Theories and methods in the study of religion
My projects have been chosen not only to illuminate aspects of 'secularization' but also to cast light on methodological questions in the study of religion.
My first book manuscript (now complete) shows that the foundations of French sociology were shot through with an ethical project: finding a ‘secular’ model of moral motivation. By reading closely the works of, and conflicts between, members of the Durkheimian équipe, I excavate the two distinct ethics encrypted in Mauss’ and Durkheim’s categories for thinking about religion—and the imaginations of secularity bound up with them. The divergence between Durkheim and Mauss ultimately issued in the divergence between mana and 'the sacred,' which opens the interesting question of the lost possibilities for the study of religion encoded in mana.
I have conceived a further book project showing that each generation of French sociology figures the foregoing generation as still beholden to "theology": in each case, this purported theological residue is figured as a methodological ‘problem’ to which the new generation bravely offers a ‘solution.’ This dynamic is consistent, even as the construction of the ‘problem’ varies significantly, such that sociology’s construction varies with imaginations of the theological scourge (and, inversely, 'secularity’). Thus this project connects to my political theology project insofar as it also illuminates an aspect of secularization that (I argue) consists in a certain structuring of knowledge. It also connects to the conceptualization of secularization as the reconfiguration of religion: to articulate again and again the ‘secularizing’ dynamic is to articulate again and again—in a variety of ways—the theological tropes that allegedly have been superseded.
The postcolonial critique of the study of religion has consisted in large part in unmasking the study of religion's frameworks as beholden to Protestantism. My project taking up the relation of the narrative of secularization to that of the rise of capitalism engages the question of capitalism's silent partnership with Protestantism, in this regard.
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In teaching related to theories and methods in the study of religion, I have conceived and taught an introductory theories course by pairing readings from classic theorists of religion with feature films (see "Theory of Religion Through Film"). "Introduction to Ritual Studies" concentrates particularly on the theory of ritual--and the contested boundaries of that category. I have also designed and taught "Religion and its Critics," which covers the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century critiques of religion.