The Science of Religion and the Sociology of Knowledge: Some Methodological Questions

The Science of Religion and the Sociology of Knowledge: Some Methodological Questions

Ninian Smart
Copyright Date: 1973
Pages: 174
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    The Science of Religion and the Sociology of Knowledge: Some Methodological Questions
    Book Description:

    Ambitiously undertaking to develop a strategy for making the study of religion "scientific," Ninian Smart tackles a set of interrelated issues that bear importantly on the status of religion as an academic discipline. He draws a clear distinction between studying religion and "doing theology," and considers how phenomenological method may be used in investigating objects of religious attitudes without presupposing the existence of God or gods. He goes on to criticize projectionist theories of religion (notably Berger's) and theories of rationality in both religion and anthropology.

    On this basis he builds a theory of religious dynamics which gives religious ideas and entities an autonomous place in the sociology of knowledge. His overall purpose is thus "to indicate ways forward in the study of religion which free it from being crypto-apologetics or elevating poetry."

    Originally published in 1978.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6888-9
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. preface
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. chapter 1 The Science of Religion
    (pp. 3-23)

    The aim of this book is to investigate the nature of the science of religion, and to show that such a scientific study does not reduce religion away. Many people, it is true, consider the very idea of looking at religion scientifically to be absurd and even distasteful. Absurd, because a scientific approach is bound to miss or distort inner feelings and responses to the unseen. Distasteful, because science brings a cold approach to what should be warm and vibrant. These hesitations about the enterprise are fundamentally mistaken, though understandable. They are mistaken precisely because a science should correspond to...

  5. chapter 2 Religion and Theology
    (pp. 24-48)

    To give flesh to the methodology, it is useful to consider how one would set about delineating Buddhism in Sri Lanka (Ceylon: I shall in this chapter use the more familiar but now incorrect “Ceylon”). I take the example partly because of my relative familiarity with the subject-matter, but also because it represents a fairly determinate area of inquiry. Incidentally, since this chapter was in its preliminary form, a book has been published on Ceylonese Buddhism,Precept and Practiceby Richard Gombrich, which is both a remarkable combination of historical and contemporary data and an illustration of the kind of...

  6. chapter 3 The Nature of the Phenomenological Objects of Religion
    (pp. 49-73)

    As we have seen, the phenomenological approach implies bracketing. Does this involve a reduction of religious entities to mere items of human belief? I wish to argue that this is not so, but I shall argue it in a different way from usual. For, on the whole, those who have opposed reductionism have tried to do so by establishing the actuality of the divine or of the Holy. They take as it were a step into theology. By contrast, I wish here to establish a method of looking at the objects of religious experience and belief which neither brings heaven...

  7. chapter 4 Religion and Projection
    (pp. 74-91)

    Perhaps the most perceptive recent theoretical work in the sociology of religion isThe Sacred Canopyby Peter Berger (published also in England under the titleThe Social Reality of Religion). In giving a dialectical picture of society and religion, he is able to synthesize elements drawn from Durkheim, Max Weber, and Marx. A useful starting point for the critique of Berger’s theory is a long quotation which follows his discussion of numinous experience. It is useful precisely because here some of our previous arguments are directly relevant. He writes: “If one grants the fundamental religious assumption that another reality...

  8. chapter 5 Religion and Rationality
    (pp. 92-109)

    One reason for importing outside categories to explain or to explain away religion is that rationality is estimated in a certain way. Sometimes the outside criteria of rationality, if I may describe them in this slightly misleading fashion, are thought to give a better perspective on religion. This is argued by Alasdair MacIntyre in his entertaining article “Is Understanding Religion Compatible with Believing?”¹ He writes: “We can only understand what it is to use a thoroughly incoherent concept, such as that of a soul in a stick, if we understand what has to be absent from the criteria of practice...

  9. chapter 6 Within and Without Religion
    (pp. 110-134)

    Although hitherto I have been treating phenomenology chiefly in terms of description—that is, as a method of eliciting and evoking the meaning of religious beliefs and practices from the point of view of those who take part in them—this does not imply that the scientific study of religion should neglect explanations. Indeed, one main point of describing matters accurately and sensitively is that they can then be explained, or can help to explain other matters, without doing so at too cheap a price. For only a small price is paid by those explanations which already are half-contained in...

  10. chapter 7 Compatibilities and Religious Materials
    (pp. 135-148)

    In considering the way intra-religious explanations may relate to other structural explanations (such as those in psychology of religion beginning, say, from the Freudian account of the structure of the human psyche), I am thinking of the latter as being fairly general theories, rather than those very particular studies which often animate the pages of theJournal for the Scientific Study of Religion—studies of the rate of divorce among Californian Jews or Chicagoan Polish Catholics and the like. It is not that these studies are unilluminating. But let me give an analogy. Some children are passionately interested in ships...

  11. chapter 8 Further Reflections
    (pp. 149-160)

    It has been part of the thesis of this book that a religious system is somewhat like a collage. Particular elements—historical, geographical, and so on—that lie to hand are woven together with the blocks of materials of which I spoke in the previous chapter. Let us put this concretely in the following example.

    In the New Testament, the writers are beginning to come to terms with the figure of Jesus. It is possible to say that he was the founder of Christianity, but this may conceal something rather important. I am not here concerned with the old question...

  12. bibliography
    (pp. 161-164)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 165-165)