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).
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
Manuscript Submission Information
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- history of religion
- philosophy of religion