Religious Studies as a Discipline

Aaron Hughes (University of Rochester) has been a vocal critic of some of the theories and methods used by religious studies scholars working on Islam. In this podcast, he discusses his critique of the discipline and practice of religious studies he has made through works such as Situating Islam (Equinox, 2008), Theorizing Islam (Equinox, 2012), Abrahamic Religions (Oxford, 2012), The Study of Judaism (SUNY, 2013), and, most recently, Islam and the Tyranny of Authenticity (Equinox, 2015).

This sustained focus on the field of religious studies is not only a concern with identity–the political boundaries of the field as established by its scholars and professional organizations–but also with method. What should be the critical orientation of our field? Which methods are more or less suited for religious studies when it the discipline is viewed as a critical endeavor? When and how should we critique the way our field is responding to the context of the 21st Century? Are area studies especially vulnerable to these criticisms? What happens when identity politics begins to mix with scholarship?

Listeners might also be interested in our previous podcasts on Religion as Sui Generis, The Relationship between Theology and Religious Studies, Teaching and Learning in Contemporary Religious Studies, The Critical Study of Religion, and Biblical Studies and Religious Studies. You can download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. If you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us . And remember, you can use our, or links to support us at no additional cost when buying academic texts, storage boxes, tiny shoes and more.

1 reply
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    Sean says:

    Extremely refreshing conversation to overhear, and I wish I’d heard something like it when I was still an undergrad. Presenting research at AAR conferences discouraged me from pursuing graduate school (many of the discussions were as toothless as an episode of Krista Tippet’s radio show). With that in mind ever since, the problems within academia for the humanities have seemed almost as fascinating as the religions themselves.

    “Collegiality” is a word I’ve only encountered in obscure legal opinions about tenure criteria back around 1980, because my grandfather (Russian Hist. Prof.) filed one of those lawsuits. Much of his research interests naturally drifted toward critiquing bureaucracy, and until now the only sympathetic views I’d encountered were radical anarchist scholars and pragmatist philosophers. More often now we can see journalists and politicians calling out similar institutional failures as well.

    Here’s to hoping the research community can soon have *sustained* conversations about this sort of thing! If anybody needs to have their act together, it seems like it should be us scholars, the ones who politicians and journalists cite to back up their point of view.


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