Religion Compass 1/6 (2007): 787–800, 10.1111/ j.1749-8171.2007.00049.


Exporting the Local: Recent Perspectives on ‘Religion’ as a Cultural Category
Daniel Dubuisson*
CNRS-Université Charles de Gaulle-Lille 3 (Translated from the French by Arthur McCalla)


This article examines new perspectives in the field of religious studies recently opened up by the works of T. Fitzgerald, R. McCutcheon, R. King, T. Masuzawa, G. A. Oddie and D. Dubuisson.1 It begins, however, by taking up the origin and history of these studies in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries so as to underline the paradoxes and impasses that still too often characterize them today. Cet article examine quelques-unes des plus récentes perspectives ouvertes dans le domaine des religious studies par les travaux de T. Fitzgerald, R. McCutcheon, R. King, T. Masuzawa, G. A. Oddie et D. Dubuisson. Mais il revient pour commencer sur l’origine et l’histoire de ces études aux XIXe et XXe siècles afin de souligner les paradoxes et apories qui les caractérisent encore trop souvent aujourd’hui.

1 Introduction Over the last decade or so, and particularly in the English-speaking world, the field of study and research conventionally called the ‘history of religions’ has witnessed the appearance of new questions and new working hypotheses. There are a certain number of significant convergences and common themes among them; and two or more of their authors sometimes think along parallel lines. We must also note that these new perspectives have the potential to make unrecognizable the traditional landscape of the history of religions as it was constructed over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. We will examine the most important among them in a moment, but only after reminding ourselves of a few facts that will permit us to understand better how these new approaches break radically with the past. 2 A Word, a World, and a Man The essential starting point relates to the word ‘religion’ itself (Smith 1998, pp. 269 – 84; Dubuisson 2003, pp. 22–9). It derives from a well-known
© 2007 The Author Journal Compilation © 2007 Blackwell Publishing Ltd

we will find them at the heart of important controversies and essential questions. invented the idea – our idea – of religion. religion is a divine work and each person. considerably modified this pagan and secular meaning so that the word religio came to designate for them the bond. We must take particular note of the following among these characteristics because. as we continue our discussion. p. col. Christianity claims itself and itself alone to be the exclusive keeper of truth. which more than once in the course of its history displayed a brutal intolerance toward those who separated themselves from it or criticized it. Confronted with the other ‘religions’.788 Daniel Dubuisson Latin word. In other words. false.1111/ j. The Christian tradition considers mankind to be naturally ‘religious’. Clement of Alexandria. and for himself something beyond death’ (1863. he saw in nature something beyond material reality. Miller & Dubuisson 2006). several intrinsic characteristics that defined its content were progressively associated with this ‘western construction of religion’ (Dubuisson 2003. omnipresent in the history of the West. Max Scheler aligned himself within this long tradition when he declared that it ‘is not the most perfect of religions. which probably meant something similar to the word traditio (King 1999.2007. Constant. Durkheim. 2286). Schleiermacher. In this way. Kant. Most of the works of art. intellectual © 2007 The Author Religion Compass 1/6 (2007): 787–800. which it treats as idolatrous. One might equally cite Eusebius of Caesarea. p. . one’s kin. that unites man to God (Lactantius 1987. or fallen. capable of knowing him and loving him . the Church. in a very specific historical context. The field of ‘religion’ constitutes an ontological domain. Christianity very quickly defined itself by a strict orthodoxy that was itself conceived as immutable.x Journal Compilation © 2007 Blackwell Publishing Ltd . an attitude and sentiments founded on the respect in which one holds one’s parents. 35–7). Eliade. Moreover. that is to say. 1). But Christian thinkers. Jung. This orthodoxy was itself defended by a powerful centralized and theocratic institution. God’s creature. pp. as soon as he distinguished himself from the animal. 2). fundamentally different. All would have been able to say with Renan: ‘Man. 357). X. Engler. religio. distinct.00049. as will still be the case for Augustine. founded on faith and piety. In this sense it designated. This ‘religion’ was over the centuries a central notion. Christianity.’ ( Vacant 1937. is by essence a homo religiosus: ‘In creating the human soul he [God] necessarily created it religious. 492–3 and 506). Calvin. . 5–7). 10. LXIV. was religious. speculation. it is the absolute religion’ (1944. and so many others. pp. and separate from the profane world (Dubuisson 2004b. and that governs all social relationships (Augustine 1957. because it rested on the original and revealed speech of a unique god who is omnipotent and perfect beyond anything that mankind is capable of framing in thought or words. including notably Lactantius.1749-8171. because God himself inscribed this aptitude or this faculty in each soul from its creation.

or sometimes in opposition to it. consequently. Moreover. Schleiermacher. no doubt. © 2007 The Author Religion Compass 1/6 (2007): 787–800. Otto. the controversies that have fed the intellectual history of the West for almost twenty centuries. pp.00049. even in the West. etc.x Journal Compilation © 2007 Blackwell Publishing Ltd . is/was this Christian category ‘universalizable’? that is to say. 2006. from remote prehistoric tribes to Californian adepts of the New Age.1749-8171. moral duties. this idea of religion did not remain unchanged over the course of this long history (Despland 1979). 53 –95)? Or. Christianity similarly set out its own vision of human beings. But we must immediately add. pp. The immense galaxy built up around the notion of ‘religion’ by the thousands of texts written over almost 2000 years offers. C. R. Dubuisson 2003 [1998]. could serve science by designating an intrinsic characteristic of mankind. 140 –4. 10. as Fitzgerald (2000. that of the clerics. Christianity has also distinguished itself from all others precisely by attributing to itself a universal vocation. characterized by a certain number of original characteristics (faith in God. but equally that it was constructed and constituted around them. whatever their origin or their status might be. that (under the Protestant influence of F. It seems incontestable. that is to say. ever since Paul’s missionary work. and features a number of exemplary topics. immortality of the soul. 289–97). contempt of the body and the flesh. nonetheless.1111/ j. And yet. pp. Wach. developed around it. P. if one prefers. such as myths and their various modes of interpretation. These examples are there to remind us that this field was not only traversed by polemics and innumerable controversies. that this ideal religion. eternal life. Constant. applicable to all the forms of society and of culture. possible that so specific a notion. N.) it evolved toward an increasingly austere conception in which religion becomes an individual phenomenon linked to the individual interior conscience and to the personal relationship of the individual with the divinity. This indigenous anthropology has frequently served the West as a reference and as a universal norm. and by the contingent conditions of its development. a notion so determined by its origins. It is organized by opposing theists to materialists and atheists. its anthropology. J. Söderblom. it addressed itself to all people. B.). of the theologians of the church. N. 3 Some Crucial Questions Is it. by its history. James. D. W. or was it ever. This. Van der Leeuw. G. original sin and human guilt. p. 27–8) notes. remained up to a certain point an abstract creation in the sense that.Exporting the Local 789 currents and. E. in order to bring this section to a close. from the beginning. Tiele. 40. E. Nevertheless. pp. it only imperfectly and partially correlated with popular beliefs and practices. etc. ahistorical and recognizable in all cultures and in all eras (King 1999.2007. is the origin and justification of ‘popular religion’. Troeltsch. a major paradigm (Dubuisson 2003 [1998].

Aztec. an invention of Christian theologians. notions. model. whatever and wherever they may be. in the Christian West. faith. has only very recently been taken into account. had made man into a homo religiosus. a model.3 or that various profoundly distinct figures of ‘religious’ might exist that do not share any atemporal essence. in the former case. 10. and that they therefore share certain characteristics with Christianity (the archetypal religion in all of these debates) is. an accepted principle. sin. and/or anachronistic. This polymorphism is in fact incompatible with a tenacious and unconscious prejudice that tacitly supposes that a single religious determining function (or aspiration) must correspond to mankind in nucleo. This prejudice is one of the most curious epistemological inheritances from theological monotheism in the operations of modern science. an ideal.2007. a fundamental doxa of modernity’ (King 2006. And still today. 234). these words and the oppositions that they imply are truly applicable only within the Christian civilization that created them for its own purposes. As if human beings. And the same applies for the principal semantic fields associated with these terms. ‘an historical accident’ (McCutcheon). imprecise. p. an eternal eidos: ‘The view that all of the major-traditions of the world (with the exception of the European Enlightenment tradition) are examples of a single genus “religion”.x Journal Compilation © 2007 Blackwell Publishing Ltd . Everywhere else. following theology. p. has become. they are simply inadequate.) that are located light years away from the mental universe of a Bossuet or a John of the Cross.00049. 229).4 Conversely. deceptive. and to © 2007 The Author Religion Compass 1/6 (2007): 787–800. and sometimes even an archè. while in the latter case the ‘others’ will be either disfigured or deformed until they are ‘formatted’ to the Christian standard. source. I would suggest. paleo-Siberian. were supposed to reproduce in their behaviour a type of which the archetype. what began as a particular cultural creation. but one of them warrants our immediate attention: to speak today in whatever manner of ‘religion(s)’ almost always means using a nomenclature.1749-8171. the analysis is in some way predetermined and will without fail discover what it is looking for. Science and ideology. etc. and most fully realized expression would be found only. prehistoric.1111/ j. In fact. a norm.790 Daniel Dubuisson And yet. Because of this words like religion.2 In other words. The idea that the word ‘religious’ only conventionally designates cultural phenomena that present no fundamental originality. soul in contemporary European languages provide only a very poor lexicon with which to describe cultural realities (Chinese. this is what happened in the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries when historians and anthropologists used ‘religion’ as a common reference. not only Christianity but other ‘religions’ too are analyzed with Christian terminology. with the help of Western science itself associated with our modern ‘anthropocentric or humanistic vision of history’ (King 2006. It is easy to recognize that. according to its theologians. Several consequences and impasses emerge from this short rehearsal. a major and constitutive dimension of mankind. ideas that were begotten within Christian culture.

as was said without the least scruple in the nineteenth century? © 2007 The Author Religion Compass 1/6 (2007): 787–800. especially the anthropology of human sciences. the human sciences have never seriously considered sacrificing the pretensions to universality of a notion that appeared to them as a basic anthropological datum and not as a particular historical creation. can one imagine a definition and/or explanations of ‘religion’ that would be valid for all cultural formations we conventionally call ‘religions’ except for Christianity? Or that we would be able to conceive of this definition or these explanations by abstracting a priori from the Christian example. p. scholars thought about the exotic or distant worlds they encountered. give a clear answer: ‘The Aryan family represents the central stream of human progress because it produced the highest type of mankind. ‘religion’ and ‘religious’ carried the evidential weight possessed by any cultural category that one has made one’s own and which one inhabits. that is. of ancient Mexico. Under these circumstances.x Journal Compilation © 2007 Blackwell Publishing Ltd .Exporting the Local 791 propose another academic hypothesis intended to prove the lack of autonomy of past scientific reflection in relation to the Christian tradition. and because it proved its intrinsic superiority by gradually assuming control of the earth’ (1877. for a thousand reasons and by a thousand channels. 10.00049. Morgan. in fact. Lewis H. in certain forms of syncretism that inextricably mix together (always from our European point of view) actions designated ‘magicoreligious’? These three last suggestions underlie one of the most embarrassing questions that confronts specialists in the human sciences: how are the latter able to pass off as universal types what are simply minimally retouched copies of our own categories and therefore of our local prejudices? 4 The History of Religions in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries Since they have merited the name. by de-Christianizing the idea of ‘religion’? Or again that such explanations would lead us to conclude that the purest or most authentic forms of the ‘religious’ are in fact to be found far from the West. How could a concept central to the definition of man have come from a primitive or ‘savage race’. or of African cultures? The words of one of the fathers of modern anthropology. concepts about which they were in any case the most learned and for which they were the fiercest propagandists. because Western culture in its entirety is largely constituted around Christianity and the human sciences.1111/ j. would use the central concepts provided by their own cultural and anthropological tradition to define mankind.2007. all the more when one grants it an absolute superiority. In their eyes. for example. Could a Western scientific anthropology have been constructed on the indigenous categories of China. 468).5 or for about a century and a half. They have not done so. even when they were atheists and materialists (Bourdieu 1971). they drew on categories that they already used in their own world. it was almost inevitable that European scholars. therefore.1749-8171. When. derive from that same tradition.

This last point is no doubt capital. ontological. despite its vague and hazy character. The explications of the ‘religious’ conceived by these modern scholars were often inspired by those that Western tradition. and/or anthropological approaches to the data it designates ‘religious’ on the grounds that it possesses a specific and incomparable dimension (McCutcheon 1997. Paradoxically. etc. This current is characterized by the radical rejection of all historical. From this point of departure. and. p. One sees here a supplementary proof of a well-known fact: we are more sensitive to the persuasive force of an inveterate cultural prejudice than to an empirical truth that deceives us precisely. under these conditions. 109.1111/ j. the mankind studied by Western science © 2007 The Author Religion Compass 1/6 (2007): 787–800. Constant. Hobbes. it excused them from having to redefine the word ‘religion’ or find an original alternative to it (Dubuisson 2003 [1998]. 53 – 63). Tiele. Marx. and Söderblom) joined up in the twentieth century with the current known as the phenomenology of religion (Otto. 357–421). between idealists and materialists. in light of its own conception and of its own values. the word ‘religion’ in the end offered an advantage of sorts by providing a common label for numerous and heterogeneous activities. pp.1749-8171. On one side. Wasserstrom 1999. 10. Weber (Dubuisson 2004b. 13. whether or not they call themselves atheist. it has always seemed evident to Westerners that they must display some necessary and obscure affinities even though no one can agree on their number and their nature. Durkheim. Western science assumed for itself the exclusive privilege of thinking about mankind. had imagined in order to explain myths. ‘Religion’ in this sense offered them a pre-theorized concept that conveniently disqualified a priori a large number of embarrassing questions that since then have in fact remained without responses.x Journal Compilation © 2007 Blackwell Publishing Ltd . 98. 683–4). metaphysical explanations grounded on the alleged ‘religious’ nature of man and on the existence of a transcendent plan (Schleiermacher. sociological. On the other side. the ‘sociological’ explanations conceived by E. the human phenomenon. cults. These modern explanations of ‘religion’ or of ‘religions’.00049. or functional) ‘core’ common to all the heterogeneous activities called for want of a better term ‘religious’. because it contradicts the affirmation contained in the former. pp. Diodorus of Sicily. most recently. and Eliade). were all the quicker to adopt the Christian concept of ‘religion’ as a sort of innate ‘religious’ disposition that was held to be universally valid. or ceremonies.792 Daniel Dubuisson But things get more curious still. Dubuisson 2004b. In particular. Very schematically. Spinoza. van der Leeuw. p. Thanks to this epistemological preferment. and M. The paradigm reproduces the general orientation of the ancient opposition between Platonists and Epicurians. ‘psychological’ explanations similar to that of Lucretius.2007. M. Machiavelli. reductionist explanations included ‘political’ explanations (Critias according to Sextus Empiricus. While it has proved impossible right up to the present to define this (mental. pp. ever since Antiquity.). Mauss. they all fell within a great binary paradigm that opposed reductionist explanations to metaphysical ones. structural. Polybius.

These prejudices have endured up to our own day with an astonishing strength. To declare. itself validates as authentically ‘religious’ criteria. col. of India. Linear teleology. © 2007 The Author Religion Compass 1/6 (2007): 787–800. along with the cultural and ethnocentric values on which the history of religions was constructed in the nineteenth century.1749-8171. archaic (idolatry). 5 Recent Perspectives This last remark leads directly to the new perspectives that have been introduced into the field of the history of religions over the last decade or so. They. or savage. In a parallel manner. A short example will help us to understand the curious paradoxes to which this truism very quickly leads. 10.. etc. 1–36). and cosmographic formations that otherwise would not have been deemed worthy of study (Dubuisson 2003 [1998]. that some activities are ‘religious’ allows them to be studied only in light of criteria that the model ‘religion’. magical practices. Many present day reflections on the ‘religions’ are still tacitly nurtured by this evolutionism and these summary oppositions. These judgments literally drew their inspiration from those that theologians had been pronouncing since before the time of Augustine. fetishism). Modern science here borrowed one of the prejudices of Christian theology and.2007. the same designation. but also. and the same system of values. Scholars extricated themselves from this misstep by opposing more or less explicitly ‘religion’ to the ‘religions’ variously designated as primitive (animism. of China. His pretensions to world domination found nothing to add to it.00049. or lazily to admit. and must be studied from this point of view. have only very recently been called into question. 2005. Christianity.. an unfailing sentiment of absolute superiority and arrogant narcissism joined together to give to Western man the most comforting version of his own destiny and of the history of humanity. For numerous scholars of the second half the long nineteenth century (1860 –1914) everything occurred as if the evolution of humanity had necessarily led to the appearance of the monotheistic religions of which we. cultural configurations. 195 –213). colonizing imperialism. the field of religious studies eagerly transformed into ‘religions’ old wisdoms. The history of religions not only similarly excluded magic from the religious sphere. the same way of dividing knowledge. ancient (polytheisms).1111/ j. let us emphasize. summary evolutionism. were therefore carried out without scholars ever satisfactorily explaining either what was fundamentally in common among them or how to understand their easily observable differences (MacWilliams et al. pp. of primitive civilizations. 1512–13).x Journal Compilation © 2007 Blackwell Publishing Ltd . of Egypt. popular. pp. levelled against it the same slanderous judgments. possessed the fullest and most complete expression. Study after study of the ‘religions’ of prehistory.Exporting the Local 793 became also ‘religious’. along with this prejudice. Christianity excludes from the religious sphere proper the magic that it contributed to discrediting (Vacant 1926. Europeans.

critical. We shall examine them in turn. It is difficult to imagine an attitude at once more ethnocentric and more arrogant.7 when an evolutionism toward an ethnocentric telos had become its official doctrine. p. conditioned by its long history itself made from a thousand contingent incidents. The first is that here as elsewhere it is pointless to seek to raise our indigenous particularism to the dignity of a universal and timeless category. We must not only respond negatively to the question.00049. in this quintessential form it merely reflects one of its dogmas. The second. fully realized man. point is that the very idea of an identical religious function present in all cultures is itself contestable. and historical. The history of religions was born in the era when Western Europe colonized Africa and a good part of the rest of the world. Griffiths & Tiffin 2006. military. One may even go a little farther and affirm that in choosing religion as the anthropological criterion par excellence. which in turn allowed it to declare that man. in agreement with the recent analyses and conclusions uttered by postcolonial studies (Ashcroft.794 Daniel Dubuisson We may conveniently classify three newly developed types of critical analysis by their respective points of view: anthropological. can our ‘religious’ be the ‘religious’ of all people? but quickly add two clarifications. And. ix) that served both the colonial interests of the European powers and those of their missionaries. see ‘eurocentrism’). The history of religions cannot dodge the reproach of having been one ideological instrument among others in the service of the (political.1111/ j. purely positive. is tempted to challenge the history of religions itself. p.6 when the superiority of Western man was unequivocally proclaimed. claim to reflect a transhistorical and fundamental human predisposition (Dubuisson 2003 [1998])? This point is all the stronger when it is the most original (and therefore the least universal) characteristics of Christianity such as those that have been enumerated above that are associated with this notion of timeless religion. He notes that this academic discipline.2007. the minimalist definition of ‘religion’ proposed by Troeltsch (‘Everywhere the basic reality of religion is the same: an underivable. Fitzgerald with good reason adds that no non-theological © 2007 The Author Religion Compass 1/6 (2007): 787–800. The critique offered from the anthropological point of view picks up the paradoxes cited above: how can a particular historical construction. the West purely and simply annexed the humanity of mankind to its own indigenous anthropology. Certain critics have not hesitated to see in the history of religions ‘a mystifying ideology’ (Fitzgerald 2000. 315) is inadmissible from the anthropological point of view. influenced by its Christian heritage. found its most perfect expression in Western man. in fact. Such a definition will appear persuasive only to those who have been raised within Christianity.1749-8171. again and again experienced contact with the Deity’) (Masuzawa 2005. So. epistemological. the anthropologist.x Journal Compilation © 2007 Blackwell Publishing Ltd . economic. has further served to defend the imperialist interests of Western societies. 10. keeping in mind the argumentative convergence and complementarity among all three. On this point. but also intellectual) hegemony of the Western powers.

because the notions of culture and of history satisfactorily subsume everything that one might be tempted to classify under the term ‘religion’ (pp. or even impasses. Any definition that radically broke with this tradition would be widely reproached for not respecting the specificity of the religious.. First. Let us imagine. If one includes magic. pp. like that of Troeltsch cited above. Encouraged by his discovery. or would not have. they generally attempt to offer an abstract concept that reduces ‘religion’ to an essential core. 10. Conversely.Exporting the Local 795 argument justifies a specific study of religious activities. Delicate problems similarly arise over the attempt to trace the limits (which must be universally valid) of the proper domain of religion and to specify the nature of these limits: are they transcendental.x Journal Compilation © 2007 Blackwell Publishing Ltd . as a measure of the scandalous character of this annexation and disfigurement. inversely. would not perhaps hesitate to affirm that on the contrary this honor belongs to homo dharmicus (based on dharma. The criticisms levelled against the concept of religion in an anthropological context are reinforced by a large number of serious epistemological difficulties. an impersonal socio-cosmic order and objective). 29). We must instead ‘provoke a healthy epistemological inversion: our indigenous and “religious” categories must be considered as “objects of study”. pp. a Bengali professor.1749-8171. or simply empirical? Difficulties multiply when we attempt to itemize the elements that this domain absolutely must or ought to incorporate or. that a learned Lapp or Aztec scholar demonstrates that the exorcisms and rituals of disenchantment practised by the Catholic church display numerous affinities with various ceremonies celebrated since prehistoric times by the oldest shamanic cultures. 225). he deduces from his insightful demonstration that a homo shamanicus has existed for thousands of years and represents the highest expression of the humanity of mankind. because they necessarily de-contextualize the facts being studied. Engler et al. 175). Do not smile.8 analyses of religion. exclude. functional.00049. then Christianity would have either to re-examine its own definition of religion or admit that its © 2007 The Author Religion Compass 1/6 (2007): 787–800.2007. p. because this is exactly what the West shamelessly did and continues to do with its homo religiosus in which numerous cultures have not. p. Simply put. the worship of ancestors. 147. 129. 53 – 63). the scion of an old family of orthodox Brahmins. or sui generis. and divinatory techniques among the fundamental ‘religious activities’. A simple example will suffice to illustrate this last point. not as tools of knowledge’ (McCutcheon 1997. satisfy no serious epistemological demand. religious. been able to recognize themselves. draw their inspiration from the Christian model (Dubuisson 2003 [1998]. we must remind ourselves that despite their familiarity. Irked by this precedent.1111/ j. 3. the words ‘religion’ and ‘religious’ lack satisfactory definitions (Asad 1993. All the definitions that have been proposed since the 1850s. whose most fully realized and purest expressions are to be found within the archaic Indian culture that created it.

a simple juxtaposition of heterogeneous activities. Its starting point is a radically new claim. and/or invented the Eastern world religions from indigenous materials. etc. materialism. to which we now turn and which we may call with Masuzawa ‘the invention of the world religions’. anti-Judaism. followed immediately by the formulation of the Indo-European hypothesis. it was in the course of this intimate and prolonged contact that Western science modelled. overlaps the anthropological and epistemological points of view while adding to them an original historical perspective. along with the idea of a perennial © 2007 The Author Religion Compass 1/6 (2007): 787–800. if we exclude these activities from the religious sphere. symbol. eternal salvation. Oddie and Masuzawa are particularly exemplary. Westerners (scholars. . Fitzgerald 2000. We are similarly uncertain as to the general ‘form’ of a religion. King. myths/mythologies. revelation.) acquainted themselves (at last) with the Eastern civilizations with which they found themselves in long-term contact. sacred. And here the works of Fitzgerald.796 Daniel Dubuisson definition is incomplete. pp. paganism. and. industrialists. . ordered. and supernatural) jurisdiction(s) must it fall. And. Their theses (if I may be permitted to offer a synthetic vision) are encapsulated in the following points. The third type of analysis. the Christian and Western idea of religion is located at the centre of a vast network of controversies and notions indissolubly linked to it (theology. etc. Japan. soldiers. which also became a ‘religion’ as a result of this process of acculturation despite the fact that the teaching of the Buddha rejected. 134 –55. ]. pp. political. flawed even. what laws govern it? And must or must not all religions incorporate the same stable and invariable core. pp. mysteries. p. monotheism.1111/ j. The most astonishing case remains that of Buddhism. transcendence. transcendental. paradise. 10. a structure. most of the so-called ‘religions’ will lose their identity. But. magic. In fact. if the latter.). 121–46). it manufactured Indian Hinduism out of these materials (King 1999. In the nineteenth century. all this is only a small part of the problem. In particular. an assemblage of changeable elements. itself ‘under pressure from imperialistic powers [ . sin.2007. but also traders. and. And yet. allegory. 143–60. each of which would require a parallel epistemological analysis.’ invented for itself an autonomous religious sphere that conformed to the Western model and that was known as ‘sect Shinto’ (Fitzgerald 2000. 96–117. origins. then it will be necessary to arrange them in a hierarchy and to analyze the play of their reciprocal influences.x Journal Compilation © 2007 Blackwell Publishing Ltd .1749-8171. pp. This is why the real discovery of Sanskrit dates only from the end of the eighteenth century. psychological. missionaries. is it a system. that is. constructed. as has been said above. colonial administrators. 164). It naturally follows that if several jurisdictions are posited. if we answer in the affirmative. into which (social. Oddie 2006) and discovered a prehistoric ‘religious’ prototype for the various ethnic Buddhisms (from Japan to Ceylon and from Tibet to Java) (King 1999.00049. Masuzawa 2005.

1111/ j. theories concerning the beyond. p. of ideological control and colonial domination. in such a manner as these ‘others’ should fit within its ‘eurocentrism’ and within its own conception of the history of the world (Fitzgerald 2000. along with the inevitable confessional borders. pp. In choosing ‘religion’ as a principal vector of this annexation (and not economy. the powers of the period. Masuzawa 2005. a number of characteristics were privileged: the canons of ancient texts certified as ‘sacred’10 (even if they had fallen into desuetude by the nineteenth century .1749-8171. the specificity and the particularity of these others were denied and the exultant West appears alone as the author and exemplary bearer of universal values (Asad 1993. These creations. had been created ‘during the last quarter of the 18th century’ (Oddie 2006. a word that. or of revelation. of clergy. and that he knew nothing of any idea of Church. monotheistic tendencies. pp. p. for example). These new religions were created9 neither ex nihilo nor arbitrarily or artificially. everything capable of contradicting our comforting image of religion – were dismissed as or relegated to the status of ‘savage’ or ‘popular beliefs’. behind it. . any form of transcendence (divine or other). xi–xii). raises two questions: why did Western science. like the word ‘Buddhism’ 40 or 50 years later around 1830 (King 1999. over the course of the nineteenth century. organizations of an ecclesiastical type. In this perspective. But the fact that they were highly successful. we may already offer as useful guidelines the following points. traditional customs (ancestor worship.00049.11 idealist philosophies. 143). magical or divinatory techniques. indulge in these creations? And. each one issued from sound choices carried out in the middle of a specific indigenous culture. 21–30). this process favoured the brahmanization and sanskritization of that which was in the process of becoming Hinduism. On the contrary. these reshapings or repackagings were carried out under the pressure of Western power or of its prestige. religious exclusivism (each person must henceforth identify with a single religion). why were the latter so warmly received by the indigenous populations. From the Western side. it was essential for the West to accept the others only on the condition that they conform to its norm. ). In India. p. manners that directly reflected profoundly original cultural creations – in short. archaic wisdoms. sexual practices. . These choices made possible the creation of complexes that were both internally coherent and as similar as possible to the canonical Western model. or © 2007 The Author Religion Compass 1/6 (2007): 787–800.12 individual soteriologies. Conversely. and. and. or at least by their elites? While the responses to these questions are not simple and require numerous more detailed studies. To this end. possession. any notion of the soul or immortal spiritual principle.2007. and its alone. 70).x Journal Compilation © 2007 Blackwell Publishing Ltd . philosophy.Exporting the Local 797 personality. 10. these modernizations. because this history was supposed to culminate in the triumph and domination of the West as the civilizing power. But. 19. it is apparent that this long operation took place within a vast process of acculturation. any belief in the beyond. to say the least.

Masuzawa 2005. Research into Eastern world religions carried out in the twentieth century by the history of religions consolidated the work of its nineteenthcentury founders and hypostatized these realities that had in the meantime become Hinduism. p. Daniel Dubuisson is director of research at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS). 2003). science et idéologie (Complexe. Short Biography Born in 1950. 1996). translated into English.x Journal Compilation © 2007 Blackwell Publishing Ltd . 10 or 20 years down the road whether or not these pioneering works will have modified the meaning and general orientation of studies carried out under the aegis of the history of religions. Anthropologie poétique (Esquisses pour une anthropologie du texte) (Peeters. translated into Italian. At present. p. 10. p. 4. What is already certain is that they offer the first serious and fruitful alternative capable of freeing the history of religions from its heavy theological heritage. Perhaps one day these works will be recognized as having prepared the way for the most important and most radical aggiornamento achieved by religious studies since its creation. or at least to their most educated and most westernized elites. Râma et le Râmâyana (Economica. and English). Without necessarily having been aware of it. Romanian. 6 Conclusion We shall only know. 1986). Lévi-Strauss) (Presses Universitaires de Lille. 1993.798 Daniel Dubuisson political conceptions). He has published La Légende royale dans l’Inde ancienne. Paris. from its dependence on the postulates of phenomenology. Lille. Buddhism. a return (albeit artificial and idealized) to their distant origins. Mythologies du XXe siècle (Dumézil. and Shinto. Eliade.1749-8171. Japan and Shinto). it is undeniable that this process was favourably received by educated indigenous elites. Bruxelles. and a place in the international concert of ‘world religions’15 at the same rank as the three old monotheisms.14 a powerful unifying factor that had not hitherto existed and could even serve as a focus of national unity (India and Hinduism.00049. 20). Several factors were at work here. Louvain. he steers the Institut de Recherches Historiques du Septentrion in the University Charles de Gaulle-Lille 3. 20)? In any case. the West offered to the ‘natives’. is not it also the most effective means of depoliticizing social practices (Masuzawa 2005. In this circumstance. Did it not. consider ‘religion’ to be both the defining marker of man and the most totalizing type of discourse? Furthermore. 1998. L’Occident et la religion Mythes. the West remained true to itself and to an imperialism that was as much colonial as epistemological (King 1999.2007. to accept the Western point of view proved particularly advantageous. and from its deep ethnocentric tendencies. of course.1111/ j.13 a rather flattering form of identity. Dictionnaire des grands thèmes de l’histoire © 2007 The Author Religion Compass 1/6 (2007): 787–800. in fact.

look upon the religious field as a stupendous storehouse of images that is far from having been exhausted by objective research. 2004a. Judaism could neither have conquered nor regenerated the world. as new blood. over time. 147–206). 10 Such as the Sacred Books of the East.00049. 6 ‘There is nothing shocking about the conquest and rule of an inferior race’s territory by a superior race’. pp. its foundation is also Aryan’ (Reinach 1880. p. Villeneuve. Presses Universitaires du Septentrion. Fitzgerald (2000). 145–50. 5 This passage condenses Dubuisson 2003 [1998]. 390). d’Ascq Cedex. Christianity freed itself. xii). The ‘invention’ and the ‘formatting’ of the world religions over the course of the nineteenth century allowed Europe to define its relations with other cultures and to rethink its origins in the light of the discovery of the Indo-European family of languages. pp. 2 ‘Although it is hardly news to many scholars that all signifiers are empty. Christianity was born of Greco-Roman philosophy infused.Exporting the Local 799 des religions De Pythagore à Lévi-Strauss (Complexe. p. this playfulness of meaning-making stops at the door of “religion” ’ (McCutcheon and Oddie (2006). repudiated its Semitic origins (Dubuisson 2003 [1998]. 13 The veda for Hinduism and the Buddha himself for Buddhism. 639 [Fr. it will follow that metaphysical religions were born among white peoples. Dubuisson (2003 [1998]. and that they alone developed a reasoned symbolism. are misguided. King (1999). 155). 54: ‘The sui generis discourse on religion privileges religious experience by treating religious activities as specific and autonomous (they have no other cause but themselves and their meaning transcends all historical determinations whatsoever)’. and that among the least of them only the crudest notion of God and mindless adoration will be found. Bruxelles. 15 Masuzawa (2005. © 2007 The Author Religion Compass 1/6 (2007): 787–800. 1142).2007. 10. spiritualité chrétienne (Lille. 358). of course. translated into Italian). 7 ‘It is today very likely that the non-white human races will be recognized as incapable of establishing a religious system of any value. pp. it is difficult to find a word capable of adequately subsuming the whole of these complex processes. p. Les sagesses de l’homme Bouddhisme. 57). IRHiS. Email: daniel. If these propositions come to be firmly established. 14 Conceived on the Western model.x Journal Compilation © 2007 Blackwell Publishing Ltd 1 . with its spirit of exclusion and its rigorous rituals. because one necessarily favours ‘the regeneration of inferior or bastardized races by superior races’ (Renan 1871. 2003). p. Masuzawa 2005. Judaism.1749-8171. 8 McCutcheon 1997. 147– 61. 135 – 42). 2005). BP 60149. Masuzawa (2005). Two examples: ‘Fully Jewish at it origin. paganisme. Aryan by the spirit that animates it. 3 ‘I too. 2003.b. 2004. 12 Like the Vedânta of Shankara and the neo-Vedânta (King 1999. Presses Universitaires du Septentrion. pp. p. Université Charles-de-Gaulle-Lille3. into the simple forms of the noblest religion of the East. By itself. p. from almost everything that it inherited from that race. but these images are like any others. p. France. 4 Compare with Stoczkowski’s thesis (forthcoming 2007). 2004). Notes * Correspondence address: Daniel Dubuisson. a serious dogmatic theology’ (Burnouf 1872. and Impostures et pseudo-science L’œuvre de Mircea Eliade (Lille. arbitrary signs that derive meaning from their circulation within a series of relationship with others equally empty signifiers. a Jewish sect. 11 The Brahmans became ‘priests’ and Buddhist bhikshus ‘monks’. McCutcheon (1997. these religions displayed only prestigious intellectual and metaphysical aspects that could be compared with those of the West which. xi. 571]).dubuisson@free. at the same period (second half of the nineteenth century). and the spirit in which I approach the study of religious data supposes that such data are not credited at the outset with any specific character’ (Lévi-Strauss 1971. Max Müller.1111/ j. p. 9 Obviously. 2006). p. edited between 1879 and 1910 by F. ‘Those who want to see in Christianity only a magnified Judaism. p. so the thesis of those who consider it the Aryan religion par excellence is true in many respects’ (Renan 1882.

France. 1–36. Mythologiques IV. The Post-Colonial Studies Reader. 1863. pp. Plon. Routledge. SJ. ——. Librairie de l’Université. Miller. E. le Héros. Montréal. Harper & Row. India and ‘The Mystic East’. La religion en Occident évolution des idées et du vécu. pp. Baum. 1944. 295 –334. B. Engler. King. S. Paris. Brussels. no. ‘Religion. Eliade. 2006. IL. Vacant. France. 1999. Anderson. Baltimore. New Delhi. Paris. France (The Naked Man. MD. 1872. London/New York. vol. France. Lévi-Strauss. S. John and Doreen Weightman. D. 10. R. ——. Johns Hopkins University Press. ‘Formes chrétiennes de la pensée athée: l’infrastructure axiomatique de la pensée de Pierre Bourdieu’. pp.1749-8171. W. Scheler. MD. Equinox. Knowledge. Religion. UK/ New York. 2000. Paris. ——. 2006. CS. ‘The Association of Religion. Baltimore. P. NJ. The Invention of World Religions: Or. September 2006. Fribourg. Ashcroft. 1997. and Ideology [1998]. J. Manuel de philologie. Sage Publications. Raj. RM. Paris. 1971. 119–178. Calman-Lévy. Canada. ‘The Resiliency of Conceptual Anachronisms: on knowing the limits of “the West” and “religion” ’. 2006. Lévi-Strauss. 1979. 2004b. NY. D Miller and Dubuisson (eds. 1957. Imagined Hinduism British Protestant Missionary Constructions of Hinduism. ‘Review Symposium. Critical Terms for Religious Studies. 1871. 1998. France. 1880. London/New York. ——. Religion and Violence in South Asia: Theory and Practice. Fitzgerald. Paris. Lactantius. France. 2005. Manufacturing Religion. 9 and 13/2. 1993. Paris. É. London. in MC Taylor. in JR Hinnells and R King (eds. Sciences humaines et Religion. Read. Dubuisson.). T.). Revue Française de Sociologie. Chicago. vol. ——. Genealogies of Religion. Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique. Routledge. Les Sagesses de L’homme Bouddhisme. Stoczkowski. Épitomé des institutions divines. NY). Oddie. MacWilliams M. 2003. La science des Religions. 36/3. Reinach. 1971. New York. Religious Studies Review. R. Dictionnaire des Grands Thèmes de l’Histoire des Religions. & Dubuisson. Halter. 2nd edn. King. M Cunningham. C. Princeton University Press. D. 269– 84. 2004a. 2006. Paganisme. The Western Construction of Religion’. 36. 1882. M. Religion. JP. trans. (ed. T. La cité de Dieu. Griffiths. France. Ancient Society. 3. 2005. University of Chicago Press. NY. Religion after Religion: Gershom Scholem. trans. Augustine. Lille. London and New York. H. le Génie. no. Morgan. 154–165. Keshk. Meaning. 2003. France. Vie de Jésus. trans. D. How European Universalism was Preserved in the Language of Pluralism. India. 2005. E. in J Carroy. Bourdieu.2007. Oxford. The Discipline of Religion: Structure. Marc-Aurèle et la fin du Monde Antique. 1926 and 1937. 1987. RT.). The Western Construction of Religion: Myths. 31. Presses du Septentrion. D. Libraire Letouzey et Ainé. Paris.00049. (ed. ——. Routledge. GA. Masuzawa. Mircea Eliade and Henry Corbin at Eranos. 1877. Le Saint. vol. The Ideology of Religious Studies. 226– 57. LH. ‘Genèse et structure du champ religieux’. pp. Belgium. 3. KA. ‘Religion/s Between Covers: Dilemmas of the World Religions Textbook’. Twentieth Century Mythologies: Dumézil. G. Renan.1111/ j. Garnier. NY. Paris. 1793 –1900. Complexe. pp. Routledge. & Tiffin. Shattuck. JZ. Switzerland. France. A. France. 1999. K. Rhetoric. ——. NY. Waghorne. London/New York. NY. vol.x Journal Compilation © 2007 Blackwell Publishing Ltd . W Sayers. New York. 12. NY.). Johns Hopkins University Press. Paris.Calman-Lévy. Oxford University Press. New York. Sommer. C. pp. University of Chicago Press. Orientalism and Religion: Postcolonial Theory. Burnouf. Chicago. éditions du Cerf. Wasserstrom. Spiritualité Chrétienne.800 Daniel Dubuisson Works Cited Asad. McCutcheon. with Violence Reflections on a Modern Trope’. La Réforme Intellectuelle et Morale. IL. Oxford University Press. Smith. Egge. forthcoming 2007. A and Mangenot. Princeton. M. McCutcheon. Despland. S. in S Engler. D. Religious’. © 2007 The Author Religion Compass 1/6 (2007): 787–800. L’homme nu. Daniel Dubuisson. RT. NY. 2006. Religions.

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