Book: Constructing Data in Religious Studies
Chapter: 15. On the Seminal Adventure of the Trace
This chapter argues the work of Jacques Derrida, particularly his concept of “deconstruction,” ought not be connected to debates over whether or not reality is in part mind-dependent. Derrida’s work on the nature of language cannot be connected to these debates because, for Derrida, language only refers to itself, not an external reality. This claim has no bearing on the nature of reality or our relationship to reality; it only refers to our discourse about reality. Drawing this distinction is important for understanding the stakes of Derrida’s project and the implications of his conclusions. For religious studies, Derrida shows us that debates over how to define “religion” should not revolve around the kinds of empirical data that might fit, exceed, or contest a proper definition; rather, our interest ought to be in the ways that our discourse about religion slips away from us the moment we think we have it pinned down. In other words, the problem of how scholars can speak about religion is a problem exclusively of language rather than experience.