Religions of the East. Edited by Stephen Hunt. Library of Essays on Sexuality and Religion. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2010. Pp. xxviii + 513. $225.
The title of this volume, dealing with sexuality and religion in the "Religions of the East" perhaps sounds rather over-ambitious. In the brief introduction, however, the editor of the volume, sociologist of religion Stephen Hunt, fully admits that this topic is complex and vast, especially given the recent scholarly problematization of the concepts of "the East" and "religion," and the tendency in the academy to fragment the various traditions covered, such as Buddhism(s), not to mention the intense scrutiny recent scholars have paid to the categories of sex, gender, and sexuality. So, in order to bring some order to this potential chaos the volume groups the twenty papers, covering diverse periods and religious traditions, into four sections. These treat respectively: sexuality in the context of culture and religious belief systems; sexual renunciation and asceticism; gender, sexuality, and patriarchy; with the final part containing articles on sexual and gender variants, for example hijras in India.
I am tempted to say that the volume would be ideal for teaching certain courses, and also for someone embarking on a study related to these topics. Yet, as the contents are all relatively recent journal articles that can be easily downloaded from the internet, 1 question the contribution of such a volume, especially in an age where so many regularly updated specialist subject bibliographies are available, also online. Were these materials presented together with some new essays discussing the history and current state of the field, the volume would nevertheless be very valuable. But when the introduction to this volume, though subtle and well informed, is so short, I cannot help but think that this series is the product of another era in publishing. Justin McDaniel made a similar point in a recent issue of this journal (JAOS 133.3: 583-87), and I hope editors and publishers will reflect on the best ways to develop these sorts of projects in the future so as to make them of greater value.
Although supposedly treating religion and sexuality in "the East," the volume contains sixteen articles on topics relating to South Asia and only four on East Asia. Again, the lack of any substantive discussion on the part of the editor is to be regretted, for it would be useful to learn whether this imbalance in...