Religious Studies | Interpretations of Religion
R665 | 6413 | N. Levene


Religion—as a concept, an object of study, a field—is a contested
and complex term, with many competing referents and associations. In
this seminar, we will read a variety of interpretations of the
concept of religion in the modern West that have supplied the field
of religion with some of its sustaining questions and problems.
Religious studies has no single canon of its own. But it is possible
nevertheless to identify texts that have become “classic” in the
study of religion for the light they shed on the ideas, methods, and
theories most germane to the field. To this end we will have cause
to reflect on the very relationship of idea, method, and theory, as
well as the nature of interpretation, explanation, and evaluation.
Above all, we will explore the meanings of the concept of religion
in the light of modernity, since the very possibility of studying
something called religion coincides with the demarcation of the
modern and its offspring (the premodern, the postmodern). We will
begin with the Enlightenment, and will concentrate throughout
largely on thinkers who are responding in one way or another to its
intellectual legacy. The course does not pretend to comprehensive
coverage of the most influential readings in the contemporary study
of religion, which draws freely on the disciplines of anthropology,
sociology, folklore, area studies, cultural studies, and psychology,
among others. What it privileges are simply those viewpoints that
are among the most conceptually interesting and, perhaps,
historically enduring.