The Questions Remain the Same

This is the editorial appearing in the April issue of the Bulletin for the Study of Religion, which included a round table discussion of Bruce Lincoln’s Gods and Demons, Priests and Scholars: Critical Explorations in the History of Religion (University of Chicago Press, 2012).

by Kelly J. Baker

In November of 2012, I attended a workshop, alongside a variety of other scholars, hosted by the Study of Religion as an Analytic Discipline (SORAAAD). The workshop sought discussion about how to study religion analytically while questioning the norms and values of religious studies as a field. Over the course of an afternoon, ethnographers, anthropologists, sociologists, historians, and religious studies scholars interrogated the assumptions often embedded in the study of religious people and our own understandings of scholarly praxis. Not surprisingly, tensions emerged as scholars defended their positions and advocated for different versions/visions of religious studies. Questions about the discipline and its boundaries surfaced and retreated again and again. What is “religion”? How do we study “religion”? How are we training students in this study? What is the place of religious studies in the modern university? What is at stake in classifying something “religious”? What are our assumptions about religion? How do they color our approaches to certain topics? These questions are not new; some might even say that they are tired refrains that create more weariness than analysis. After this workshop, I realized that these questions, for better or worse, might be with us always. Many scholars have been pushing us to realize the centrality of these questions to anyone who studies religion. Critical approaches to religious studies cannot be avoided, nor should they be.

For this issue of the Bulletin for the Study of Religion, I am happy to report we feature a round table on Bruce Lincoln’s Gods and Demons, Priests and Scholars: Critical Explorations in the History of Religion (University of Chicago Press, 2012), an edited collection including “Theses on Method” and “The (Un)Discipline of Religion” to name only a few of the essays included. This volume illuminates Lincoln’s unflinching commitment to the critical study of religion as a venue to study the shared visions, perceptions, and communities of human beings.  Four scholars engage Lincoln’s work as a venue to think about critical approaches to religious studies. Marsha Aileen Hewitt, Trinity College (Toronto), evaluates Lincoln’s focus on how language and text “support social relations of domination and submission.” Gabriel Levy, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, offers a critique of Lincoln’s presentation of science. Ipsita Chatterjea, Vanderbilt University, provides a practical application of Lincoln’s methods to her own case study, the Women’s Home and Foreign Missions Society. K. Merinda Simmons, University of Alabama, argues impressively that maybe the legacy of Lincoln’s work is to scare scholars into better forms of critique.

This issue also includes a new section for our journal on teaching and pedagogy to showcase how methods and theory are important to religious studies classrooms. Please consider submitting articles about your own pedagogies for teaching and analyzing religion.

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