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Getting Religious Studies Right

on 2016/5/16 19:28:20 ( 3207 reads )


UNITED STATES, May 8, 2016 (The Chronicle of Higher Education by Prof. Arvind Sharma, McGill University): I should respond to Wendy Doniger's essay ("The Repression of Religious Studies," April 29, 2016, Chronicle of Higher Education, behind paywall) because I am the "Hindu" whose entry on Hinduism was substituted for her own by Microsoft Encarta in 2003. As it was put to me, some Hindus complained that they did not recognize themselves in Doniger's piece and therefore it was being replaced. My entry could have conceivably been written by a non-Hindu who presented Hinduism in such a way that followers of Hinduism could relate to it, as is sometimes the goal of the phenomenological method of studying religion.

There is a fundamental controversy in religious studies around the question: Is the ultimate nature of religion "religious" or not? According to reductive methods, the nature of religion is not "religious" but psychological, social, political, geographical, or something else. According to nonreductive methods, the nature of religion is "religious" -- the manifest assumption of theology.

There is, however, another method, known as the phenomenology of religion. A phenomenologist believes that believers believe, without necessarily believing what they believe. Perhaps what those Hindus who object to Doniger are trying to say is that they would prefer a phenomenological presentation of Hinduism, not necessarily a pious one. Such a view does not mean that only insiders can teach a religion, nor does it mean that the person presenting the believer's perspective shares that perspective.

Doniger's essay ends with a plea to defend academic freedom. I agree. The problem, however, arises when academic freedom degenerates into academic license, and academic license degenerates into academic licentiousness.

For the excellent well-reasoned full article by Dr. Sharma, click "source" above.

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