Religious Studies in the Humanities of the Future: The Problem of Good
As postmodernism becomes old hat and old and new religious traditions grow in intensity and influence around us, the secular humanities risk becoming an atavism. But how can the renewed appeal of religious traditions be taken seriously by the academy without undermining its humanistic ideals of mutual intelligibility and public reason-giving? The dominant approaches in the academic study of religion—social scientific and phenomenological—are not up to the task, as they wittingly or unwittingly feed the specifically western malaise of suspecting “religion” while embracing a nebulous “spirituality.” As individuals fade into the subjective, the social and political are lost; the shared world vanishes as well. The “sacred” transcends the worldly—or is dismissed by it. In neither case do we come close to understanding the appeal of the religious traditions which are reshaping our world.
To find a way of appreciating and criticizing religious traditions, as well as of facilitating dialogue between traditions and with secular institutions, we would do well to abandon the category of the sacred for the category of the good. The problem of evil has been used for fruitful study and comparison of religious (and secular) traditions for a century, but doesn’t take us far into (or beyond) these traditions; it’s a threshold issue. Approaching religious (and other) traditions through the concrete goods they wonder at and the ways they problematize these often fragile goods can lay the foundation for a kind of deeper understanding—sympathetic yet critical—worthy of the humanities.
Mark Larrimore (United States)
Assistant Professor of Religion and Philosophy
Eugene Lang College and Graduate Faculty of Social and Political Science
New School University
Author of numerous articles in the history of ethics and religious ideas and editor of "The problem of evil" (Basil Blackwell, 2001).
(30 min. Conference Paper, English)