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Stop Hypostatizing

January 10, 2010

The purpose of this post is twofold: first I wanted to use my favorite word (hypostatize) and second I wanted to comment on hypostatization.

To hypostatize is to attribute some sort of existence to an abstract concept. Important examples are “Science says …” or “Religion is showing a resurgence ….” Here’s the problem, folks: “religion” doesn’t do anything. Religious practitioners can do stuff, but “religion” cannot.

Of course we use this sort of shorthand all the time; we say Japan attacked America at Pearl Harbor. But, in fact, it was particular Japanese soldiers, who were directed by particular Japanese leaders, who attacked particular Americans at Pearl Harbor.

Generally this doesn’t get us into problems; we know (upon reflection) that no essential spirit of Japan or platonic essence for the Japanese nation-state came over and manifested itself at Pearl Harbor. But this does seem to get us into trouble when we talk about “Science” and “Religion.”

I hate it when people say “Science proves X” because “Science” doesn’t do anything—scientists do. And, in addition, there are scientists who (*gasp*) even disagree with one another. I’d rather you say “this group of scientists has done this research that supports conclusion X.”

But it’s even worse when people start talking about what “Religion” does. Just this morning I saw an article that said, “in some cases, religion oppresses women.” No, it doesn’t. Sometimes those people we call religious practitioners utilize the rhetorical tropes that are authoritative in what we call their religious tradition in order to legitimate oppressive practices—but “religion” doesn’t do anything.

This is animism we’re talking about here folks. Saying “religion oppresses women” is no different than saying “the thunder god brought us a storm last night.”

5 Comments leave one →
  1. fuzzytheory permalink
    January 10, 2010 8:43 pm

    Love your last line.

  2. Beelzebub permalink
    January 11, 2010 12:18 am

    Religion really irks me and science makes me happy.

  3. A reader permalink
    January 19, 2010 2:59 pm

    Isn’t addressing an implicit reader as “folks” just as problematic?

  4. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    January 19, 2010 3:08 pm

    A reader: not to my knowledge. I don’t think anyone takes that as me projecting some sort of essential folkness (like Hegel did). But if you want to make a case that that’s what I’m doing, go for it.


  1. On Hypostatization « Cross – Crisis – Critique

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