Can the study of religion be justified? Scholarship in religion, especially work in “theory and method,” is preoccupied with matters of research procedure and thus inarticulate about the goals that motivate scholarship in the field. For that reason, the field suffers from a crisis of rationale. Richard B. Miller identifies six prevailing methodologies in the field, and then offers an alternative framework for thinking about the purposes of the discipline. Shadowing these various methodologies, he notes, is a Weberian scientific ideal for studying religion, one that aspires to value-neutrality. This ideal fortifies a “regime of truth” that undercuts efforts to think normatively and teleologically about the field’s purpose and value. Miller’s alternative framework, Critical Humanism, theorizes about the ends rather than the means of humanistic scholarship.

Why Study Religion? (Oxford UP, 2021) offers an account of humanistic inquiry that is held together by four values: Post-critical Reasoning, Social Criticism, Cross-cultural Fluency, and Environmental Responsibility. Ordered to such purposes, Miller argues, scholars of religion can relax their commitment to matters of methodological procedure and advocate for the value of studying religion. The future of religious studies will depend on how well it can articulate its goals as a basis for motivating scholarship in the field.

David Gottlieb is the Director of Jewish Studies at the Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership in Chicago. He is the author of Second Slayings: The Binding of Isaac and the Formation of Jewish Memory (Gorgias Press, 2019).

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