The Category ‘Religion’ Should be the Object, Not the Tool, of Analysis

Friday, 20 July 2018: 10:30
Oral Presentation
Mitsutoshi HORII, Shumei University, Japan
The title of this paper is taken from Timothy Fitzgerald’s The Ideology of Religious Studies (OUP, 2000). Fitzgerald has been a spearhead of the group of scholars who push forward the perspective called ‘critical religion.’ This paper introduces the ‘critical religion’ perspective, and explores the implications for sociology.

A ‘critical religion’ approach suggests the category ‘religion’ and related categories, such as ‘secularity,’ should be the object, not the tool, of analysis. It pays critical attention to the ways in which certain practices and value orientations are imagined as ‘religious’ while others are regarded as non-religious ‘secular’ ones. Like any other social categories, the utilisation of the terms ‘religious,’ and its binary opposite, ‘secular,’ serve the specific interests of groups and individuals, often in relation to constitutional and political rights. Some empirical studies are emerging in this area. Given the fact that ‘religion’ is a globalised concept, there has been a potential for cross-cultural research. This appears to be an area in which sociologists can be more involved.

Furthermore, it is important to stress that the religious-secular distinction is a modern classificatory practice, which historically represents western cultural norms from the colonial era onwards. Historically, this binary authorised the colonial rules, and in the present day, it naturalises the value orientations of modern liberal capitalist nation states. ‘Religion’ and ‘secularity’ have been the categories of governance. In other words, the religious-secular distinction constitutes the imperial epistemology. Sociology emerged from the modernist thought which separates the ‘religious’ from the ‘secular.’ Thus, critical reflections on the categories of religion and secularity urge sociologists to reflect upon the imperial ideological heritage embedded in sociological discourse.