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Politics of Spirit, The

Phenomenology, Genealogy, Religion

Tim Murphy

Publication Year: 2010

A critical look at the development of the phenomenological approach to the study of religion, revealing its evaluative and metaphysical concepts. A penetrating critique of the dominant approach to the study of religion, The Politics of Spirit explores the historical and philosophical scaffolding of the phenomenology of religion. Although this approach purports to give a value-free, neutral description of religious data, it actually imposes a set of metaphysical and evaluative concepts on that data. A very harmful ethnocentrism has resulted, which plagues the academic study of religion to this day. Analysis of the history, core texts, and discursive structure of phenomenology of religion reveals how this ethnocentrism is embedded within its assumptions. Of particular interest is the revelation of the extent to which Hegel’s ideas—over those of Husserl—contributed to the tenets that became standard in the study of religion. Tim Murphy argues that the poststructuralist concept of genealogy, as derived from Nietzsche, can both describe religion better than the phenomenological approach and avoid the political pitfalls of ethnocentrism by replacing its core categories with the categories of difference, contingency, and otherness. Ultimately, Murphy argues that postmodern genealogy should replace phenomenology as the paradigm for understanding both religion and the study of religion.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Series: SUNY series, Issues in the Study of Religion

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. vii-x

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pp. xi-xii

I would also like to thank the team at SUNY that made this book happen. An author produces a manuscript; the publisher produces a book. There’s all the difference between the two. Nancy Ellgate deserves special mention for championing this book and for her patience with my tardiness in finishing it....

Part I. Introduction, Background, Methodological Issues

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pp. 1

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1. The Phenomenology of Religion: Introduction and Background

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pp. 3-34

In his article, “What Constitutes the Identity of a Religion?,” Hubert Seiwert poses two questions: “What constitutes a historical reality?” and, “What is a religion?”2 Using “Buddhism” as an example, he asks how it is that there can be an identity between specific acts, practices, beliefs, etc., in different times and in different places, all of which are identified as “Buddhist” and none of which have any direct contact...

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2. Discourse, Text, Philosophemes: Elements of a Postcolonial-Genealogical Reading Strategy

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pp. 35-65

Whatever the world is an sich, it is only ever “received” by humans through some form of mediation. Previous theories about this mediating element focused on consciousness, sense perception, and structures of consciousness. More recent views, however, and the perspective taken in this study, is that the medium by which humans relate to the world ex mente is language, and specifically, language usage as...

Part II. Readings in the Discourse of the Phenomenology of Religion

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pp. 67

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3. Geist, History, Religion: Hegel and the Structure of Phenomenology and Religionswissenschaft

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pp. 69-100

“We will never be finished with the reading or rereading of Hegel, and, in a certain way, I do nothing other than attempt to explain myself on this point.”1 Foucault describes “this great, slightly phantomlike shadow that was Hegel, prowling through the nineteenth century . . .”2 Hegel is not just a “creature of his time” in that we still exist “within the order of Hegelian discourse, which still holds...

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4. Religion in Essence and Development: C. P. Tiele, Early Religionswissenschaft, and the Phenomenology of Religion

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pp. 101-131

Cornelius Petronus Tiele was one of the most important early practitioners of Religionswissenschaft. He is “a figure who deserves, in many respects, to be considered the founder of the science of religion.”1 As noted in chapter 1, he was the first scholar to hold a chair in History of Religions. He is also an important link between Hegel and the phenomenology of religion. While classic phenomenologists of...

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5. “Experience, Expression, Understanding”: Wilhelm Dilthey on Geist and the Methodology of the Geisteswissenschaft

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pp. 133-155

David Palmer refers to what he calls “Dilthey’s hermeneutical formula” as having three major components, viz., “experience, expression, understanding,”1 or, in German, Erlebnis, Ausdruck, Verstehen. Palmer also quite rightly notes that, despite the widespread use of, and conventionally assumed correlation between these terms, “this formula...

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6. Geist, Nature, and History: The Phenomenology of Rudolf Otto

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pp. 157-178

“No consideration of the development of the phenomenological approach would be complete if it did not note the influence of Rudolph [sic] Otto. His The Idea of the Holy [Das Heilige] (1923) was of the greatest importance in providing a direction for future development in the field, and acted as a seminal work for later authors...

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7. Phenomenology as Empathetic Taxonomy: The Phenomenological Approaches of Chantepie de la Saussaye and W. B. Kristensen

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pp. 179-206

Chantepie de la Saussaye was a Dutch contemporary of C. P. Teile’s. He is widely regarded as the first scholar to use the term, “phenomenology of religion.” As such, he is an important figure in the history of the development of phenomenology of religion and the study of religion generally: “He was one of the first to conceive of the phenomenology of religion as a scientific...

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8. Experience, Expression, Empathy: Gerardus van der Leeuw’s Phenomenological Program

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pp. 207-228

Gerardus van der Leeuw’s magnum opus, Phänomenologie der Religion was published in 1933. This work is widely regarded as the seminal statement of classical phenomenology of religion. Attached to the work was an “Epilogomena,” which dealt primarily with methodological questions and with issues concerning the place of phenomenology...

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9. Overcoming the Foreign through Experience, Expression, Understanding: The Methodology of Joachim Wach

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pp. 229-258

“Questions have often been raised as to the nature of Religionswissenschaft. . . . On this question, Wach had an unshakable conviction that it was truly and properly a Geisteswissenschaft.”1 More than any other author surveyed in this study, Joachim Wach was explicit, open, and relatively self-conscious about the nature of his discipline and...

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10. The Total Hermeneutics of the New Humanism: Mircea Eliade’s Agenda for Religionswissenschaft

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pp. 259-272

It would be difficult to exaggerate the influence of Mircea Eliade on the project of Religious Studies. He is one of the most influential writers in the field. Douglas Allen says of Eliade that he was “one of the major interpreters of religion, symbol, and myth,” and that he “was extremely influential.”1 Guilford Dudley quotes two sources...

Part III. Poststructuralist, Postcolonialist Analyses

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pp. 273

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11. “The Center Does Not Hold”: Decentering the Centrisms” of the Discourse of the Phenomenology of Religion

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pp. 275-297

The foregrounding of the pathologies inextricably woven into the history of the discourse of phenomenology of religion—and Religious Studies insofar as it is constituted by this discourse—is what a poststructuralist critique of the phenomenology of religion aims at accomplishing. Arguably, this could never be accomplished by an...

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12. The “End of Man” and the Phenomenology of Religion

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pp. 299-316

“But it is easy to understand that the failure to search for the real center of a religion may be explained by the inadequate contributions made by the History of Religions to philosophical anthropology.”1 We saw this statement from Eliade before, but it is worth taking a moment to listen to its language more carefully. It is an acknowledgment of the...


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pp. 317-378


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pp. 379-386


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pp. 387-393

E-ISBN-13: 9781438432892
E-ISBN-10: 1438432895
Print-ISBN-13: 9781438432878
Print-ISBN-10: 1438432879

Page Count: 405
Publication Year: 2010

Edition: 1
Series Title: SUNY series, Issues in the Study of Religion