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Department of the Study of Religions

Critical Theory and the Study of Religions

Course Code:
158000116
Unit value:
1
Year of study:
Year 2 or Year 3
Taught in:
Full Year

This is an advanced level course which deals with three main bodies of critical theory (poststructuralist, postcolonial, and gender theory), plotting the intersections and points of departure between them. We will trace the implications that their insights offer both to the academic study of religions and to the politics of location within the western academy. Historically, the study of religions has tried to provide a means of sympathetically exploring and understanding the diverse cultures, beliefs and practices of the world using a variety of methodological approaches and orientations. However, contemporary critiques have problematised these approaches from a variety of critical and theoretical perspectives. In spite of claims within the Study of Religions to apparent neutrality, scholarly methods and assumptions play a central role in producing and maintaining cultural hegemony that has increasingly ethical implications that we need to take seriously. The aim of the course will thus be to examine the ethics and politics of knowledge within the context of the study of religions as an academic field.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

On successful completion of this course, students will:

  • Have gained an overview of the history of the study of religions in the western academy and the interface between critical theory and the field of religious studies.
  • Have acquired a comprehensive knowledge and understanding of the relationship between a variety of critical theories.
  • Have acquired a comprehensive understanding of the variety of methodologies that these approaches offer the student of religion.
  • Have reflected on the relevance of these approaches to their areas of interest.
  • Be able to evaluate critically a variety of books, journals and other sources of information relevant to the topics studied on the course.
  • Have produced detailed written work on a number of approved topics relevant to the course.
  • Have recorded and reflected on his/her experience of the subject matter on the course, particularly with regard to its application in the study of religions.
  • Have developed core skills in evaluation, self-reflection, team work, and oral presentation.

Method of assessment

Two essays (4 000 words each) (worth 35% each), one research journal (worth 30%).

Suggested reading

  • Flood, Gavin (1999) Beyond Phenomenology: Rethinking the Study of Religion, London and New York: Cassell.
  • Jantzen, Grace (1998) Becoming Divine: Towards a Feminist Philosophy of Religion, Manchester: Manchester University Press.
  • King, Richard (1999) Orientalism and Religion: Post-Colonial Theory, India and the ‘Mystic East’, New York: Routledge.