Smith, Jonathan Z.
SMITH, JONATHAN Z.
SMITH, JONATHAN Z. (1938– ), scholar of religious studies. A native of New York City, Smith received his bachelor's degree from Haverford College in Pennsylvania and his Ph.D. from Yale's newly established Department of Religion in 1962. He taught in the department of religious studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara; then, in 1968, he joined the faculty of the University of Chicago, where he became the Robert O. Anderson Distinguished Service Professor of the Humanities. He also serves on the university's Committee on the Ancient Mediterranean World and on the Committee on the History of Culture, and he is an associate faculty member at the Divinity School.
Considered one of the most influential scholars of religion, Smith is best known for his analyses of religious studies and the problem of comparative work. Much of his research focuses on the religions of antiquity, including ancient Judaism and early Christianity, but he is renowned for his wide range of study and comparison of different historical periods and cultures. Calling religion "the creation of the scholar's study," Smith emphasizes the role of analytic purpose and choice in the academic study of religion. His work, in particular his examination of the implications of choice and his insistence on a relentless scrutiny of scholastic selection and viewpoint, is considered to have influenced the field's move toward an emphasis on theory and an inclusion of the study of politics.
Smith's works include Map Is Not Territory: Studies in the History of Religions (1978); Imagining Religion: From Babylon to Jonestown (1982); and To Take Place: Toward Theory in Ritual (1987), which stresses the importance of constructed ritual environments. His Drudgery Divine: On the Comparison of Early Christianities and the Religions of Late Antiquity (1990) examines four centuries of scholarship, discussing the mytheme of the "dying and rising god." In Smith's acclaimed 2004 work, Relating Religion: Essays in the Study of Religion, he provides an overview of his theoretical approach, connecting his theory to general education, and he outlines the methods of comparative study, including procedures of generalization and redescription, that he deems so essential to religious scholarship.
[Dorothy Bauhoff (2nd ed.)]