Critics Not Caretakers

Redescribing the Public Study of Religion

By Russell T. McCutcheon

Subjects: Religion
Series: SUNY series, Issues in the Study of Religion
Paperback : 9780791449448, 296 pages, March 2001
Hardcover : 9780791449431, 296 pages, March 2001

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Table of contents



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PART I. Redescribing Religion as Something Ordinary

1. More Than a Shapeless Beast: Lumbering through the Academy with the Study of Religion

2. Redescribing 'Religion' as Social Formation: Toward a Social Theory of Religion

PART II. Dispatches from the Theory Wars

3. Writing a History of God: "Just the Same Game Wherever You Go"

4. Explaining the Sacred: Theorizing on Religion in the Late Twentieth Century

5. "We're All Stuck Somewhere": Taming Ethnocentrism and Transcultural Understandings

6. The Economics of Spiritual Luxury: The Glittering Lobby and the World's Parliament of Religions

7. "My Theory of the Brontosaurus. ..": Postmodernism and "Theory" of Religion

PART III. Culture Critics and Caretakers

8. A Default of Critical Intelligence? The Scholar of Religion as Public Intellectual

9. Talking Past Each Other: The Issue of Public Intellectuals Revisited

PART IV. Going Public: Teaching Theory

10. Our "Special Promise" as Teachers: Scholars of Religion and the Politics of Tolerance

11. Redescribing "Religion and. .." Film: Teaching the Insider/Outsider Problem

12. Methods and Theories in the Classroom: Teaching the Study of Mythis and Rituals

13. Theorizing in the Introductory Course: A Survey of Resources

PART V. Afterword




A lively critique of the study of religion in the modern academy, one that makes the scholar of religion a cultural critic rather than a caretaker of a religious tradition or a guru dispensing timeless wisdom.


Critics Not Caretakers argues that the study of religion must be rethought as an ordinary aspect of social, historical existence, a stance that makes the scholar of religion a critic of cultural practices rather than a caretaker of religious tradition or a font of timeless wisdom. From a general introduction written for a wide audience and a theoretical essay that outlines the basis of an alternative, socio-rhetorical approach to studying religion, the book moves on to a series of dispatches from the theory wars, each of which uses the work of such writers as Karen Armstrong, Walter Burkert, and Benson Saler as a point of entry into wider theoretical issues of importance to the field's future. The author then examines the socio-political role of this brand of critical scholarship—a role that differs dramatically from the type of sympathetic caretaking generally associated with scholars of religion who feel compelled to "go public. " Concluding the work is a consideration of how scholars as teachers can address issues of theory and critical thinking in the undergraduate classroom. Written with verve, Critics Not Caretakers provides a viable alternative for all those dissatisfied with the covertly political, liberal humanist approach that currently dominates the study of religion.

Russell T. McCutcheon is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. He is the coeditor (with Willi Braun) of Guide to the Study of Religion, editor of The Insider/Outsider Problem in the Study of Religion: A Reader, and author of Manufacturing Religion: The Discourse on Sui Generis Religion and the Politics of Nostalgia.


"McCutcheon makes a strong case that the study of religion is deeply flawed, and that there are important ramifications for current society and politics in these flaws. Agree or disagree with it, this book provokes the reader to think. McCutcheon's work stands alone as a critique of the pathologies of Religious Studies. "— Timothy Murphy, Case Western Reserve University

"Critics Not Caretakers represents a new paradigm in the study of religion. All serious students of theory and method in Religious Studies will need to come to terms with McCutcheon's stimulating and challenging critique of the mainstream tradition. " — William E. Paden, author of Religious Worlds: The Comparative Study of Religion