By Timothy Fitzgerald

Lately students have started to question the usefulness of the class of "religion" to explain a particular kind of human adventure and behaviour. In his final e-book, The Ideology of spiritual stories (OUP 2000), Timothy Fitzgerald argued that "religion" was once now not a personal region of human lifestyles which may be separated from the general public realm and that the learn of faith as such was once hence impossibility. during this new publication he examines quite a lot of English-language texts to teach how faith grew to become remodeled from a really particular class indigenous to Christian tradition right into a universalist declare approximately human nature and society. those claims, he indicates, are implied through and regularly specific in theories and strategies of comparative faith. yet also they are tacitly reproduced during the humanities within the really indiscriminate use of "religion" as an a priori legitimate cross-cultural analytical suggestion, for instance in historiography, sociology, and social anthropology. Fitzgerald seeks to hyperlink the argument approximately faith to the parallel formation of the "non-religious" and such dichotomies as church-state, sacred-profane, ecclesiastical-civil, spiritual-temporal, supernatural-natural, and irrational-rational. a part of his argument is that the class "religion" has a unique common sense in comparison to the class "sacred," however the were continually careworn by means of significant writers, together with Durkheim and Eliade. Fitzgerald contends that "religion" imagined as a personal trust within the supernatural used to be an important conceptual house for the simultaneous imagining of "secular" practices and associations equivalent to politics, economics, and the state nation. the discovery of "religion" as a common kind of event, perform, and establishment used to be in part the results of sacralizing new ideas of trade, possession, and exertions practices, utilizing "scientific" rationality to human habit, administering the colonies and classifying local associations. against this, exhibits Fitzgerald, the sacred-profane dichotomy has a unique common sense of use.

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An interview is not the same as an academic paper. Yet these published usages are unsurprising, since they are part of our common discourse and trip off the tongue effortlessly. They seem entirely natural to us. The assumption that religion is not about power or politics, and when it becomes so then something is wrong, reflects a wider media and academic discourse about religion in which it is defined as essentially distinct from the secular, and thus as having a problematic relationship to it.

And just as ritual specialists in non-European cultures are held to be advertently or inadvertently embedding and legitimating gender and status inequalities, and rendering hierarchical distribution systems into immutable laws, historical evidence suggests that specific interests and classes in EuroAmerica have been served by this persuasive language. This poses a considerable dilemma because in order to get a critical hold on the term ‘religion’ and its supposedly ‘nonreligious’ binaries, we need to find some different terminology, words which have relatively stable meanings and which provide at least a temporary ground from which to view our own more ideologically weighted discourses.

12 If I were writing about it today, I would draw out more strongly the colonial context for the invention of world religions (see, for example, King, 1999), and also the part played by the concept of Hinduism in the nationalism of Hindutva (see, for example, Searle-Chatterjee, 2000). The discourse on Hinduism and on world religions more generally has a history going back to the founding of the scientific study of religion in the nineteenth century, as Despland’s article and other essays in the same volume testify; much of it derives from Christian theological traditions, substantively though not exclusively Protestant incarnational theology.

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