A Response to “Responsible Research Practices,” Part 7: Methodological Pluralism

blindmenandtheelephantThis is an installment in an ongoing series on the American Academy of Religion’s recently released draft statement on research responsibilities.
An index of the
complete series (updated as each
article is posted) can be found here.

Hanabusa Itchō‘s (d. 1724) print of the well-known parable of the blindmen and the elephant seemed to me a fitting image to open this commentary on the sixth bullet point in this document.

It reads:

pluralismI won’t quibble as to why the word “theoretical” isn’t bolded, but I tend to think it’s rather significant and not just a copyediting oversight; for “theory” is still (to borrow a phrase of my own, from an earlier but, I think, still relevant, time) a four-lettered word for many in our field, inasmuch as it implies, for them, determining the cause of religion as opposed to interpreting its enduring and deeply personal meaning. And, while many think that the era is long past when religion was claimed by scholars to be unique and unexplainable (what is meant by a Latin term we used to see a lot in the literature: sui generis), the still widespread commitment to seeing religion as a site where transcendent meaning is manifested (or embodied, as some now prefer to say), as opposed to seeing what we call religion to be a secondary phenomenon that results from some other mundane aspect of historical existence, tells me that not much has changed in our field. Continue reading

The Eternal Return All Over Again

Picture 8I wrote a post recently in which I critiqued a new book by Brent Plate, saying it (along with other developments in the field, such as the turn toward so-called embodied or lived religion) was evidence that the work of Eliade was still representative of the field, no matter how much distance some may claim separates us today from when he first wrote many of his now famous studies in the history of religions (that is, back in the 1950s). I was lucky enough to have Brent comment on the post and a brief back-and-forth resulted, during which he posted the following comment:

I may be an unwitting Eliadean. So be it.

Continue reading

An Interview with Ann Taves

tavesAn interview with Prof. Ann Taves has just been posted — she is a former President of the American Academy of Religion and is well known for her work on religious experience as well as her interest in applying the finding from cognitive psychology to the study of religion. She’s  now at work on a new book, Revelatory Events: Unusual Experiences and New Spiritual Paths, and supervising the interdisciplinary Religion, Experience, and Mind (REM) Lab Group at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

It’s All Relative

batmanRelativism, and criticisms of it — “Oh, you’re a relativist!” — strike me as similar to claims of reductionism: the problem isn’t (as critics of reductionism claim) that one reduces one’s object of study to something other than what it already is, but that someone else reduces it to something different than what you want to boil it down to. That not a lot of so-called religious people are walking around spontaneously reporting that they’ve experienced a hierophany of a structure of human consciousness called the sacred (as one well known arch-nemisis of reductionists everywhere might have once phrased it) suggests that no matter what a scholar thinks lies at the base of religion, inasmuch as they think there’s a universal base they are all deeply invested in reducing complexity and difference to unity and simplicity. Continue reading