Avalos, Hector 1958-
Avalos, Hector 1958-
Born October 8, 1958. Education: University of Arizona, B.A., 1982; Harvard Divinity School, M.T.S., 1985; Harvard University, Ph.D., 1991.
Office—Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Iowa State University, 402 Catt Hall, Ames, IA 50011. E-mail—[email protected]
Theologian, educator, writer, and editor. Iowa State University, Ames, professor of religious studies, chair of the U.S. Latino Studies Program. Former executive director of the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion, Amherst, NY.
Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion (former chair of the Religion in Latin America and the Caribbean Group).
Illness and Health Care in the Ancient Near East: The Role of the Temple in Greece, Mesopotamia, and Israel, Scholars Press (Atlanta, GA), 1995.
Health Care and the Rise of Christianity, Hendrickson (Peabody, MA), 1999.
Se Puede Saber Si Dios Existe?, Prometheus Books (Amherst, NY), 2003.
(Editor) Introduction to the U.S. Latina and Latino Religious Experience, Brill Academic Publishers (Boston, MA), 2004.
Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence, Prometheus Books (Amherst, NY), 2005.
Strangers in Our Own Land: Religion in Contemporary U.S. Latina/o Literature, Abingdon Press (Nashville, TN), 2005.
(Editor, with Sarah J. Melcher and Jeremy Schipper) This Abled Body: Rethinking Disabilities in Biblical Studies, Brill (Boston, MA), 2007.
The End of Biblical Studies, Prometheus Books (Amherst, NY), 2007.
Contributor to periodicals, including Free Inquiry. Serves on the editorial board for the translation of Luis Alonso Schokel's Diccionario Biblico Hebreo-Español.
Hector Avalos is an academic whose interests include Biblical and Near Eastern studies, U.S. Latino-Latina religion and literature, religion and violence, as well as science and religion. He is the author or editor of several books focusing on these areas of expertise. The author's first two books focus on health care in relation to religion. In Illness and Health Care in the Ancient Near East: The Role of the Temple in Greece, Mesopotamia, and Israel, the author presents a revised and expanded version of his 1991 dissertation from Harvard University. In the book, he focuses on the health-care systems of ancient Greece, Mesopotamia, and Israel within a socioreligious context. In the process, he presents his view of how socioreligious concepts influence the type of health-care systems created by a society. Robert D. Biggs, writing in the Journal of the American Oriental Society, noted that the author "has produced a refreshing book on a subject too long obscured both by the cultural blinders of our own attitudes to illnesses and their treatment and by our almost universal bias favoring ‘scientific’ (that is, for most of us, ‘medical’) treatments over other approaches which patients often find equally effective."
In his 1999 book Health Care and the Rise of Christianity, Avalos looks at the early days of Christianity and its role as a proponent of health care. In the book, he presents his thesis that converts were partially attracted to Christianity because of the religion's ideas concerning health and health care. The author begins by focusing on the socioreligious aspects of health care, including the Israelite health-care systems and the major Greco-Roman traditions for providing health care. He then goes on to discuss the socioreligious frameworks for health care within early Christianity, including discussions of the economics of, and geographical accessibility to, health care.
"Avalos correctly stresses that questions about illness and healing should not be considered in isolation, but as part of larger social systems," wrote Felix Just in a review on the Catholic Resources Web site. "Thus, he makes some fine observations about the hallmarks of ‘the early Christian health-care system,’ namely its emphasis on faith and healing ‘in the name of Jesus’ (rather than complex therapies), its geographical accessibility (with wandering healers, patients need not travel to temples), its temporal availability (no restrictions against healing on the Sabbath), and its low cost (elimination of fees charged by professional physicians)."
Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence, published in 2005, presents a new theory developed by the author concerning religious violence. According to the author, his theory developed from the many years he has pondered the violence depicted in the Bible, asking questions such as: Is religion inherently violent? and Why is violence provoked in the name of religion?
The author's theory is based on the idea of real or perceived scarcity of resources. Avalos argues that the religions—including Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—often create new scarcities on the basis of unverifiable or illusory criteria. Exploring various religious texts, the author describes how four "scarce" resources have figured over and over again in creating religious violence. These resources are sacred space, such as churches and sacred cities; the creation of holy scriptures, creating exclusive revelations; group privilege, leading to chosen people who are the predestined select few; and salvation, which is again only for the chosen few. As a result, according to the author, religious violence is typically totally unnecessary because of the fallacy inherent in the idea of the scarcity of religious resources involved in such conflicts. In an analysis of both religious and nonreligious violence, the author presents his case that violence is morally objectionable in nonreligious cases when it is based on the idea of scarcity of resources, thus making violence spurred on by the idea of religious scarcity of resources even more objectionable. The author also examines modern academic scholars' acceptance of the value of sacred texts despite the violence that they appear to promote.
Noting that the author writes "from a secular humanist point of view," James A. Overbeck went on to write in his review of Fighting Words in the Library Journal that "the author's arguments are persuasive and well documented." Comparing Fighting Words with numerous other books that have been published concerning religion and violence, especially in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Humanist contributor Kenneth W. Krause commented: "Fighting Words adds organization, scholarly research, and coherent theory to the smoke and smolder of other recently published but far less convincing works on this critical and timely topic—other works that often amount to little more than opportunistic rants."
In The End of Biblical Studies, the author explains why he believes biblical studies as they are now conducted should end. He presents two primary arguments. First, he points out that scholarship has shown that the ancient civilization that produced the Bible had very different views about the origin, nature, and purpose of the world and that these views are fundamentally opposed to modern society's view of the world, thus making the Bible largely irrelevant in today's society. Second, he outlines what he sees as flawed and specious techniques used in the study of the Bible by scholars so as to maintain the idea that the Bible remains relevant in the modern world. According to a contributor to Reference & Research Book News, the author also claims that, although fascinating, "the Bible is … an historical artifact, [and] it cannot be taken for more than that."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Biblical Theology Bulletin, summer, 2000, Pieter F. Craffert, review of Health Care and the Rise of Christianity, p. 75.
Catholic Biblical Quarterly, January, 1998, Ronald A. Simkins, review of Illness and Health Care in the Ancient Near East: The Role of the Temple in Greece, Mesopotamia, and Israel, p. 105; January, 2001, Felix Just, review of Health Care and the Rise of Christianity, p. 136; October, 2006, Vincent M. Smiles, review of Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence, p. 717.
Choice, February, 2005, A.C. Barnhart, review of Introduction to the U.S. Latina and Latino Religious Experience, p. 1038.
Church History, March, 2001, Dale Martin, review of Health Care and the Rise of Christianity, p. 144.
Humanist, January 1, 2006, Kenneth W. Krause, "Scarce Spiritual Resources," review of Fighting Words, p. 42.
Journal of the American Oriental Society, January-March, 1997, Robert D. Biggs, review of Illness and Health Care in the Ancient Near East, p. 169.
Journal of Theological Studies, October, 2000, Roy Porter, review of Health Care and the Rise of Christianity, p. 700.
Library Journal, April 1, 2005, James A. Overbeck, review of Fighting Words, p. 99.
Reference & Research Book News, November, 1995, review of Illness and Health Care in the Ancient Near East, p. 4; November, 2004, review of Introduction to the U.S. Latina and Latino Religious Experience, p. 20; November, 2005, review of Fighting Words; November, 2007, review of The End of Biblical Studies.
Theology, November-December, 2000, F. Gerald Downing, review of Health Care and the Rise of Christianity, p. 467.
Theology Today, January, 2002, Abigail Rian Evans, review of Health Care and the Rise of Christianity, p. 576.
Catholic Resources,http://catholic-resources.org/ (March 15, 2008), Felix Just, review of Health Care and the Rise of Christianity.
Iowa State University, Department of Philosophy & Religious Studies Web site,http://www.philrs.iastate.edu/ (March 15, 2008), faculty profile.