Journal Article

Religion, Ire, and Dangerous Things

Russell T. McCutcheon

in Journal of the American Academy of Religion

Published on behalf of American Academy of Religion

Volume 72, issue 1, pages 173-193
Published in print March 2004 | ISSN: 0002-7189
Published online March 2004 | e-ISSN: 1477-4585 | DOI:
Religion, Ire, and Dangerous Things

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In response to Ivan Strenski's criticism of those who study the history and politics of the category “religion,” this essay introduces some nuance into this debate by distinguishing between the two traditions contributing to this exercise: the normative (associated with the work of Wilfred Cantwell Smith) and the socio-rhetorical (associated with the work of Jonathan Z. Smith). Whereas the former position concludes that the category “religion” is incapable of capturing all that is entailed in the experience of faith, the latter is more properly historical in its presumptions because it examines only the contexts in which classification systems are developed and the practical uses to which they are put. After arguing that only the latter holds promise for the future of the academic study of religion, the essay returns to Strenski's own influential work on the category “myth,” questioning why he seems to argue that the category “religion” ought to be immune from the very critique he has so persuasively leveled at “myth.” The essay concludes that, as with scholarship on “history” and “culture,” scholarship on “religion” may indicate that our field has finally come of age, insofar as scholars are able to historicize both themselves and their own taxonomies.

Categorization is not a matter to be taken lightly.

—George Lakoff, Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things:

What Categories Reveal about the Mind

Journal Article.  0 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies

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