Aesthetics and Analysis in Writing on Religion
Publication Year: 2003
Published by: University of California Press
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Title Page, Copyright
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Articulating long-contemplated ideas is always gratifying, but it is all theCertainly, this book would not have taken the shape that it has if Ihadn’t spent the 1996–97 academic year at Cornell’s Society for the Hu-manities. The seminar that year—its topic was “disciplines”—helped meunderstand my project in a larger context, see the book as a whole, and...
Introduction: Modern Dilemmas in Writing on Religion
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Notoriously diverse in the truths they profess and the methods they useto arrive at them, most religion scholars nevertheless seem to share a fas-cination with the human depth of the material they study. This makes theaesthetics of writing on religion more central to the institutional coher-ence of their field than many of them realize. For a number of the most...
PART ONE: Ambivalent Feelings
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...their subject are extremely diverse but rarely simple. The nature of theirprofessional work seems to dictate some ambivalence. Certainly, if thestuff of religious traditions—creation myths, liturgical display, mysticaljourneys—did not somehow fascinate scholars, they would not study it;but without some degree of detachment in their studies, most would not...
1. Fascinated Scientists and Empathizing Theologians
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The different ambivalences toward their subject found in present-daywriters on religion derive in part from their field’s imperfect fusion of twohistorically distinct intellectual traditions. One of these is dominant inthe social-scientific end of the field. It looks back to Enlightenment ra-tionalism and maintains a spirit of scientific discovery triumphant in the...
2. Finding Middle Grounds
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In balancing analysis with engagement and detachment with empathy,interpretive writers have found distinct stances within the middlegrounds of religious studies—that expansive scholarly space where headand heart come to terms with one another about the subject of religion.Scholars’ own, not always positive, personal experiences of religion (in...
PART TWO: The Art of Writing on Religion
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...history of religions’ distinctive aesthetic, it seems to me, is de-termined by the two faces of the field seen in part 1—the appreciative andthe analytical. For the art found in the most successful historians of re-ligion plays on the tension between a romantic evocation of the humanimagination and a rationally enlightened, scientifically true, analysis. Al-...
3. A Creative Process
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What does it mean to say that interpretive writing on religion is an art?All that is entailed in the creation and appreciation of works of art hasbeen the subject of long philosophical discussion, so thinking about theaesthetics of interpretive writing could easily lead us into extensive ru-minations on classical mimesis, romantic expressionism, and contempo-...
4. Other Scholars’ UFOs
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Bringing evocative materials together in rationally cogent ways, interpre-tive writers try to make arguments that are both emotionally and intellec-tually compelling. Their arguments must stand, however, in a world of di-verse cultural and religious sensibilities and, more crucial for ourdiscussion here, of increasingly fragmented intellectual life. The UFOs with...
5. The Religiohistorical Sublime
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The excitement elicited by interpretive writers in their readers is, it seemsto me, of a distinctive aesthetic genre, generated largely by a character-istic dynamic between the intellectual structures and imaginative reso-nances of individual works. Yet the failure of Eliade’s intellectually staticextended oeuvre to maintain that excitement over time also suggests that...
PART THREE: Two Truths
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...the aesthetic of the sublime described in part 2 entails an engage-ment with two sorts of truth. To engage our scientific reason, interpre-tive writing must move toward an interesting proposition graspable byour everyday no-nonsense minds. But the dialectic of the sublime occursonly when the implications of that proposition play out within imagina-...
6. Relating Stories about Religious Traditions
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To explore the scientific truths of interpretive writing, I will draw on aset of primary metaphors that differ from those used in the last sectionon the aesthetics of the writing per se. The language of vision used therewill now yield to one of story. Instead of describing how writers “seedepth” in their materials and express it in created objects, I will exam-...
7. Aesthetic Objects and Objective Knowledge
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The dilemmas presented to writers on religion by questions of truth, va-lidity, and objectivity can sometimes seem extreme. Dealing with diversereligious and scholarly worlds, interpretive writers may find it hard to es-cape the conclusion that specific religious beliefs are in an importantsense relative. Seeing those beliefs in their respective contexts, moreover,...
PART FOUR: Working Together
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...science suggests a collective activity, but interpretive writers—whose feelings about religion are individually ambivalent—develop pro-nounced personal perspectives of their own. Thus arises a characteristicdilemma of public and private in the study of religion. Aesthetic depthin writing on religion comes from finding a focus for broad personal per-...
8. Interpreting Anew and Alone: Vision and Succession in Dutch Phenomenology
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Among the different English renderings of Religionswissenschaft—which include “the science of religions” and “comparative religions,”alongside “history of religions”—one sometimes also encounters thephrase “phenomenology of religion.”1 Highlighting the “phenomena” oftraditions can lead scholars, in one direction, to try to describe the stuff...
9. Explaining Together: The Excitement of Diffusionist Ideas
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Emerging in a fragmented discipline that fosters individual insights,group projects in religious studies have been much more the exceptionthan the rule. Usually small-scale and short-lived, they depend on somepotent combination of institutional circumstances, personal styles, andunifying ideas. As bases for public knowledge, central ideas in group...
10. Interpreting Together: The Cambridge Ritualists’ Affair of the Intellect
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...speaking religious order, we turn to some affectionate intellectual en-thusiasms that blossomed for a time in Cambridge, England, before theFirst World War. For somewhat more than ten years, Jane Harrison,Gilbert Murray, and Francis Cornford—known as the Cambridge Ritu-alists—interacted creatively with one another in ways that were ex-...
11. Concepts of Collectivity and the Fabric of Religiohistorical Knowledge
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If, as in other humanistic fields, long-lived collaborative projects are rarein religious studies, small-scale collaborative volumes often seem all toocommon. Many of these begin with a core of like-minded intellectualfriends—working together, perhaps, in ways recalling the intellectual (al-though not usually the emotional) dynamics among the Cambridge Rit-...
Afterword: The Future of Modern Dilemmas
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The individual insights crucial to public knowledge in history of religionshave undergone some shifts in course at the beginning of the twenty-firstcentury, impelled by some brisk theoretical currents of the 1980s and1990s: postcolonial studies, literary poststructuralism, postmodernthinking on and within religion. Although those currents do not play on...
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Frequently Cited Sources
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This bibliography is intended primarily as an aid for readers who become curi-ous about a reference cited in short form in the notes. At the same time, as a listof works to which I have returned in my discussions, it should also give readersa sense of the threads of scholarly tradition running through my arguments.Abrams, M. H. The Mirror and the Lamp: Romantic Theory and the Critical...
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Page Count: 314
Publication Year: 2003