Discourse on Civility and Barbarity

Discourse on Civility and Barbarity

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In recent years scholars have begun to question the usefulness of the category of "religion" to describe a distinctive form of human experience and behavior. In his last book, The Ideology of Religious Studies (OUP 2000), Timothy Fitzgerald argued that "religion" was not a private area of human existence that could be separated from the public realm and that the study of religion as such was thus impossibility. In this new book he examines a wide range of English language texts to show how religion became transformed from a very specific category indigenous to Christian culture into a universalist claim about human nature and society. These claims, he shows, are implied by and frequently explicit in theories and methods of comparative religion. But they are also tacitly reproduced throughout the humanities in the relatively indiscriminate use of "religion" as an a priori valid cross-cultural analytical concept, for example in historiography, sociology, and social anthropology. Fitzgerald seeks to link the argument about religion to the parallel formation of the "non-religious" and such dichotomies as church-state, sacred-profane, ecclesiastical-civil, spiritual-temporal, supernatural-natural, and irrational-rational. Part of his argument is that the category "religion" has a different logic compared to the category "sacred," but the two have been consistently confused by major writers, including Durkheim and Eliade. Fitzgerald contends that "religion" imagined as a private belief in the supernatural was a necessary conceptual space for the simultaneous imagining of "secular" practices and institutions such as politics, economics, and the Nation State. The invention of "religion" as a universal type of experience, practice, and institution was partly the result of sacralizing new concepts of exchange, ownership, and labor practices, applying "scientific" rationality to human behavior, administering the colonies and classifying native institutions. In contrast, shows Fitzgerald, the sacred-profane dichotomy has a different logic of use.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 368 pages
  • 162.56 x 238.76 x 30.48mm | 657.71g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • New.
  • 0195300092
  • 9780195300093
  • 2,005,911

Review quote

John M. Giggie's After Redemption analyzes African American political, religious, and cultural life in the Mississippi and Arkansas Delta from the 1870s through the 1910s...Does a meticulous job of excavating the worldview of its black Southern subjects. * Church History * In this perceptive study, Fitzgerald shows us just how the assumption that religion is essentially about personal belief becomes a crucial step in the construction of 'religion' as the name of a universal human experience. His emphasis is on changing configurations rather than binaries, which leads him to argue that in taking 'the religious' as the binary opposite of 'the secular' one is subscribing to an ideological enterprise. Discourse on Civility and Barbarity is an important contribution to the growing critical literature on the idea of Religion as an essentialized category. * Talal Asad, Author of Formations of the Secular * This important book continues Fitzgerald's investigations into the rhetorical uses and abuses of religion" and related terms. Here Fitzgerald leads us into close readings of primary texts from the early modern era, and shows that "religion" and "politics" and "economics" are not value-neutral descriptive categories, but modern inventions that serve the interests of a new kind of state and a new kind of market. With relentless logic, Fitzgerald cuts through the confusions, anachronisms, and nonsense that surround the modern use of these terms. In so doing, he helps us see that the way that Western social sciences have constructed the world is not inevitable, and that we need not see non-Western others through only one lens. This book will be of tremendous benefit not only to those in religious studies, but to political scientists, sociologists, and historians as well. * William T. Cavanaugh, Associate Professor of Theology, University of St. Thomas * Timothy Fitzgerald is one of the most important scholars raising questions about the category of religion today, and in this essay he makes significant new contributions. He broadens the range of the discussion to include important but neglected categories that arose along with the category of religion, most notably the secular and the political, and he traces the emergence of this discourse in English-language texts dealing with travel and governance, showing that they emerge much later than is widely assumed. Anyone seriously interested in religion simply must take seriously Fitzgerald's central claim: it is wrong to think of religion as something that exists in and of itself, as an observable, objective domain essentially distinct from other domains such as politics and economics. * Gregory Alles, Professor of Religious Studies, McDaniel College and author of Religious Studies: A Global View *show more

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