Anil Mundra on Naturalness and Normativity in Religious Studies

Anil Mundra (University of Chicago):

“The Natural, The Normative, and the Study of Religion”

Wednesday, October 28th, 4:30pm: Swift 200

The religious studies academy routinely opposes descriptive or historical to prescriptive or constructive methodologies—witness the categories of the AAR’s book awards, and the committees of the University of Chicago’s Divinity School. Such a bifurcation reflects an ambivalence about the nature of religion: some of us are to conceive of religion as naturally or historically determined, such that it is subject to an explanatory analysis; others must view it as a free activity, such that it is susceptible to injunctive intervention. The dilemma, in short, is whether the academic study of religion is to be normatively evaluative or not. Integrating the insights of thinkers from Hegel to Donald Davidson, I will argue that normativity is an ineliminable (even if often implicit or invisible) element of humanistic description; and that, insofar as religious studies claims to study human agents it inevitably has humanistic dimensions. These dimensions depend on the ability of scholars to recognize the equal humanity of those that they study, which proceeds not only from an imperative to fairness, but more rigorously from the admission that both scholars and their subjects are at once historically conditioned and free.

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