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Religion as Vestigial States

We’ve been talking about Religion for some time now but perhaps the one question we haven’t begun to get to grips with is, what is religion? Recently we interviewed Tim Fitzgerald who already set us on the road to deconstructing the term religion. This week we speak to another member of the Critical Religions group, Naomi Goldenberg, who presents the first of our theories on what religion is. In this interview Professor Goldenberg takes us through the idea that religions might be vestigial states. She argues that religions are formed in distinction to governmental ‘States’ and represent the last vestiges of the previous order. At the same time this is a maneuver on the part of those States to delineate spheres of power. A vestigial state is both a once and future state, that which has gone and that which hopes to be. The idea of vestigial states throws into question our normal understanding of the term religion and Professor Goldenberg draws on such notable examples as the Islamic State, the Dalai Lama, Jewish history and even present day Wicca to illustrate the point. If you would like to know more about religions as vestigial states, Professor Goldenberg has also written on the topic on the Critical Religions website.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to our weekly podcast, on iTunes. And if you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us.

Naomi Goldenberg is professor of Classics and Religious Studies at the University of Ottawa. Her specialisms include Psychoanalysis, Women and Religion, and Cultural Studies. Her publications include Resurrecting the Body (Crossroad Publishing, 1993), The End of God (University of Ottawa Press, 1981), and Changing the Gods (Beacon Press, 1979).

 

‘Religion’ and Mystification

‘Religion’ has proved a problematic category, difficult to define and difficult to translate into non-European languages. In this interview, Timothy Fitzgerald presents his critical deconstruction of religion as a powerful discourse and its parasitic relation to ‘secular’ categories such as politics and economics. Religion is not a stand-alone category, he argues; ‘religions’ are modern inventions which are made to appear ubiquitous and, by being removed to a marginal, privatised domain, serve to mystify the supposed natural rationality of the secular state and capital. Feminist deconstruction of gender categories shows how power constructions which serve male interests come to appear as natural and inevitable, a powerful analogy to the mystification of power relations by the modern invention of religious and secular domains.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. And if you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us.

Timothy Fitzgerald is Reader in Religion at the University of Stirling, and organiser of the Critical Religion Category Network (CRCN). His 2000 book, The Ideology of Religious Studies (Oxford University Press) was the topic of a one day symposium organized by the Department of Religious Studies, University of Manchester. More recently, he published Discourse on Civility and Barbarity: a critical history of religion and related categories (Oxford University Press, 2007), and the edited volume Religion and the Secular: historical and colonial formations (Equinox, 2007).

Roundtable: Should Religious Studies be Multidisciplinary?

Jonathan, Elizabeth, Liam, Maegan, Kevin and Krittika (with Ethan behind the camera)

Ninian Smart was a proponent of the idea that Religious Studies should be “poly-methodical”; but should Religious Studies as a discipline incorporate theories and methodologies from multiple other disciplines, such as sociology, anthropology or history? When RS departments have run on an interdisciplinary basis, have they been successful?

Krittika suggested that a Religious Studies department has much greater difficulty being recognised institutionally than, say, a History Department

For this third roundtable, recorded at the University of Edinburgh, Jonathan tabled the motion. It quickly becomes apparent that Jonathan has an agenda; to push phenomenology as Religious Studies’ sole methodology. Happily, the panelists were somewhat more multidisciplinary than normal, and were keen to disagree. Polite sparring ensues.

If you are new to the podcast – this is not what we usually do, although it is becoming increasingly common. If you are a regular listener – you might enjoy this, or you might not; either way, we are back to normal with Timothy Fitzgerald’s interview on Religion and Mystification on Monday. You can also download this roundtable, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. We would be delighted if you used this as an opportunity to continue discussion of this important topic on our Facebook page, on Twitter, or in the comments section below.

To continue the portrait of discussion…

Ethan: “The issue with this issue that we are talking about is that there is no issue.”

As Nathan Schneider recently wrote on Religion Dispatches, “No matter what you “do with it,” really, the study of religion forces you to learn about geopolitics, languages, literatures, sciences, and histories.” Is this a good thing? Should individual scholars multi-disciplinary? Or just departments? What is the difference between multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary?

Kevin: “We don’t understand sociology as well as the sociologists; we don’t understand psychology as well as the psychologists… they might be able to give us information we can use in a way we wouldn’t have been able to gather.”

Given that Religious Studies is currently vying for finances and for an academic identity and respect, is it important that we have one consistent methodological approach? Would this lead to commonality and manageability? Do we even need to be unique? Any why not turn to theory or content to provide that distinctiveness and autonomy?

Liam: “A rough, minimal commitment to the social-scientific study of religion is all we really need to set us apart…”

If we were to have just one methodology, what would it be? Phenomenology? Anthropology? Sociology? History? Psychology? Text Criticism? Neo-Tylorianism? Critical Religions? What would we “kick out”?

Towards the end of the discussion, the issues of bias and representation come to the fore. which is quite serendipitous given that our next compilation episode and roundtable are both focusing on the issue of whether scholars of religion should be critics or caretakers.

There is a lot of chat about historical approaches in this podcast, and if you would like to get a better handle on what this mysterious phenomenology actually is, then please do listen to this podcast with the oft-mentioned James Cox, or read Jonathan’s response essay on the same topic.

Maegan: “I think you originally asked a question, but did you just answer it yourself?”

The Panelists:

Krittika Bhattacharjee is reading towards an MSc in Religious Studies at the University of Edinburgh. She completed a BA in History from Delhi University and went on to do a second undergraduate degree in History at the University of Oxford. She is interested in the points of contact between tourism and religion, particularly in how tourists interact with, and in sites deemed religious. Her Masters dissertation studies tourists at Rosslyn Chapel. She will be joining a theatre company in Delhi as an actor after her MSc is concluded.

 

Maegan C. M. Gilliland is a doctoral candidate at the University of Edinburgh. Her thesis focuses on the early Christian transmission of the Pauline Epistles through a text-critical evaluation and statistical analysis of the epistles as found within the extant writings of Clement of Alexandria. Her research interests include textual criticism, early Christian movements, the early Christian reception and transmission of religious texts and Ancient Near Eastern religious texts. Her forthcoming publications (2012) include three dictionary articles for the Lexham Bible Dictionary (“Form Criticism”, “Redaction Criticism” and “The History of Writing in Mesopotamia”).

Ethan Gjerset Quillen is a doctoral candidate in religious studies at the University of Edinburgh.  His dissertation is on the evaluation of the categorically social, historical, and cultural attributes of Atheist identities in the United Kingdom from 1979 to 2012 using the novels of Ian McEwan as representative data.  He earned a Bachelor of Arts from the University of California, Riverside in religious studies and a Master of Arts from California State University, Long Beach with an emphasis on 19th century American religious communities and New Religious Movements.  He also holds two Master of Arts degrees from Baylor University – the first in American Studies, and the second from the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church State Studies. He has also written the essay Circular Academia: Navigating the Dangerous Waters of Term Re-Assignment for the Religious Studies Project.

Liam Sutherland is a Religious Studies Postgraduate student at Edinburgh University undertaking a Masters by Research, on the relevance of E.B Tylor for the contemporary theory of religion, defining religion and modern scholars with a ‘Neo-Tylorian’ influence or affinity. He is a native of Edinburgh where he also completed his undergraduate degree  in 2009, producing a dissertation on contemporary Indigenous Australian spirituality and the politics of land rights. Though he began in Politics, and took many Politics and school of Social Science courses, he quickly fell in love with Religious Studies! Liam has also written the essay An Evaluation of Harvey’s Approach to Animism and the Tylorian Legacy for the Religious Studies Project.

What is Phenomenology? for the Religious Studies Project, as well as recording a number of interviews.

Dr Elizabeth Ursic is a professor of religious studies at Mesa Community College in Phoenix Arizona. Her research interests include gender, religion, and the arts. She is a Visiting Fellow at New College at the University of Edinburgh, currently writing a chapter on the 1980s Motherhood of God controversy in the Church of Scotland. She holds a PhD from Arizona State University and an MDiv from Yale Divinity School where she was a graduate fellow in the Yale Institute of Sacred Music.

 

“Roundtable Regular” Kevin Whitesides completed his B.A. in Religious Studies at Humboldt State University. He is currently developing an MSc dissertation at the University of Edinburgh on ’2012′ millennialism as part of a broader emphasis on countercultural transmission. Kevin has contributed articles to ‘Archaeoastronomy’ and ‘Zeitschrift fur Anomalistik’, has contributed chapters for two anthologies on apocalypse and prophecy, and has presented widely on the ’2012′ milieu at academic conferences and universities.

Lisbeth Mikaelsson on Religion and Gender

Gender has always played a significant role in the everyday lives of people. This is no more true than in the case of religion and there is a burgeoning field in religious studies dedicated to the study of the role of gender within religions. From dress codes to notions of purity to questions of the legitimate of power the topic of gender is one few scholars can afford to ignore. With a whole range of issues to be investigated Lisbeth Mikaelsson gives us an introductory insight into the complex topic of religion and gender: the issues it raises, the way we go about it, who’s doing it and why.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. And if you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us.

Lisbeth Mikaelsson is professor of religion in the department of Archaeology, History, Cultural Studies and Religion at the University of Bergen. More recently she has shifted her specialism from religion and gender to new religious movements and is currently studying the Prosperity Movement. She has published a number of books and articles in Norwegian. In English she has published on the topic of Gender in Armin Geertz’ edited volume New Approaches to the Study of Religion and the journal Numen.

Roundtable: What is the Future of Religious Studies?

David Robertson, Chris Cotter, Ethan Quillen, Jonathan Tuckett, Kevin Whitesides & Liam Sutherland (NB: ‘we’ are not the future of Religious Studies – although some of us hope to be – that would just be silly)

After this week’s podcast, which involved eight scholars giving their views on the future of Religious Studies, there was really only one way we could create a suitably collective and varied response – six postgrads sitting around a table, accompanied by pink gin and our trusty dictaphone. Conversation ranges from the public perception of what Religious Studies does, what to do with a RS degree, to the financial practicalities of doing postgraduate research in the UK and US today. Mostly, though, it’s a collective rant about the cognitive study of religion (for a more educated discussion on cognitive approaches to the study of religion, see our interview with Armin Geertz)..

**Regular visitors please note – we have moved our weekly feature articles to Wednesdays instead of Fridays. This will continue until further notice, and is intended to promote more discussion**

If you are new to the podcast – this is not what we usually do. If you are a regular listener – you might enjoy this, or you might not; either way, we are back to normal with Bettina Schmidt’s interview on Anthropological Approaches on Monday.

You can also download this roundtable, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes.

The bleeping noises are Chris’s camera, and the clunks are Liam’s can of Gin. We hope you enjoy it, we certainly enjoyed recording it. We’ll be recording another at the SOCREL (Sociology of Religion) Annual Conference in just a few days time (with a more diverse range of participants!). If you’d like this to become a regular feature, please let us know.

Choice quotations:

“What do you do with a Religious Studies degree? You get a Master’s. What do you do with a Religious Studies Master’s? You get a PhD? What do you do with a Religious Studies Phd? You work in Starbucks.”

“I think of Religious Studies less as a discipline and more as the name of a department.”

“relativity… is one step up from subjectivity, which is the post-modernist quagmire of death and destruction that will consume all academic fields if it’s allowed to spread too far…”

The Discussants:

Christopher R. Cotter

Chris recently completed his MSc by Research in Religious Studies at the University of Edinburgh, on the topic ‘Toward a Typology of Nonreligion: A Qualitative Analysis of Everyday Narratives of Scottish University Students’. He is currently taking a year out from study to pursue PhD applications, present at conferences, and work on projects such as this. His future research will continue to expand the theme of ‘non-religion’ to apply to ‘everyone’ in religiously diverse, socio-economically deprived urban environments, simultaneously deconstructing the religion-nonreligion dichotomy in the process. He is Deputy Editor and Bibliography Manager at the Nonreligion and Secularity Research Network, and currently editing the volume ‘Social Identities between the Sacred and the Secular’ with Abby Day and Giselle Vincett (Ashgate, 2013). See his personal blog, or academia.edu page for a full CV.

Ethan Quillen

Circular Academia: Navigating the Dangerous Waters of Term Re-Assignment for the Religious Studies Project.

David Robertson

David G. Robertson is a Ph.D. candidate in the Religious Studies department of the University of Edinburgh. His research  examines how UFO narratives became the bridge by which ideas crossed between the conspiracist and New Age milieus in the post-Cold War period. More broadly, his work concerns contemporary alternative spiritualities, and their relationship with popular culture. Forthcoming publications: “Making the Donkey Visible: Discordianism in the Works of Robert Anton Wilson” in C. Cusack & A. Norman (Eds.), Brill Handbook of New Religions and Cultural Production. Leiden: Brill (2012) “(Always) Living in the End Times: The “rolling prophecy” of the conspracist milieu” in When Prophecy Persists. London: INFORM/Ashgate (2012). For a full CV and his MSc thesis on contemporary gnosticism, see his Academia page or personal blog.

Liam Sutherland

Liam is a Religious Studies Postgraduate student at Edinburgh University undertaking a Masters by Research, on the relevance of E.B Tylor for the contemporary theory of religion, defining religion and modern scholars with a ‘Neo-Tylorian’ influence or affinity. He is a native of Edinburgh where he also completed his undergraduate degree  in 2009, producing a dissertation on contemporary Indigenous Australian spirituality and the politics of land rights. Though he began in Politics, and took many Politics and school of Social Science courses, he quickly fell in love with Religious Studies! Liam has also written the essay An Evaluation of Harvey’s Approach to Animism and the Tylorian Legacy for the Religious Studies Project.

Jonathan Tuckett

What is Phenomenology? for the Religious Studies Project.

Kevin Whitesides

Kevin Whitesides completed his B.A. in Religious Studies at Humboldt State University. He is currently developing an MSc dissertation at the University of Edinburgh on ‘2012’ millennialism as part of a broader emphasis on countercultural transmission. Kevin has contributed articles to ‘Archaeoastronomy’ and ‘Zeitschrift fur Anomalistik’, has contributed chapters for two anthologies on apocalypse and prophecy, and has presented widely on the ‘2012’ milieu at academic conferences and universities.

What is Phenomenology?

In a recent podcast (2012), Professor James Cox has briefly sketched an outline of the phenomenology of religion. His overview has taken broadly the concept of Husserl’s notions of epoche and the eidetic intuition and carried them through to typologies for the purpose of comparisons. Now, Cox provides us with a rather comprehensive phenomenology which, though briefly explained in the podcast, is expounded upon in greater detail in his book An Introduction to the Phenomenology of Religion (2010). However, Cox is possibly the great syncretist of phenomenology and draws upon a rich and ultimately varied history in the field. In truth, despite Cox’s presentation, what the phenomenology of religion entails is perhaps not as monolithic as he would suggest.

Quite rightly Cox indicates that the beginnings of the phenomenology of religion can be found in what he calls (2010) the Dutch school of phenomenology. However, in a detailed survey of the history of religious studies in the Dutch context, Arie Molendijk (2000) highlights a problem: it is not entirely clear with whom the phenomenology of religion began. He points to authors such as Sharpe, Waardenburgh and Hirschmann as not only differing in deciding when phenomenology first began, but also when considering who does and does not count as phenomenologists. Thus, to give just a brief deluge of figures we might think of as phenomenologists, Molendijk lists at various points: Chantepie de la Saussaye, Nathan Soderblom, Edward Lehmann, William Kristensen, Gerardus van der Leeuw, C.J. Bleeker, Joachim Wach, Joseph Kitagawa, Mircea Eliade, C.P. Tiele, Friedrich Pfister, Max Scheler, Georg Wobbermin, Robert Winkler, Rudolf Otto, Heinrich Frick, Gustav Mensching (2000:28-29). Nor is there much consensus on the matter, Hischmann who was a student of van der Leeuw does not include Kristensen, van der Leeuw’s teacher, on her list of phenomenologists. This is also a predominantly Dutch and Scandinavian dominated list, to which we might wish to add the further British figures of Edwin W. Smith, Geoffrey Parrinder, Ninian Smart and Wilfred Cantwell Smith.

Nevertheless, it is still a fairly safe comment to say that the phenomenology of religion began with the Dutch. Which scholar was the first phenomenologist, however, is debatable. Molendijk tells us that at the very latest the phenomenology of religion began with Gerardus van der Leeuw. Some might say that Kristensen is the first phenomenologist, and Cox is probably among this group, for his watchword ‘the believers were completely right’ (in 1969:49) has pervaded all phenomenology. Yet Kristensen had a very specific idea of what the phenomenology of religion was, and one which was far stricter than van der Leeuw’s. This general lack of clarity over what is contained in the phrase ‘phenomenology of religion’ and who are phenomenologists has generated considerable misgivings about the field. Indeed, Willard Oxtoby rightly acknowledges that there are ‘as many phenomenologies as there are phenomenolgoists’ (Oxtoby, 1968:598). Even so, we can identify three dominant forms of phenomenology. Though we can see the beginnings of such a distinction in the Kristensen’s work (he was speaking of a science of religion more generally though), it is Bettis and Smart that provide us with the most substantial classifications.

Methodological Phenomenology. In his interview, Cox spoke of how phenomenologists of religion employ Husserl’s notion of bracketing in order to let the ‘phenomena of religion speak for themselves’. The phenomenological method is characterised by the bracketing of scientific and theological theories so as not to bring any presuppositions into the study of religion. We may call this, as Bettis does, ‘psychological descriptions’, for the phenomenological method concerns itself with the activity itself rather than the object of the activity. Our focus is the believers themselves in what they do and think. It would be wrong, though, to think this idea of neutrality that underpins the phenomenological method is solely bound to Husserl’s philosophy (despite Cox’s comments to the contrary). Smart, for instance formulated his idea of methodological agnosticism almost independently of Husserl’s philosophy.

Typological Phenomenology. This type of phenomenology began with Kristensen – indeed he saw the phenomenology of religion as nothing but this – and is as Cox said in the interview, the development of typologies such as sacrifice. For Kristensen this meant a ‘systematic survey of the data’ (in Bettis 1969:36). It is the work of comparison, the consideration of data against one another for the purpose of gaining further insight into them. Kristensen maintained that this data is gathered by the History of Religion, work which later phenomenologists would bring under methodological phenomenology. Bettis refers to this as dialectical descriptions and sees this as the application of the phenomenological method to a spectrum of religious ideas, activities, institutions, customs and symbols. Smart, too, uses the phrase ‘dialectical phenomenology’ which he uses synonymously with typological phenomenology until later favouring the latter.

Speculative Phenomenology. Smart, from whom I coin the term, says of this kind of phenomenology that the data of typological phenomenology are ‘arranged according to a preconceived pattern, itself incapable of being thoroughly insulated from theological (or anti-theological) assumptions’ (2009:194-5). We can see here the work of what Cox referred to as ‘Comparative Religion’ in the interview, where much of the data is organised in gradations of superiority. And even if no gradations are made we still find much of the work of defining religion from non-religion in this area. Here we start to talk of the essence of religion, usually discovered by the eidetic intuition, which allows us to see the core of all phenomena. Bettis calls these ontological descriptions as they focused on the object of religious activity as opposed to psychological descriptions that looked at the activity itself. Good examples of this kind of phenomenology would be Eliade and Otto.

In An Introduction to the Phenomenology of Religion, Cox has made an impressive attempt to reconcile these three types of phenomenology. But we are left with the question of who are phenomenologists? Historically, not every scholar has employed all three kinds of phenomenology: are those who utilise only one or two kinds of phenomenology phenomenologists? Take Eliade for instance, he proclaimed himself to be a historian of religion and yet we regard him as one of the field’s seminal phenomenologists. And how do we define the phenomenology of religion when it incorporates all three kinds? The general disagreements within each kind of phenomenology mean that Cox’s attempt, impressive though it is, is by no means complete. Therefore, by extension, there is no complete understanding of the phenomenology of religion.

References

Bettis, J. (1969). Phenomenology of Religion; SCM Press, London

Cox, J. (2006). A Guide to the Phenomenology of Religion; T&T Clarck International, London

Cox, J. (2010). An Introduction to the Phenomenology of Religion; Continuum, London

Cox, J. (2012). “The Phenomenology of Religion”, interview with The Religious Studies Project published 16 January 2012 online at https://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/

Molendijk, A. (2000). ‘At the Cross-roads: Early Dutch Science of Religion in International Perspective’ in Man, Meaning, and Mystery: 100 yeas of History of Religions in Norway; ed. by S. Hjelde; Brill, Leiden, (pg.19-51)

Oxtoby, W. (1968). ‘Religionswissenchaft Revisited’ in Religion in Antiquity; ed. by J. Neusner; Brill, Leiden (pg.591-608)

Smart, N. (2009). Ninian Smart on World Religions Vol.1: Religious Experience and Philosophical Analysis; ed. by J. Shepherd; Farnham, Ashgate

Podcasts

Religion as Vestigial States

We’ve been talking about Religion for some time now but perhaps the one question we haven’t begun to get to grips with is, what is religion? Recently we interviewed Tim Fitzgerald who already set us on the road to deconstructing the term religion. This week we speak to another member of the Critical Religions group, Naomi Goldenberg, who presents the first of our theories on what religion is. In this interview Professor Goldenberg takes us through the idea that religions might be vestigial states. She argues that religions are formed in distinction to governmental ‘States’ and represent the last vestiges of the previous order. At the same time this is a maneuver on the part of those States to delineate spheres of power. A vestigial state is both a once and future state, that which has gone and that which hopes to be. The idea of vestigial states throws into question our normal understanding of the term religion and Professor Goldenberg draws on such notable examples as the Islamic State, the Dalai Lama, Jewish history and even present day Wicca to illustrate the point. If you would like to know more about religions as vestigial states, Professor Goldenberg has also written on the topic on the Critical Religions website.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to our weekly podcast, on iTunes. And if you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us.

Naomi Goldenberg is professor of Classics and Religious Studies at the University of Ottawa. Her specialisms include Psychoanalysis, Women and Religion, and Cultural Studies. Her publications include Resurrecting the Body (Crossroad Publishing, 1993), The End of God (University of Ottawa Press, 1981), and Changing the Gods (Beacon Press, 1979).

 

‘Religion’ and Mystification

‘Religion’ has proved a problematic category, difficult to define and difficult to translate into non-European languages. In this interview, Timothy Fitzgerald presents his critical deconstruction of religion as a powerful discourse and its parasitic relation to ‘secular’ categories such as politics and economics. Religion is not a stand-alone category, he argues; ‘religions’ are modern inventions which are made to appear ubiquitous and, by being removed to a marginal, privatised domain, serve to mystify the supposed natural rationality of the secular state and capital. Feminist deconstruction of gender categories shows how power constructions which serve male interests come to appear as natural and inevitable, a powerful analogy to the mystification of power relations by the modern invention of religious and secular domains.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. And if you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us.

Timothy Fitzgerald is Reader in Religion at the University of Stirling, and organiser of the Critical Religion Category Network (CRCN). His 2000 book, The Ideology of Religious Studies (Oxford University Press) was the topic of a one day symposium organized by the Department of Religious Studies, University of Manchester. More recently, he published Discourse on Civility and Barbarity: a critical history of religion and related categories (Oxford University Press, 2007), and the edited volume Religion and the Secular: historical and colonial formations (Equinox, 2007).

Roundtable: Should Religious Studies be Multidisciplinary?

Jonathan, Elizabeth, Liam, Maegan, Kevin and Krittika (with Ethan behind the camera)

Ninian Smart was a proponent of the idea that Religious Studies should be “poly-methodical”; but should Religious Studies as a discipline incorporate theories and methodologies from multiple other disciplines, such as sociology, anthropology or history? When RS departments have run on an interdisciplinary basis, have they been successful?

Krittika suggested that a Religious Studies department has much greater difficulty being recognised institutionally than, say, a History Department

For this third roundtable, recorded at the University of Edinburgh, Jonathan tabled the motion. It quickly becomes apparent that Jonathan has an agenda; to push phenomenology as Religious Studies’ sole methodology. Happily, the panelists were somewhat more multidisciplinary than normal, and were keen to disagree. Polite sparring ensues.

If you are new to the podcast – this is not what we usually do, although it is becoming increasingly common. If you are a regular listener – you might enjoy this, or you might not; either way, we are back to normal with Timothy Fitzgerald’s interview on Religion and Mystification on Monday. You can also download this roundtable, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. We would be delighted if you used this as an opportunity to continue discussion of this important topic on our Facebook page, on Twitter, or in the comments section below.

To continue the portrait of discussion…

Ethan: “The issue with this issue that we are talking about is that there is no issue.”

As Nathan Schneider recently wrote on Religion Dispatches, “No matter what you “do with it,” really, the study of religion forces you to learn about geopolitics, languages, literatures, sciences, and histories.” Is this a good thing? Should individual scholars multi-disciplinary? Or just departments? What is the difference between multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary?

Kevin: “We don’t understand sociology as well as the sociologists; we don’t understand psychology as well as the psychologists… they might be able to give us information we can use in a way we wouldn’t have been able to gather.”

Given that Religious Studies is currently vying for finances and for an academic identity and respect, is it important that we have one consistent methodological approach? Would this lead to commonality and manageability? Do we even need to be unique? Any why not turn to theory or content to provide that distinctiveness and autonomy?

Liam: “A rough, minimal commitment to the social-scientific study of religion is all we really need to set us apart…”

If we were to have just one methodology, what would it be? Phenomenology? Anthropology? Sociology? History? Psychology? Text Criticism? Neo-Tylorianism? Critical Religions? What would we “kick out”?

Towards the end of the discussion, the issues of bias and representation come to the fore. which is quite serendipitous given that our next compilation episode and roundtable are both focusing on the issue of whether scholars of religion should be critics or caretakers.

There is a lot of chat about historical approaches in this podcast, and if you would like to get a better handle on what this mysterious phenomenology actually is, then please do listen to this podcast with the oft-mentioned James Cox, or read Jonathan’s response essay on the same topic.

Maegan: “I think you originally asked a question, but did you just answer it yourself?”

The Panelists:

Krittika Bhattacharjee is reading towards an MSc in Religious Studies at the University of Edinburgh. She completed a BA in History from Delhi University and went on to do a second undergraduate degree in History at the University of Oxford. She is interested in the points of contact between tourism and religion, particularly in how tourists interact with, and in sites deemed religious. Her Masters dissertation studies tourists at Rosslyn Chapel. She will be joining a theatre company in Delhi as an actor after her MSc is concluded.

 

Maegan C. M. Gilliland is a doctoral candidate at the University of Edinburgh. Her thesis focuses on the early Christian transmission of the Pauline Epistles through a text-critical evaluation and statistical analysis of the epistles as found within the extant writings of Clement of Alexandria. Her research interests include textual criticism, early Christian movements, the early Christian reception and transmission of religious texts and Ancient Near Eastern religious texts. Her forthcoming publications (2012) include three dictionary articles for the Lexham Bible Dictionary (“Form Criticism”, “Redaction Criticism” and “The History of Writing in Mesopotamia”).

Ethan Gjerset Quillen is a doctoral candidate in religious studies at the University of Edinburgh.  His dissertation is on the evaluation of the categorically social, historical, and cultural attributes of Atheist identities in the United Kingdom from 1979 to 2012 using the novels of Ian McEwan as representative data.  He earned a Bachelor of Arts from the University of California, Riverside in religious studies and a Master of Arts from California State University, Long Beach with an emphasis on 19th century American religious communities and New Religious Movements.  He also holds two Master of Arts degrees from Baylor University – the first in American Studies, and the second from the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church State Studies. He has also written the essay Circular Academia: Navigating the Dangerous Waters of Term Re-Assignment for the Religious Studies Project.

Liam Sutherland is a Religious Studies Postgraduate student at Edinburgh University undertaking a Masters by Research, on the relevance of E.B Tylor for the contemporary theory of religion, defining religion and modern scholars with a ‘Neo-Tylorian’ influence or affinity. He is a native of Edinburgh where he also completed his undergraduate degree  in 2009, producing a dissertation on contemporary Indigenous Australian spirituality and the politics of land rights. Though he began in Politics, and took many Politics and school of Social Science courses, he quickly fell in love with Religious Studies! Liam has also written the essay An Evaluation of Harvey’s Approach to Animism and the Tylorian Legacy for the Religious Studies Project.

What is Phenomenology? for the Religious Studies Project, as well as recording a number of interviews.

Dr Elizabeth Ursic is a professor of religious studies at Mesa Community College in Phoenix Arizona. Her research interests include gender, religion, and the arts. She is a Visiting Fellow at New College at the University of Edinburgh, currently writing a chapter on the 1980s Motherhood of God controversy in the Church of Scotland. She holds a PhD from Arizona State University and an MDiv from Yale Divinity School where she was a graduate fellow in the Yale Institute of Sacred Music.

 

“Roundtable Regular” Kevin Whitesides completed his B.A. in Religious Studies at Humboldt State University. He is currently developing an MSc dissertation at the University of Edinburgh on ’2012′ millennialism as part of a broader emphasis on countercultural transmission. Kevin has contributed articles to ‘Archaeoastronomy’ and ‘Zeitschrift fur Anomalistik’, has contributed chapters for two anthologies on apocalypse and prophecy, and has presented widely on the ’2012′ milieu at academic conferences and universities.

Lisbeth Mikaelsson on Religion and Gender

Gender has always played a significant role in the everyday lives of people. This is no more true than in the case of religion and there is a burgeoning field in religious studies dedicated to the study of the role of gender within religions. From dress codes to notions of purity to questions of the legitimate of power the topic of gender is one few scholars can afford to ignore. With a whole range of issues to be investigated Lisbeth Mikaelsson gives us an introductory insight into the complex topic of religion and gender: the issues it raises, the way we go about it, who’s doing it and why.

You can also download this interview, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes. And if you enjoyed it, please take a moment to rate us.

Lisbeth Mikaelsson is professor of religion in the department of Archaeology, History, Cultural Studies and Religion at the University of Bergen. More recently she has shifted her specialism from religion and gender to new religious movements and is currently studying the Prosperity Movement. She has published a number of books and articles in Norwegian. In English she has published on the topic of Gender in Armin Geertz’ edited volume New Approaches to the Study of Religion and the journal Numen.

Roundtable: What is the Future of Religious Studies?

David Robertson, Chris Cotter, Ethan Quillen, Jonathan Tuckett, Kevin Whitesides & Liam Sutherland (NB: ‘we’ are not the future of Religious Studies – although some of us hope to be – that would just be silly)

After this week’s podcast, which involved eight scholars giving their views on the future of Religious Studies, there was really only one way we could create a suitably collective and varied response – six postgrads sitting around a table, accompanied by pink gin and our trusty dictaphone. Conversation ranges from the public perception of what Religious Studies does, what to do with a RS degree, to the financial practicalities of doing postgraduate research in the UK and US today. Mostly, though, it’s a collective rant about the cognitive study of religion (for a more educated discussion on cognitive approaches to the study of religion, see our interview with Armin Geertz)..

**Regular visitors please note – we have moved our weekly feature articles to Wednesdays instead of Fridays. This will continue until further notice, and is intended to promote more discussion**

If you are new to the podcast – this is not what we usually do. If you are a regular listener – you might enjoy this, or you might not; either way, we are back to normal with Bettina Schmidt’s interview on Anthropological Approaches on Monday.

You can also download this roundtable, and subscribe to receive our weekly podcast, on iTunes.

The bleeping noises are Chris’s camera, and the clunks are Liam’s can of Gin. We hope you enjoy it, we certainly enjoyed recording it. We’ll be recording another at the SOCREL (Sociology of Religion) Annual Conference in just a few days time (with a more diverse range of participants!). If you’d like this to become a regular feature, please let us know.

Choice quotations:

“What do you do with a Religious Studies degree? You get a Master’s. What do you do with a Religious Studies Master’s? You get a PhD? What do you do with a Religious Studies Phd? You work in Starbucks.”

“I think of Religious Studies less as a discipline and more as the name of a department.”

“relativity… is one step up from subjectivity, which is the post-modernist quagmire of death and destruction that will consume all academic fields if it’s allowed to spread too far…”

The Discussants:

Christopher R. Cotter

Chris recently completed his MSc by Research in Religious Studies at the University of Edinburgh, on the topic ‘Toward a Typology of Nonreligion: A Qualitative Analysis of Everyday Narratives of Scottish University Students’. He is currently taking a year out from study to pursue PhD applications, present at conferences, and work on projects such as this. His future research will continue to expand the theme of ‘non-religion’ to apply to ‘everyone’ in religiously diverse, socio-economically deprived urban environments, simultaneously deconstructing the religion-nonreligion dichotomy in the process. He is Deputy Editor and Bibliography Manager at the Nonreligion and Secularity Research Network, and currently editing the volume ‘Social Identities between the Sacred and the Secular’ with Abby Day and Giselle Vincett (Ashgate, 2013). See his personal blog, or academia.edu page for a full CV.

Ethan Quillen

Circular Academia: Navigating the Dangerous Waters of Term Re-Assignment for the Religious Studies Project.

David Robertson

David G. Robertson is a Ph.D. candidate in the Religious Studies department of the University of Edinburgh. His research  examines how UFO narratives became the bridge by which ideas crossed between the conspiracist and New Age milieus in the post-Cold War period. More broadly, his work concerns contemporary alternative spiritualities, and their relationship with popular culture. Forthcoming publications: “Making the Donkey Visible: Discordianism in the Works of Robert Anton Wilson” in C. Cusack & A. Norman (Eds.), Brill Handbook of New Religions and Cultural Production. Leiden: Brill (2012) “(Always) Living in the End Times: The “rolling prophecy” of the conspracist milieu” in When Prophecy Persists. London: INFORM/Ashgate (2012). For a full CV and his MSc thesis on contemporary gnosticism, see his Academia page or personal blog.

Liam Sutherland

Liam is a Religious Studies Postgraduate student at Edinburgh University undertaking a Masters by Research, on the relevance of E.B Tylor for the contemporary theory of religion, defining religion and modern scholars with a ‘Neo-Tylorian’ influence or affinity. He is a native of Edinburgh where he also completed his undergraduate degree  in 2009, producing a dissertation on contemporary Indigenous Australian spirituality and the politics of land rights. Though he began in Politics, and took many Politics and school of Social Science courses, he quickly fell in love with Religious Studies! Liam has also written the essay An Evaluation of Harvey’s Approach to Animism and the Tylorian Legacy for the Religious Studies Project.

Jonathan Tuckett

What is Phenomenology? for the Religious Studies Project.

Kevin Whitesides

Kevin Whitesides completed his B.A. in Religious Studies at Humboldt State University. He is currently developing an MSc dissertation at the University of Edinburgh on ‘2012’ millennialism as part of a broader emphasis on countercultural transmission. Kevin has contributed articles to ‘Archaeoastronomy’ and ‘Zeitschrift fur Anomalistik’, has contributed chapters for two anthologies on apocalypse and prophecy, and has presented widely on the ‘2012’ milieu at academic conferences and universities.

What is Phenomenology?

In a recent podcast (2012), Professor James Cox has briefly sketched an outline of the phenomenology of religion. His overview has taken broadly the concept of Husserl’s notions of epoche and the eidetic intuition and carried them through to typologies for the purpose of comparisons. Now, Cox provides us with a rather comprehensive phenomenology which, though briefly explained in the podcast, is expounded upon in greater detail in his book An Introduction to the Phenomenology of Religion (2010). However, Cox is possibly the great syncretist of phenomenology and draws upon a rich and ultimately varied history in the field. In truth, despite Cox’s presentation, what the phenomenology of religion entails is perhaps not as monolithic as he would suggest.

Quite rightly Cox indicates that the beginnings of the phenomenology of religion can be found in what he calls (2010) the Dutch school of phenomenology. However, in a detailed survey of the history of religious studies in the Dutch context, Arie Molendijk (2000) highlights a problem: it is not entirely clear with whom the phenomenology of religion began. He points to authors such as Sharpe, Waardenburgh and Hirschmann as not only differing in deciding when phenomenology first began, but also when considering who does and does not count as phenomenologists. Thus, to give just a brief deluge of figures we might think of as phenomenologists, Molendijk lists at various points: Chantepie de la Saussaye, Nathan Soderblom, Edward Lehmann, William Kristensen, Gerardus van der Leeuw, C.J. Bleeker, Joachim Wach, Joseph Kitagawa, Mircea Eliade, C.P. Tiele, Friedrich Pfister, Max Scheler, Georg Wobbermin, Robert Winkler, Rudolf Otto, Heinrich Frick, Gustav Mensching (2000:28-29). Nor is there much consensus on the matter, Hischmann who was a student of van der Leeuw does not include Kristensen, van der Leeuw’s teacher, on her list of phenomenologists. This is also a predominantly Dutch and Scandinavian dominated list, to which we might wish to add the further British figures of Edwin W. Smith, Geoffrey Parrinder, Ninian Smart and Wilfred Cantwell Smith.

Nevertheless, it is still a fairly safe comment to say that the phenomenology of religion began with the Dutch. Which scholar was the first phenomenologist, however, is debatable. Molendijk tells us that at the very latest the phenomenology of religion began with Gerardus van der Leeuw. Some might say that Kristensen is the first phenomenologist, and Cox is probably among this group, for his watchword ‘the believers were completely right’ (in 1969:49) has pervaded all phenomenology. Yet Kristensen had a very specific idea of what the phenomenology of religion was, and one which was far stricter than van der Leeuw’s. This general lack of clarity over what is contained in the phrase ‘phenomenology of religion’ and who are phenomenologists has generated considerable misgivings about the field. Indeed, Willard Oxtoby rightly acknowledges that there are ‘as many phenomenologies as there are phenomenolgoists’ (Oxtoby, 1968:598). Even so, we can identify three dominant forms of phenomenology. Though we can see the beginnings of such a distinction in the Kristensen’s work (he was speaking of a science of religion more generally though), it is Bettis and Smart that provide us with the most substantial classifications.

Methodological Phenomenology. In his interview, Cox spoke of how phenomenologists of religion employ Husserl’s notion of bracketing in order to let the ‘phenomena of religion speak for themselves’. The phenomenological method is characterised by the bracketing of scientific and theological theories so as not to bring any presuppositions into the study of religion. We may call this, as Bettis does, ‘psychological descriptions’, for the phenomenological method concerns itself with the activity itself rather than the object of the activity. Our focus is the believers themselves in what they do and think. It would be wrong, though, to think this idea of neutrality that underpins the phenomenological method is solely bound to Husserl’s philosophy (despite Cox’s comments to the contrary). Smart, for instance formulated his idea of methodological agnosticism almost independently of Husserl’s philosophy.

Typological Phenomenology. This type of phenomenology began with Kristensen – indeed he saw the phenomenology of religion as nothing but this – and is as Cox said in the interview, the development of typologies such as sacrifice. For Kristensen this meant a ‘systematic survey of the data’ (in Bettis 1969:36). It is the work of comparison, the consideration of data against one another for the purpose of gaining further insight into them. Kristensen maintained that this data is gathered by the History of Religion, work which later phenomenologists would bring under methodological phenomenology. Bettis refers to this as dialectical descriptions and sees this as the application of the phenomenological method to a spectrum of religious ideas, activities, institutions, customs and symbols. Smart, too, uses the phrase ‘dialectical phenomenology’ which he uses synonymously with typological phenomenology until later favouring the latter.

Speculative Phenomenology. Smart, from whom I coin the term, says of this kind of phenomenology that the data of typological phenomenology are ‘arranged according to a preconceived pattern, itself incapable of being thoroughly insulated from theological (or anti-theological) assumptions’ (2009:194-5). We can see here the work of what Cox referred to as ‘Comparative Religion’ in the interview, where much of the data is organised in gradations of superiority. And even if no gradations are made we still find much of the work of defining religion from non-religion in this area. Here we start to talk of the essence of religion, usually discovered by the eidetic intuition, which allows us to see the core of all phenomena. Bettis calls these ontological descriptions as they focused on the object of religious activity as opposed to psychological descriptions that looked at the activity itself. Good examples of this kind of phenomenology would be Eliade and Otto.

In An Introduction to the Phenomenology of Religion, Cox has made an impressive attempt to reconcile these three types of phenomenology. But we are left with the question of who are phenomenologists? Historically, not every scholar has employed all three kinds of phenomenology: are those who utilise only one or two kinds of phenomenology phenomenologists? Take Eliade for instance, he proclaimed himself to be a historian of religion and yet we regard him as one of the field’s seminal phenomenologists. And how do we define the phenomenology of religion when it incorporates all three kinds? The general disagreements within each kind of phenomenology mean that Cox’s attempt, impressive though it is, is by no means complete. Therefore, by extension, there is no complete understanding of the phenomenology of religion.

References

Bettis, J. (1969). Phenomenology of Religion; SCM Press, London

Cox, J. (2006). A Guide to the Phenomenology of Religion; T&T Clarck International, London

Cox, J. (2010). An Introduction to the Phenomenology of Religion; Continuum, London

Cox, J. (2012). “The Phenomenology of Religion”, interview with The Religious Studies Project published 16 January 2012 online at https://www.religiousstudiesproject.com/

Molendijk, A. (2000). ‘At the Cross-roads: Early Dutch Science of Religion in International Perspective’ in Man, Meaning, and Mystery: 100 yeas of History of Religions in Norway; ed. by S. Hjelde; Brill, Leiden, (pg.19-51)

Oxtoby, W. (1968). ‘Religionswissenchaft Revisited’ in Religion in Antiquity; ed. by J. Neusner; Brill, Leiden (pg.591-608)

Smart, N. (2009). Ninian Smart on World Religions Vol.1: Religious Experience and Philosophical Analysis; ed. by J. Shepherd; Farnham, Ashgate