Book: Constructing Data in Religious Studies
Chapter: 9. Governance and Public Policy as Critical Objects of Investigation in the Study of Religion
This article builds on Matthew Baldwin’s critique on the current “data” of religious studies to explore the historical and biased origins of notions about the category of “religion” and “world religion” currently employed in academic and political circles. Reflecting recent trends within the field, this paper challenges assumptions about a universal, identifiable and distinct component of society and human experience called “religion” that can somehow bestow on us the tangible items and goods that are all too often presumed to be the necessary objects of our analysis. Recognizing that it is the state, particularly through public policy and law, that plays the central role in identifying what is or is not “religion” for the purposes of social governance, this paper argues for greater focus on the “data” to be found in legislation, policy documents and court rulings that can illuminate the way that “religion” is deployed to perpetuate certain privileges and social hegemonies. In so doing, it argues that scholars of religion should turn a critical eye to the “data” of recent global events that reveal the perpetual tensions that exist between the category of “religion” and broader social movements and conflict.