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Aesthetics and Analysis in Writing on Religion

Aesthetics and Analysis in Writing on Religion: Modern Fascinations

Daniel Gold
Copyright Date: 2003
Edition: 1
Pages: 314
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  • Book Info
    Aesthetics and Analysis in Writing on Religion
    Book Description:

    This book addresses a fundamental dilemma in religious studies. Exploring the tension between humanistic and social scientific approaches to thinking and writing about religion, Daniel Gold develops a line of argument that begins with the aesthetics of academic writing in the field. He shows that successful writers on religion employ characteristic aesthetic strategies in communicating their visions of human truths. Gold examines these strategies with regard to epistemology and to the study of religion as a collective endeavor.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92951-7
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION: Modern Dilemmas in Writing on Religion
    (pp. 1-10)

    Notoriously diverse in the truths they profess and the methods they use to arrive at them, most religion scholars nevertheless seem to share a fascination with the human depth of the material they study. This makes the aesthetics of writing on religion more central to the institutional coherence of their field than many of them realize. For a number of the most influential writers on religion have consistently managed to express something of the depth that they see in the data of religious life to others inside and outside the academy. And if part of what many writers on religion...

  5. PART ONE. Ambivalent Feelings

    • [PART ONE . Introduction]
      (pp. 13-14)

      THE FEELINGS THAT INTERPRETIVE WRITERS on religion bear toward their subject are extremely diverse but rarely simple. The nature of their professional work seems to dictate some ambivalence. Certainly, if the stuff of religious traditions—creation myths, liturgical display, mystical journeys—did not somehow fascinate scholars, they would not study it; but without some degree of detachment in their studies, most would not also be drawn to the academy. The gamut of interpretive writers’ attitudes toward their material runs from a condescending scientific curiosity—sometimes scornful, often empathetic—to a personal engagement that may ideally enhance the scholar’s own religious...

    • CHAPTER 1 Fascinated Scientists and Empathizing Theologians
      (pp. 15-22)

      The different ambivalences toward their subject found in present-day writers on religion derive in part from their field’s imperfect fusion of two historically distinct intellectual traditions. One of these is dominant in the social-scientific end of the field. It looks back to Enlightenment rationalism and maintains a spirit of scientific discovery triumphant in the late nineteenth century.¹ The other, more consciously humanistic, carries a spark from early-nineteenth-century romanticism that has enlivened historical studies and encouraged sympathetic directions in phenomenological work. In twentieth-century religious studies, these historical and phenomenological streams came together in a hermeneutical enterprise often carried on by self-aware...

    • CHAPTER 2 Finding Middle Grounds
      (pp. 23-42)

      In balancing analysis with engagement and detachment with empathy, interpretive writers have found distinct stances within the middle grounds of religious studies—that expansive scholarly space where head and heart come to terms with one another about the subject of religion. Scholars’ own, not always positive, personal experiences of religion (in more and less conventional varieties) have coalesced uneasily with their alternative ideas of what it means to be scientific. From the beginnings of the modern study of religion at the turn of the twentieth century, anthropologists, classicists, and biblical scholars, among others, have had intellectual encounters with obscure but...

  6. PART TWO. The Art of Writing on Religion

    • CHAPTER 3 A Creative Process
      (pp. 47-55)

      What does it mean to say that interpretive writing on religion is an art? All that is entailed in the creation and appreciation of works of art has been the subject of long philosophical discussion, so thinking about the aesthetics of interpretive writing could easily lead us into extensive ruminations on classical mimesis, romantic expressionism, and contemporary speculation about the role of institutions in the creative process. We will not, however, let ourselves be so led: all three of these broad approaches to aesthetic theory will be considered, but briefly and schematically. Still, situating the process of interpretive writing even...

    • CHAPTER 4 Other Scholars’ UFOs
      (pp. 56-68)

      Bringing evocative materials together in rationally cogent ways, interpretive writers try to make arguments that are both emotionally and intellectually compelling. Their arguments must stand, however, in a world of diverse cultural and religious sensibilities and, more crucial for our discussion here, of increasingly fragmented intellectual life. The UFOs with which interpretive writers begin—intuitions glimmering on the horizon—may gain considerable weight from carefully constructed arguments, but fissured intellectual grounds still offer religiohistorical constructs no sure place to rest. The arguments that bind these together are thus of necessityinternallycoherent. Nevertheless, decisive dynamics of a construct’s internal coherence...

    • CHAPTER 5 The Religiohistorical Sublime
      (pp. 69-92)

      The excitement elicited by interpretive writers in their readers is, it seems to me, of a distinctive aesthetic genre, generated largely by a characteristic dynamic between the intellectual structures and imaginative resonances of individual works. Yet the failure of Eliade’s intellectually static extended oeuvre to maintain that excitement over time also suggests that individual works do not exercise their appeal through that dynamic alone. Religiohistorical art also seems to need an encompassing science of religion that remains vigorous and fresh. This chapter will explore some reasons for the characteristic aesthetic appeal of interpretive writing on religion, examining the dynamics of...

  7. PART THREE. Two Truths

    • [PART THREE . Introduction]
      (pp. 95-96)

      THE AESTHETIC OF THE SUBLIME described in part 2 entails an engagement with two sorts of truth. To engage our scientific reason, interpretive writing must move toward an interesting proposition graspable by our everyday no-nonsense minds. But the dialectic of the sublime occurs only when the implications of that proposition play out within imaginative worlds that are never quite fully determined. Successful interpretive writing on religion thus inevitably presents its readers with, first, explicit statements about traditions that we can discuss with colleagues, expand, and refine; and, second, insights into the human imagination that draw us in and fascinate us...

    • CHAPTER 6 Relating Stories about Religious Traditions
      (pp. 97-112)

      To explore the scientific truths of interpretive writing, I will draw on a set of primary metaphors that differ from those used in the last section on the aesthetics of the writing per se. The language of vision used there will now yield to one of story. Instead of describing how writers “see depth” in their materials and express it in created objects, I will examine the ways in which they try to convince readers of their stories’ truth.

      Although a language of vision will still creep up on us now and then—for our aesthetic truths impinge on our...

    • CHAPTER 7 Aesthetic Objects and Objective Knowledge
      (pp. 113-124)

      The dilemmas presented to writers on religion by questions of truth, validity, and objectivity can sometimes seem extreme. Dealing with diverse religious and scholarly worlds, interpretive writers may find it hard to escape the conclusion that specific religious beliefs are in an important sense relative. Seeing those beliefs in their respective contexts, moreover, interpreters may also be all too aware of the ways these can become entangled in social structures and political programs. Religious belief, it would seem, like much knowledge, is constructed from experience and economic interest, accident and exploitation; epistemes vary by history and culture. At the same...

  8. PART FOUR. Working Together

    • [PART FOUR . Introduction]
      (pp. 127-130)

      SCIENCE SUGGESTS A COLLECTIVE ACTIVITY, but interpretive writers—whose feelings about religion are individually ambivalent—develop pronounced personal perspectives of their own. Thus arises a characteristic dilemma of public and private in the study of religion. Aesthetic depth in writing on religion comes from finding a focus for broad personal perspectives, and although that focus typically finds public articulation as a clear, if guarded, statement, the private perspective from which it derives may be unified in less than articulate ways.¹ Arising from individual visions, interpretive statements often seem isolated from one another—coexisting in a middle-range realm of religiohistorical knowledge...

    • CHAPTER 8 Interpreting Anew and Alone: Vision and Succession in Dutch Phenomenology
      (pp. 131-142)

      Among the different English renderings ofReligionswissenschaft—which include “the science of religions” and “comparative religions,” alongside “history of religions”—one sometimes also encounters the phrase “phenomenology of religion.”¹ Highlighting the “phenomena” of traditions can lead scholars, in one direction, to try to describe the stuff of religious tradition as it exists in its own right, leaving their own vision as far as possible outside the picture. In this sense, phenomenology triesnotto be interpretive. But highlighting the phenomena of religion can also lead scholars in another direction, toward abstractions about the materials of traditions, toward identifying basic types...

    • CHAPTER 9 Explaining Together: The Excitement of Diffusionist Ideas
      (pp. 143-188)

      Emerging in a fragmented discipline that fosters individual insights, group projects in religious studies have been much more the exception than the rule. Usually small-scale and short-lived, they depend on some potent combination of institutional circumstances, personal styles, and unifying ideas. As bases for public knowledge, central ideas in group projects tend to be presented in an explanatory style: they are offered as explicit formulas that anyone should be able to apply. Yet the formulas that have seemed to inspire the most projects have been grounded less in a strong causal logic than in a grand historical narrative. Indeed, what...

    • CHAPTER 10 Interpreting Together: The Cambridge Ritualists’ Affair of the Intellect
      (pp. 189-210)

      From the long-standing extended academic networks of a Germanspeaking religious order, we turn to some affectionate intellectual enthusiasms that blossomed for a time in Cambridge, England, before the First World War. For somewhat more than ten years, Jane Harrison, Gilbert Murray, and Francis Cornford—known as the Cambridge Ritualists—interacted creatively with one another in ways that were extremely fertile. The scope of their intellectual interplay also included others in classical studies—especially Arthur Bernard Cook, who is sometimes mentioned as the fourth Cambridge Ritualist—but the bonds of affection between Harrison, Murray, and Cornford were particularly intense. These affective...

    • CHAPTER 11 Concepts of Collectivity and the Fabric of Religiohistorical Knowledge
      (pp. 211-228)

      If, as in other humanistic fields, long-lived collaborative projects are rare in religious studies, small-scale collaborative volumes often seem all too common. Many of these begin with a core of like-minded intellectual friends—working together, perhaps, in ways recalling the intellectual (although not usually the emotional) dynamics among the Cambridge Ritualists. Others derive from the interaction of personal networks and public institutions, emerging out of individual panels at large academic meetings or from smaller, more intimate conferences for which an enthusiastic colleague has managed to find sponsorship. In their origins, then, edited volumes often take shape from scholars interacting in...

    • AFTERWORD: The Future of Modern Dilemmas
      (pp. 229-238)

      The individual insights crucial to public knowledge in history of religions have undergone some shifts in course at the beginning of the twenty-first century, impelled by some brisk theoretical currents of the 1980s and 1990s: postcolonial studies, literary poststructuralism, postmodern thinking on and within religion. Although those currents do not play on the surface of my discussions, they have, in varying degrees, contributed to their emergence—as they have more forcefully and obviously to the sources of approaches taken by other writers in the field. As an afterword, let me recount the way I find my own line of thought...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 239-286)
  10. Frequently Cited Sources
    (pp. 287-296)
  11. Index
    (pp. 297-304)