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The Row Boat
"Had we but world enough, and time..." *
Religion and Wissenshaft10/10/2006 21:15:57
It has been really good to get going in school again, and after about a week of slow starts and orientations, classes are getting into gear at UC Santa Barbara, where I am beginning my graduate work in religious studies. I am starting with two classes that are basically rereadings of books I read as an undergraduate, one on secularism and one on sociology of religion, as well as an introduction to German. It is a good place to start, and has got me thinking in really productive ways about the vocation I am entering into, the scholar of religion.
Nobody knows quite what to call us. Our department is "religious studies," but there are lots of others: divinity schools, theology departments, departments of simply "religion." There is some worry that, along with the ethnic, black, women's, gender (etc) varieties, anything that ends in "studies" will be the first thing dropped from the university's budget. Is the study of religion a mere luxury?
Without an adequate English term, there is some envy for the German one, Religionwissenshaft, which captures what we do both precisely and elegantly. And reflecting on it, while listening to my new teachers and observing my new fellow students, has been a useul exercise for me.
The raison d'etre of this site is to explore some the personal theological consequences of doing the study of religion. This comes from the presumption that this study is historically and methodologically founded in the theological. Certain theological developments from the Reformation to the Enlightenment to the 1960s made religious studies as we know it possible in the first place. And I have noticed that the theological feelings of my teachers has always affected the way they talk, research, and teach.
Nevertheless, the word wissenshaft, ...the study of, and reading the essay "Science as a Vocation" by Max Weber, and watching my teacher Tom Carlson teach it to a class of undergraduates all remind me that this project is all made of more than our presuppositions. It has become a thing in itself, an impetus to learn about the facts and meanings of religions independent of their value, which will vary in the interpretations of different people. I have never thought so before but am beginning to believe that I must, particularly as a teacher, think of myself definitely as a scientist, a contributor to the project of knowledge as opposed to opinion, of fact as opposed to value.
If our own opinions can't rescue our ignorance and intolerance, maybe someday the mere evidences and artifacts we find can.
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re:Religion and Wissenshaft - 10/11/2006 16:01:04
In my view, anthropological inquiry is therefore an unending labor of revision and reconsideration, while political commitment requires decisive action (even calculated waiting is an action) regardless of how ignorant we are - and regardless of the fact that sometimes we may only be moving in time from one social distribution of pain and cruelty to another.
I consider my work to be both of these, necessarily. As a scholar I must take a stand and as a scientist I must enter the unending critiques and recritiques of discourse.
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