Issue One: The Problem of “Genuine Religion” and Dominant Normative Claims

posted Sep 5, 2011, 3:50 PM by I Chatterjea   [ updated Jun 20, 2016, 8:50 AM ]

We work in a climate where analytical discussion has been shut down by the incapacity of some in our field to deal with behavior that does not fit somebody’s notion of orthodox, or are uncomfortable with the observed behavior in question. We routinely have to cope with attempts to homogenize or ignore distinctions in service of an apologetic agenda. How do we articulate an academic agenda for work that has no interest in merely documenting and reinforcing existing power structures?


Speaker: Sean McCloud and Katja Rakow.


Readings for Sean McCloud and Katja Rakow's Segment.

JZ Smith, "Religion, Religions, Religious."  In Mark C. Taylor's Critical Terms for Religious Studies

Meredith McGuire, "Contested Meanings and Definitional Boundaries: Historicizing the Sociology of Religion." Chapter 2, in Lived Religion: Faith and Practice in Everyday Life.  Oxford University Press, 2008  


Rakow and McCloud:  Group Discussion Questions   

1. How important is it to define "religion" in our studies, given that such moves assume some binary “sacred/secular” out there? What good do definitions and field boundaries do?  What harm do they do?


2. How are our topics in religious studies shaped by the power structures of the field?  How does the search for the increasingly elusive tenure track position and the growing fear of having one’s religious studies department shut down and/or folded into another dept. influence the boundaries we mark as to what subjects and questions we ask in our research?  How do scholars negotiate such issues in their work?


3. How and why does naming something "popular culture,” “lived religion,” “sectarian,” or “paranormal” diminish its legitimacy for some in religious studies or other academic fields? How do our labels and categories mark our subjects with value?  Are there even ways that those who argue for the importance of studying such subjects unwittingly confirm their illegitimacy as subjects of analysis?


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