It May Be Simpler Than You Think

I saw the above tweet yesterday, which prompted me to mull over why we generally think that the role of religion is such a complicated thing to study. It occurred to me that it is complicated (i) if you fail to recognize that there’s been trained scholars of religion out there for well over 100 years who have lots to say on these matters but also (ii) if we buy local accounts of it being some ethereal thing that mysteriously informs the practical aspects of people’s lives.

But if we instead assume it’s no less practical than any other sphere — and, what’s more, if we assume that privileging some features of life by calling them religious is also mundane and highly practical — well, we’d likely approach these topics rather differently.

So a series of tweets resulted.

But flipping things around in this way calls much of how we navigate daily life into question (hence the lack of retweets or comments, perhaps) and so my bet is that there’s too much at stake to take classification seriously. Instead, we’ll likely just keep scratching our heads over how to better understand, say, the religious motivations for how people vote or shop, confident that there’s a pure realm of belief and experience that, as William James once told us, gets complicated in the messy give and take of social life.

But if some reporters are game to do this sort of rethinking, then I bet there’s plenty of trained specialists who would enjoy having a chat — not a soundbite chat but something a little more meaty. For it’s not always easy to understand the simple things, since we usually overlook them since they are, well…, just so simple.