Equivalent Categories and Where to Find Them

Meme from the TV show The Office, in which two different things are portrayed as sthe same

 Jeremee Nute is a graduating M.A. student in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama. He is originally from Missouri, where he earned his B.A. in Mathematics and Philosophy from Missouri Western State University.

Scholars who research cultures outside of Europe and North America often try to find categories that correspond to “religion,” such as those who study Ancient China. For example, one analog that is sometimes proposed by these scholars is Zōngjiào (宗教), said to be the Mandarin term for religion. One such scholar who looks for such homologs to religion is Robert Ford Campany, a Professor of Asian studies at Vanderbilt University, who specializes in Medieval China. In his article, “On the Very Idea of Religions (In the Modern West and in Early Medieval China)”, he argues that, while the western category of religion can be analytically helpful to those studying non-western cultures, scholars just need to “pay close attention to two cultural and temporal sets off linguistic usages and their metaphorical implications and juxtapose these results” (290). This juxtaposition, he argues, allows a scholar to better understand the “contours and limitations” of the discourses in both cultural and temporal sets.

Thus, for Campany, scholars can study other people’s religions (such as his work on early medieval China) by looking for the following analogous sites in their cultures: founder or paragon synecdoche, “path” or “way,” “law” or “regulations,” and/or “the teaching of x,” etc. Continue reading