The Theory Of Religion And Analytic Purposes Essay

2799 Words Sep 11th, 2014 12 Pages
The category of religion becomes problematic when one presupposes that it correlates to something both sui generis and a priori, i.e. something with essential characteristics that exists objectively in the world. Following Jonathan Z. Smith’s lead it is important to recognize that scholars construct definitions of religion for analytic purposes. That is not to say that the empirical data they organize has no objective existence, but rather that the method according to which that data is organized, under the category of religion, is an imaginative act, or the product of a series of imaginative acts (e.g. comparison, generalization, etc.). Strict or essential definitions of religion are problematic insofar as they function like mathematical formulas or natural laws; particular characteristics of a given religion can only ever be read through the framework or system presupposed by that definition. Theory informs observation and never vice versa. Furthermore, such definitions implicitly participate in an act of reification; they fail to open the critical space for scholars to ask more fundamental questions about defining religion. The specter of self-reflexive criticism must remain ubiquitous in the study of religion. Joan Scott’s point about history can be applied just as aptly to religion: it is something that is always already an interpretation and something that needs to be interpreted. Moreover, it is fitting her point relates to history, since the problems with strict or…

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