THE SCIENCE OF RELIGION:
PRODUCTIVE AND INHIBITIVE MODELS FOR
THE STUDY OF RELIGIONS
ABDULKADER I. TAYOB
Cape Town University
The study of religion in South Africa has been extensively reviewed by Prozesky (1996) and Platvoet (1993). In his own way, each outlined the strengths and weaknesses of the discipline in this country. I want to take this process of introspection and review one step further by focusing specifically on the theoretical foundations and assumptions of the study of religion in South Africa. This paper picks up some of the challenges thrown by Prozesky's insightful comment on the state of the art in the South African study of religion:
Our theorists have been somewhat short of empirical substance, our
empiricists somewhat short of theoretical self-awareness, and our theo-
logical-orientated colleagues insufficiently aware of the extent to which,
in South Africa, Christian theology at any rate is part of the country's
The study of religious traditions or symbols often presupposes a model of religion. For the modern study of religion, Asad has argued that religion is closely related to belief and assent but not necessarily to practices and social forces.2 Such a notion presupposed a general understanding of religion in modem society; and, directly or indirectly, affected the study of religion in academia. The study of religion in South Africa has been similarly informed by broad assumptions of what religion can and should be. In particular, the experience of apartheid directly affected the meaning of religion in society and in politics, as well as the academic study of religion, in
1 Prozesky 1992b: 16; 1996: 238.
2 Asad 1986: 39.41.43.