“Shivers Up My Spine”


The series of commentaries begun by a recent Religious Studies Podcast has continued (one of which was my own), with this most recent one being added to the mix.

It’s an interesting post, inasmuch as it makes evident that the big tent of our field is, in my estimation, rather too large, inasmuch as some of us are critiqued for advocating for a field in which participant truth claims play no role other than as the objects we study in a thorough-going, historical manner.

So it’s worth a read, I think, as a case study in what sort of field we have collectively created, inasmuch as the author seems to assume that we are all engaged in the same pursuit.

But from where I sit, we certainly are not.

It’s also worth reading to consider how, when the rubber meets the road, the designation of “religion” is — as some of us have argued for sometime — a socio-political, legal term, used strategically by groups, at least in social democracies, to gain political leverage and legitimize their social claims. For, though apparently in rather strong disagreement with my own work, the author nonetheless concludes by making plain that what matters is how this designation does or does not benefit groups (notably groups seen by their members to be marginal) — allowing them, as he notes, to marry, have chaplains, and seek other legal privileges.

So, despite disagreeing with us, the post ironically (and perhaps unintentionally) confirms much of what some of us have argued.

What the author fails to entertain, though, is that scholars such as myself are more than likely not testifying before government bodies as to whether something is or isn’t religious (something he seems to fear), so he has little to be concerned about, at least from me. The shivers that my work seems to inspire in him are therefore rather misplaced. For the critique offered throughout my own work does not concern what ought to be called religion but, as he himself seems, at times, to recognize, examines instead the practical effects of the designation as it is used in specific situations.

As to what should be called religion, I leave that up to those who, like this author, see using this category as a crucial building block in their social world.