Words: Religious Language Matters

Words: Religious Language Matters

Words: Religious Language Matters

Words: Religious Language Matters


It is said that words are like people: One can encounter them daily yet never come to know their true selves. This volume examines what words are how they exist in religious phenomena. Going beyond the common idea that language merely describes states of mind, beliefs, and intentions, the book looks at words in their performative and material specificity. The contributions in the volume develop the insight that our implicit assumptions about what language does guide the way we understand and experience religious phenomena. They also explore the possibility that insights about the particular status of religious utterances may in turn influence the way we think about words in our language.


Asja Szafraniec and Ernst van den Hemel

So, any other deathless questions?

—Robert Creeley

It is something miraculous that words can mean at all, that such things can
be said, that there are words.

—Stanley Cavell

It is sometimes said that words are like people in that one can encounter them daily and yet not come to know their true selves. In any case, the meaning of words tends to involve more than can be grasped by resorting to a dictionary. This definitely seems to be the case for the word “religion,” as well as for the many words that it draws to itself. Despite its ubiquity today, merely encountering the word in everyday discourse does not necessarily lead to a better understanding of it. Sometimes the familiarity of a word actually occludes its sense or its multiple senses, which will be revealed only after the word is examined in contrasting contexts and under competing angles of approach. And debates since at least the 1970s have shown that the understanding of the word “religion” is continuously shifting. Just as the boundaries between religion and other spaces in society, such as politics, law, or science, are not as clear cut and as stable as they were once perceived to be, there is no stable definition of the word “religion” itself. For a long time, since the Reformation and certainly since the Enlightenment, the assumption prevailed that secularization produced a growing dichotomy between the public sphere and an increasingly private religious sphere, implying a sort of stability in the meaning of both terms, even as their relations shifted. However, the impression of the progressive triumph of secularization . . .

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