Concept

Jonathan Z. Smith

Summary
Jonathan Zittell Smith (November 21, 1938 – December 30, 2017), also known as J. Z. Smith, was an American historian of religions. He was based at the University of Chicago for most of his career. His research included work on such diverse topics as Christian origins, the theory of ritual, Hellenistic religions, Māori cults in the 19th century, and the mass suicide in Jonestown, Guyana, as well as methodological studies on such common scholarly tools as description, comparison, and interpretation. An essayist, his works include Map Is Not Territory, Imagining Religion: From Babylon to Jonestown, To Take Place: Toward Theory in Ritual, Drudgery Divine: On the Comparison of Early Christianities and the Religions of Late Antiquity, Relating Religion: Essays in the Study of Religion, and a collection of his writings on pedagogy, On Teaching Religion. Smith was born on November 21, 1938, in Brooklyn, New York City, and grew up in Manhattan. As a teenager, he desired to become an agrostologist. He graduated from Haverford College in 1960 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy. He also earned a Bachelor of Divinity degree from Yale Divinity School and a Doctor of Philosophy degree in the history of religions from Yale University in 1969, where he was their first degree candidate in this field; with a thesis on anthropological thought, focused on Sir James George Frazer, The Glory, Jest and Riddle: James George Frazer and The Golden Bough. After holding positions at Dartmouth College and UC Santa Barbara, he began teaching at the University of Chicago, where he served as Dean of the College from 1977 to 1982 and was appointed Robert O. Anderson Distinguished Service Professor of the Humanities. He still held that position , and remained active in undergraduate teaching at least as recently as the autumn quarter 2011, teaching the course titled "Introduction to Religious Studies". He was elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2000, and served as president of the Society of Biblical Literature in 2008.
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