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Categorical Designations and Methodological Reductionism: Gnosticism as Case Study1

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image of Method & Theory in the Study of Religion

Debate continues between reductionists and non-reductionists over sui generis discourse within the academic study of religion. In this article, Gnosticism is explored as a case study for applying methodological reductionism to categorical designations. Metaphysical reductionist approaches to Gnosticism have been present in the field, rendering "Gnosticism" as a transhistorical phenomenon which is irreducible to social scientific methods. After discussing the phenomenological approach of Hans Fonas and the cognitive approach of Ioan Couliano, this article, rejecting both ontological and metaphysical reduction, advocates the application of methodological reductionism. Methodological reduction helps to shift classifications away from conflation with reality to be seen, instead, as analytical devices for theorizing first-order data. A relative approach to the function of classification tools enables us to explore the modes of relation within particular classificatio constructions.

Affiliations: 1: McGill University, Montreal, Canada


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