Comparison and the Spectre of Perennialism: A Reply to Craig Martin

In: Method & Theory in the Study of Religion
Jason Blum Davidson College

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Craig Martin accuses me of repeating the mistakes of perennialism, perpetuating an irresponsible and covertly theological approach to research that rushes to identify dubious “similarities” in religious experience across culture and history. While it is true that I identify cross-cultural similarities in the accounts of mystical experience that I examine in Zen and the Unspeakable God, that argument is based on historical evidence, and does not imply the questionable theological conclusions for which classical perennialism has been criticized. Learning from the mistakes of perennialism does not mean dismissing comparison as an illegitimate enterprise or rejecting cross-cultural similarities as prima facie impossible; it means insisting on evidentially-grounded and historically sensitive research that is willing and able to identify both differences and similarities. It also means resisting the temptation to oversimplify our task by reducing all research on religion to one preferred analytical category.

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