Journal Article

Tillich['s] Remains …

Jonathan Z. Smith

in Journal of the American Academy of Religion

Published on behalf of American Academy of Religion

Volume 78, issue 4, pages 1139-1170
Published in print December 2010 | ISSN: 0002-7189
Published online December 2010 | e-ISSN: 1477-4585 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/jaarel/lfq087
Tillich['s] Remains …

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This essay makes explicit what lay behind the author's earlier casual observation that “Tillich remains the unacknowledged theoretician of our entire enterprise”—whether in the AAR or in North American studies of religion more generally. While the article does not make a narrowly (i.e., archivally verified) causal claim about Tillich's influence on the study of religion in the academy, it does point out three crucial roles Tillich's thought and practice played in the development of North American religious studies. (i) Tillich's understanding of religion as an “ultimate concern” provided a language deemed suitable to the new departments of religious studies in this country's higher education institutions (especially at state-run colleges and universities). (ii) Though not uniquely formative of the academy's longstanding discourse on symbolism, Tillich's interest in the symbol served as a legitimating vote of confidence about the worth of that discourse. Moreover, his understanding of the symbol (as that which “points to”) ostensibly struck a balance between Eliade's onto-realistic and Geertz's more minimal fictive views of the symbol. (iii) Through his sustained interest in cultural institutions and products of cultural labor—more than through his theories about the relation between religion and culture (e.g., his method of correlation)—Tillich inspired the “dialogic fields” (e.g., Religion and Literature) and subsequent cultural and anthropological studies of religion. The author's earlier claim, then, was intended as a double critique: first, that the study of religion in secular public institutions should ground itself in a Protestant Christian theological project; second, that this influence should remain largely unacknowledged.

Journal Article.  12260 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies

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