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The Historical Assessment of Speech Acts: Clarifications of Austin and Skinner for the Study of Religions

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image of Method & Theory in the Study of Religion

This essay examines Quentin Skinner's historicist use of J. L. Austin's speech act theory, corrects and clarifies some ways in which Skinner seems to misapply Austin's categories, and argues that Skinner's approach, when refined by these few adjustments, is a viable program for the historical study of religious literature. What must be lift behind in refining Skinner's project is the latter's apparent interest in an author's intentions, which is a datum absent from historical evidence. It is argued that speech acts have their effect only by means of public construal and response, and that history is an account of these construals, regardless of whether these correspond to what agents subjectively intended. The use of intentional descriptions of speech and action turns out to be a mere historiographic trope, with heuristic, but not explanatory value.

Affiliations: 1: Northern Arizona University


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