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74.1schmidt

74.1schmidt

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Published by Vaishnavi Jayakumar

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Published by: Vaishnavi Jayakumar on Mar 24, 2014
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The Invention of World Religions: Or, How European UniversalismWas Preserved in the Language of Pluralism (review)
Leigh Eric Schmidt
Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Volume 74, Number1, March 2006 , pp. 229-232 (Article)
Published by Oxford University Press
For additional information about this article
 Accessed 23 Mar 2014 12:03 GMT GMT
 
Book Reviews22
perception” (123), which prepares the way for Derrida’s “radical uncertainty of 
différance
” (123). The general trajectory, then, is summarized as the following:“Each operates by identifying and dismantling a false apodicity, showing theplay of shadows for what it is, like the prisoners in Plato’s cave who releases theblinkers on the others” (123). The key question that troubles the remainder of the book comes from Mark C. Taylor’s 1992 essay “nO nOt nO” in which heasks “is his [Derrida’s] nonsaying a saying? A denegation?” (123). Rayment-Pickard’s response to this difficult question is to posit a series of responses thatbegin with a consideration of Jacques Derrida as a “negative theologian” (JohnD. Caputo) and ends with the possibility of Derrida as a “Kantian idealist”
á la
Kevin Hart. Between these two theological poles lies, of course, the “khora,”which serves as an impasse, making a conclusive exposition of Derrida’s theol-ogy impossible. This impossibility, however, is an “apophasis of khora,” whichinvites speculation on a “Christological heterology” (163) as well as other figurationsof the multiple that do not compromise the radicality of Derridean anti-theology.This final meditation on the failure of closure/completion and the primordialstatus of the “chiasmus” as the other figure in philosophy offers a careful reasser-tion of the deconstructive principle of indeterminacy. Herein lies the signifi-cance of Rayment-Pickard’s title: Is Derridean “indeterminacy” theology’simpossible God? One could argue, as the author does, that it is.With its clear discussions of Husserl, Heidegger, and Derrida and its reas-sessment of philosophical impossibility through the lens of theology,
ImpossibleGod 
 is an important addition to current discussions in religious theory.
doi:10.1093/jaarel/lfj037
Victor E. Taylor
Advance Access publication January 9, 2006
York College of Pennsylvania andThe Johns Hopkins University 
The Invention of World Religions: Or, How European Universalism WasPreserved in the Language of Pluralism
. By Tomoko Masuzawa. University of Chicago Press, 2005. 359 pages. $19.00.
In this ambitious work on the nineteenth-century science of religionsTomoko Masuzawa makes the “the world religions discourse” part of the criticaltheorist’s anatomy theater (xiv). On the surface the patient might look healthy enough—the inherited talk of ten to twelve world religions no more than anhonest attempt to reckon with the global plurality of faiths. But the anatomistknows better, and the knife will expose the malignancies within the discourse,the hidden racial and imperial presumptions of European universality. Some-times the demonstration proves spectacular, “the current epistemic regime”exposed, if not excised (xii); at other times the exhibition proves painful towatch in its blunt execution.Masuzawa positions her work within the larger turn toward historical analy-sis of the discourses that have shaped the study of religion from the seventeenth
 
 230Journal of the American Academy of Religion
through twentieth centuries. The fourfold schema of Jewish–Christian–Muslimpagan that had long held sway in early modern compendia and dictionaries wasgradually broken up in the middle decades of the nineteenth century. Thatmodel was replaced by longer lists of “national,” “universal,” or “great” reli-gions, and these late nineteenth-century representations, in turn, crystallized by the 1920s and 30s into a taken-for-granted “world religions” classificatory sys-tem. Masuzawa does a fine job of setting out that history, in so far as she cares tocredit such empirical or documentary endeavors. Her own chosen method of discourse analysis delights in textual fissures, precipices, gaps, billows, and black folds, so her historical narrative necessarily does not convey a strong sense of precision, connection, or meticulous contextualization. Indeed, even when itlooks like Masuzawa is quite capable of pinning down the history of “world reli-gions” as a category—unearthing a crucial entry in the Encyclopaedia Britannicain 1884 by C. P. Tiele, for example—she readily slips back into a preferred rhet-oric of opacity, “the uncertainty of the appellation,” the various indeterminacieslurking within the discourse’s “compromised heritage” (107).The discipline of religious studies may well need more histories of its lack of discipline, but Masuzawa’s own launching point for that enterprise is itself curi-ously polemical—or, to use a word favored in this kind of analysis, ideological.At the outset she takes up the axe for two very familiar critiques of ReligiousStudies: (1) the field is peopled by a bunch of “unreconstituted religious essen-tialists” who are too friendly to religion in general, and religious experience inparticular, to subject the discipline’s categories to rigorous historical and criticalanalysis and (2) faculty in departments of religion keep themselves institution-ally and financially viable by continuing to offer world religion courses that they know, at least dimly, are intellectually irresponsible (7). In other words, the his-tory of the discipline is not getting done properly because scholars of religion aremostly naïve romantics and economic opportunists. It is quite unlikely, though,that this history is going to get done any better when undertaken with this polit-ical alignment as the starting point. That critical discourse on the current study of religion needs itself to be carefully historicized within longer traditions of freethinking naturalism. Unmasking the covert operations of the world religionsdiscourse—its “hidden” agenda to preserve European and Christian suprem-acy—sounds like a work of counter-espionage, not laborious scholarship (327).In better moments in the book (and there are many of these) Masuzawa pre-sents her work in more nuanced terms, that is, an effort “to recover the half-for-gotten worries, hopes, and controversies that animated” practitioners within thenineteenth-century academy (21). She rises to that level especially in the chapteron Max Müller’s comparative philology and its relation to his conceptualizationof the science of religion. Müller, in some sense, does not play to form remainingstalwart in his refusal of a “racialized use of philology” and its underwriting of alarger Aryan mythology (242). Here Masuzawa allows herself to be surprised by her sources, by Müller’s “oddity” and adamancy, by the distance he maintainedfrom at least some of the racial presumptions that ran through the work of many of his renowned colleagues, including Ernest Renan (254). In this long centralchapter Masuzawa adopts a patient and judicious approach that enables her to

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