This chapter introduces the book’s territorial, chronological, and methodological parameters. The Eurasian landmass and coastal Africa were the theater of contacts and exchanges between human populations which, going back to the time of the Indo-European migrations, accelerated following the Alexandrian Conquest and the opening of the trade routes known as the “Silk Road.” Methodologically, this chapter suggests that in the United States the fields of Religious Studies and History of Religions have historically been ahistorical, a tendency exacerbated over the past five decades by the rise of the comparative approach championed by Jonathan Z. Smith and Bruce Lincoln. In the wider world of humanities scholarship, the presentist and postmodernist preoccupations of the Subaltern School and other subfields of Cultural Studies have also generally been anti-historical. Taken together, these theories and methods have had the nefarious effect of treating cultures as temporal and geographical isolates, a position that hews dangerously close to that championed by religious and racial nationalist movements. Following the lead of Sanjay Subrahmanyam, I argue that cultures have always been open-ended systems recoverable through the historical study of networks of trade and the connected (hi)stories of human actors transacting in visible and invisible goods, including dæmons.
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