Book: Constructing Data in Religious Studies
Chapter: 14. Caffeinated and Half Baked Realities: Religion as the Opium of the Scholar
In the following chapter I open with a discussion on food labels – or more specifically claims of fair trade. This type of terminology is meant to persuade consumers that the food they are buying and consuming is in some way socially just. However, as can be seen in many studies on tea and coffee, fair trade is not a homogenous label, but rather a contested name that can be manipulated in bureaucratic fashions for the purpose of capitalist accumulation. I use this as a segue into Martin’s work on anti-realism, and particularly my own interest in the study of “religion.” I argue that “religion” as a category is the opium of the scholar, where a categorical tool acts like opium to conceal underlying symptoms in society, constructs realities, and obscure the scholar’s involvement in this very construction. I end with a few notes on how commodity chain studies might offer insight on how one might approach the study of religion.