When Is a Religion Like a Weed?

Some Thoughts on Why and How We Define Things


  • Nathan Rein Ursinus College




religion, definitions of religion, theory


Caroline Schaffalitzky de Muckadell's 2014 article, "On Essentialism and Real Definitions of Religion," offers a comprehensive rationale for the use of real, essentialist definitions of religion in the field of religious studies. In this article, I examine her arguments and the proposed definition she supplies. I argue that a close reading of Schaffalitzky's piece, concentrating especially on the way she uses examples, helps to demonstrate that she and her anti-essentialist opponents view the field of religious studies in incommensurable ways. While Schaffalitzky views definitions as serving the analytical study of religion as an object, her opponents view definitions primarily rhetorically and seek to focus attention on the process of defining.

Author Biography

  • Nathan Rein, Ursinus College

    Nathan Rein is an Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Ursinus College, Collegeville, PA.


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How to Cite

Rein, N. (2016). When Is a Religion Like a Weed? Some Thoughts on Why and How We Define Things. Bulletin for the Study of Religion, 44(4), 10-18. https://doi.org/10.1558/bsor.v44i4.27760