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Reflections on the Limits of Reflection: An Invitation to the Discursive Study of Religion

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image of Method & Theory in the Study of Religion

It has repeatedly been claimed that the study of religion should not essentialize “religion” as an object of study that exists “out there,” waiting for us to discover and understand “it.” Reflection on the contexts and hidden agendas of concepts of religion are part and parcel of scholarly activity. But can there be an end to such a circle of reflection? This paper argues that definitions of and approaches to religion are intrinsically linked to the episteme and the discourse of the time. After clarifying the terms “discourse,” “episteme,” and “field,” this dynamic is exemplified with the emergence of the academic field of “Western esotericism.” The paper concludes that rather than looking for a better definition of religion, the academic study of religion should focus on describing, analyzing, and demarcating the religious fields of discourse. These fields are both the object of study for scholars of religion and the scholars’ habitat.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Religious Studies, University of Groningen 9712 GK Groningen Netherlands, Email:


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