Re: Religion: definition of

Gil Hardwick (
Sat, 22 Apr 1995 04:29:58 GMT

In article <D7945J.7xz@murdoch.acc.Virginia.EDU>, The Zen Clown (mcm3s@faraday.clas.Virginia.EDU) writes:
>Before abusing someone about their lack of knowledge perhaps you should look
>at your own. As a student of religion, my undergrad research is on creating
>on "new" definition of religion, it is very obvious to me that the poster is
>putting forth a very old very tested theory of religion based in Durkheim and
>followed by several people, Leach comes to mind.

If you are referring to my valid criticism of our very own Mr Gerold
Firl, Zen Clown, I should be cautious to get something of a grip on
the idea that wannabe scholars might actually take time out study the
material before engaging others in discussion of it.

Even then, why limit such a discussion (here on religion) to Durkheim,
Leach et alia, and then neglect in so stark an omission to take into
account their own context and what they themselves may have wanted to
achieve by their work? Why Durkheim and Leach, in particular?

For that matter, why would one limit oneself to merely reading so few
of the earlier sociologists theorising on religion, instead of reading
religion itself? The map is not the territory, isn't that right? Such
limitation affords no more than a parrot-fashion regurgitation of set
undergraduate texts, inappropriate at tertiary level and certainly an
inadequate preparation allowing the neonate anthropologist to begin to
ponder purposefully and meaningfully the human condition.

May I ask you then why you would want such a brave new definition of
religion at all? What would you regard as "old", that we might have
some perspective on what you yourself may be trying to achieve? Can
you bring forth new evidence arising from your own new researches
sufficient to persuade us that what you are doing is in fact new?

Here the only sources you have mentioned in passing are old indeed!

>The defintion may not be complete in describing the institution but it does in
>fact have merit, and is a long standing defintion in anthropology. So before
>spouting off about fresher texts, perhaps you may want to review some of the
>earlier material on the subject? I have found Durkheim as enlightening as
>Geertz and Robin Horton and Tylor.

While I would express my grave doubts that something old merely by
virtue of being newly learned by an undergraduate can come anywhere
near a moment of enlightenment, Zen Clown, I must also enquire as to
what merit such a very preliminary "new" definition based on such old
secondary sources would attract in any event, apart from drawing our
attention to your undoubted hope and courage?

All your teachers would be expecting you to be doing at this stage is
familiarise yourself with the work of your predecessors surely, I would
include here the bad along with the good, prior to venturing forth of
your own volition. Don't you think?

I doubt that anyone would bother listening to your new definitions
until long after you have returned to the fold and managed to have
your supporting evidence written up and presented for due examination.
With the exception perhaps of our resident Mr Firl, who as we know
will swallow any garbage so long as it complies with his own peculiar

On the other hand, maybe it is a good thing having him around. He
and John McCarthy together do in the ultimacy of things engage some
mighty interesting threads, and demonstrate once and for all just how
ignorant some people can be that our perspective on the current state
of American intellectual life can be adjusted to reliably take into
account the reality.

Let us all trust for the moment that you will not be attracted too
enthusiastically into their company.

He who refuses to qualify data is doomed to rant.
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