William Arnal and Russell T. McCutcheon, "The Sacred Is the Profane: The Political Nature of Religion" (Oxford UP, 2013)


What brings us together as scholars in Religious Studies? Are the various social phenomena commonly grouped together as religion really that similar? The Sacred Is the Profane: The Political Nature of "Religion" (Oxford University Press, 2012) adds to this ongoing debate over whether 'religion' is a useful explanatory term. In general, issues of classification and the constructed nature of the category 'religion' are now a repeated themes in many scholars work. William Arnal, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Regina, and Russell T. McCutcheon, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama, argue that we need to take our analysis even further and the common practice of historicizing the word 'religion' (or the habit of putting the word in quotation marks) generally fails to reveal the ordinariness of these social practices, and thus naturalizes the idea of the sacred. Ultimately, we need to stop employing 'religion' as an analytical category because it is a first-order folk classification derived from a particular historical setting. It is our job then to redescribe activity and explain the processes of social classification and identity construction. In our conversation we discuss definitions, Disney World, discursive products, theories of signification, genre, the Cold War, secularism, estrangement, politics, Christian origins, being methodologically self-conscious, graduate study, the Toronto school of Religious Studies, and the relevance of our work's minutiae in addressing larger educational and disciplinary objectives.

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Kristian Petersen

Kristian Petersen is an Associate Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies at Old Dominion University. You can find out more about his work on his website, follow him on Twitter @BabaKristian, or email him at kpeterse@odu.edu.

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