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Comparative Secularities: Tracing Social and Epistemic Structures beyond the Modern West

In: Method & Theory in the Study of Religion
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  • 1 Professor for the History of Religion, Institute for the Study of Religion, DFG Centre for Advanced Studies in the Humanities and Social Sciences, Leipzig UniversityLeipzigGermany
  • | 2 Professor for Cultural Sociology, Institute for Cultural Studies, DFG Centre for Advanced Studies in the Humanities and Social Sciences, Leipzig UniversityLeipzigGermany
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Abstract

In view of the questionability of the concept “religion” as an analytical category for the investigation of pre-modern, non-Western cultures, how can one still pursue the history of religion or historical sociology of religion? Roughly speaking, scholars of religion can be placed between two poles with regard to this question: (1) those who reject the cross-cultural use of “religion” as a comparative concept and (2) those who believe they cannot do without it. We propose an approach that acknowledges the cultural dependence and historicity of concepts such as “religion” and the “secular,” while still conducting historical research on pre-colonial non-Western societies relevant to the study of both. Our approach aims to investigate the emergence of social and epistemic structures in various cultures—forms of differentiation and distinction—that have enabled the reorganisation of socio-cultural formations into religions and thus facilitated the formation of “multiple secularities” in global modernity.

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