The Place of the Personal and the Subjective in Religious Studies

Rita M. Gross

in A Garland of Feminist Reflections

Published by University of California Press

Published in print March 2009 | ISBN: 9780520255852
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520943667 | DOI:
The Place of the Personal and the Subjective in Religious Studies

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Religious Studies is the academic discipline devoted to studying and commenting upon the extremely diverse religious beliefs and behaviors found in all cultures around the globe, in all periods of human history. Because of the intensely personal, often passionate attitudes people have about religion, calls for neutrality and objectivity can be very strong in this field, and expressing one's own personal interest in or subjective views about religion can be dangerous to one's career. The European enlightenment brought about great changes in how religion was understood, which made possible the eventual emergence of the discipline of religious studies. Rather than being part of a communal ethos, religion came to be viewed as a personal belief system to be studied because of personal religious commitments. In general, it is thought to be safer to entrust the study of religion to atheists and unbelievers, who are thought to be more objective and neutral. This chapter describes how the issue of the personal and the subjective plays out differently in the two major subdivisions within religious studies. The first of these is the descriptive study of religion, devoted to historical and anthropological interests. The second is the normative, or constructive study of religion, devoted to theology and ethics.

Keywords: religious studies; objectivity; subjective views; European enlightenment; anthropological interests; religion

Chapter.  6986 words. 

Subjects: Buddhism

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