Indigenous Religion(s) as an Analytical Category

In: Method & Theory in the Study of Religion
Bjørn Ola Tafjord Department of History and Religious Studies, University of Tromsø N-9037 Tromsø Norway

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Today the most common uses of “indigenous religion(s)” as an analytical category and as a class in the study of religions are intimately linked to discourses on “indigenous peoples.” The article argues that this often creates problems for critical scholarship. It contributes to the reproduction of stereotypes about particular kinds of religions among particular kinds of peoples; it nurtures ideas about religious similarities across vast spans of time and space; and it blurs boundaries between scholarship and politics and religionising. A different analytical use of “indigenous religion(s)” that sometimes proves more rewarding is identified in some historical and anthropological case studies, where the category is employed contextually as a relational concept, as the opposite of “foreign religion(s),” and not restricted to indigenous peoples. To counter the biases produced by the current primacy of one taxonomic scheme, it is necessary to engage a greater variety of ways and orders of classification.

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