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The topic is the Academic Study of Religions and World Religions as discussed in the videos and Gill and Wiebe.Rules for the One Thought Papers• Paper should be no more than a paragraph, perhaps two if necessary. • The papers are not meant to be summaries of what you are learning, but feedback. Your paper might be a question or two about what you are learning. Therefore papers that are merely summaries will receive no credit.• Use of any outside sources will result in no credit for that One Thought Paper – they are about what you are learning in the course, not from outside sources. So, they should never be some sort of mini-term papers.• If a paper is so poorly written (bad spelling, grammar or syntax), or merely a duplication of the contents of a textbook, then it will receive 0 points • If a paper is submitted that has problems when it comes to spelling, grammar or syntax, but it is still readable, points will be deducted according to the number of errors. Plus, the paper won’t be used in responding to student’s questions and observations in the PowerPoint Videos. So proofread your papers, use your spell checkers and grammar checkers, etc.• Examples of point reductions: Not capitalizing proper names, such as typing ‘bible’ instead of ‘Bible,’ ‘christianity’ instead of ‘Christianity, etc.’ Proper paragraphs rather than a single paragraph covering an entire page. Making certain that the use of ‘?” is at the end of an actual question. Sentences that do not have a subject or a verb, in short, incomplete sentences.• If a student consistently ignores proofreading his or her papers, etc., the penalties will increase each time.• No late One Thought Papers will be accepted, except in the cases of medical emergencies, etc. Not being aware of emails, announcements or messages concerning One Thought Papers are not valid excuses for not submitting. So, do not wait until the last moment to submit your paper, it might not make it on time! Plus, if a student has plans during the term, e.g., a vacation, that will not allow them to have access to the internet, no makeups for One Thought papers will be allowed.• Papers that are not single-spaced will receive a 20-point deduction.• Do not use PAGES, Google Docs, WordPerfect or any of the ‘open source’ versions of Word, WordPerfect or Office. Everyone at USF can download Office 365 f or free from USF.• Do not submit your paper as a zip file or within a folder; just submit the document. • Do not submit a photo of your paper; they will not be accepted and will receive no credit.• If there is an issue of plagiarism, that paper will be submitted to Turnitin.com. If the paper has been plagiarized, it will not receive credit; If the plagiarism continues, then the penalty is an automatic F for the course.• Papers submitted without the name of the student will not be accepted and will not receive credit.• If a paper is considered frivolous, derogatory toward a religion or merely statements of faith (confessional), that paper will not receive credit.• Students who have done 60% or less of the One Thought Papers, then the One Thought Papers will become 30% of their final grade, with the five exams reduced to 55% of the final course grade.• Do not use your phone to submit your One Thought Papers, because your submission might fail completely or partially.• Papers are due before 11:00 PM on the final due date. • Ignorance of these rules is never an excuse.
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Gill: The Ac,.demic Study of Religion
CHAPTER 1WO: REIJ(;IOl’S STl:DIES AS AN ACADEMIC DISCIPLINE
what should the study of religion be grounded? Is religious studies a vocation? Is the
academic study of religion a science or a metaphysical exercise? Needless to say, these
are not easy questions to answer. But it is important to raise such questions for the
academic health of the field.
In her 1999 Presidential Address to the American Academy of Religion, Margaret
R. Miles, Dean and Academic Vice President of the Graduate Theological Union in
Berkeley, California, addresses concerns that are a bit different than those of Wiebe.
Miles wants to overcome the differences between the study of religion and theological studies. After identifying the three public spheres of religious studies (public
sphere, fuith communities, and the university), she advocates understanding religious
studies as a wide discursive field that is inherently interdisciplinary. Miles also raises
the issue of difference and its application to gender, racial, ethnic, and sexual issues.
After adopting a model for conceptualizing difference, she argues that it is possible
to move toward a point where inclusiveness and separation oscillate.
The Academic Study of Religion
SAM GILL
THE EMERGENCE OF AN ACADEMIC STl:DY of religion has been disappointing despite the boost it
received thirty years ago when religion entered
the curricula of state-supported American colleges and universities. The academic study of
religion as envisioned here is distinguished by
several bounding criteria:
1. The academic study of religion must not
depend upon or require of its researchers,
teachers, or students any specific religious
belief or affiliation, race, culture, or gender.
2. The academic study of religion must be sensitive to multi-culturalism: the awareness
that there are many peoples, cultures, and
religions, none of which has any exclusil’e
claims to be made with regard to religion as
an academic subject.
3. The term “religion” must be understood as
designating an academically constructed
rubric that identifies the arena for common
discourse inclusive of all religions as historically and culturally maniiest. “Religion”
cannot be considered as synonymous with
Christianity or with the teaching of religion
to members of specific traditions. “Religion”
must not be thought of as the essence of
the subject studied. “Religion” is not “the
sacred,,, ~’ultimate concern 1 ” or belief in
god (or some disguising euphemism). There
is nothing religious about “religion.”
Religion is not s11i gene,.is. There arc no
uniquely religious data.
4. The methods of the academic study of
religion are necessarily comparati,·e.
Religion is a category whose subdivisions
are categories that demand comparison.
Comparison must be understood as the play
of fit and non-fit, of congruity and incon·
gruity, rather than conformity with a preexisting pattern.
Sam Gill,. selections from «’f’he Academic Study of Religion/’ The Journal of the American
Academy of Religion LXII/4 1994, 965-9 75. Reprinted by permimon of Oxford Univernty Pms,
5. Once it is comprehended that religion designates a significant aspect of a major portion of the human population throughout
its history, dual motivations arise for the
study of religion. On the one hand is the
desire to appreciate, understand, and comprehend specific religions in their historical
and cultural particularity. On the other hand
is the opportunity afforded by the broadly
comparative category, religion, to learn
more about ourselves as human beings.
The academic study of religion, as distinguished by these criteria, has not enjoyed adequate development. As an academic discipline,
distinct from the religious study of religion, it
has failed to advance any sustainable body of
theory, any cadre of religion theorists, any substantial body of literature. The inability to articulate the academic study of religion and the
unsatisfactory defense of the place and role of
religion studies in the modern academic environment have placed departments of religion at
a low level of budgetary priority and at risk in
many colleges and universities.
In contrast, what has thrived is the religious
study of religion, that is studies in which the
scholar is studying her or his own religion or a
religion other than his or her own primarily for
the purpose or purposes stipulated by the religion studied rather than the purpose or purposes stipulated by the academy. In other
words, the study of any religion-whether one’s
own or another-in order to find God, to tran·
scend desire, or any other reason that religious
practitioners have for their religious practices,
including study, is a religious, and not an academic, study. These religious studies have long
American traditions and intellectual heritages
spanning centuries. However, it will be contended that the success of these kinds of religious studies has likely contributed to the
repressed and retarded development of the academic study of religion.
While there is a correlation of the academic
study of religion with the university and the
religious study of religion with seminaries and
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theological schools, both approaches occur in
both kinds of institutions. These approaches are
presented here as clearly distinctive, yet there is
no intent that either has inherently greater value
than the other. While these approaches have different bounding conditions it is possible that
some scholarship may simultaneously adequately satisi}’ both sets of bounding conditions. This essay argues that it is important to
make this distinction and it focuses on the
approach labeled the academic study of religion,
arguing that this approach should be the
approach fostered by the American Academy of
Religion. When the academic study of religion
rails to understand and to accept the demands of
being a member of the academic community,
which it does routinely, it embraces vagueness;
it invites its own dissolution. When the academic study of religion ignores the bounding
conditions stated above, it abandons its own
distinctiveness.
From the mid-nineteenth centmy the development of many academic fields-namely the
social sciences and, to a lesser extent, the
humanities-has emerged from and been motivated by boundary conditions similar to those
listed above. Such boundaries are demanded of
modern academic studies. Whereas such intellectual activities as Christian studies and Je.ish
studies precede and parallel the academic study
of religion, there are no counterparts to these
studies in the social sciences. The social scientific and humanistic academic enterprises often
emerged by carefully and sometimes dramatically presenting positions in opposition to
Western religious views and thereby, in contrast
to the academic study of religion, won a measure of freedom and had to respond to the
necessiry to carefully distinguish and define
themselves in terms of theory, method, and
model. The academic study of religion, rather
than arising as a field in its own right, has taken
less inspired and productive paths. It has either
simply extended to new culture areas the methods
and theories of the pre-existing approachesthat is, of the religiously motivated studies of
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Gilt: The Academic Study of Religion
CHAPTER TWO: RELIGIOUS STUDIES AS .1′ ACADEMIC D!SC!PL!NE
religion–or it has borrowed soda! scientific
methods and theories by which to study religion.
The former approach produces studies modeled
largely on Jong heritages of the study of Western
religious traditions in which history text, and
thought are emphasized. The latter produces
studies that are difficult to distinguish from the
fields in which the theories and methods are bor·
rowed. Neither approach has been much shaped
by the boundary principles outlined above.
The academic study of religion has often
failed to acknowledge what it is. It is academic;
it is Western; it is intellectual. This identification
does not mean the academic study of religion
must be narrow-minded, insensitive, irresponsible, closed, or exclusive. It does mean that
rational discourse is the basic mode of communication. It does mean that the boundary conditions stated above must be respected.
A brief critical discussion will illustrate the
difficulties of the approaches taken.
Illustrative of the failure in developing the
academic study ofreligion are the ways in which
the question “what is religion?” has been
approached. Olten the question is approached
by attempting to establish a mandate by setting
forth an essentialist definition of religion prior
to the study of the subject. This strategy correlates with the heritage of the religious stud)’ of
religion where the limits of one’s study are commonly distinguished by the nature of the data.
To study Christianity, fur example, is simply to
study things Christian. Perhaps it seemd logical to extend this principle to the general academic study of religion by arguing that the
academic study of religion is the study of data
that are distinctively and uniquely religious. A
definition of the essence of religion would function for the academic study of religion, it might
be supposed, something like doctrine or a statement of faith. But this definitional approach
requires that the religious distinctiveness of the
subject be described and defended at the outset.
The unreachable goal towards which the study
is directed, that is to understand what religion
is, is required as a precondition to the study.
Defending the mi gmeris character of religious
data retards the academic study of religion. The
etlect is a degenerating discussion of definition
while ignoring the specific historical and cultural subjects. Theory remains aloof or is the
mere restatement or explication of the statement of essence. Founding the study of religion
on essentialist definitions encourages discourse
conducted on the authority ofrision, insight, or
experience rather than rational discourse, hypothetic inference, and the application of scientific
method. Persuasion overshadows criticism.
Academic freedom is replaced by the requirements of conformity. Inarguable results pro·
duced by relying on some religious givenness
displaces academic responsibility. Comparative
study becomes the instrument of academic
proselytization, of exacting belonging. Diversity
and difference are unwelcome.
The development of the study of religion
that borrows its theories and methods from the
social sciences (or other disciplines) faces the
problem of distinguishing itself from the sources
of borrowed theories. The problem has been
tackled in several ways. One common detensc
has been to place the difference in the scholar,
by holding that religion scholars are endowed
with some special sensitivity that permits them
to use scientific theories to the end of studying
religion non-reductiYely, that is, studying reli·
gious data as religious in contrast to some
reductive interest such as that of social scientists. Perhaps as newcomers to academia there
has been a failure to recognize that all academic
studies are reductive.
Reduction means to render data in terms of
a chosen perspective, to look at a subject from
one perspective or theory among many. This
anti-reductive defense is based on an embarrassing mystification of the academic study of religion and an unfortunate misunderstanding of
academic methods. Another defense has been to
proclaim that the academic study of religion is
distinguished as interdisciplinary or eclectic in
its approach. This defense is a veil that attempts
to conceal the dearth of religion theory.
Another wav to show how the academic
study of religion has failed to adequately
develop is the treatment of comparison. The
Christian missionarv mandate has fostered
much comparative st~dy of religion as a method
of expanding Christianity. Inevitably Christian
terms, categories, and ideas ha’e been fundamental to the comparative enterprise. The pat·
ternists’ use of comparison was an extension of
this Christian understanding of comparison,
both in tenns of the categories used and the
attitude toward difference. For patternists the criteria for the religious are determined at the out·
set of the stud)’. They use comparison as the
method, the lens, by which to recognize or
identifi, “the religious” in the history of religions. In the academic stud)’ of religion com·
parison has invariably meant fit or congruity to
pre-exiting patterns or criteria. The academic
study of religion has tended to restrict compar·
ison primarily to finding similarity among dit:
ferent traditions, but this most often has meant
concocting similarities and ignoring differences.
Too much of the study ofrdigion has been simply the extension of broadly accepted patterns
and categories to data not vet rendered in terms
of these patterns. This c~mparative approach
diminishes both the broad advancement of an
understanding of “religion” and the potential
for seeing the distinctiYeness of the specific.
To hold that the academic study of religion is
necessarily comparative does not mean that
every study must compare more than one n:ligious tradition, a form now rather rare.
Comparison is at the root of all learning, but
knowledge is not advanced or of interest except
where difterence is discerned. Unfortunate!’
~ifferences and incongruities, if not simpl}’
ignored, ha’e usually been explained away.
The comparati’e operations of the academic
study of religion correlate with the broadlv held
essentialist view of religion-that is, that religion is “the sacred” or “ultimate concern” and
that the attributes of”the sacred” and “ultimate
concern” are goodness, purity, and unity, or of
the center or origin. From this approach, to
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study religion means to discern and appreciate
these desirable qualities in any culture. This is
not only a weak form of comparison, it is also a
form of imperialism because it reduces all cultures to reflections of these ideas. Furthermore,
tltis comparative approach coupled \ith a ,·ague
and romanticized understanding of religion
tends to be blind to anv potential!)’ negatil·e (as
evaluated in these same terms) aspects of religion, blind not only to the Jonestowns and the
Wacos, but also to the poverty, suftering,
oppression, and violence that are aspects of
almost every religious tradition.
In light of these remarks I want to lool:: at
specific areas within the academic study of reli gion. The heritage for the academic study of
small-scale exclusively-oral peoples is deeply
rooted in the nineteenth centurv evolutionist
studies in which the cultures ‘then labeled
“primitive” were sought for evidence of religion-in-the-making or the ur-religious or the
original monotheism. The heritage for this
study is the same as that for modern anthropol ·
ogy and the comparative study of religion.
These particular cultures and traditions were the
principal subjects for anthropological studies
well into this century and remain highly important to that field.
There is significant potential-now more
than ever-to the academic study of religion in
the study of these cultures, a potential to move
beyond the limitations set forth above. Nearly
everything about these cultures and their reli·
gions questions the assumptions and approaches
of the academic study of religion. For example,
where the academic study of religion has
depended almost exclusively on texts (scripture)
and thought as reflected in writing ( theology,
doctrine, historical documents), none of these
forms of data exists in exdusivelv-oral cultures.
One finds instead dance, ritu;l, movement,
objects. Such awareness of difference could lead
to the dendopmem of techniques, methods,
questions, and perspecti,·es that are not only
applicable to exclusively-oral cultures, but that
also open new and important areas within the
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CHAPTER TWO: RELIGIOUS STVDIES AS AN ACADEMIC DISCIPLINE
studv of all religious cultures. The implications
for the academic study of religion, for even this
one issue, are enormous.
Courses on Native American religions are
taught in colleges and universities throughout
North America. The American Academy of
Religion has recognized the area for the last
twenty years. Still, during this period few schol ars ( certainly less than a dozen) v:ithin the academic study of religion have devoted the
majority of their time to research and publica·
tion on the subject. Almost none of these schol·
ars, few as they are, did their graduate schooling
in the academic study of religion, but rather
such fields as history and anthropology. Notably
most of this group who did their graduate work
in religion studied other traditions-Hinduism,
Chinese religions, Christianity-rather than
Native Americans. During most of this tvent)··
year period the only PhD program where one
could study Native American religions was not
even in North America, but in Sweden.
Currently only a couple religion programs in
North American support study of Native
American religions at the PhD level.
The topics that have engendered lively dis·
cussion in recent years in the study of Native
American religions are revealing. Discussion has
frequently centered on whether or not active
participation in the study of Native American
religions should be restricted to those who
speak Native .-merican languages and have field
experience. Another topic of recent interest is
whether non-Native An1ericans should study
and teach Native American religions. This dis·
cussion from start to finish has explored issues
that divide along ethnic and racial lines (as even
the question was formulated).
In terms of academic criteria both these
issues are misplaced. The question of whether
or not one ought to know one’s subject in
terms of the language and cultural setting seems
to be the question of whether or not the area of
study is an academic one. For there to be any
discussion is evidence enough that it is not.
Such a discussion could certainly not occur in
other academic disciplines. If one wants to participate in the academic study of Judaism, it
hardly needs to be stated that minimally one
must know Hebrew. If one wants to contribute
to the academic study of contemporary Hindu
ritual practice, one must spend time in Hindu
communities and know the relevant languages.
The issues of language and field study are
linked to the second issue of whether or not nonNative Anlericans should teach (and it seems it
would imply also to conduct research on) Native
American religions. Here the matter has become
almost purely political and has failed to raise any
substantive academic issues. If the academic
study ofreligion understpod both what it means
to be academic and how discussions permitted
under the “religion” rubric are bounded, these
topics would be irrelevant. There is no question
that one must know languages and do field stud·
ies as appropriate to the methods and require·
ments of the larger academic community. Racial
or cultural distinctions cannot possibly be rele·
vant criteria by which to determine research or
pedagogical competence i1t any sub-field. To
hold that one race, ethnicit)•, or gender is some·
how privileged in any area of academic study is
racism and refutes important gains that have
been made this century.
These discussions of academic qualifications
are hopelessly sidetracking. Without the guiding academic context that should be provided
by the broader academic study of religion, too
often scholars in such small fields as the academic study of Native American religions simply
talk about what seems personally most impor·
tant. Native Anlerican members of the group
often talk about their experiences, both in terms
of their own tribal cultures and as Native
Anlericans (oppressed minorities in academia as
well as American culture}. Non-Native Americans frequently talk about their attempts at academic studies of Native American religions,
usually as tangential t …
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