The Religion & Culture Web Forum
"'Religion': Just Another Modern Western Construction?"
by Martin Riesebrodt (University of Chicago)
This month, Professor Martin Riesebrodt of the University of Chicago Divinity School posits an answer to this question and confronts the problem of defining religion as a category for the human sciences. He challenges reductive views of religion by proposing a strategy of definition, supported by examples taken from across history and culture, that can maintain religion as a definable and indispensable category for the human sciences.
In my view we have two options. Either we give up the concept [of religion] and replace it with better concepts, or we find a justification for the concept which addresses the concerns of the critics without drawing their conclusions. The first option has been tried, but the more “neutral” concepts like “ideology,” “culture,” “knowledge,” or “discourse” fail to capture differences and complexities the concept of “religion” is able to address. This may also explain why some critics who maintain that the concept of religion should be given up still use it in their book titles....If even the critics cannot come up with a more convincing alternative, then it makes sense to pursue the other option of thinking about a better justification of the concept of religion.
In order to do so I propose to counter the discursive deconstruction of religion as a universal concept with its “referential” legitimation.
Early in December, invited responses to Professor Riesebrodt's essay will be offered by José Casanova of New School University, Prasenjit Duara of the University of Chicago, and Stephen Sharot of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Invited responses may be found in the archived discussion board for this Forum (pdf).