Fending off the social sciences

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3 Citations (Scopus)


Religionists deploy two strategies to fend off the social sciences: neutralizing the social sciences and embracing them. The first strategy, at once the more defiant and the more defensive, argues minimally that the social sciences can give only reductive, if not exclusively physicalist, answers to the key questions about religion: the questions of origin, function, meaning, and truth. For more radical religionists, the social sciences can answer only the questions of origin and function. For still others, the social sciences can answer none of the questions about religion because the social sciences study psychology, sociology, or anthropology rather than religion. All versions of this first attempt to contain the social sciences are tenuous. To take the most extreme attempt first: to assert a priori that the social sciences study the mind, society, or culture rather than religion is conspicuously to beg the question. The true nature of religion is an open issue, one to be decided by the capacity or incapacity of social scientists to analyze religion psychologically, sociologically, or anthropologically. The litany-like rejoinder that religion is religion the way literature is literature misses the point: not only is the nature of literature contested, but its nature is likewise determined by research. Literary critics not only debate the literariness of literature but do so by appealing to their capacity or incapacity to analyze it otherwise.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationReinventing Religious Studies
Subtitle of host publicationKey Writings in the History of a Discipline
PublisherAcumen Publishing Limited
Number of pages5
ISBN (Print)9781844657810, 9781844656554
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2012


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