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.

Wednesday, November 5 Philosophy of Religions and Global Christianities Joint Workshop and Pub Night!

Hannah Roh (Divinity PhD Student in the Philosophy of Religions):

“Interrogating Cross-Cultural Inquiry in Philosophy of Religions:  A Case Study of Self and Agency in Modern Korean Christianity”

Swift 208 – 4:30pm, adjourning afterwards to The Pub at Ida Noyes



Cross-cultural inquiries of the self in philosophy of religions can proceed to frame the philosophical distinction between ‘self’ and ‘no-self’ as a cultural distinction—between some Western religious traditions and some Eastern religious traditions. One of the more obvious examples that can apply this cultural analysis is the comparative study of the Christian self as part of the Western tradition and the Buddhist non-self as an Eastern practice. What kinds of philosophical and political problems emerge, however, when one religious tradition is historically saturated with cultural dissonance and multiplicity—that is, when the cultural encounter or dissonance between ‘East’ and ‘West’ occurs not between religious traditions, but within (and sometimes, because of) one religious tradition? When the Orthodox Church emerges as a distinct Christian tradition in the East? Or when contemporary Buddhist practices take root in North America or Europe, or when Christianity spreads (through missionary or colonial activity or for other complex reasons) over the East? Defending the significance of culturally and politically embodied historical moments, this paper considers the philosophical complexities of culturally heterogeneous religious traditions by undertaking a specific case study of selfhood and agency in twentieth century Korean Christianity. The first part of the paper will sketch the  historical elements opened up by theories of the Christian self in the West by considering contemporary works in philosophy of religion that examine modernity and subjectivity. The second part of the paper will then reflect on the implications of displacing and re-constituting those questions of the Christian self in another cultural context. Finally, I hope to open up further methodological questions concerning the political implications of cross-cultural inquiry in philosophy of religions.



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