When Are Religious Studies and Theology Different?

I know a lot of people who don’t sanction the old religious studies vs. theology distinction anymore — to them, the once distinguishable pursuits are better understood to bleed into one another, are mutually informing, are close cousins, or maybe even the very same thing and so to try to differentiate them is a sad testament to the authenticity of the people and the experiences under study. Scholarship, in this mode, is akin to dialogue, a mutually beneficial conversation, an exploration of our common humanity. Continue reading

Coming Attractions: REL 490 Capstone Senior Seminar

REL 490 is the Department’s senior seminar, that’s offered each Spring. Required of all majors, its topic regularly changes as does the professor who offers it. The goal of the course is to offer some sort of test case or example that can provide an opportunity for students with wide interests to mull over the skills that were gained throughout the degree.

This Spring it’s Prof. McCutcheon who is teaching the course and the topic is the work of Jonathan Z. Smith.

But is it…? Continue reading

The Right Question

The other day I received an email asking where, in my work, I think with the category religion instead of just thinking about it.

It’s a common distinction; do we, as scholars, use the word religion, defined however we might define it, to name things in the world that we then describe, compare, interpret, and maybe even explain, or, instead, do we study how social actors use that very word in going about their own daily lives, i.e., examining its role, however they may define it, in helping them to establish a sense of place, self, and other?

With or about? Continue reading

Religious Studies in the Time of Trumpism

160613223709-trump-speech-fact-check-bash-ron-pkg-00003714-large-169-2

When I heard Donald Trump’s speech on Monday I realized that Trump’s rhetoric presents the scholar of religion with a crossroads. Scholars of religion have to make a decision about how to engage Trumpism.

Continue reading

Theses on a Global-Critical Philosophy of Religion: Part 1

Screen Shot 2015-12-02 at 2.12.23 PM

I made a promise during the inaugural seminar on the Global-Critical Philosophy of Religion that met last week at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion: to apply Bruce Lincoln’s theses on method to the philosophy of religion.

The seminar itself has the objective of producing a new philosophy of religion textbook that”thoroughly integrates non theistic religious philosophies and critically engages the methodological and theoretical issues of religious studies.” Why? As I have written elsewhere, a review of the TOCs of any group of introductory philosophy of religion textbooks, from any time period, reveals a stunning degree of conformity of topics and issues that fall squarely within the confines of theism. Thus, an organization with the title “Center for Philosophy of Religion” is no outlier when its mandate includes, “to encourage the development and exploration of specifically Christian and theistic philosophy.” Continue reading

Finding or Fabricating?

pyeMichael Pye, the onetime General Secretary of the International Association for the History of Religions (IAHR), and respected specialist in the study of Japanese religions, recently presented a keynote lecture — “Digging for Theory” — at a conference at the University of Göttingen, Germany. Continue reading

I’m Rubber, You’re Glue

Definitions of the Humanities are themselves a curious thing, inasmuch as they often raise more issues than they settle. For example, consider this definition as found on the website for the US’s main Federal funding source for research in this area, the National Endowment for the Humanities:
Continue reading