sky seen through an overarching glass ceiling


It’s commonplace in academic religious studies to take a “phenomenological” approach to the study of religion.

This is an example:

The academic study of religion requires the courage and compassion to empathetically understand the diverse worldviews of others and the willingness to learn from each. Its goal is not to show one religion is ‘right’ and all others ‘wrong,’ but rather to show what humans have found compelling in each and how each tradition has shaped history. The task in the study of world religions today is to overcome stereotypes and glimpse the wisdom found in each of these traditions (Esposito et al., 7)

Students of religion can be amicable and accommodating and appreciative.

But I keep coming back to a disturbing question: How is this approach different from saying, frankly, that the religions are irrelevant to actually knowing anything?

Because I am not convinced it is.

CITED: Esposito, John L., Fasching, Darrell J., and Lewis, Todd T. Religions of the West Today, 4th edition. Oxford UP, 2018.

sky seen through an overarching glass ceiling

5 responses to “Irrelevant?”

  1. It seems the method academic study you sited does not render religion irrelevant. It seeks to know how and what parts of religion influence society. That is relevance, to a degree. In that sense, there is a short-term relevance to such study.
    However, in not seeking truth of thought or proof of faith or the preeminence of God, it fails to provide meaningful relevance beyond pop culture, which, of course, is quite irrelevant.
    Religion, particularly a faith based on an other-centered God, is not so simply confined to the whims of cultural thought. It cannot be. Christianity, a focus on a savior who was tortured and killed in order to save those who tortured and killed him, doesn’t neatly fit into the academic study of cultural influence any more than a study of teenage love tells us anything significant about love itself.
    Things of this earth are fleeting. Things of God are eternal. An academic study of influence will not, cannot, understand nor explain it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree, Tim. It’s an acknowledgement that “religion is important” – as an explanatory variable, I’m tempted to say.

    And I understand the motivation for wanting to skirt the question of “is this religion true?” for the sake of paying attention to what the religion says, what people do, etc., particularly in the context of comparative religions. But – I think the notion of knowledge that makes it possible to do this is one that assumes that a kind of empirical-rational test of “real knowledge,” knowledge that counts as knowledge, is, at least practically, the one everyone has agreed to use. In that context, I think there’s an implication that religious knowledge is not really … knowledge. It’s something else. “Belief.” “Worldview.” Preference. Aesthetics. It’s like “I prefer cheddar to swiss.”

    I have a lot of heart for empirical rational tests of truth, a lot of the time, maybe even most of the time. But I think this approach misses something about what it means to be religious. Christian, for sure, but for that matter also what it means to be Muslim, for Muslims, or Hindu, for Hindus, etc. Because I think religious people experience their religion as knowledge, of reality.

    Liked by 1 person

    • True. And great points on other religious beliefs. Thank you for expanding my thesis.
      Knowledge is not, indeed cannot, be solely built on “facts.” Not even science can lay full claim to facts (it could be argued that the scientific methods prevent something from being considered “fact”). Knowledge, if true, must also be considered from the perspective of experience and theory and the understanding that flows from that. Inasmuch as this must, by its very definition, be true, what about religion prevents a foundation from knowledge?
      That’s the only answer I would consider. Knowledge is not so narrowly defined unless that is the bias of the person conducting the study.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, precisely.
        This raises problems of its own – at least in the context of comparative religions, because then we have to face the challenge of what we accept as true and reject as false, and why.
        But it has the advantage of not pushing that problem off to the side as if it has been resolved [by, say, The Enlightenment] when it has not been.

        Liked by 1 person

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