Abstract

In this essay I consider the future prospects of religious studies or the study of religion in the context of a cultural and intellectual climate in which the “end” of modernity and the “return” of theology are being frequently proclaimed. I argue that the “old” theoretical account of religious studies together with its associated methodology, as developed by Ninian Smart, for instance, has become problematic and must ultimately be left behind. In its wake, however, I suggest that religious studies should take, and to some extent is taking, a postmodern turn. If its traditional “descriptive” and “philosophical” spheres are appropriately reconceived, we may be able to develop what some commentators have believed to be oxymoronic, namely, a “postmodern religious studies.” As a result, the “new” religious studies will eschew any unified theoretical self-definition and will best be envisioned as what Alasdair MacIntyre (in a different context) has called a “community of contested discourses.”

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