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The Un-translatability 1 of Religion, The Un-translatability of Life: Thinking Talal Asad’s Thought Unthought in the Study of Religion

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image of Method & Theory in the Study of Religion

Abstract Every scholarly attempt to define—and, by extension, theorize, interpret, and conceptualize—religion is based on the sovereign “force of decision.” Such theory-decision translates religion into a symbol or category, accounting for it, separating and releasing it from what Talal Asad calls the “not so easily varied” disciplinary practices that constitute life. In this separation of “religion,” life becomes a spectator (theoros) to itself. Asad’s argument about the impossibility of defining religion, connected to his contention that “life is essentially itself,” helps us think about the un-translatability of life. Closely paralleling Nietzsche and Heidegger’s reflections on existence and memory—but largely unthought by contemporary theorists of religion—Asad’s thinking about religion is a refusal to historicize life.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Religion and Culture Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia 24061 USA


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