Objectivity Discourse, the Protestant Secular, and the Decolonization of Religious Studies

In: Method & Theory in the Study of Religion
Travis Warren Cooper International Studies, Butler University 4600 Sunset Avenue, Indianapolis, IN 46208

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This article documents a complex genealogy of objectivity discourse that has shaped the study of religion in the modern academy. Analyzing data derived from a 2015 survey administered to Big 10, Research 1, and Ivy League religious studies institutions in the United States, the study posits a provisional taxonomy of neutrality language. The debates about positionality and self-disclosure in religion classrooms, as explored in the taxonomy, is evidence of the pervasive epistemic framework of the “Protestant secular.” The article proposes that religious studies, as a hybrid discipline, may address the status of the academy as an agent of the secular state by acknowledging its complicity in regimes of power and engaging in the rigorously critical, robustly ethnographic, and concertedly reflexive study of its own institutions and practices. Rather than removing objectivity discourse from religious studies, the article concludes by arguing for retaining a modified form of objectivist realism as a productive, decolonized ideal.

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