I’ve recently written some posts, e.g., here, and here, along with an essay or two about the troubles I have with scholars who now study this thing they call material religion; my difficulty is the philosophically idealist stance that yet persists despite their supposed focus upon the empirical, the tangible. For, sooner or later, the other shoe will drop and you’ll see that the artifact they’re quite literally saying they’re looking at and touching or hearing, maybe even sniffing or tasting, is assumed by them to “embody” or “manifest” some prior, ahistorical, and thus ethereal thing; sure, they might no longer call it “the sacred” but you’ll usually find it called “meaning” instead; their work makes it plain that if it is studied at this one empirical site carefully enough then you’ll be able to infer things about it that transcend that particular instantiation.
Just as something is claimed to be “an example of French culture,” for instance. Continue reading “Immaterial Culture?”
Entanglements: Marking Place in the Field of Religion
You’ve contributed much to the discourse on theory and method in the academic study of religion over the years – can you take us behind the scenes with “why” this book now, and to what sorts of questions and/or critiques in the field you’re responding to in your push to show the manner in which the “academic” study of religion rightfully constitutes primary research on “real” religions?
For whatever reason, over the years some of my work has prompted replies from other scholars—sometimes substantive, sometimes dismissive or, on occasion, even angry. So I’ve had the luxury of writing responses or rejoinders on a number of occasions, but I’ve never done anything with these pieces—not that I ought to, but they tend to represent a part of the field that, I think, often goes unnoticed. For a variety of reasons I’ve turned into an essayist and I tend to gather up pieces periodically and then publish them as a collection—a genre I certainly didn’t invent and one that is not so distinct from a monograph as some might wish to think—and so the idea of collecting these responses, and then writing new introductions to each, contextualizing the occasion etc., seeing it all as an example of scholarly discourse at work, rather than a finished product, occurred to me about a year or so ago. Continue reading ““New Books on the Edge” with Russell T. McCutcheon”
There’s been lots of buzz, over the past decade or so, about material religion or embodied religion, as if this apparent emphasis on the empirical, the contingent, the historical, somehow gets us out of what many now see as the old rut of studying disembodied beliefs alone. Continue reading “Eliade Has Not Left the Building”