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Method and Theory in Religious Studies III

Session Chair: N.N. | Monday, August 24, 3:30-5:30 p.m. | Venue

Miroslav Vrzal

Differentiation of scientific and religious identity as a part of academic socialization into the Study of religions and its consequences for a personal life. A case study of students of the Study of religions

Socialization of students in the subworld of academic study of religions lies in the acceptation of specific roles which are internalized via common academic practices. During their studies, students learn how to act and think as social scholars. The necessity of separation of scientific work from one’s own religious belief is related to this process (at least in the secular university education system). In my contribution I am going to show that the mentioned differentiation leads to the split of religious and scientific identities on the micro level of human minds and behaviour. The split of these two identities is subsequently projected not only into academic practice but also into a personal life, which is affected by this socialization. The contribution focuses on students of the Study of religions as a sample in which this process can be observed in the beginning when this split is formed and is still not stable and settled.

Monica Miller, Christopher Driscoll

Identity as Method, or Method as Identity?: The Contemporary Battle over Method in the North American Academic Study of Religion

What Jean-Francois Bayart has referred to as the “battle for identity”—that we acknowledge identities as culturally constructed but that they remain as politically potent as ever—has become a defining trend in the NA study of religion. One of these “identities” belongs to scholars of religion that maintain some form of confessionality and allow their methods to be shaped by assumptions held and claims made by the adherents they study. Another “identity” belongs to those labeled “critical” scholars who deconstruct and abhor reliance on self-evident claims. This “critical scholar” attempts to apply a single methodology applicable across all domains of inquiry. This paper outlines features of this “battle” waged between academic “identities” as a new iteration of a long-standing struggle between historicizing and transhistoricizing, understanding both as “operational acts of identification,” and characterizes this “battle” as a question of our method as an identity, or our identities as methods.

Neil George

Capitalizing Science and Religion: The Rhetoric of the Status Quo and the Creation of a Late-Nineteenth-Century Trope

Despite the taken-for-granted legitimacy conferred upon inquires into the relationship between science and religion, such questions lack inherent meaning. Suggesting that talk about science and religion is historically recent and culturally specific, I investigate why such language ever became popular and trace some of the shifts in sociocultural capital interconnected with the popularization of this novel discourse. Although frequently conceptualized as a boiling over of tensions between science and religion dating back at least as far as Galileo, such histories are both revisionist and prescriptive. The increased usage of the language of science and religion in the late nineteenth century, its period of popularization, was a uniquely Victorian contribution to discourse, born out of contemporary sociopolitical concerns. In doing so, a rhetoric of the status quo was constructed that allowed any behaviors not deemed agreeable within the context of a modern capitalist nation state to be censured.

Donald Wiebe

An Old Methodenstreit Made New: Advancing a "Science-Lite" Study of Religion

The "conflict of method" I have in mind is that between the ancient Greek cosmologists who sought knowledge for the sake of knowledge alone in a critically rational and empirical way and the Socratic-Platonic objective of achieving knowledge of the "Good" by way of "right reason." The conflict was renewed in the nineteenth-century Romantic reaction against religion's subjection to critical rational reflection and empirical study. The twentieth-century conflict between Popper's "critical rationalism" and its rejection by the Frankfurt School and contemporary "critical theorists" in favor of "practical reason" in pursuit of the "Good" expands the conflict in "religious studies" in the context of the modern research university. Substituting the pursuit of the "Good" for the scientific quest for knowledge about religion, I will argue here, creates, at best, a "science-lite" study of religion if not, indeed, a pseudo-science of religion.


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