This piece recommends the implicit
as a resource for examining normativity within the study of religion. Attention to the implicit serves at least two purposes toward this end. First, it gives the scholar of religion a clearer sense of the norms of the communities she seeks to understand, norms that, depending partly on one’s methodological commitments, may be evaluated as well as described. Second, it deepens the scholar’s reflections on the implicit norms that guide her own work. These claims—which extend the work of Tyler Roberts, Kevin Schilbrack, and Thomas A. Lewis—are embedded within specific understandings of language and mind as drawn from Robert Brandom and Peter Ochs. Brandom and Ochs help speak to the questions of whether the academic study of a religious tradition can or should evaluate that tradition, answering “yes” and “it depends”, respectively. This presents scholars of religion with both a challenge and an opportunity. The challenge is that religionists no longer have recourse to a strict distinction between fact and value. The opportunity is that, by linking implicit facts and values to explicit analysis and evaluation, scholarly investigations can be expanded in both descriptive and prescriptive contexts.
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