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"Religion" and the Problem of the Governable Self; or How to Live in a Less than Perfect Nation

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image of Method & Theory in the Study of Religion

The category "religion"—along with the binary pairs that attend it (e.g., sacred/secular, Church/State, etc.)—deserves as much attention as has been devoted by scholars throughout the human sciences to the social and political roles played by other pairs, such as pure/impure, raw/cooked, male/female, and citizen/foreigner. Just as with these pairings, the church/state binary refers not to stable and separable zones of human practice, but is part of a classification system that manages a competitive social and political economy by segmenting certain forms of behavior and organization—whether as a means to authorize or deauthorize them. When understood to refer to an inner zone of experience and feeling, the rhetorics of "religion" and "faith" should therefore be studied as techniques of governance, not as neutrally descriptive names given to pre-existent things existing in the world or in the human heart.


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