Locating the past/discovering the present: perspectives on religion, culture, and marginality.

Author:Hall, Airen
Position:Book review
 
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David Gay and Stephen R. Reimer, eds. Locating the Past/Discovering the Present: Perspectives on Religion, Culture, and Marginality. Edmonton, AB: The University of Alberta Press, 2010. 203 + xviii pp. $39.95 (CAD). ISBN: 978-0-88864-499-2

Locating the Past/Discovering the Present came about as a tangible postscript to a conference on marginality, religion, and culture held in May 2006 at the University of Alberta. In their introduction to the volume, editors David Gay and Stephen R. Reimer describe the collection as an exploration premised on fluidity, on dynamic identities and complex categories. There is an emphasis on cross-cultural contact, with case studies that bring into conversation disparate times and places. As such, the collection attempts to participate in ongoing conversations about liminal populations and concepts.

The volume consists of nine essays divided into two sections: "Locating the Past" and "Discovering the Present." Despite these distinctions, nearly all of the essays have a strong focus on historical cases and issues. Authors come at the topic of marginality from a number of directions, making use of theories from continental philosophy to historiography. There is explicitly no overarching definition or understanding of "marginality" as such, meaning that each author grapples with the concept on his/her own terms and in light of his/her own case study. Beyond marginality, authors take up themes that range from subjectivity and agency to memory and orthodoxy.

Standout pieces include David Gay's "'The Writing on the Wall': Rembrandt, Milton, and Menasseh ben Israel in Ken McMullen'sR" and Eva Maria Rapple's "The Seductive Serpent."

Gay and Rapple both manage to go beyond the confines of their particular topic and offer broader insights on the nature and function of marginality. Both authors deal with art and the visual, exploring the interplay of biblical text, tradition, and image, pointing to a tension between what is depicted and what is inferred. In addition, Paul Dyck's "Reading from the Margins at Little Gidding, c. 1625-1640" offers an intriguing example of the use of an "iconic book" as both a means for constructing and ameliorating marginality. His work connects with the recent efforts of the Iconic Books Project headed by James Watts and Dorina Miller Parmenter. Those interested in material...

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