Manufacturing Religion: The Discourse on Sui Generis Religion and the Politics of Nostalgia

Manufacturing Religion: The Discourse on Sui Generis Religion and the Politics of Nostalgia

Manufacturing Religion: The Discourse on Sui Generis Religion and the Politics of Nostalgia

Manufacturing Religion: The Discourse on Sui Generis Religion and the Politics of Nostalgia


In this new book, author Russell McCutcheon offers a powerful critique of traditional scholarship on religion, focusing on multiple interrelated targets. Most prominent among these are the History of Religions as a discipline; Mircea Eliade, one of the founders of the modern discipline; recent scholarship on Eliade's life and politics; contemporary textbooks on world religions; and the oft-repeated bromide that "religion" is a sui generis phenomenon. McCutcheon skillfully analyzes the ideological basis for and service of the sui generis argument, demonstrating that it has been used to constitute the field's object of study in a form that is ahistoric, apolitical, fetishized, and sacrosanct. As such, he charges, it has helped to create departments, jobs, and publication outlets for those who are comfortable with such a suspect construction, while establishing a disciplinary ethos of astounding theoretical naivete and a body of scholarship to match. Surveying the textbooks available for introductory courses in comparative religion, the author finds that they uniformly adopt the sui generis line and all that comes with it. As a result, he argues, they are not just uncritical (which helps keep them popular among the audiences for which they are intended, but badly disserve), but actively inhibit the emergence of critical perspectives and capacities. And on the geo-political scale, he contends, the study of religion as an ahistorical category participates in a larger system of political domination and economic and cultural imperialism.


Thus, instead of there being a real thing, myth, there is a thriving industry, manufacturing and marketing what is called 'myth'. 'Myth' is an 'illusion'--an appearance conjured or 'construct' created by artists and intellectuals toiling in the workshops of the myth industry. Masquerading as an 'importer' of the exotic and archaic, the myth industry in fact fabricates one of the most sought-after 'exports' from the human sciences and humanities. In its myriad confusing forms, that export' supports the modern literature on 'myth'.

--Ivan Strenski

The Myth of Religious Uniqueness

This book is an adaptation and application of some methods of analysis developed by such critical theorists as Terry Eagleton, Edward Said, Fredric Jameson, Michel de Certeau, and Michel Foucault to the analysis of the often made scholarly claim that religion is sui generis. It is a study of the social and political implications of certain practices and habits of representation in the modern study of religion, for the common assertion that religion per se or private religious experience in particular, is sui generis, unique, and sociohistorically autonomous, is itself a scholarly representation that operates within, and assists in maintaining, a very specific set of discursive practices along with the institutions in which these discourses are articulated and reproduced. Insomuch as this discourse is institutionalized, it can be further identified by such related aspects as the need for distinct or unique methods for the interpretation of religious data and scholarly calls for the institutional autonomy of the scholarly study of religion. Accordingly, not only do these assorted claims arise from within, and assist in maintaining, this specific discourse on religion but the smooth functioning of the discourse has material and sociopolitical--even geopolitical--implications concerning such issues as individual expertise, social power, and politico-economic privilege. Simply put, the discourse on sui generis religion deemphasizes difference, history, and sociopolitical. context in favor of abstract essences and homogeneity. When it comes to taking . . .

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