The Historicization of “Religion” and The Devastation of Study of Religion Departments
Siamese Twins or Contingent Acquaintances?
Keywords:religion, discourse, Timothy Fitzgerald, study of religion, Religious Studies, theory, methodology
Two main arguments of Timothy Fitzgerald’s The Ideology of Religious Studies (2000) (IRS) are that religion is an analytically useless (and even harmful) category and that study of religion departments could be rearranged as departments of cultural studies, theoretically informed ethnographic studies or humanities that study the institutionalized values of specific societies. This article introduces Fitzgerald’s argument, examines the reception of Fitzgerald’s work, and then proceeds to argue that, contrary to the opinion of many commentators, Fitzgerald’s first criticism opens up important research possibilities for scholars of religion. However, this article takes a slightly more critical view on the second argument, despite agreeing with the necessity of interdisciplinary research. Finally, this article suggests that historicizing the category of religion can enliven study of religion departments, rather than representing a reason for their problems.
Abu-Lughod, Lila. 1991. “Writing Against Culture.” In Recapturing Anthropology: Working in the Present, edited by Richard G. Fox, 137–162. Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research Press.
Benavides, Gustavo. 2001. “Religious Studies Between Science and Ideology.” Religious Studies Review 27(2): 105–108.
Carrette, Jeremy. 2013. William James’s Hidden Religious Imagination: A Universe of Relations. Abingdon: Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203383247
Cavanaugh, William. 2009. The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Chryssides, George D. 2018. Review of After World Religions. Fieldwork in Religion 13(1): 107–109. https://doi.org/10.1558/firn.37348
Chryssides, George D. and Ron Geaves. 2014. The Study of Religion: An Introduction to Key Ideas and Methods. Second edition. London: Bloomsbury.
Clifford, James. 1988. The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth-Century Ethnography, Literature, and Art. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctvjf9x0h
Cotter, Christopher R. and David G. Robertson, eds. 2016. After World Religions: Reconstructing Religious Studies. Abingdon: Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315688046
Dubuisson, Daniel. 2019. The Invention of Religions. Sheffield: Equinox.
Fahy, John and Jeffrey Haynes. 2018a. “The ‘Return’ of Religion in International Relations.” The LSE Religion and Global Society blog. https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/religionglobalsociety/2018/10/the-return-of-religion-in-international-relations/
———. 2018b. “Introduction: Interfaith on the World Stage.” The Review of Faith & International Affairs 16(3): 1–8. https://doi.org/10.1080/15570274.2018.1509278
Fitzgerald, Timothy. 2000. The Ideology of Religious Studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
———. 2007. Discourse on Civility and Barbarity: A Critical History of Religion and Related Categories. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Fitzgerald, Timothy. 2011. Religion and Politics in International Relations: The Modern Myth. London: Continuum.
———. 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. https://doi.org/10.1163/9789004347878_008
———. 2017b. “Critical Religion: “Religion” is Not a Stand-Alone Category.” In Religion, Theory, Critique: Classic and Contemporary Approaches and Methodologies, edited by Richard King, 435–454. New York: Columbia University Press.
Friedman, Jonathan. 1994. Cultural Identity and Global Process. London: Sage.
Hurd, Elizabeth Shakman. 2015. Beyond Religious Freedom: The New Global Politics of Religion. Princeton: Princeton University Press. https://doi.org/10.23943/princeton/9780691166094.001.0001
King, Richard. 2017. “The Copernican Turn in the Study of Religion.” Religion, Theory, Critique: Classic and Contemporary Approaches and Methodologies, edited by Richard King, 1–20. New York: Columbia University Press. https://doi.org/10.7312/king14542-003
Korom, Frank. 2001. “(H)ideology: The Hidden Agenda of Religious Studies.” Religious Studies Review 27(2): 108–110.
Masuzawa, Tomoko. 2005. The Invention of World Religions: Or, How European Universalism Was Preserved in the Language of Pluralism. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. https://doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226922621.001.0001
McCutcheon, Russell T. 2017. A Modest Proposal on Method: Essaying the Study of Religion. Leiden: Brill.
———. 2018. “Religion” in Theory and Practice: Demystifying the Field for Burgeoning Academics. Sheffield: Equinox.
Owen, Suzanne and Teemu Taira. 2015. “The Category of ‘Religion’ in Public Classification: Charity Registration of the Druid Network in England and Wales.” In Religion as a Category of Governance and Sovereignty, edited by Trevor Stack, Naomi Goldenberg, and Timothy Fitzgerald, 90–114. Leiden: Brill. https://doi.org/10.1163/9789004290594_006
Rorty, Richard. 1979. Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Saler, Benson. 2001. “Some Reflections on Fitzgerald’s Thesis.” Religious Studies Review 27(2): 103–105.
———. 2008. “Conceptualizing Religion: Some Recent Reflections.” Religion 38: 219–225. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.religion.2008.03.008
Sutcliffe, Steven J. 2019. “‘What’s in a Name?’ The Case for ‘Study of Religions’.” Religion 50(1): 129–136. https://doi.org/10.1080/0048721X.2019.1685181
Taira, Teemu. 2010. “Religion as a Discursive Technique: The Politics of Classifying Wicca.” Journal of Contemporary Religion 25(3): 379–394. https://doi.org/10.1080/13537903.2010.516546
———. 2013. “The Category of ‘Invented Religion’: A New Opportunity for Studying Discourses on ‘Religion’.” Culture and Religion 14(4): 477–493. https://doi.org/10.1080/14755610.2013.838799
———. 2017. “Assembling Our Theoretical Toolboxes: A Response.” Implicit Religion 20(4): 427–436. https://doi.org/10.1558/imre.36145
———. 2018. “The Commitment to Go on Theorising ‘Religion’.” Method & Theory in the Study of Religion 30(4–5): 449–462. https://doi.org/10.1163/15700682-12341440
Taves, Ann. 2019. “From Religious Studies to Worldview Studies.” Religion 50(1): 137–147. https://doi.org/10.1080/0048721X.2019.1681124
Tweed, Thomas A. 2005. “Marking Religion’s Boundaries: Constitutive Terms, Orienting Tropes, and Exegetical Fussiness.” History of Religions 44(3): 252–276. https://doi.org/10.1086/429759
———. 2006. Crossing and Dwelling: A Theory of Religion. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.