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Reappropriating 'religion'? Constructively reconceptualising (human) science and the study of religion

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image of Method & Theory in the Study of Religion

In the study of religion there is much discussion, to put it simply, between those arguing for a humanistic or for other forms of a non-reductionist study of religion and those opposing "the humanistic manoeuvre" and what they see as attempts to retheologise the discipline. Donald Wiebe, whose work occupies centre stage in this article, participates extensively in these debates and is a fervent spokesperson for the latter group. In this article I want to inject in these debates Latour's constructivist perspective on science. Such a perspective involves a call to "go beyond the centrality of beliefs" and hence involves a quite different view on human beings and science from those underlying the debates. Similarities with Cantwell Smith's work are shown and a suggestion is made to jointly discover/construct a symmetrical anthropology that will be useful to the study of religion. The main argument, however, is that from this new perspective, which should stimulate renewed debate about "the role of belief" and other issues, the warnings by Don Wiebe against the introduction of extra-scientific motives and against a blurring of the line between religion and the study of religion remain valid.


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