A Social Redescription of Belief

The statement “I believe in…” is sensible only when there are others who do not; it is an agonistic affirmation…. Thus a statement of belief is a convention appropriate to a specific situation, sanctioned by a history and a community. As Wittgenstein notes, “the expression of belief … is just a sentence; — and the sentence has sense only as a member of a system of language; as one expression in a calculus.

Donald Lopez, “Belief” in Critical Terms for Religious Studies (1998: 33-34)

Should we follow Lopez, then statements of belief are no longer understood as signs of private and prior dispositions but, instead, as evidence of a public dispute over ways of acting and organizing in the world; this suggests that people don’t have beliefs in isolation from one another — meaning that we are not just taught them, as some might conclude, but far more than this: that our different practices prompt us to engage in this talk, as a way of registering our resistance to some while signaling our affinity for others. If so, then rather than studying beliefs, scholars should instead examine situated belief claims, seeing them as the residue not of internal states but of ongoing social contests.

Hannah Goes to India, Part 1

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By Hannah Etchison

Hannah Etchison, a graduating senior majoring in Religious Studies with a minor in Asian Studies, is spending six weeks of this fall in India, staying primarily at a monastery where she will learn from the women and help them with their English. This is her first post about that experience.

I became enraptured with the study of Buddhism through a variety of experiences during my time in the Religious Studies department of the University of Alabama, but there was a specific experience that I have begun to revisit that truly captures what I find interesting about this ‘religion’. Continue reading