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The Superstition, Secularism, and Religion Trinary: Or Re-Theorizing Secularism

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image of Method & Theory in the Study of Religion

While a generation of theorists assumed that secularization was a necessary outcome of modernization, a newer group of scholars have argued that Western Christendom constructed a normative binary opposition between the “religious” and the “secular,” which it then attempted to impose globally. This putative binary has been interrogated in a number of ways. This paper articulates a productive recent line of approach, I initially proposed in The Invention of Religion in Japan, 2012, which was to introduce a third term—“superstition”—into the model. Succinctly put, “superstition” was often seen as both the false double of “religion” and a crucial enemy of scientific truth and the secular state. Thus, I argue focusing on the excluded term in this trinary can provide insights into the way in which all three categories are mutually constituted. It also opens the door for the re-theorization of “secularism” and its historic ideological features.

Affiliations: 1: Williams College Williamstown, ma


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