and the ways in which they intersect.

Best First Book in the History of Religions

Adam J. Lyons (co-winner) 

Karma and Punishment: Prison Chaplaincy in Japan (Harvard University Press)

From the jury:

Karma and Punishment focused on Buddhist chaplaincy in Japan from the 19th century to the contemporary moment, is a profound meditation on the relationship between carcerality, religion, and the modern State. Interdisciplinary in its orientation that seamlessly blends in-depth fieldwork with meticulous archival research, Adam Lyons explores how Buddhist doctrinal concepts guide the disciplining of the incarcerated. In doing so, this book shines a bright and necessary light on the little studied topic of prison religion, particularly beyond the boundaries of the United States.



Alexis Wells-Oghoghomeh (co-winner) 

The Souls of Womenfolk: The Religious Cultures of Enslaved Women in the Lower South (The University of North Carolina Press)

From the jury:

The Souls of Womenfolk tackles an impossible issue—giving a reckoning of the interior religious lives of enslaved women in the American South—and does so with breathtaking finesse. In doing so, it not only offers a much-needed corrective to the androcentric paradigm for chattel slavery in colonial and antebellum US South but is a masterclass in reading archives. Written in a lyrical, unflinching style that forces the reader to attend to the harrowing accounts at the center of this great contribution, Alexis Wells-Oghoghomeh has produced a remarkable book, sure to resonate across multiple disciplines, along with time, space, and history.

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

Megan Brankley Abbas (co-winner) 

Whose Islam?: The Western University and Modern Islamic Thought in Indonesia (Stanford University Press)

From the jury:
A foray into unchartered territory, this outstanding study explores the role Western universities have had in the education of scholars of Islam, with a particular focus on Indonesian scholars who were trained in Islamic Studies at McGill University, Canada, and went back to teach in Indonesia. Based on extensive archival research and oral-history interviews, the study illuminates the complex networks connecting Western academia and Indonesian Islam. The author thoughtfully discusses the question of authority in Islamic studies, both religious and academic, infusing the insider-outsider debate with new empirical evidence and profound insights. This study provides a unique and eye-opening perspective and suggests reasoned ways forward.


Mark R. Mullins (co-winner) 

Yasukuni Fundamentalism: Japanese Religions and the Politics of Restoration (University of Hawai’i Press)

From the jury:
A brilliant study of religious nationalism in contemporary Japan that puts the Yasukuni Shrine—a central space for memorializing Japan’s war dead—in a global context. The book demonstrates that the use of religious symbolism by right-leaning political organizations in Japan is indeed a global phenomenon with close parallels in Europe and the United States, and elsewhere. Mullins shows how the complex interplay of social, economic, and political factors in post-war Japan originated and depended on the rhetoric of religious nationalism symbolized most powerfully in the Yasukuni Shrine. A significant and groundbreaking contribution to the study of religion.

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

Jason Ānanda Josephson Storm 

Metamodernism: The Future of Theory (The University of Chicago Press)

From the jury:

Metamodernism is an ambitious and far-reaching book. Storm seeks to integrate the humanities and the sciences into a synthetic system where constructivism and naturalism are given a stereophonic voice. In a theoretical tour de force, he charts a path forward to avoid the pitfalls, yet absorb the insights, of prominent theoretical and methodological strands that shaped the modern sciences and postmodern humanities. A challenging, intellectual manifesto, its depth of engagement in diverse subject areas is outstanding. 

Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion: Historical Studies

Leah DeVun 

The Shape of Sex: Nonbinary Gender from Genesis to the Renaissance (Columbia University Press)

From the jury:

Leah DeVun’s extensively researched and cogently argued volume fills a void in religious studies by providing a widely diverse yet comprehensive study of how the meaning and value of being human for the premodern Latin West is rooted in nonbinary sex. Crossing multiple disciplinary boundaries from alchemy and anthropology to art history, biblical exegesis, botany, cultural history, law, literature, medicine, and the sciences, DeVun has carefully structured this study to include conversations between classical Greek and Muslim texts with those of the Catholic West. The problematic history of defining sex and gender vividly illustrates the significance of categorizing identity within the religious and social spheres including how and why “the West” has legitimated the principle that to be human is to be either male or female. DeVun’s text provides a framework for the incorporation of the larger spectrum of sexuality and its place as a signifier of identity within the study of religion. The Shape of Sex will prove to be a classic on the academic pathways to the study and definition of gender and sexuality studies by expanding the boundaries of religious studies in a dynamic and historically grounded volume.

Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion: Textual Studies

Rhiannon Graybill (co-winner)

Text after Terror: Rape, Sexual Violence, and the Hebrew Bible (Oxford University Press)

From the jury:

Texts After Terror has rightly been described as "really interesting," "daring and devastating," as well as a "critical" and "authentic" engagement with "many of the Bible's most disturbing narratives." This is not the first time that sexual violence in the Hebrew Bible or the various religious structures that have upheld Patriarchy are critiqued. Graybill shows a mastery in bringing a sense of concreteness and materiality to what she at first describes as the "fuzzy messy, and icky" nature of sextual violence. In her second chapter, for example, she speaks of "the edges of consent" which she makes sure is understood not as "a margin" but rather "the brink" with the uncertainty and ambivalence that it can suggest. Later in the same chapter, she gets our attention to the sticky nature of "affect" as an ability to be passed back and forth repeatedly. From there she takes us straight to the stickiness of affect in all the three rape stories that she will consider in the same chapter. At the same time, Graybill displays remarkable loyalty to the promise that she has made in the early pages of her book that "more than terror" she will remain interested in the question of the "after." What comes after sexual violence? In the rape cases in chapter 2, she remains focused on the stickiness of the "after." The victim of sextual violence is understood to be "contaminated" to the point that she is a "threat" of bringing the sticky contamination into the community. It is good to highlight the fact that, as Valerie Bridgman observes, "while Texts After Terror works with current theory, it remains a good, not clunky, read."


Gloria Maité Hernández (co-winner)

Savoring God: Comparative Theopoetics (Oxford University Press)

From the jury:

Besides being a meticulous, in-depth, and sincere labour of love, Savoring God bridges time, linguistic difference (Spanish and Sanskrit), religious orientations (Catholicism and Hinduism), as well as mystical personalities and temperaments (John of the Cross and the Rasa Lila). While comparativists are often tempted to stick to the broader outline, lest the comparison collapses, the success of Savoring God is the focus of its comparative theopoetics on the finest details in the texts. Each of the examples have their own gift. In "Seeing God through the fountain," for example, the "silver features" of the "crystalline fountain" suddenly form "the desired eyes" that in Cantico John has drawn in his "most inside." (95) Just as we are enjoying this amazing sensory moment bridging the inner and the outer, Hernandez reminds us that "while poetically the fountain" seems to be an ally of the observer, "theological commentaries see it a "mediator and an obstacle for the soul to attain the direct vision of God." As Niki Clement points out, these "gorgeous, direct, and meticulous textual" readings teach us how to read with our affect as well as intellect. As a result, one of the book's major achievements is its ability to keep the transformative nature of reading in the foreground.







Award Finalists

In addition to the award winners, the award juries would like to share their 2022 shortlisted finalists in recognition of their exceptional scholarship:

Religion and the Arts Book Award

  • Kathryn Dickason, Ringleaders of Redemption: How Medieval Dance Became Sacred (Oxford University Press)
  • Kajri Jain, Gods in the Time of Democracy (Duke University Press)
  • Richard C. Jankowsky, Ambient Sufism: Ritual Niches and the Social Work of Musical Form (The University of Chicago Press)
  • Antonio D. Sison, The Art of Indigenous Inculturation: Grace on the Edge of Genius (Orbis Books) 
  • Natalie Wigg-Stevenson, Transgressive Devotion: Theology as Performance Art (SCM Press)

Best First Book in the History of Religions

  • Ellen Gough, Making a Mantra: Tantric Ritual and Renunciation on the Jain Path to Liberation (University of Chicago Press)
  • Michael Graziano, Errand into the Wilderness of Mirrors: Religion and the History of the CIA (University of Chicago Press)
  • Ayesha Irani, The Muhammad Avatara: Salvation History, Translation, and the Making of Bengali Islam (Oxford University Press)
  • Michael Motia, Imitations of Infinity: Gregory of Nyssa and the Transformation of Mimesis (University of Pennsylvania Press)
  • David J. Mozina, Knotting the Banner: Ritual and Relationship in Daoist Practice (University of Hawai'i Press)
  • Waleed Ziad, Hidden Caliphate: Sufi Saints beyond the Oxus and Indus (Harvard University Press)

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

  • Susannah Crockford, Ripples of the Universe: Spirituality in Sedona, Arizona (The University of Chicago Press)
  • Craig Martin, Discourse and Ideology: A Critique of the Study of Culture (Bloomsbury Publishing)
  • Brad Stoddard, Spiritual Entrepreneurs: Florida's Faith-Based Prisons and the American Carceral State (University of North Carolina Press)

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

  • Muhammad Umar Faruque, Sculpting the Self: Islam, Selfhood, and Human Flourishing (University of Michigan Press)
  • Catherine Keller, Facing Apocalypse: Climate, Democracy and Other Last Chances (Orbis Books)
  • Richard W. McCarty, Under the Bed of Heaven: Christian Eschatology and Sexual Ethics (SUNY Press)
  • Roger A. Sneed, The Dreamer and the Dream: Afrofuturism and Black Religious Thought (The Ohio State University Press)
  • Karen Elizabeth Zoppa, Playing the Scene of Religion: Beauvoir and Faith (Equinox Publishing)

Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion, Historical Studies

  • Megan Brankley Abbas, Whose Islam?: The Western University and Modern Islamic Thought in Indonesia (Stanford University Press)
  • Wallace L. Daniel, Women of the Catacombs: Memoirs of the Underground Orthodox Church in Stalin's Russia (Cornell University Press)
  • Jennifer Awes Freeman, The Good Shepherd (Baylor University Press)
  • April D. Hughes, Worldly Saviors and Imperial Authority in Medieval Chinese Buddhism (University of Hawai‘i Press)
  • Brian Ogren, Kabbalah and the Founding of America: The Early Influence of Jewish Thought in the New World (NYU Press)
  • Andrew Porwancher, The Jewish World of Alexander Hamilton (Princeton University Press)

Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion, Textual Studies

  • Alhaj Yusuf Salih Ajura, Translated by Zakyi Ibrahim, Islamic Thought in Africa: The Collected Works of Afa Ajura (1910-2004) and the Impact of Ajuraism on Northern Ghana (Yale University Press)
  • Abdulla Galadari, Metaphors of Death and Resurrection in the Qur’an: An Intertextual Approach with Biblical and Rabbinic Literature (Bloomsbury Publishing)
  • Rabbi Menahem Nahum of Chernobyl; translation, introduction, and commentary by Arthur Green, The Light of the Eyes: Homilies on the Torah (Stanford University Press)
  • Charles LaPorte, The Victorian Cult of Shakespeare: Bardology in the Nineteenth Century (Cambridge University Press)
  • Nicole Willock, Lineages of the Literary: Tibetan Buddhist Polymaths of Socialist China (Columbia University Press)