Elsewhere: seeking alternatives to European understandings of “religion”

Harvey, Graham (2014). Elsewhere: seeking alternatives to European understandings of “religion”. Diskus: The Journal of the British Association for the Study of Religions (BASR), 16(3) pp. 57–68.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.18792/diskus.v16i3.54

URL: http://diskus.basr.ac.uk/index.php/DISKUS/article/...

Abstract

Problems in defining and studying religion are well known to us. What we might identify as a specific European legacy, now exported globally, could be more radically challenged by concerted efforts to respond to alternatives more positively and more robustly. This article identifies some problems for the study of religions: not only an inherited definition that privatises religion as "belief" but also a theological legacy that encourages scholarly ambitions to divine objectivity. In setting out alternatives, I propose that starting "elsewhere" will be helpful. Studies of material, performative, vernacular and lived religion establish some rich possibilities. A reconsideration of Maori tapu/taboo protocols may demonstrate the value of retheorising "religion" beginning "elsewhere" than the still normative refrain of "belief and practice" encourages. In order to more radically indicate the problems of dominant scholarly approaches (rather than solely definitional issues) I say a little about "witchery" in South Africa and the difficulties of knowing how to respond as a scholar of religion. My argument is that we must change our approaches because we have changed our definitions.

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