Critical for Whom? Genealogy and the Limits of History

In: Method & Theory in the Study of Religion
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  • 1 Department of Religion, Princeton

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Abstract

This article explores the relationships between the critical and persuasive claims of genealogy. It begins by contesting a recent trend in scholarship that insists genealogies are meant to dismantle metaphysical ideas, not persuade concrete individuals to give up their beliefs. It argues such an interpretation conflates genealogical critique into Kantian, excises the role of the reader, and illegitimately allows genealogists to escape the question of whether the method’s efficacy is historically contingent. The second section investigates the assumptions about the historical position and normative commitments of both the genealogist and the reader that must be in place for genealogy’s critical work to become persuasive. It then questions whether those assumptions are compatible with the basic commitments of genealogy as outlined by Nietzsche and Foucault. The final section asks whether structures of authority such that genealogy as a tool still addresses the authority structures of the present moment.

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