What Are We Talking About When We Talk About Religion?

We are talking about all sorts of phenomena that make sense as objects of humanistic and social-scientific inquiry (texts, institutions, rituals, claims, material objects). But we are also talking with real people, past and present, whose lives are subjectively oriented by such phenomena. To the extent that religiously oriented persons typically interpret these phenomena differently than do scholars of religious studies, this field’s ‘data’ include alternative hermeneutical and other theoretical perspectives; the most sophisticated work in religious studies is informed by the recognition that such perspectives may themselves represent powerful challenges to scholarly understanding. -- Daniel Arnold, Associate Professor of the Philosophy of Religions