religion essay 5 - How to Study Religion: McCutcheon's...

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How to Study Religion: McCutcheon’s Proposals and Mine The study of religion is more than just interviews, research, and speculation. In order for a scholar or interpreter to fully understand and document the practices of a religious group, the way that he or she conducts research is important, and has become an increasingly intricate and complex ordeal. Whether it is a question of the insider or outsider perspective, active or passive pluralism, or active participant research, scholars continue to argue about which is the best way to study religion. In this article, Russell T. McCutcheon explores the different ways to study religion with regards to the works of Robert Orsi and Paul Courtright. These two scholars have differing opinions on how to study religion, and while “Orsi occupies the moral high ground and chastises scholars who silence the Other, the post-controversy Courtright claims the intellectual high ground and laments when Others look us squarely in the eye and speak for themselves” (RTM 729). In order to fully understand the adverse perspectives taken by these scholars, it is first important to explore what the term “others” is referring to. The “Others” are the people of a different religion than the interpreter’s religion, whom he or she is studying. Others play a key role in the study of religion because depending on how far down the religious spectrum they lie from the scholar who is studying them, the different the approach to studying them will be. In both Orsi and Courtright’s work it is evident that “when it comes to those Others whose differences can easily be tolerated or overlooked with little or no cost, scholars in this tradition deploy a different set of tools than when their work focuses on Others for whom they feel little affinity and whose interests conflict with their own” (RTM 720). Taking this into consideration, it appears that scholars and interpreters often change their method of research depending on the group at hand. It is crucial to keep this fact in mind when exploring the theories of Orsi and Courtright because perhaps they are both correct in their ways of 1
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studying religion, and it is simply up to the discretion of the researcher which method to use in different scenarios according to the type of “Others.” McCutcheon first discusses Orsi’s work and his claim that the legitimacy of a scholar is based on “the degree to which she enters into a mutually beneficial dialogue with a consenting
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religion essay 5 - How to Study Religion: McCutcheon's...

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