The Study of Religion in Anthropology
Science, Non-Science, and Nonsense
Keywords:anthropology of religion, science, shamanism, supernaturalism
The present article examines the pervasiveness of non-scientific/anti-scientific hermeneutical perspectives in the study of religion in anthropology, tracing their foundations to the works of Mircea Eliade and Clifford Geertz. Pseudo- and anti-scientific approaches have also been bolstered by a long-standing paranormalism in anthropology championed by Margaret Mead and others. Hermeneutical/interpretive approaches, which emphasize the insider’s perspective and treat religion as an independent variable, have not only hampered scientific studies of religious phenomena, but they have also enabled the development of approaches advocating paranormal beliefs and religious supernaturalism as scholarship. The article concludes by highlighting the problematic nature of these non-scientific and pro-paranormal and religious perspectives as scholarly enterprises.
Ambasciano, L. 2019. An Unnatural History of Religions: Academia, Post-Truth, and the Quest for Scientific Knowledge. London and New York: Bloomsbury. https://doi.org/10.5040/9781350062412 DOI: https://doi.org/10.5040/9781350062412
Beals, R. 1978. “Sonoran Fantasy or Coming of Age?” American Anthropologist 80(2): 355–62. https://www.jstor.org/stable/676859 https://doi.org/10.1525/aa.1978.80.2.02a00070 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1525/aa.1978.80.2.02a00070
Bielo, J. 2015. Anthropology of Religion: The Basics. Abingdon and New York: Routledge.
Cannell, F. 2006. “Introduction: Anthropology and Christianity.” In The Anthropology of Christianity, ed. Fenella Cannell, 1–50. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctv1198v5x.4 DOI: https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctv1198v5x.4
Castaneda, C. 1968. The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Crapo, R. 2003. Anthropology of Religion: Unity and Diversity of Religions. Boston: McGraw-Hill.
De Mille, R. 1976. Castaneda’s Journey: The Power of an Allegory. Lincoln, NE: University.com.
De Mille, R. 1990. The Don Juan Papers: Further Castaneda Controversies. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Dennett, Daniel. 2006. Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon. New York: Penguin Books.
De Vrieze, J. 2017. “Bruno Latour, a Veteran of the ‘Science Wars,’ Has a New Mission.” Science 358(6360): 159. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.358.6360.159 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1126/science.358.6360.159
Eller, Jack. 2009. Introducing Anthropology of Religion: Culture to the Ultimate. New York: Routledge.
Eliade, Mircea. 1963. Patterns in Comparative Religion. Cleveland: Meridian Books.
Eliade, Mircea. 1969. The Quest. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Frankenberry, N., and H. Penner. 1999. “Clifford Geertz’s Long- Lasting Moods, Motivations, and Metaphysical Conceptions.” The Journal of Religion 79(4): 617–40. https://www.jstor.org/stable/1206117 https://doi.org/10.1086/490503 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/490503
Gardner, M. 1989. Science: Good, Bad, and Bogus. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books.
Grindal, B. 1983. “Into the Heart of Sisala Experience: Witnessing Death Divination.” Journal of Anthropological Research 39(1): 60–80. https://doi.org/10.1086/jar.39.1.3629816 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/jar.39.1.3629816
Harris, M. 2001. Cultural Materialism: The Struggle for a Science of Culture. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira.
Hunter, J. 2012. “Anthropology and the Paranormal.” In Paranthropology: Anthropological Approaches to the Paranormal, ed. Jack Hunter, 21–42. Bristol: Paranthropology.
Keener, C. 2011. Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts. 2 Vols. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker.
Klausner, W. 1994. “Going Native.” Anthropology Today 10(3): 18–19. https://www.jstor.org/stable/2783481
Konner, M. 2019. Believers: Faith in Human Nature. New York: W.W. Norton.
Evans-Pritchard, E. 1965. Theories of Primitive Religion. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Latour, Bruno. 1999. Pandora’s Hope: Essays on the Reality of Science Studies. Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press.
Latour, Bruno. 2004. “Why Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern.” Critical Inquiry 30(2): 225–48. https://doi.org/10.1086/421123 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/421123
Lett, J. 1997a. “Science, Religion, and Anthropology.” In Anthropology of Religion: A Handbook, ed. Stephen Glazier, 103–20. Westport, CT: Praeger.
Lett, J. 1997b. Science, Reason, and Anthropology: The Principles of Rational Inquiry . Lanham, MD: Roman and Littlefield.
Long, J. (ed.) 1977. Extrasensory Ecology: Parapsychology and Anthropology. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press.
Marcus, G., and M. Fischer. 1986. Anthropology as Cultural Critique: An Experimental Moment in the Human Sciences. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Martin, L., and D. Wiebe. (eds) 2016 . Conversations and Controversies in the Scientific Study of Religion: Collaborative and Co- authored Essays. Leiden and Boston: Brill. https://doi.org/10.1163/9789004310452 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1163/9789004310452
McCutcheon, R. 1997. “A Default of Critical Intelligence? The Scholar of Religion as Public Intellectual.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 65(2): 443–68. https://doi.org/10.1093/jaarel/65.2.443 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/jaarel/65.2.443
McCutcheon, R. 2001. Critics Not Caretakers: Redescribing the Public Study of Religion. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
Mead, M. 1977. “An Anthropological Approach to Different Types of Communication and the Importance of Differences in Human Temperaments.” In Extrasensory Ecology: Parapsychology and Anthropology, ed. Joseph Long, 47–50. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press.
Murphy, M., and M. Margolis. 1995. “An Introduction to Cultural Materialism.” In Science, Materialism, and the Study of Culture, ed. Martin Murphy and Maxine Margolis, 1–4. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.
Price, R. 2010. The Case against the Case for Christ: A New Testament Scholar Refutes the Reverend Lee Strobel. Crawford, NJ: American Atheist.
Sidky, H. 2004. Perspectives on Culture: A Critical Introduction to Theory in Cultural Anthropology. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Sidky, H. 2008. Haunted by the Archaic Shaman: Himalayan Jhakris and the Discourse on Shamanism. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.
Sidky, H. 2015. Religion: An Anthropological Perspective. New York: Peter Lang.
Sidky, H. 2020. Religion, Supernaturalism, the Paranormal, and Pseudoscience: An Anthropological Critique. New York: Anthem Press. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctvrnfqh2 DOI: https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctvrnfqh2
Silverman, D. 1975. Reading Castaneda: A Prologue to the Social Sciences. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Stoller, P., and C. Olkes. 1989. In Sorcery’s Shadow: A Memoir of Apprenticeship among the Songhay of Niger. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Wallace, A. 1966. Religion: An Anthropological View. New York: Random House.
Wiebe, D. 1984a. “Beyond the Sceptic and the Devotee: Reductionism in the Scientific Study of Religion.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 52(1): 157–65. https://www.jstor.org/stable/1463695 https://doi.org/10.1093/jaarel/LII.1.157 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/jaarel/LII.1.157
Wiebe, D. 1984b. “The Failure of Nerve in the Academic Study of Religion.” Studies in Religion 13(4): 401-22. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F000842988401300403 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/000842988401300403