Book: Constructing Data in Religious Studies
Chapter: 6. Objects and Objections: Methodological Reflections on the Data for Religious Studies
It has been argued that “there is no data for religion,” however, there do exist “data for Religious Studies” both in the sense that “Religious Studies” is a social formation within academia, and in the sense that scholars working in Religious Studies (and adjacent fields) have treated great masses of things in the world as givens (“data”) for purposes of their research. In spite of widespread theoretical objections which have questioned whether the category “religion” even names a distinct object of study, scholars continue to do “Religious Studies.” This essay examines the “data for religious studies,” in both senses of the phrase, concluding that scholars focused on “religion” are engaged in a colonialist and post-colonialist political/pedagogical project termed here the management of surprise. From this overview of the field and its data, the argument pivots to a closer examination of one current methodological trend, “material religion,” which emphasizes the peculiar value of material objects and artifacts as data for Religious Studies. Some prominent exponents of “material religion” (and its close cousin “lived religion”) are reviving a phenomenological, neo-Ottonian understanding of “religion” as a human response to manifestations of mysterious and transcendent non-human realities, in which they would argue material objects play an important mediatory role. Such exponents are here termed the school of the more. As an antidote to the mystifying metaphysics of presence advocated by the school of the more, this essay concludes with six theses on the study of “objects,” both material and ideal, within a “Religious Studies” conceived of as branch of the human sciences.