The Copernican Turn in the Study of Religion1

In: Method & Theory in the Study of Religion
Richard King Department of Religious Studies, The University of Kent Canterbury, Kent, CT2 7NF UK

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Contemporary theoretical debates within the study of religion reflect the impact of a range of critical theories inspired by feminist, poststructuralist, postcolonial and “queer” perspectives on the field. Much of this work reflects a radicalization of a post-Kantian notion of the social construction of reality. It is argued that such theories represent an unfolding of the social and cultural implications of the Kantian epistemological project and reflects a similar “Copernican Turn” involving the recognition that the object of study—“religion,” is a construct reflecting the methodological and theoretical assumptions of the researcher. The article then offers a postcolonial critique of mainstream “secularist” historiographies of the field and argues for an alternative model for understanding the history and future of the field of the comparative study of religion, grounded in the practice of comparative cultural critique and commentary on dominant models of modernity.

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