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A Modest Proposal on Method

Essaying the Study of Religion

Russell McCutcheon

A Modest Proposal on Method further documents methodological and institutional failings in the academic study of religion. This collection of essays identifies the manner in which old problems (like the presumption that our object of study is a special, deeply meaningful case) yet remain in the field. But amidst the critique there are a variety of practical suggestions for how the science of religion can become methodologically even-handed and self-reflexive—the markings of a historically rigorous exercise. Each chapter is introduced and contextualized by a newly written, substantive introduction.
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Russell McCutcheon

Abstract

The category "religion"—along with the binary pairs that attend it (e.g., sacred/secular, Church/State, etc.)—deserves as much attention as has been devoted by scholars throughout the human sciences to the social and political roles played by other pairs, such as pure/impure, raw/cooked, male/female, and citizen/foreigner. Just as with these pairings, the church/state binary refers not to stable and separable zones of human practice, but is part of a classification system that manages a competitive social and political economy by segmenting certain forms of behavior and organization—whether as a means to authorize or deauthorize them. When understood to refer to an inner zone of experience and feeling, the rhetorics of "religion" and "faith" should therefore be studied as techniques of governance, not as neutrally descriptive names given to pre-existent things existing in the world or in the human heart.

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Russell McCutcheon

Abstract

This paper argues that a methodological puzzle that stands in the way of those who critique the adequacy of a secularist perspective for studying religion is that the modern invention that goes by the name of secularism is the only means for imagining religion to exist as an item of discourse. Drawing on a variety of efforts to move beyond the limits of binary thinking—efforts that invariably function to reaffirm one or the other pole by imagining it to predate its partner—the paper concludes that, for those interested in talking about such things as religion, faith, spirit, belief, experience, etc., there is no beyond to secularism, for it constitutes the discursive conditions by means of which we in the modern world think religion into existence. us, the now common effort to critique the adequacy of secularism for studying religion not only presuppose the idea of the nation-state but reinforce and extend it as well.

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Obituary

A Life and Career: Jonathan Z. Smith (1938–2017)

Russell T. McCutcheon