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    http://sir.sagepub.com/Religieuses

    Religion/SciencesStudies in

    http://sir.sagepub.com/content/40/4/419The online version of this article can be found at:

    DOI: 10.1177/0008429811420406

    September 20112011 40: 419 originally published online 14Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses

    Steven Engler'Religion,' 'the Secular' and the Critical Study of Religion

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    What is This?

    - Sep 14, 2011OnlineFirst Version of Record

    - Jan 10, 2012Version of Record>>

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    Article

    Religion, the Secularand the Critical Studyof Religion1

    Steven Engler

    Mount Royal University and Concordia University

    Abstract: This essay critically engages Timothy Fitzgeralds Discourse on Civility andBarbarity (2007), arguing that it takes an important step beyond Fitzgeralds first book,The Ideology of Religious Studies (2000), in diagnosing a current malaise of the academicstudy of religion and in modelling a way past this malaise. Highlighting this valuable

    aspect of the book, I argue, requires correcting certain problems with its argument.Specifically, there is a tension between two overarching goals: writing a critical

    history of religion as a category, and criticizing modern discourses on genericreligion. Once these genealogical and critical projects are brought into moreeffective alignment, the book models an approach where a properly critical study of

    religion begins with a contingently and strategically theorized domain of religion andexplores its relation to other domainsnot only the secular.

    Resume : Cet essai reconsidere dun il critique le livre Discourse on Civility and Barbarity

    (2007), de Timothy Fitzgerald. Il soutien quil donne un pas important au-dela dupremier livre de Fitzgerald, The Ideology of Religious Studies (2000), dans les faits dediagnostiquer une malaise actuelle de letude des religions et de modeler une piste

    alternative. Pourtant, pour accentuer cet aspect important du livre, on doit corriger desproblemes logiques avec son argument. Specialement, il y a une tension problematique

    entre les deux buts du livre : lecriture dune histoire critique de religion comme unecategorie ; et la critique des discours modernes sur la religion generique . Des queces projets genealogiques et critiques sont apportes dans une meilleure alignement, le

    livre modele une approche de grande valeur : cest le travail dune etude proprementcritique du concept de religion de le suivre ou il mene, et danalyser ses relations avecdes autres concepts.

    Corresponding author / Adresse de correspondance :

    Steven Engler, Humanities, Mount Royal University, 4825 Mount Royal Gate SW, Calgary, T3E 6K6, Canada

    Email: sjengler@gmail.com

    Studies in Religion / Sciences Religieuses

    40(4) 419442

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    Keywords

    Timothy Fitzgerald, definitions of religion, secularization, theory of religion, ideology,critical theory

    Mots cles

    Timothy Fitzgerald, definitions de religion, secularisation, theorie de la religion,ideologie, theorie critique

    Timothy Fitzgeralds Discourse on Civility and Barbarity (2007; hereinafterDCB) is an

    important book that has had an ambivalent reception.2 Its main claims are as straight-

    forward as they are salutary: important modern senses of religion emerged amidst the

    increasing differentiation in modernity of other social and ideological spheres; and,

    partly as a result of this development, religious studies isolates itself to a lamentable

    extent, intellectually and pragmatically, from politics. I argue in this essay that the

    books strengths are obscured by problems with its argument.

    My negative agenda (diagnosing these problems) is intended to support my positive

    one (clarifying the books value). Specifically, I analyze the relation between two agen-

    das: studying the history of the concept of religion, and critiquing its current use by

    scholars of religion. I argue that clarifying and reorienting the relation between these two

    agendas leads us in a slightly different direction from DCBs core claims, one still com-

    mensurate with its basic critical thrust. Once corrected for certain, primarily logical,

    problems with its argument, and against the grain of some of its own conclusions, DCB

    offers a valuable model for a critical study of religion. It casts valuable light on the symp-

    toms of a certain malaise in the field of religious studies, and this is even more the case

    once we clear the logical air to some extent.3

    DCB looks at what religion used to mean in order to conclude that it now means the

    non-secular: the secular is defined by its essential exclusion of religion; it is pre-

    cisely through the exclusion and separation of . . . modern categories such as the state,

    politics, and economics. . .

    that generic religion had appeared as a distinct and auton-omous reality (2007a: 174, 4). This avoids being an empty circle because the two are

    characterized in terms of the historical conditions of their co-emergence, with an atten-

    tion to political and economic functions of their ideological distinction. In a sense,

    DCBs core claim is that the relation between these two concepts is substantively empty,

    but that each has an effect sustained by the failure to recognize this fact. The argument is

    not a kind of teleological determinism but a case for a transition between two ana-

    lytically distinct paradigms (2007a: 276). Specifically, DCB describes a shift from

    medieval and early modern encompassing religionthe idea of Religion as the

    practice of civility (Christian Truth) contrasted with barbarityto privatized, non-political, and generic religion, something that in principle exists in all cultures and

    languages in all historical times (2007b; 2007a: 120, 298, 4). A core claim is that the

    modern view of religion has only an ideological function, one rooted in its stark oppo-

    sition to the secular. This argument involves three claims: (i) that this view is false

    420 Studies in Religion / Sciences Religieuses 40(4)

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    (i.e., there is, in fact, no essential difference between religion and the secular; the

    two are strictly inter-related as categories reinvented in the modern west); (ii) that this

    view has negative effects in terms of the distribution of power in the world (it is an

    important constituent part of modernity, exported as part of the logic of colonial con-trol and global capitalism; the construction of competitive capitalism and the idea of

    self-intere