Religious Studies and Comparative Methodology

The Case for Reciprocal Illumination

By Arvind Sharma

Subjects: Religion, Psychology Of Religion, Comparative Religion
Paperback : 9780791464564, 324 pages, June 2006
Hardcover : 9780791464557, 324 pages, September 2005

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Table of contents


Part I

1. Does One Religious Tradition Help Us Understand Another? A Wide Lens Approach

2. Does One Religious Tradition Help Us Understand Another? A Zoom Lens Approach

3. Reciprocal Illumination as a Formal Concept

4. Reciprocal Illumination in Relation to the Lived Experience of Other Religions

5. Reciprocal Illumination and Comparative Religion

6. Reciprocal Illumination in Relation to the Views of W. C. Smith and Mircea Eliade

7. Reciprocal Illumination and the Historical Method

8. Reciprocal Illumination and the Phenomenological Method

9. Parallelisms between Hinduism and Christianity as Further Examples of Reciprocal Illumination

Part II

10. Reciprocal Illumination within a Tradition

11. Reciprocal Illumination between Traditions

12. Reciprocal Illumination among Traditions

13. Reciprocal Illumination among Types of Traditions

14. Reciprocal Illumination between Religion and the Secular Tradition

Part III

15. Reciprocal Illumination within a Method

16. The History of Religions: Buddhism and Judaism

17. The Phenomenology of Religion and Buddhism

18. The Psychology of Religion and Buddhism

19. The Psychology of Religion and Hinduism

20. The Sociology of Religion and Hinduism

21. Reciprocal Illumination and the Dialogue of World Religions

Author Index
Subject Index

A contribution to the methodology of religious studies, this work discusses using comparison to provide mutual illumination among religious traditions while avoiding the problem of assimilating one tradition to another.


Comparison is at the heart of religious studies as a discipline and foundational to the field's methodology. In this book, Arvind Sharma introduces the term "reciprocal illumination" to describe the mutual enlightenment that can occur when a comparison is made between one tradition and another, one method and another, or between a tradition and a method. Developing the concept of reciprocal illumination through historical, phenomenological, and psychological methods, Sharma demonstrates how to use comparison, while avoiding the pitfall of treating it as merely raw material for higher order generalizations.

Arvind Sharma is the Birks Professor of Comparative Religion at McGill University. He is the author or editor of numerous books, including Sleep as a State of Consciousness in Advaita Vedanta and Methodology in Religious Studies: The Interface with Women's Studies, also published by SUNY Press.