Assessing social-scientific theories of religion

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Abstract

A common conviction is that no objective criteria exist for evaluating rival social-scientific theories of religion. The choice of a theory—for example, of a psychological rather than sociological theory, or, within psychology, of Freud's theory rather than Jung's—seemingly reflects mere personal, subjective preference. Thus only an author's use of a social-scientific theory, not the theory itself, ever typically gets evaluated. Various social sciences or specific social-scientific theories do often get promoted—most recently, for example, a sociological approach to ancient Israel and early Christianity. But a sociological approach invariably gets measured against a philological or theological one, not against other social-scientific ones. The failure to compare rival social sciences or theories within them doubtless stems partly from the difficulty of the task: from the need for the kind of breadth which specialization in a single discipline or theory bars. The failure surely stems more deeply from the assumed impossibility of the task: from the assumed absence of objective criteria for evaluating competing theories. What “subjectivists” assume is threefold. First, they assume that to explain a phenomenon one must have an approach of some kind, whether labeled a perspective, pattern, paradigm, gestalt, or worldview. Undeniably, this assumption is correct. Without some approach one would have no organized analysis, or explanation, at all, which is exactly what a discipline or theory provides.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationReinventing Religious Studies: Key Writings in the History of a Discipline
PublisherAcumen Publishing Limited
Pages69-76
Number of pages8
ISBN (Print)9781844657810, 9781844656554
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)

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  • Cite this

    Segal, R. A. (2012). Assessing social-scientific theories of religion. In Reinventing Religious Studies: Key Writings in the History of a Discipline (pp. 69-76). Acumen Publishing Limited.