The Jargon of Authenticity and the Study of Religion

in Religion and Theology
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Abstract

This article is an analysis and critique of the jargon of authenticity that operates in both theological and humanistic studies of religion. The article argues that a form of myth making is at work in claims to such things as the 'deep meaning' of a text or even the supposedly essential, human nature all people are said to share. The article deploys its critique in a variety of sites, arguing that the discourse on authenticity-whether found in ethnic, nationalist, or hermeneutic traditions-is an all too common, socio-rhetorical technique used to construct a facade of homogenous group identity in the face of unpredictable, competing, and inevitably changeable historical situations and social interests. Instead of uncritically reproducing such discourses on authenticity, meaning, and personal experience-discourses that happen to be aligned with the scholar's political sympathies-the article argues that scholars of religion can study the 'natural history' of such mechanisms and discourses, illuminating the means whereby contingent, competing systems of credibility and meaning are established, reproduced, and contested.

Religion and Theology

A Journal of Contemporary Religious Discourse

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