RECENT DEVELOPMENTS IN THE ACADEMIC STUDY
OF RELIGION IN THE UNITED STATES1
Trinity College. Toronto
My aim in this contribution is to provide a brief account of the development of the study of religion in institutions in the United States of America since World War II. There is a general consensus of opinion among students of religion and historians of the field to the effect that the revival of academic interest in the study of religion in the USA dates from the early post-World-War-II period after a lengthy decline in its fortunes beginning in the mid-1920s. In the five decades since, there has been an unexpected and unprecedented growth in the scholarly study of religions in American colleges and universities, and it is my intention here to provide not only an account of this advancement but also, in the process, to sketch out the elements of an explanation.
There have been many changes and developments in institutions of higher education and in American society more generally that have significantly impinged upon this scholarly enterprise. There have been many technological advances to expand and accelerate scholarly research, improve dissemination of the results of that research, or affect pedagogy in the field; but these advances will not receive treatment here. Although such developments are of interest, it is too early to evaluate properly their full impact. In my opinion, moreover, they have not been significantly determinative in the development of the academic study of religion in the US.
Factors which have been determinative can be described as socio-
1 This contribution was also published in Wiebe 1999: 91-121. I wish here to
thank Luther Martin for his critical comments on earlier drafts of this paper, and
Martha Cunningham for her critical comments and editorial assistance with the final
version of this paper.