Special Issue "Description, Prescription, and Value in the Study of Religion"

A special issue of Religions (ISSN 2077-1444).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (1 September 2017)

Special Issue Editor

Guest Editor
Dr. Bharat Ranganathan

Center for Theology, Science and Human Flourishing, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN 46556, USA
Website | E-Mail
Interests: religious ethics; philosophy of religion; religion and science; theory of religion

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

Despite sharing a common object of study, the academic study of religion is commonly divided into two (purportedly incompatible) sides. On the one side is the descriptive approach, which includes (among others) social-scientific, textual, and historical scholars, who seek to account for religion as it has been practiced. For these scholars, the study of religion ought to be “neutral” or “scientific” in its approach to religious data. On the other side is the prescriptive approach, which includes (among others) philosophers of religion, religious ethicists, and theologians, whose scholarship is confessional, evaluative, and/or prescriptive. For these scholars, the study of religion is enriched through the examination, evaluation, and prescription of religious beliefs and norms.

Emerging scholars are routinely informed that the academic study of religion is concerned with researching and teaching about religion and not with the researching and teaching of religion. This division within religious studies is nothing new—it has confronted the field at least since the separation of “religious studies” and “theology” faculties within Dutch universities—and does not seem like it will soon disappear. But is this divide desirable or even tenable? Some scholars believe so, holding that the academic study of religion, properly understood, ought to be delimited to the analysis and description of religion. But such a view is generally understood to exclude those who pursue constructive and prescriptive scholarship, which is problematic at least insofar as such scholars believe that they are properly at home within religious studies.

The contributors to this focus issue are trained primarily in either descriptive or prescriptive methodologies. Through their respective contributions, they highlight how they understand and may offer ways past the seemingly ossified division within religious studies, focusing especially on the nature and place of value in the study of religion. Why is such an intervention necessary? The division sustains (at the very least) intellectual separation among religious studies scholars—scholars are more often than not trained only in the language and methodology of their respective subfields and thus cannot host conversations across (sub)disciplinary lines. The divide between competing approaches also fosters animosity within the study of religion, with religionists engaging in internecine debates about what is and isn’t the properly scholarly posture. Given these divisions, there isn’t consensus about what religious studies, as a discipline, uniquely offers to the study of religious data. That is, it is difficult to distinguish religious studies from the other academic disciplines with which religionists are already in conversation.

Dr. Bharat Ranganathan
Guest Editor

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Keywords

  • comparison
  • description
  • history of religion
  • method
  • normativity
  • philosophy of religion
  • prescription

Published Papers (5 papers)

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Editorial

Jump to: Research

Open AccessEditorial Description, Prescription, and Value in the Study of Religion
Religions 2018, 9(1), 10; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9010010
Received: 23 August 2017 / Revised: 25 December 2017 / Accepted: 25 December 2017 / Published: 2 January 2018
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Abstract
The study of religion is commonly divided into two sides. On the one side is the descriptive approach, including social scientific and historical scholars who seek to account for religion as it has been practiced. On the other side is the prescriptive approach, [...] Read more.
The study of religion is commonly divided into two sides. On the one side is the descriptive approach, including social scientific and historical scholars who seek to account for religion as it has been practiced. On the other side is the prescriptive approach, including religious ethicists, philosophers of religion, and theologians who seek to evaluate and prescribe religious practices and beliefs. But is this divide desirable or even tenable? Some scholars believe so, holding that the proper aim of religious studies ought to be delimited to the analysis and description of religious phenomena. Such a view, however, excludes those who pursue prescriptive inquiry. The contributors to this focus issue are trained primarily in either descriptive or prescriptive methodologies. Through their respective contributions, they highlight how they understand and may offer ways past the seemingly ossified division within religious studies, focusing especially on the nature and place of value in the study of religion. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Description, Prescription, and Value in the Study of Religion)

Research

Jump to: Editorial

Open AccessArticle Taxonomy Construction and the Normative Turn in Religious Studies
Religions 2017, 8(12), 270; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8120270
Received: 1 September 2017 / Revised: 4 December 2017 / Accepted: 6 December 2017 / Published: 13 December 2017
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Abstract
Jonathan Z. Smith contends that a taxonomic agenda underlies the study of religion. Before Smith, structuralist scholars saw it as their task to uncover the roots of human taxonomic arrangements that present themselves as natural. Drawing somewhat anachronistically on Smith’s taxonomic model, I [...] Read more.
Jonathan Z. Smith contends that a taxonomic agenda underlies the study of religion. Before Smith, structuralist scholars saw it as their task to uncover the roots of human taxonomic arrangements that present themselves as natural. Drawing somewhat anachronistically on Smith’s taxonomic model, I argue that underlying investigative categories posed by structural anthropologists are operative strategies of subjective value and valuation. I employ Smith to amend structuralist classificatory paradigms and to speak to questions of normativity, values, and concealed agendas in the contemporary study of religion. Smith’s comparative program serves as a fertile territory of encounter between divergent religious studies subfields. In short, I argue that although the normative turn in religious studies has generally succeeded in deconstructing appeals to scholarly objectivity, it faces challenges along other parameters. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Description, Prescription, and Value in the Study of Religion)
Open AccessArticle The Implicit as a Resource for Engaging Normativity in Religious Studies
Religions 2017, 8(11), 253; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8110253
Received: 31 August 2017 / Revised: 2 November 2017 / Accepted: 6 November 2017 / Published: 19 November 2017
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Abstract
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 [...] Read more.
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. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Description, Prescription, and Value in the Study of Religion)
Open AccessArticle Intelligibility and Normativity in the Study of Religion
Religions 2017, 8(11), 234; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8110234
Received: 23 August 2017 / Revised: 20 September 2017 / Accepted: 13 October 2017 / Published: 25 October 2017
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Abstract
In his essay “The Devil in Mr. Jones,” J. Z. Smith issues a call. If religionists do not, he writes, “persist in the quest for intelligibility, there can be no human sciences, let alone, any place for the study of religion within them.” [...] Read more.
In his essay “The Devil in Mr. Jones,” J. Z. Smith issues a call. If religionists do not, he writes, “persist in the quest for intelligibility, there can be no human sciences, let alone, any place for the study of religion within them.” How should Smith’s call be construed? In other words, what constitutes the “quest for intelligibility”? And what (if anything) differentiates the religionist’s quest for intelligibility from that of other humanistic scholars? Taking as my starting point Smith’s call, I will mount a constructive proposal. On my proposal, religionists should conceive their task as twofold. First, religionists should comparatively describe religious phenomena. Second, they should evaluate these phenomena. Only if the practices of description and prescription are tethered will religious studies succeed in its quest for intelligibility. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Description, Prescription, and Value in the Study of Religion)
Open AccessArticle Naturalism, Normativity, and the Study of Religion
Religions 2017, 8(10), 220; https://doi.org/10.3390/rel8100220
Received: 1 September 2017 / Revised: 19 September 2017 / Accepted: 20 September 2017 / Published: 10 October 2017
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Abstract
This article repudiates the common view that the study of religion, in order to qualify as academic, must be descriptively neutral and naturalistic rather than normative or prescriptive. Following philosophers like John McDowell, John Cottingham, and Tyler Roberts, I claim that such a [...] Read more.
This article repudiates the common view that the study of religion, in order to qualify as academic, must be descriptively neutral and naturalistic rather than normative or prescriptive. Following philosophers like John McDowell, John Cottingham, and Tyler Roberts, I claim that such a methodological stance amounts to viewing humans as determined rather than free agents. On the basis of W.V.O. Quine and Donald Davidson’s analysis of translation, I argue that normativity is ineliminable from humanistic scholarship, which is itself inextricable from religious studies. Robert Pippin and Thomas A. Lewis’s readings of Hegel then provide resources to reconcile human freedom and constraint in religion. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Description, Prescription, and Value in the Study of Religion)
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