Image - street with stop lights
Stop lights, for instance, don’t get a lot of argument.

One of the topics in Craig Martin’s Critical Introduction to the Study of Religion, which the students of “Introduction to Religion” are working their way through between a couple of weeks ago and the end of the week, is “authority.” Martin is careful to point out that authority, in the final analysis, is a relationship between people, authoritative things or figures, and the interpreters and interpretations that give shape and substance to the dictates of the authorities. Still, it’s often helpful to students to have something more like a “definition” than a description.

Decades ago, the working definition I learned for “authority” was “legitimate power” or “legitimate domination.” The “legitimation” was part of the idea of “authority.” When the legitimation goes, so does the authority; maybe the power or domination remains, but not the sense that one goes along with it, if one does, because it is good and right. That still seems to be a helpful way to think about it.

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