[skip to content]

Department of the Study of Religions

Theory and Method in the Study of Religion

Course Code:
15PSRC010
Unit value:
1
Year of study:
Any
Taught in:
Full Year

This course is offered both as a training MA programme in the Studies of Religions and available for First Year research students in the Department. Though conceived as one unit, the course can be divided into 3 major components:

  1. Examining the place of the Study of Religion in postmodern thought with particular reference to critical theory and the works of Nietzsche, Foucault, Derrida, Vattimo, Agamben.
  2. Introducing hermeneutics as a response to the ‘postmodern condition’ and the basis for a relevant theoretical approach to the Study of Religion. For those interested in interpreting data, texts and phenomena relating to religion, hermeneutics might provide the tools to concentrate on this task by examining the contributions of Schleiermacher, Dilthey, Husserl, Heidegger, Bultmann, Ricouer, Gadamer and Habermas.
  3. In line with critical hermeneutics and the ‘dialogical disposition of language’, the final part of the course covers a reflection on ‘Otherness’ and the Self-Other encounter as exemplified in the works of Levinas, Bakhtin, Gramsci and de Certeau.

Despite the overwhelming presence of western theorists, the course aims at fostering a positive dialogue with the diversity of other philosophies and religious experiences.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

On successfully completion of the course the student will:

  • Have acquired a sound knowledge of theoretical issues facing religion in postmodern thought
  • Have acquired an understanding of philosophical hermeneutics.
  • Be able to critically apply hermeneutics to the interpretation of data, texts and phenomena relating to religion.
  • Have acquired an understanding of ‘theories of dialogue’ as possibleanalytical tools in the study of religions.
  • Be able to produce two substantial research essays, one of which should stress the relevance of the aforementioned theories with reference to a particular religious tradition.

Scope and syllabus

Introducing Hermeneutics as a response to the ‘postmodern condition’ and as a basis for a relevant theoretical approach to the study of religion. For those interested in ‘interpreting’ data, texts and phenomena relating to religion, Hermeneutics might provide the tools to concentrate on this task by examining the contribution of Schleiermacher, Dilthey, Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Bultmann, Ricoeur, Gadamer and Habermas.

In line with critical hermeneutics and the ‘dialogical disposition of language’, the final part of the course covers a reflection on ‘Otherness’ and the Self-Other encounter as exemplified in the works of Levinas, Bakhtin, de Certeau and Gramsci. Despite the overwhelming presence of western theorists, the course aims to foster a positive dialogue with the diversity of other philosophies and religious experiences. The course is comprised of a two-hour lecture and one hour seminar per week. Students are expected to contribute to the course by conducting in turn the seminar - discussing the topic of the previous week's lecture - either through class presentation or by proposing common readings around which to centre the discussion.

Method of assessment

Given the emphasis on theoretical reflection, the students’ progress will be assessed through a variety of different systems, aimed at developing an all-around critical capacity:

  • One Analytical Report: 2,500 words - 20% of the final mark
  • One Book Review: 1,000 words  - 15% of the final mark
  • One essay: 5,000 words - 55% of the final mark
  • One Class Presentation: approximately 30 mins.  - 10% of the final mark

Suggested reading

  • Flood, Gavin (1999) Beyond Phenomenology: Rethinking the Study of Religion,
  • King, R (1999) Orientalism and Religion. Postcolonial Theory, India and the ‘Mystic East’, New York: Routledge.
  • Nietzsche, F (1996) On the Genealogy of Morals,
  • Taylor, M C (1998) Critical Terms for Religious Studies.
  • Vattimo, G (2002) Nietzsche: An Introduction.