The Ideology of Religious Studies Then and Now

The Author’s View


  • Timothy Fitzgerald Independent Researcher



critical religion, religious studies, ideology, secularism, capitalism


I have found it challenging and productive to revisit The Ideology of Religious Studies (IRS) twenty years after its publication. This article outlines the background to, and motivations for, writing IRS. IRS contains various arguments aimed against a complex target: liberal capitalism and agencies that serve to normalise its precepts and practices, particularly religious studies and the social sciences more widely. IRS was an early stage in a longer-term project – critical religion – that is still evolving. A core part of the argument was and is that the invention of generic religion and its binary opposite the non-religious secular operates rhetorically to make capitalism and liberal Individualism seem “natural,” with a mask of scientific objectivity, normality and respectability. However, I see retrospectively that there are two potentially antagonistic projects in IRS – limited critique and extended critique – which need to be analytically distinguished. This distinction may help to explain some differences in the responses of contributors.


Fitzgerald, Timothy. 2017a. “The Ideology of Religious Studies Revisited: The Problem with Politics.” In Method and Theory in the Study of Religion: Working Papers from Hannover, edited by Steffen Führding, 124–152. Leiden: Brill.

———. 2017b. “‘Postcolonial Remains’: Critical Religion, Postcolonial Theory, and Deconstructing the Secular-Religious Binary.” In The Postcolonial World, edited by Jyotsna G. Singh and David D. Kim, 169–183. Abingdon: Routledge.

Handler, Richard. 2015. “Between History and Coincidence: Writing Culture in the Annual Review of Anthropology, ca. 1982.” In Writing Culture and the Life of Anthropology, edited by Orin Starn, 52–71. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Harrison, Peter. 2015. The Territories of Science and Religion. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Ingold, Tim. 2000. The Perception of the Environment: Essays on Livelihood, Dwelling and Skill. Abingdon: Routledge.

Macpherson, Crawford Brough. 1962. The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism: Hobbes to Locke. Oxford: Clarendon.

Marcus, George E. 2015. “The Legacies of Writing Culture and the Near Future of the Ethnographic Form: A Sketch.” In Writing Culture and the Life of Anthropology, edited by Orin Starn, 35–51. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Tyler, Stephen A. 1986. “Post-Modern Ethnography: From Document of the Occult to Occult Document.” In Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography, edited by James Clifford and George E. Marcus, 122–140. Berkeley: University of California Press.




How to Cite

Fitzgerald, T. (2020). The Ideology of Religious Studies Then and Now: The Author’s View. Implicit Religion, 22(3-4), 268–290.