Theories and Methods in the Study of Religion
Professor Elayne Oliphant
Why study religion in a presumably ‘secular’ age? Recent trends and events have overturned the long-standing assumption that the rise of modernity would result in the inevitable demise of religion. In this class, we will explore how—far from modernity’s opposition—the very concept of ‘religion,’ as well as practices, narratives, cosmologies, and images we call ‘religious’ are situated at modernity’s core. Ultimately the course has two aims that are central to the study of religion in the present but which, at times, exist in complex tension with one another. We will both examine ‘religion’ as a particularly modern and often problematic concept, while also exploring some of the rich and diverse experiences, objects, and ontologies to which the label ‘religious’ is applied around the world. To begin, we will explore classical approaches to the study of religion, addressing how they were rooted in the epistemologies of the Enlightenment and colonial periods. In the second section, we will follow three significant transformations in the study of religion (as experience, meaning, and power). The class will conclude with a look at some of the most significant approaches to the study of religion in the present, through the lenses of media, race, gender, sexuality, embodiment, habitus, and secularism.