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Critical Terms for Religious Studies provides vocabulary with which religious diversity can be effectively described and responsibly discussed. Each essay provides a concise history of a critical term, explores the issues it raises, and puts the term to use in an analysis of a religious work, practice, or event. Moving across Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Native American and Mayan religions, contributors explore terms ranging from experience, territory, and image, to God, sacrifice, and transgression.
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Taylor humanities, Williams Coll. has edited an intriguing resource for scholars of religious studies. While its title gives the false impression that this book is similar to a dictionary, it is actually a collection of 23 essays devoted to critical terms such as body, gender, God, and time. The contributor list reads like a who's who in religious, philosophical, and literary studies, and each term is explored in its widest theological and philosophical dimensions. Special emphasis is placed on each term's development and association with particular religious works, rituals, events, and worships. The attempt to be inclusive of all religions succeeds, although there is a predominance of Christian-based work. Of special interest are the essays on gender, body, time, and territory, areas of study presently in vogue. Though this book is intended for serious scholars, lay readers genuinely interested in religious studies will find it a rich source. Recommended for all libraries, especially theological ones.--Glenn Masuchika, Chaminade Univ. Lib., Honolulu
With contributions on the terms: belief, liberation, modernity, relic, time, transformation, transgression, gender, rationality, and 13 others, various essays explore the uses of and meanings attributed to each term within such religions as Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Native American and Mayan religions. Each essay provides a history of the term, explores the issues it raises, and puts it to use in an analysis of religious works, practices, or events. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226791579
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 8/1/1998
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 430
  • Sales rank: 1,191,269
  • Product dimensions: 6.75 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Read an Excerpt

A guide to Critical Terms for Religious Studies

University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2003

University of Chicago
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-226-79156-4

Chapter One

An excerpt from the introduction

A century that began with modernism sweeping across Europe is ending with a
remarkable resurgence of religious beliefs and practices throughout the world.
From Protestant and Catholic churches in America to Orthodox churches in
Russia, from temples in Israel and mosques in Iran to temples in India and
mosques in Indonesia, religion is flourishing. As the millennium approaches,
spiritual concerns pervade the personal lives of a growing number of
individuals and are ever more significant in the political affairs of nations.
Neither the private nor the public sphere can be understood today without an
adequate appreciation for the role religious beliefs and practices play in
shaping selves, societies, and cultures.

For many students of modernity and postmodernity, this widespread revival of
religious activity has been unexpected and remains puzzling. In the eyes of
some of its most influential prophets and analysts, the progressive advance
toward modernity is supposed to be inseparable from a gradual movement away
from religion. As Gustavo Benavides points out, "a condition of modernity
presupposes an act of self-conscious distancing from a past ora situation
regarded as naive." While modernity and modernism are not the same, they are
closely related and mutually constitutive. "If we understand modernity,"
Benavides continues, "as involving a kind of perpetual critique, the parallels
with the distancing techniques and polemical intent of aesthetic modernism
become apparent; indeed, literary, and aesthetic modernism in general, can
help us grasp the oppositional, distancing, and self-referential nature of
modernity" (chapter 10, "Modernity"). Modernity, according to this analysis,
defines itself in and through the constitution of and contrast with its own
other. Throughout the course of the so-called modern era, this other has
assumed a variety of guises ranging from the "primitive" and "aboriginal" to
the "ancient" and "traditional." The constitutive contrast between the modern
on the one hand and, on the other, the primitive, aboriginal, ancient or
traditional implies a related set of oppositions, which includes, inter alia,
emotion/reason, intuition/thought, superstition/science,
undifferentiation/individuation, and simplicity/complexity. For many who
celebrate modernity and its expression in modernism, these contrasts are not
equivalent but are ordered in such a way that the latter term is privileged
over the former. When understood diachronically, this hierarchical structure
leads to an interpretation of history in which the movement from primitivism
to modernism involves a progression from emotion to reason, undifferentiation
to individuation, simplicity to complexity, and superstition to science.
Following the maxim according to which ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny,
proponents of this evolutionary vision of history tend to associate religion
with infantile and primitive behavior, which either is or should be overcome
by mature individuals who live in the modern world.

The decline in religious belief and practice in many modern societies has not,
however, been merely a matter of growing intellectual sophistication and
psychological maturation but has also been the result of important political
and economic factors. It is undeniable that the fate of religion has been
decisively influenced by the rise of the secular nation-state and concurrent
spread of a market economy. The modern nation-state emerged from the ashes of
religious conflicts that ravaged Europe in the wake of the Protestant
Reformation. As Bruce Lincoln notes in his essay on "Conflict," with Hobbes's
formulation of

a social-contract theory that derived legitimacy from the people who
constitute the nation, rather than from God, the early modern state was
freed of its ideological dependence on the Church, and increased its power
at the latter's expense, assuming an ever larger share of functions that had
previously fallen under religious purview: education, moral discipline and
surveillance, social relief, record keeping, guarantee of contracts, etc.
Conversely, the scope and influence of religious institutions (now in the
plural, instead of the singular) were greatly attenuated, as religion -
disarticulated from its symbiotic relation with the state - was reconceived
as an element of a rapidly expanding civil society, in which competing
institutions and forms of discourse (arts, sciences, philosophy, secular
ideologies, journalism, popular folk wisdom, etc.) also had their place.
(chapter 3, "Conflict")

As recently as the 1960s, historians and social theorists insisted that
modernization and secularization were inseparable. In addition to the shift of
social, political, and economic power from church to state, advances in modern
science and technology led to the gradual disenchantment of the world and
experience in it. In the mechanistic universe defined by Descartes and
described in encyclopedic detail by Enlightenment philosophers, there seemed
to be little room for either divinity or things divine. With the supernatural
in full retreat, God first withdrew to a deistic heaven to watch His creation
from afar and then seemed to disappear from the lives of His erstwhile
followers. From this point of view, as modernity waxes, religion seems to

But matters are considerably more complex than this unidirectional line of
historical development suggests. To identify modernization merely with the
eclipse of religion is to fail to discern the religious dimensions of
modernity itself. Religious devotion and belief do not simply disappear but
initially are inwardized in a way that renders them as invisible as the
transcendent God who is present as an abiding absence. This interiorization of
religion begins with Luther's turn to the individual self and reaches closure
with Kierkegaard's singular individual for whom "the paradox of faith is an
interiority that is incommensurable with exteriority." Imagining an encounter
with the knight of faith, Kierkegaard's pseudonymous author Johannes de
Silentio marvels:

The instant I first lay eyes on him, I set him apart at once; I jump back,
clap my hands, and say half aloud, "Good Lord, is this the man, is this
really the one - he looks just like a tax collector!" But this is indeed
the one. I move a little closer to him, watch his slightest movement to see
if it reveals a bit of heterogeneous optical telegraphy from the infinite, a
glance, a facial expression, a gesture, a sadness, a smile that would betray
the infinite in its heterogeneity with the finite. No! He is solid all the
way through. (Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling)

If, as Kierkegaard finally admits, the knight of faith is indistinguishable
from the philistine, opposites collapse into each other in such a way that it
becomes impossible to distinguish religious from non-religious conduct.

Such a dialectical reversal of the religious into the secular and vice versa
lies at the heart of the philosophy of Kierkegaard's lifelong foe: Hegel.
While Kierkegaard insists that the private interior of individual subjectivity
provides refuge for religious life in a world that is increasingly secular,
Hegel maintains that processes of modernization do not result in the
disenchantment of the world but actually involve what is, in effect, a
sacralization of nature and history and a naturalization and historicizaton of
religious realities. Within Hegel's speculative philosophy, the natural world
and human life are nothing less than the self-embodiment of God. According to
this theological scheme, the incarnation is not a unique event limited to the
lifetime of a single individual but is a universal process that reaches
completion in the modern west. Hegel summarizes his conclusion in the closing
lines of the Phenomenology of Spirit:

The goal, Absolute Knowledge, or Spirit that knows itself as Spirit, has for
its path the recollection of the Spirits as they are in themselves and as
they accomplish the organization of their return. Their preservation
regarded from the side of their free existence appearing in the form of
contingency is history; but regarded from their comprehended organization,
it is the science of knowledge in the sphere of appearance; the two together
comprehend history; they form the recollection and the Calvary of absolute
Spirit, the actuality, truth, and certainty of his throne, without which he
would be lifeless and alone. Only

from the chalice of this realm of spirits
foams forth for Him his own infinitude.

As Absolute Spirit is embodied in nature and history, truth is gradually
revealed first in religious symbols and artistic images and then translated
into philosophical concepts. Speculative philosophy brings this incarnational
process to closure by comprehending the modern secular world as the
realization of divine life.

While the theological and metaphysical presuppositions of Hegel's
philosophical project might seem dated, the complexity of his dialectical
vision enables us to discern religious dimensions of modernity that less
sophisticated interpreters overlook. Even when appearing resolutely secular,
twentieth-century culture is haunted by religion. From Mondrian's theosophical
painting to Le Corbusier's purist architecture, from Kafka's Kabbalistic
parables to Derrida's deconstructive criticism, from Joyce's eucharistic
vision to Madonna's pop music and videos, and from Alexander Graham Bell's
telepathic spiritualism to cyberculture's telematic mysticism, religion often
is most effective where it is least obvious. When analysis is historically and
critically informed, it becomes clear that the continuing significance of
religion for contemporary culture extends far beyond its established
institutions and manifest forms.

* * *

Though religion does not disappear even when it seems to be absent, there has
nonetheless been an extraordinary revival of traditional religious belief and
practice in recent years. How is this unexpected development to be
interpreted? There is, of course, no simple answer to this difficult question.
While the revival of religious institutions always depends upon complex local
conditions with long and often tortuous histories, several general factors
shed light on the growing significance of religious belief and practice.

The first noteworthy consideration is the close association between the
processes of secularization and modernization on the one hand, and, on the
other, westernization. The modern nation-state and market economy are, as I
have noted, western inventions. The relationship between modernization and
westernization has meant that for many societies, the price of modernity is
the repression of local customs and traditional institutions. Political reform
and economic development combine to promote the spread to western hegemony
whose protean forms range from the machinations of military power to the
fascination with consumer culture. When confronted by the growing power of
institutions that seem alien, many individuals and groups turn to traditional
forms of religion to legitimize strategies of resistance designed to secure a
measure of independence and autonomy. Bruce Lincoln's keen observation once
again is helpful:

In recent years, contradictions between nation and state have also
manifested themselves in a particularly debilitating fashion. Where this is
so, it has proven relatively easy for militant factions of the population to
wage aggressive campaigns, in which they seek to redefine the principles on
which nation and state are constituted, and the ways in which they relate to
each other. Among the instruments they have used for mobilization, religious
discourse and practice have often been among the most effective, just as
their appeals to a sense of religious community have been among the most
powerful bases for a novel sense of collective identity. (Chapter 3,

The westernization that this tactical revival of religion is fashioned to
resist is inseparably bound to accelerating processes of globalization. While
the growth of a global economy has been the focus of much attention lately,
global culture is not a new phenomenon. From the emergence of the earliest
trade routes, through the spread of imperialism and colonialism, to the
appearance of postindustrial information society, globalization has been a
function of advances in transportation and communications technologies. As
people and information move greater distances at faster speeds, different
cultures are brought into closer contact, thereby creating the possibility for
both mutual understanding and violent conflict. In the late twentieth century,
speed, which has become an end in itself, produces a sense of vertigo that
many people find utterly disorienting. When culture is commodified and
currencies telecast, the line separating cultural suprastructure from economic
infrastructure becomes obscure. Global capitalism promotes global consumerism,
which, in turn, fuels global capitalism to create a circle that is as vicious
as it is efficient. While analysts frequently stress the importance of the
globalization of capital, they usually overlook the no less significant
globalization of labor. The deterritorialization of capital is inseparable
from the nomadization of labor. Multinational corporations cannot operate
without a multinational work force. From the managerial and technocratic elite
to an uneducated and unskilled underclass, workers circulate throughout the
world along networks of exchange that form material shadows of the immaterial
currencies pulsating at the speed of light through fiber optic webs.

This nomadization sometimes promotes a cosmopolitanism in which the
differences separating people and societies seem less important than shared
outlooks and values. But deterritorialization and nomadization can also lead
to a sense of alienation created by the necessity of living and laboring in a
strange society and a foreign culture. For people uprooted physically,
psychologically, and politically, traditional religions once again become
attractive. Summarizing the complex interplay between modernization and
religion in his controversial book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking
of the World Order
, Samuel Huntington argues:

Initially, Westernization and modernization are closely linked, with the
non-Western society absorbing substantial elements of Western culture and
making slow progress towards modernization. As the pace of modernization
increases, however, the rate of Westernization declines and the indigenous
culture goes through a revival.


Excerpted from A guide to Critical Terms for Religious Studies

Copyright © 2003
by University of Chicago.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1
1 Belief 21
2 Body 36
3 Conflict 55
4 Culture 70
5 Experience 94
6 Gender 117
7 God 136
8 Image 160
9 Liberation 173
10 Modernity 186
11 Performance 205
12 Person 225
13 Rationality 239
14 Relic 256
15 Religion, Religions, Religious 269
16 Sacrifice 285
17 Territory 298
18 Time 314
19 Transformation 334
20 Transgression 349
21 Value 365
22 Writing 383
Contributors 395
Index 399
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