The academic study of religion emerges, in part at least, from an encounter with the religious Other. This essay traces out a history of this encounter, a history that is dialectical. In each historic moment, the simple dichotomy that was previously thought to ground a hard and facile distinction between self and other comes to be challenged. But in the wake of such challenges, new categories come to be posited, categories on the basis of which the Self can (once again) emerge not simply as different from, but also as superior to the Other. This process – this dialectic of alterity – is as operative today in the discipline of religious studies as it was in the discipline's antecedents. We consider some of the core concepts around which the identity of the discipline is constructed in the present moment: the categories that allow for the differentiation of the discipline from its Other(s), and for its emergence in a position of superiority vis a vis its Other(s). The essay concludes by identifying four recent developments that are challenging a notion of the discipline constructed in these terms.
In recent years questions about the coherence of Religious Studies have been raised, responses to which have important implications within both the politics of institutions and broader cultural politics. As specializations deepen, some fragmentation in the field of Religious Studies is inevitable and a welcome antidote to earlier universalising claims. But we need to overcome the inadequate choice of using either problematic general categories or a relativistic reversion to purely area-specific study which relegates the study of 'religions' to departments of anthropology, sociology, or other splintered fields, and excludes theologies of traditions from the secular academy. This paper argues for Religious Studies not only as the social scientific study of religion but as an arena that gives hospitality to traditions' self-inquiry within a framework of rational discourse.
I argue first that 'religion' is either a natural-kind sortal or an artifactual-kind sortal. Second, that whichever view is taken by practitioners of the academic study of religion, some normative understandings are implied. Third, that the constitutive desire of those who practice the academic study of religion—to do not-theology—therefore cannot be realized. And fourth, that the future of the academic study of religion is unlikely to be long or rosy.
In the contemporary human sciences in general, and the study of religion in particular, history is a discourse of immense power and reach. But its role is paradoxical, for although it is charged with dissolving the uniqueness or transcendence of any given point of view, its own supremacy is often taken for granted, even in the post-Foucauldian world where it is common to attack the objectivist aspirations of historicist discourse. What I call for is not simply a more self-conscious concept of history but an investigation of what one might call, following Wallace Stevens, "the substance of [its] region": the history and scope of history itself as one particular way of being in, and seeing, the world. This is decidedly not to concede that there is something that escapes history but rather to pay closer attention to the myth that there is something that does, and to the ways in which this myth—far from being a mistake—is crucial to conceiving of the borders of history even insofar as everything comes (as everything does) under its critical gaze.
A diverse and cosmopolitan world, in the best sense of the terms, requires the production of knowledge that will sustain such complexity. Central to such a goal is to ask how we relate to formative documents and exemplars located in a distant past. Historians and interpreters have identified the reading of texts as one of the major challenges. The demands of continuity within traditions and commitment to canons while also being open to creativity are another set of challenges. In fact, the past becomes contested precisely because the present is a contested zone. In order to resist the homogenization of both the past and the present, we require sensitive tools and theoretical applications. If not, we tend to colonize the past and announce the death of certain forms of knowledge (epistemicide) while privileging and preserving other kinds of knowledge as a result of the conjunctions of knowledge and power. Engaging in contrapuntal readings and acknowledging the processes of transculturation could be one way to minimize such deleterious effects.
Ochs, Peter, 1950- Comparative religious traditions.
Religion -- Study and teaching (Higher)
Peter Ochs proposes a clever compromise to reconcile the conventional opposition of theology to comparison altogether with the conventional commitment of religious studies to comparison unbounded. He proposes that comparison be undertaken, but only between religions that have either sought to compare themselves with each other or may yet do so. As commendable as Ochs' effort is, I think that comparison even between religions that are unaware of each other is wholly proper. The theological objections that Ochs strives to meet are, for me, unwarranted.
This essay proposes a method and aim for the future of religious ethics. Rather than surveying the usual debates about the field, the essay situates the various kinds of work in religious ethics both in the contemporary global context and with respect to the modern western conception of what defines a "discipline" and the aspiration to a system of the sciences. In response to the breakdown of the modern project, various claims about rationality and also moral inquiry have arisen. Isolating the insights and yet also problems in these alternative models of inquiry, the essay proposes, as a method for religious ethics, a multidimensional and reflexive hermeneutic that reflects on and with religious sources. Further, the essay advocates as the aim or purpose of religious ethics the humane reconstruction of traditions around their deepest convictions and reflexive interactions with others. Calling this enterprise a form of "religious humanism," the essay seeks to show not only the adequacy of such a conception of religious ethics but also its pertinence to critical, comparative, and constructive thinking.
The ramifications of postmodernism for theology have been discussed voluminously. I want to consider the ramifications of postmodernism for the social scientific study of religion, which above all means for theories of religion. Those ramifications are wholly negative: postmodernism opposes theories, and does so because it opposes generalizations. Objections to generalizations and thereby to theories in the social sciences long antedate the rise of postmodernism, but earlier objections are on modernist grounds. Postmodernism is oblivious to these criticisms and instead assumes that criticism begins with postmodernism itself. Where at least some modernist criticisms are not easily answerable, all postmodern criticisms are easily answerable, for all of them rest on confusions about theorizing.
Ebrahim Moosa offers several objections to my attack on postmodernism. I maintain that those objections presuppose a postmodern stance rather than present a defense of it. At heart, Moosa, as a consummate postmodernist, is interested in what a theory reveals about the theorist, whereas I, as a recalcitrant modernist, am interested in what a theory reveals about religion.
Because what is understood by religio changes with time and place, even in those places dominated by western European languages the use of the trem is bound to specific cultural politics. When examining the possible future of religion, then, place matters. In the West, I argue, modes of believing and the structure of sensibilities are morphing following the new visibility of religion in the public sphere. The transformation will have long-reaching effect upon both the study and the practice of religion.
Burrus, Virginia. Sex lives of saints: an erotics of ancient hagiography.
Sex -- Religious aspects -- Christianity -- History of doctrines.
Leaver, Robin A.
Singing the Lord's Song in a Strange Land: Hymnody in the History of North American Protestantism, and: Wonderful Words of Life: Hymns in American Protestant History and Theology, and: How Sweet the Sound: Music in the Spiritual Lives of Americans (review) [Access article in HTML][Access article in PDF] Subject Headings:
Blumhofer, Edith Waldvogel, ed. Singing the Lord's song in a strange land: hymnody in the history of North American Protestantism.
Noll, Mark A., 1946-, ed.
Mouw, Richard J., ed. Wonderful words of life: hymns in American protestant history and theology.
Noll, Mark A., 1946-, ed.
Stowe, David W. (David Ware) How sweet the sound: music in the spiritual lives of Americans.