Methods for the Study Religion; Presuppositions of the Western
Reading: Ch. 11 “ The Nature of Religion,” pp. 541-566
Most approaches (anthropological, sociological, psychological) shared a conviction that
religion is a social and psychological phenomenon that can be analyzed scientifically
using intellectual tools from the outside.
From the mid 20
century onwards, scholars argued that one needs to give voice to
communities of belief. And one needs to give voice in cultural descriptions to terms and
concepts that are internal of the community. We need to work harder to understand the
perspective of religious people from a scholarly standpoint. As scholars we need to look
at what it is that religious people believed, perceived and understand than what we are
ETIC description – one that describes in detail all the elements of something noting
patterns, etc from the outside, aspiring to or claiming scientific objectivity. Aspires to
represent faithfully of a practitioner of the religion.
EMIC description – tries to bracket out his/her own perspective/prejudices on something
and try to describe the events, as it might be understood by somebody practicing the
religion. Aims to give an insider’s perspective on religion.
Phenomenology of Religion
Is based on scholars, Rudolf Otto, who wrote book called “The Idea of the Holy”. Otto
argues that human awareness of t he divine is an overpowering and fascinating mystery
and that this divine power (refrains to be calling it God to be inclusive of other religions)
is experienced across religions but it may be articulated differently, however it is
powerful, it is awe inspiring, profoundly moving, and Otto names this power, the
numinous (the intuition of the sacred, a concept coined by German scholar Otto in his
famous work the Idea of the Holy, refer r ing to the idea of a pr imer, sacred, divine power,
experienced by people all over the world but expressed and articulated differently but it is
an awe inspi ring power, expressing a sense of sacredness that moves and inspires people
everywhere, to which it is difficult to give voice).
Was a Romanian scholar who concluded his career at University of Chicago. Edited the
encyclopedia of religion. Called himself a historian of religion following the new tradition
of Otto. Also speaks of the variety of religions as responses to the intuition of the sacred
in existence. All tradit ion experience this intuition of divinity, of sacredness, expressed
differently and this is the way we should approach religion.
As scholars of religion we attempt today to analyze religion on their own terms. To
represent as much the insiders perspective as to provide descriptions from the outside (to