A Search for the "Really" Real

Philosophically Approaching the Task of Defining Religion


  • J. Aaron Simmons Furman University




Definition of Religion, Philosophy of Religion


In this article, I offer a decidedly philosophical response to Schaffalitzky de Muckadell's essay "On Essentialism and Real Definitions of Religion." I contend that her account is not appropriately motivated by the evidence supplied. Focusing nearly entirely on the first half of her essay, in which she sets up an exclusive disjunction regarding three forms of definition, I argue that this disjunction should not be understood as exclusive and, hence, her account of the necessity of “real definitions” is less compelling than it might otherwise be. Even though I am sympathetic to the importance of striving toward real definitions, in response to Schaffalitzky de Muchadell, I resituate how such striving might look when the exclusive disjunction is abandoned.

Author Biography

J. Aaron Simmons, Furman University

Associate Professor of Philosophy, Furman University


Braun, Willi. 2000. “Religion.” In Guide to the Study of Religion, edited by Willi Braun and Russell T. McCutcheon 3–18. London: Cassell.

McCutcheon, Russell T. 1997. Manufacturing Religion: The Discourse on Sui Generis Religion and the Politics of Nostalgia. New York: Oxford University Press.

Schaffalitzky de Muckadell, Caroline. 2014. “On Essentialism and Real Definitions of Religion.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 82 (2): 495–520. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/jaarel/lfu015.n>

Schilbrack, Kevin. 2014. Philosophy and the Study of Religions: A Manifesto. Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell.



How to Cite

Simmons, J. A. (2016). A Search for the "Really" Real: Philosophically Approaching the Task of Defining Religion. Bulletin for the Study of Religion, 44(4), 19–26. https://doi.org/10.1558/bsor.v44i4.27553