After the World Religions Paradigm…?

In this week’s podcast, We discussed some of the problems with the World Religions paradigm, most notably its colonial heritage and Christocentrism. Given its dominance in the public perception of “Religion”, however, can we as teachers get away from it? Is there a pedagogical approach which focusses on issues of power and domination, and challenges, rather than reinforces, outmoded common-sense categorisations? In other words, can “Religion 101” ever be more than a survey of “the World”s Faiths”, and if so, what do we replace it with?

We begin with James Cox, who adds a postscript to his previous interview, suggesting some possibilities for pedagogical approaches to Religious Studies without falling back into the  problematic World Religions paradigm. Mark Jurgensmeyer, Peter Beyer and Craig Martin then outline approaches they have utilised in the US – critical, sociological…. – and reflect on their success. Suzanne Owen, however, points out some of the serious practical issues of teaching based on alternative and indigenous religions. We close with Steve Sutcliffe who, while accepting some challenging issues in the UK situation, nevertheless expresses a need for the field as a whole to work together to move Religious Studies pedagogy forward.

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Jim CoxJames Cox is Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies in the University of Edinburgh and an Honorary Professorial Fellow in the School of Divinity in the University of Edinburgh. In 2012 he was de Carle Distinguished Lecturer in the University of Otago in Dunedin, during which time he wrote his forthcoming monograph, ‘Inventions of God in Indigenous Societies’. We have interviewed James twice; on Phenomenology, and The World Religions Paradigm.

Mark Juergensmeyer is a former president of the American Academy of Religion and the current director of the here.



Suzanne Owen lectures at Leeds Trinity University College, UK, and is currently co-chair of the Indigenous Religious Traditions Group for the American Academy of Religion. Her PhD focussed on the sharing of Native American ceremonies and included fieldwork among Mi’kmaq in Newfoundland. Listen to her interview on Druidry and the Definition of Religion here.

Steven Sutcliffe is Senior Lecturer in the Study of Religion at the University of Edinburgh, and the author of Children of the New Age, editor of Religion: Empirical Studies and Beyond the New Age (with Marion Bowman).

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