Thomas, Terence. 2004. ‘“The Sacred” as a Viable Concept in the Contemporary Study of Religions’. In Religion: Empirical Studies, ed. Steven J. Sutcliffe, 47–66. Surrey: Ashgate.
The academic study of religions should
be conducted under the aegis of a descriptive, non-normative, non-evaluative agenda. This is the kind of academic study of religions that should be conducted in institutions claiming to be objective and non-evaluative in their aims and in receipt of public funds gathered in a secular state which, though maintaining a religious establishment of sorts in the UK, in most other ways has abjured the religious dimension in the pursuit of public life, and where the practice of religion, of various choices, is a voluntary form of behaviour. (59)
The objective, scientific, academic study of religions and of aspects of religions, unless it specifically refers to traditions and events and contexts in which the sacred is an ineradicable factor, calls for the use of ‘the sacred’ only in appropriate contexts and the abandonment of its use as a generic term, both in order to avoid regression to theology, out of which our discipline is held to have emerged and from which it is held to have achieved its independence, and to advance progression to a system based on academic integrity, academic rigour and academic independence. (65-66)
Could the difficulties associated with the academic conceptualisation of “religion” be overcome by changing our focus instead to “the sacred”? In this interview, Jay Demerath tells me why we should define religion substantively – that is, in terms of specific attributes like rituals, deities or dogmas – but the sacred in terms of the function it serves in the lives of individuals and cultures. From this perspective, religion can be considered one of a number of potential sources of the sacred.
Jay Demerath is currently the Emile Durkheim Distinguished Professor of Sociology Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where he has been a faculty member since 1972, including ten years as Chair. Prior to UMass, he received a 1958 A.B. from Harvard and a 1964 Ph.D from the U. Of California, Berkeley before rising from Instructor to Professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and serving as Executive Officer of the American Sociological Association. Among his many publications, he is author or editor of fourteen books, including the award-winning Crossing the Gods: World Religions and Worldly Politics (2001) and the recent Sage Handbook for the Sociology of Religion (2008). The current Chair-elect of the Religion Section of the American Sociological Association, he is also past-President of the Eastern Sociological Society, the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, and the Association for the Sociology of Religion.
Grace Davie discusses the changing nature of religion, particularly in the UK and Europe following her keynote address to the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion in Milwaukee last October.
In this interview (with me… yes, you heard it, me), Professor Davie discusses the place of religion in modern Europe, paying particular attention to the place of the United Kingdom within the European context. In an effort to combat the caricatures that typify media accounts of religion in the contemporary world, Davie discusses the changing nature of religion, in academia and in the public square, and considers the impact of the arrival of new cultures into Europe, whilst reflecting on secular reactions to these.
It seems that this blog has been pretty neglected for a while now. Given my upcoming lecturing and conferencing commitments, this is unlikely to change for the next month or so. However, I thought I should give everyone an update on what has been going on with The Religious Studies Project, and highlight some of the recent material we have made available.
Firstly, we recorded a video last week to tell folk a bit more about the project. Here it is:
Secondly, we have now released seven podcasts on the following topics (follow the links for more):
- The Phenomenology of Religion
- The Cognitive Study of Religion
- Invented Religions
- The Relationship between Theology and Religious Studies
- The Insider/Outsider Problem
- Youth, Sexuality and Religion
I’ll try and get back to the blog soon, I promise. Things have just been taking rather a lot more time than expected…