Encountering Religion

Encountering Religion: Responsibility and Criticism After Secularism

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    Encountering Religion
    Book Description:

    Tyler Roberts encourages scholars to abandon the conceptual opposition between "secular" and "religious" to better understand how human beings actively and thoughtfully engage with their worlds and make meaning. The artificial distinction between a self-conscious and critical "academic study of religion" and an ideological and authoritarian "religion," he argues, only obscures the phenomenon. Instead, Roberts calls on intellectuals to approach the field as a site of "encounter" and "response," illuminating the agency, creativity, and critical awareness of religious actors.

    To respond to religion is to ask what religious behaviors and representations mean to us in our individual worlds, and scholars must confront questions of possibility and becoming that arise from testing their beliefs, imperatives, and practices. Roberts refers to the work of Hent de Vries, Eric Santner, and Stanley Cavell, each of whom exemplifies encounter and response in their writings as they traverse philosophy and religion to expose secular thinking to religious thought and practice. This approach highlights the resources religious discourse can offer to a fundamental reorientation of critical thought. In humanistic criticism after secularism, the lines separating the creative, the pious, and the critical themselves become the subject of question and experimentation.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53549-6
    Subjects: Philosophy, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xvi)
    (pp. 1-20)

    In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, Rowan Williams, shortly to become Archbishop of Canterbury, published a brief meditation on grief and mourning entitled Writing in the Dust. Williams had experienced the destruction and the dust firsthand, having been near the World Trade Center when the planes hit. He begins his reflections by invoking the “last words” of farewell from those on Flight 93, sent by cell phones to their loved ones. For Williams, these “nonreligious words are testimony to what religious language is supposed to be about—the triumph of pointless, gratuitous love, the affirming of faithfulness even when...


      (pp. 23-48)

      Orsi, Braun, and Wasserstrom are only a few of the many scholars who in recent years have explored the history of the study of religion, surveyed the range of theoretical approaches to it, or undertaken genealogical explorations of the idea of “religion” itself.² This theoretical and metatheoretical work is wide-ranging and, depending on one’s perspective, demonstrates either that the field is rich, pluralistic, and multi- if not interdisciplinary or that it continues to suffer from a lack of a strong sense of purpose and theoretical grounding. Those who take this second perspective and seek to make the study of religion...

      (pp. 49-82)

      In a review essay published in 1996 entitled “Modernism and Postmodernism in the Study of Religion,” Catherine Bell off ered a provocative diagnosis of two chronic methodological debates afflicting the study of religion. Both, she says, are “variations of a fundamental polarization between ‘insider’ claims to experience something in one set of terms and ‘outsider’ claims to explain that experience in very different terms.” The first debate pits “modernists,” those who endorse methods for studying religion that explain religion in naturalistic and social-scientific terms, against phenomenologically oriented scholars who are wary of methods that “explain away” religion and who seek...


      (pp. 85-118)

      In Thank You, St. Jude, Robert Orsi explores the world of twentieth-century Catholic women’s devotion to St. Jude, the patron saint of hopeless causes. Working from Church documents, popular Catholic periodicals, and interviews with the devout, Orsi weaves, in the first six chapters of the book, a rich social history of the cult and tells a story. The basic plot is this: “in desperate circumstances [the devout] prayed to St. Jude and . . . something good happened for them.”³ Or, to put it in Orsi’s academic terms, when crisis put these women in “desperate circumstances,” their devotion to St....

      (pp. 119-144)

      At the end of chapter 2, I suggested that attention to theology as a critical discourse might help us think more generally about humanistic criticism. Having explained what I mean by humanistic criticism in chapter 3, I begin, in this chapter, to explore the boundaries between humanistic inquiry and theology. I extend my reflections on the humanistic study of religion to consider the encounter with religious texts and then examine concrete examples of such encounters in the work of two “secular” thinkers: the historian and theorist Amy Hollywood and the political theorist Romand Coles. Both show the critical work that...


      (pp. 147-172)

      To develop my ideas about the humanistic study of religion, I have drawn from a range of disciplines and methods, from the historical work of Orsi and Hollywood, the anthropology of Jackson and Mahmood, and the political theory of Coles. I turn now to philosophy, the discipline with which I most often identify my own research and scholarship. I am tempted to write “philosophy of religion” and so name a familiar location on the map of the academic study of religion. But I resist the temptation because this map is inadequate, in part because “philosophy of religion” traditionally has been...

      (pp. 173-200)

      Eric Santner’s On the Psychotheology of Everyday Life does its work at an intersection of the thought of Sigmund Freud and Franz Rosenzweig. Early in the book, Santner quotes Rosenzweig: “The concept of the order of this world is thus not the universal, neither the arche nor the telos, neither the natural nor the historical unity, but rather the singular, the event, not beginning or end, but center of the world.”² This event, Santner points out, is for Rosenzweig an event of divine revelation. Scholars of religion thus may find it tempting to see in Rosenzweig, writing in the second...

      (pp. 201-230)

      Kenneth Reinhard, commenting on Benjamin’s view of history, writes that “redemption is the not the final cause of history, but the interruption of the false totality of historical causality and contextualization by acts of critical creation and constellation.”² Such “acts” are at the heart of a conception of humanistic cultural criticism that I find opened up by de Vries, Santner, and, as I will argue in this chapter, Stanley Cavell. Such criticism depends on a distinction between historicist views of causality and context that, in locativist fashion, put the events of the past in their place, and “remembrance” as a...

      (pp. 231-238)

      In Democracy and Tradition, the philosopher of religion Jeffrey Stout argues against liberal theorists such as John Rawls and Richard Rorty that religious discourse has a rightful place in the democratic public square. He also argues that “new traditionalist” theologians such as Stanley Hauerwas and John Milbank exaggerate the separation between the church and the secular public discourse of modern Western democracies. These two claims play a major role in Stout’s effort, as I described it in the first chapter, to distinguish between secularism and his own vision of a secular, pluralist framework for public discourse. I agree with Stout...

  8. NOTES
    (pp. 239-270)
    (pp. 271-284)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 285-300)