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Keywords for Religion 101

June 8, 2009

One of my central goals for my introduction to religion course is for students to learn and be able to use accurately a number of critical concepts. A month or so ago I sat down and wrote out all the key concepts I think they should be able to utilize with some degree of precision by the end of the semester. Here’s the list:

  • socialization
  • identity
  • social position
  • social hierarchy/social structure
  • reproduction
  • habitus and practical sense (in Bourdieu’s sense)
  • reification/naturalization
  • privilege
  • social construction
  • legitimation/justification
  • status quo
  • domination
  • desires
  • interests
  • behavior
  • social role
  • social codes/moral norms
  • projection
  • dominant group
  • minority group
  • cultural toolbox
  • conceptual toolbox
  • ideology
  • authority
  • asymmetrical/disproportionate power relations
  • exploitation

I don’t really care which religious traditions we learn about and apply these concepts to—what’s more important is their ability to use the concepts.

Can you think of any that aren’t here that should be added?

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Vidya permalink
    June 8, 2009 11:14 am

    It’s disheartening that I encountered almost none of these sociological concepts in the course of earning *two* degrees in religious studies.

  2. June 8, 2009 1:38 pm

    Hmm, what a fascinating example of how language and ones conceptual framework effects how one might relate to a subject.

    I think I would avoid a class which approached religion that way. But ideally if I were going to learn religion I would like to learn it from a hieromonk from the 9th century.

  3. Eric Thurman permalink
    June 8, 2009 2:23 pm

    Thanks for the list. I’ll have to look it over more closely later, maybe when I turn back to my own version of REL 101, but for now two terms and one question about some others.

    Hegemony (though that might already fit under “domination” and related terms).

    Colonialism (’cause how can you not include it?)

    Question: what about terms like ritual, myth, numinous, sacrifice, rites of passage, etc. and “religion” itself? I’m down with the social/anthropological approaches and appreciate the need to be clear about the concepts they use. Just wondering where your list leaves more conventional (if debated and contested) terms from religious studies.

  4. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    June 9, 2009 9:20 am

    Sophia, I wonder if anything short of faith-based instruction would suit you?

    Eric, Yes! Hegemony needs to be on the list. And colonialism, how could I have missed that?! I just realized when you mentioned it that I don’t, in fact, talk about colonialism AT ALL in my 101 course. Yikes, that’s a pretty serious oversight. I’ll have to think about ways I might incorporate it.

    About the other terms: in the idea of “cultural toolbox” I include rituals, myths, texts, key figures, etc., as elements in the toolbox.

    I don’t use numinous, “the sacred,” hierophany, or any of that Eliade-type history of religions language. I tend to think it obscures more than it reveals.

    I do talk briefly about “rites of passage,” but mostly in my discussion of an essay by Bourdieu, called “rites of institution.” He argues that what’s most important about so-called rites of passage is not that they pass individuals from one stage of life to another so much as they attach a social identity on an individual. So he basically reads rites of passage as giant social label machines.

    About the concept of “religion”: for better or for worse this is something I have very very strong views on. I feel too strongly about it to bring it up in class—students probably wouldn’t understand my views and dismiss them and I’d get pissed that they weren’t taking this issue as seriously as I do … yea.

    So I dodge any in depth discussion of the issue like this: there aren’t any universal features common to all the cultural traditions that we colloquially call “religions.” Well discuss in this course some features that are common to many, although I don’t mean to imply that they’re somehow fundamental or central–they’re just relatively common features of those cultural traditions we colloquially call “religions.”

  5. June 9, 2009 5:32 pm

    Well ultimately no. If I were to learn about religion it would be to deepen the practice of it not to make a social critique of it. So it would really only make sense to learn about it from within the tradition.

  6. canadian permalink
    October 30, 2009 12:39 pm

    I’m not an academic but I have a B.A. in Religious Studies from a department that was very into “numinous, “the sacred,” hierophany, that Eliade-type history of religions language”. Many of the concepts you list seem to be more sociological. (Not that one can’t study the sociology of religions.)

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