Matt Hedstrom is assistant professor of religious studies and American studies at the University of Virginia, and author of The Rise of Liberal Religion: Book Culture and American Spirituality in the Twentieth Century (Oxford University Press, 2013), winner of the Frank S. and Elizabeth D. Brewer Best First Book Prize of the American Society of Church History.
When scholars of religion are feeling provocative, they like to point out that there is no such thing as “religion”—only “religions.”Like language, religion cannot be merely an abstraction; it must always be expressed in a particular way.
It has become cliché to note that we live in a world of information overload. Being cliché, of course, does not make it any less true. We professors are well aware of our inability to keep up with the fantastic production of new knowledge in our own specialties, yet the torrent of words overwhelms not only scholars but all readers. Who can possibly read all the books, magazines, journals, newspapers, blogs, tweets and posts worth reading? And what is worth reading, anyway?
This deluge is often ascribed to the digital revolution, and indeed the internet and pervasive connectivity have greatly expanded our reading options. Nevertheless, the historically minded will recognize in our current situation merely the ongoing ripples of earlier information revolutions.