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Abstract

This essay examines the standing of three important and widely accepted criticisms of the use of the concept of belief within the anthropology of religion. It does so by examining whether these criticisms track the historical use of the concept within the discipline, that is, whether the problematic implications that they associate with the concept can reasonably be inferred from the historical use of the words ‘believe’ and ‘belief’ by anthropologists. It argues that the criticisms do not meet this standard, and that we therefore have reason to think that they are pseudo-problems, which have no legitimate claim on our attention. It concludes by suggesting some reasons why these apparently arbitrary concerns about the concept of belief should have arisen, looking first at some discussions of the meaning of the terms ‘believe’ and ‘belief,’ and second at the reception of Rodney Needham’s 1972 monograph Belief, Language, and Experience.

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In: Method & Theory in the Study of Religion