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Generating a Scientific Hypothesis about Religion A Preliminary Attempt

S.N. Balagangadhara Universiteit Gent Belgium


Criticizing a Post-Colonial Saga Consider the claim that most would give their assent to: Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, etc., are the religions of India. Postcolonial intellectuals would probably add two or three qualifications to this claim. They would probably say that it is not possible to speak of one Hinduism, one Buddhism, one Jainism; instead, one should speak about many ‘Hinduisms’, many ‘Buddhisms’, many ‘Jainisms’, etc. Secondly, they would also raise questions about who could speak about these religions. Thirdly, they are likely to add that the British ‘created’ or ‘constructed’ these religions in India during the colonial period. The first two qualifications are either misguided or cognitively uninteresting. For instance, it is both linguistically and logically impossible to speak about the plurality of any religion without referring to it in the singular: ‘tigers’ are animals because ‘tiger’ names a kind; ‘trees’ makes no sense if there is no ‘tree’ to speak of, etc. Such usage is misguided, unless, of course, one maintains that ‘Hinduisms’ is not a plural of the singular noun ‘Hinduism’. No one has maintained this position. In any case, we could simply accept that ‘Hinduism’, ‘Buddhism’, ‘Jainism’ etc., do not name a unitary phenomenon but that they pick out a superset that includes many different sets of practices and beliefs. One can after all assume that, in principle, it is possible to construct such a super set even if one is unable to practically do so at any given moment. The second qualification is uninteresting because we are not after ‘canonical’ descriptions of these phenomena. In this sense, it matters very little who speaks ‘about’ these religions. By far, the most interesting qualification is the third one. Let us look at it closely. During the colonial period, the British created many things: an education system, the legal system, a bureaucracy, roads and railways. None of these existed in these forms before the British colonized India. Were religions like ‘Hinduism’ etc., also created in this way? Some postcolonial thinkers are inclined to answer this question in the positive: the British created Hinduism as a religion in India, the way they created the Indian Civil Service (ICS).


In that case, it follows that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the Orientalist writings on Hinduism. Some of them might have made false claims, but we can correct them as more accurate information accumulates. The contemporary writings on Hinduism, etc., whether from the field of Indology or of Religious Studies, would remain continuous with the Orientalist writings on the subject. That is to say, the ‘facts’ that the Orientalists provide become the point of departure for the writings in social sciences. The latter either add to these facts or explain them. In fact, this is also the status of the field today: the writings in the humanities and social sciences maintain an unbroken line of continuity with the Orientalist writings on these ‘religions’ in India. In such a case, one can hardly understand what the excitement is about either ‘Orientalism’ or ‘postcolonial studies’. Of course, if one adds other items to this creation story, one can blame western culture as a‘big bad wolf’: the British created ‘Sati’, the ‘dowry system’, ‘the caste system’, and anything else one feels like. This exercise in apportioning blame uninteresting because it transforms the Indians into a bunch of idiots bereft of all reason. The British could do what they wanted to with the Indian culture, introduce and create whatever took their fancy, while their subjects stood around without stopping sucking on their thumbs. To put it in the language of the postcolonial thinkers: such a story deprives the colonial subjects of their agency. The postcolonial writers who tell such stories indeed deprive the colonial subjects of their agency in the name of giving it back, or they discover an expression of ‘resistance’ to colonialism in a vigorous sucking of thumbs. Homi Bhabha, for instance, has made a lucrative business of telling such stories. A Different Creation Story There is, however, another way of looking at the claim of creating these religions in India. Despite the limitations, drawing an analogy could make it more perspicuous. Imagine that an extraterrestrial came to earth and noticed the following phenomena: grass is green, milk turns


sour, birds fly, and some flowers put out a fragrant smell. He is convinced that these phenomena are related to each other and sees hipkapi in them. The presence of hipkapi explains not only the above phenomena but also how they relate to each other. To those who doubt the existence of hipkapi, he draws their attention to its visible manifestations: the tigers eating the gazelle, dogs chasing the cats, and the massive size of the elephants. Each of these is a fact, as everyone can see it. However, they do not tell us anything about hipkapi. When more extraterrestrials come to earth and reiterate the presence of hipkapi, if other conditions permit, hipkapi not only becomes a synonym for these phenomena but also turns out to be their explanation. Thereafter, to ask what hipkapi is, or even how it explains, is an expression of one’s idiocy: does not everyone see hipkapi, this self-explanatory thing? In this analogy, the extraterrestrial visitor has ‘constructed’ the hipkapi. To him, it is an experiential entity. He talks, as his fellow-beings do, about this experiential entity in a systematic way. That is what the Europeans did. The puja in the temples, the sandhyavandanam of the Brahmins, the sahasranamams, etc., became organic parts of the Indian religion. Purushasukta was the cosmogony of the caste system, and ‘untouchability’ its outward manifestation. Dharma and Adharma were the Sanskrit words for ‘good’ and ‘evil’, and the Indian ‘deities’ were much like their Greek counterparts. To the missionaries, Indians were idolaters; to the contemporary liberal, ‘polytheism’ has to do with the conception of ‘the deity’. In terms of the analogy, these visitors ‘construct’ a hipkapi. To them, it is an experiential entity. They talk about this experiential entity in a systematic way. This analogy entails suggesting that Europeans created ‘Hinduism’ etc., as their experiential entities. Under this construal, the Orientalists did not describe what exists in the Indian culture. Instead, they created a hipkapi, constructed a pattern and structure that lent coherence to their cultural experience of India. In such a case, claims about Hinduism become somewhat akin to claims about having visions of Mother Mary in the Lourdes. Only


It is oblique because it appears to be about other cultures. which embodied an explanatory structuring of the European experiences. That is. It is also oblique because it is not direct and has not been an object of reflection. even though Orientalism is a discourse about western cultural experience. 5 . Whether of a merchant. It is western in the sense that it refers to the experiences of the members from a particular culture. until a satisfactory pattern finally emerged. ‘Orientalism’ is how western culture came to terms with the reality that the East is. Orientalism is the western way of thinking about its experience of nonwestern cultures. Reflections about such reports at second remove. In this sense. Such texts. led to finding a pattern or structure in these experiences.‘somewhat’. At the same time. or reflections on experiences at a later stage or in a distant way. That structure is the Orient and the discourse about it is the Orientalist discourse. a missionary or a bureaucrat. it takes the form of an apparent discourse about the Orient. However. It is not as though any one person pored over these reports (though many did). They did not write about their dreams nor did they compose stories. these reports contributed to structuring a European way of seeing and describing phenomena in India. Thus. ‘Orientalism’ refers not only to the discourse about experience but also to the way of reflecting about and structuring this experience. because such a vision might be a hallucination. ended up becoming the ‘ethnological data’ or the ‘anthropological fieldwork’ that the social theories would later try to explain. trying out one inductive hypothesis after another (even though a few were formulated). it is oblique. When the Europeans came to India and wrote down their experiences. they filtered out phenomena that could not be structured in this fashion. they were not hallucinating. These reports lent structure to what the Europeans saw. the reports had some structure. whereas one cannot say that the West has been ‘hallucinating’ about the Indian religions. The previous sentence is not a description of how the pattern or structure was found.

It is not as though colonialism brought ‘Hinduism’ and ‘the caste system’ into existence. The same considerations apply to the caste system. i. there is no ‘Hinduism’ (whether as a religion. they implemented certain political and economic policies based on their experience. etc. However. It is not even whether they experienced ‘Hinduism’ as a monolithic entity.e. It is imaginary in the sense that it does not have an existence outside the experience of western culture. it unifies the Western experience. It is also a construct because. or as a multiplicity of religions) in the Indian culture. it lies in the fact that ‘Hinduism’. provided the Westerners with a coherent experience. They acted as though these entities were real. However. To the extent it is a concept. Instead. as an experiential entity. it is a human construct. It is false not because the West gave a false description of the reality (‘Hinduism’ in this case) but because they falsely assumed that their experiential entity was also a real entity in the world. By creating such a ‘system’ the British lent stability. one could argue that the Saidian double qualification of makes sense: ‘Hinduism’ is both a false description of the Indian reality and it is an imaginary. As a result. as coherent and structured units and (b) did so as religions. this experience was of no particular object but constituted the basis of their going-about with the Indians. neither before nor after colonialism do such entities 6 . coherence and unity to their cultural experience. The notion of such a system unified the British experience of India.It means to suggest that the West did two things: (a) created ‘Hinduism’ and ‘Buddhism’. this concept has no reference in the world. like all other concepts. this experience was not of the caste system. as a concept and as an experiential entity. Both the caste system and the Indian religions are constructs in this specific sense. However. The issue is not whether western culture created a monolithic religion instead of recognizing the multiplicity of theories and practices that go under the label ‘Hinduism’. The Europeans spoke about these entities as though they existed.. In fact.

we have the possibilities of correcting some of them today. To us. all the books and articles. ‘Jainism’. In that case.or phenomena exist. A Newtonian Anecdote As soon as such a thesis is put across. whereas I claim I am not? It is no part of my theory to suggest that the earlier generations were hallucinating. Entities like ‘Buddhism’. the Hogwarts. articles and interviews tell you about the length of the Unicorn’s horn – a creature which only virgins can see. What I do is something different altogether. ‘Sikhism’. huge questions appear on the horizon. these mistakes take the form of cognitive problems that our theories have to solve. The very same theories should also explain (without adding any 7 . I do suggest that they were wrong. What I argue is the following: thanks to their mistakes. why were they hallucinating. what made them speak of Indian religions? If they were. there are no other religions in India. Of course. it is true. Here is the thesis I want to put across: except for Christianity. These ‘religions’ are the ‘imaginative’ creations of the western savants and of the culture to which they belong. Islam and Judaism. all the PhD’s and all the commonsense talk about these religions tell you as much about India as other ‘relevant’ books. However. exist. from my vantage point and looking back. Here are some: are we to say that nearly four centuries of western intellectuals and nearly two centuries of English-speaking Indians (and others) were hallucinating? If they were not. etc which are called the ‘religions of India’. ‘Hinduism’. They are hipkapis. I do not merely record that they are wrong and claim that I have found ‘the truth’. but they do so only in the western universities. Or about the relation between the upper and lower torso of a satyr or about the need for a curriculum reform at Harry Potter’s magical school. by the simple privilege of being born after them. These entities merely lend structure and stability to the European experience.

all others before them were either bigots or unconscious servants of the ‘exigencies’ of the colonial administration. was once congratulated as “a genius who towered over both his predecessors and his contemporaries”. Quite apart from expressing the truly enviable intellectual humility. only the post-colonial writers of today are the ‘truly enlightened’. earlier theories. Newton’s reply does something more: it tells us something about the growth of scientific knowledge itself. Sir. we have to show why and how we would have committed the same mistakes were we to be placed in their situation. Today is possible only because of yesterday. am standing on the shoulders of giants”. we can hope to create new theories today by building upon the theories of earlier generations. Here. In the process of providing alternate descriptions. It appears that Sir Isaac Newton. And I. ‘sexist’ and ‘colonial’ motives. Let me recount a charming anecdote that circulates in intellectual circles that makes the epistemological point I want to make.additional and ad hoc hypotheses) why thinkers from the earlier generations had to commit the mistakes they did commit. it is not sufficient to say. The alleged reply of Newton goes as follows: “Even the shortest of the pygmies sees farther than the tallest of men. Thus. that the Orientalist writings about India are wrong. Orientalist description of India becomes the foundation for building theories about India. Amongst other things. ‘imperialist’. Obviously. This cognitive requirement is important enough for us to think through a bit. In exactly the same way. as the post-colonials do. Consequently. when he stands on their shoulders. 8 . one of the greatest geniuses we have known. it tells us that Newton’s breakthrough was possible only because he built upon other. the post-colonial writers fail abysmally: all they can say is that the Orientalist writers were misguided by their ‘racist’.

Why did Islam identify the presence of alternative and competing religions in India centuries before the British did? Even here. This explanation takes care of two issues: why both Islam and Christianity spoke of religions in India and why. which is quite fatal to those theories that speak of the ‘colonial construction’ of Hinduism. ‘Hinduism’. Instead. Their construction followed analogous lines 9 . how do we understand the fact that both Islam and Christianity identified more or less same phenomenon as the native religion of India? My hypothesis answers these questions by arguing that those who come from a religious culture are forced to identify religions in other cultures as well and construct them. and how. ‘Buddhism’. it is possible to investigate which of the ‘facts’ that went into constructing the hipkapi belong together. Its compulsion is rooted in the nature of religion. become hipkapis. they translate themselves as tasks. ‘What is Hinduism? What is Buddhism?’ do not become definitional questions.Not only do I argue that the West ‘imaginatively’ created Hinduism but also explain why it was compelled to do so. my story emerges as an alternative. which do not. Consequently. Such an explanation also takes care of Lorenzen’s objection. where they do not exist. There is logic to such constructions.. there is a larger question to be raised. Even though Lorenzen focuses upon the occurrence of the word ‘Hinduism’ in India before the advent of British colonialism. and I advance a hypothesis about religion that accounts for this compulsion (see further). when they have only the British colonialism in mind. This hypothesis breaks the ‘structural unity’ that Orientalism has constructed. they identified (more or less) the same phenomenon as the native religion of India. it is a competitor theory to those in the marketplace about what religion is. etc. this is more important. because one’s experience is accessible for reflection. which require an alternative explanation of those facts that lend credibility to the existence of the hipkapi. One can start probing deeper into one’s own culture. the logic of the religions to which the observers belong. Consequently.

they think that these are variants of what exist in India. In that case. Instead. its intellectuals are blind to the existence of religions in their midst. That is to say. Consequently. try to re-describe Islam and Christianity as variants of Indian traditions. Because the Indian culture does not have ‘native’ religions. In this sense. There is nothing secular or scientific about the domain of religious studies today. let me draw attention to one aspect of such a consciousness. traditions. In this sense. Hence the reason why many Indian intellectuals call the Muslims to ‘reform’ the Koran or ‘rewrite’ the Bible. the next questions force themselves upon us. it shows that there are deep lines of continuity between Islam and Christianity. It is generated through violence. what we call ‘secular’ religious studies is embedded in a Christian theological framework. I cannot dream of suggesting that all our intellectual predecessors and all the contemporary English-speaking Indians were/are hallucinating. Some Additional Theses Immediately. reproduced through asymmetries in power and sustained by an ideology. what about generations of Indian intellectuals? Why do they see religions in their own culture? The answer has to be located in what colonialism is and what it does to a people: among other things. identification of ‘Hinduism’ by the Muslims before the advent of the British does not testify to the existence of that religion in India. Even though I cannot expand on this theme here. it generates what I call ‘colonial consciousness’ in its subjects. so that they might become better suited to the Indian culture.because of the shared heritage of the Semitic religions. Why are all the theories from the domain of religious studies. either they simply mimic the western thinkers while talking about religions or. Christian-theological in nature? How can one make a claim as the 10 . Even where they look at the Semitic religions in India. where they do not. namely. instead. I suggest that the theoretical frameworks and the existing methodologies in the domain of religious studies are secularized variants of Christian theology.

The enlightenment period. We need to take this statement utterly seriously. as it were. what this means is that typically Christian doctrines spread wide and deep beyond the confines of the community of Christian believers dressed up in ‘secular’ (that I am making. not in recognizably Christian) clothes. we know for a fact that not all those who study Indian religions are believers much less Christians. which is identified as ‘the Age of Reason’. are influenced by Christianity. This is the surface or explicit expansion of Christianity. whether in the West or in India. People from other religions convert to Christianity and this is how the community of Christian believers grows. the other through the process of generating secular variants of its theology which also wins adherents. I call this as the process of universalization of religion. Both of these have been present ever since the inception of Christianity and have mutually reinforced each other. I claim that Christianity expands in two ways. how could these people accept a theological framework to study the socalled Indian religions? I answer these questions and give more body to my earlier explanation by formulating the following hypothesis: I suggest that religion (in general) and Christianity (in particular) is characterized by a double dynamic of proselytization and secularization. It means that many things we take for granted. Not many would challenge the claim that Christianity has been highly influential in the development of western culture. I claim that Christianity secularizes itself. Universalization wins converts in two ways: one through the process of conversion. So. As I said. The first is familiar to all of us: direct conversion. in the form of ‘de-Christianized Christianity’. What people normally mean by 11 . if we take the diversities in the theories and methods into consideration? After all. is alleged to be the apotheosis of the so-called process of ‘secularization’. Let me explain. In a manner of speaking. the second way in which Christianity expands is also familiar to us: the so-called process of secularization. where someone is inducted into a religious community. Among other things.

and we should understand that religion is not a matter for state intervention. has continued to gain ascendancy in our own day and time. The spirit of scientific thinking. which dominated that age. From then on. The issue in the debate was about the relationship between the Church as a ‘spiritual’ entity and its relationship to ‘secular’ authorities: was the King subordinate to the Church or the other way round? Did they both 12 . we are proud citizens of the modern day world. and economic life. the Catholic Church settled this issue in one particular way. civic. As an example. and the debates about the relationship between these two realms (or ‘spheres’) characterise the history of Christianity for the last two thousand years. we recognize the value of human rights. we discover that the contrast between the ‘secular’ realm and the ‘religious’ realm (often formulated also as a contrast between the ‘temporal’ and the ‘spiritual’). It revolved around the question of who the Vicar of Christ was. etc. As heirs to this period. political etc. With the Gregorian revolution and the emergence of Canon Law (about a thousand years ago). which put an end to all forms of irrational subservience. This debate was primarily a theological one. but a ‘private’ and personal affair of the individual in question. so goes the standard text book story. We are against all forms of despotism and believers in democracy.‘secularization’ here is the following: the enlightenment thinkers successfully fought against the dominance that religion (especially. humankind began to look to ‘reason’ instead of ‘religion’ in matters social. If we look historically. this is the standard textbook story. As I say. political. Christianity) had exercised over social. The problem with this story is this: the enlightenment thinkers have built their formidable reputation (as opponents of ‘all organized religions’ or even ‘religion’ tout court) by selling ideas from Protestant Christianity as though they are ‘neutral’ and ‘rational’. This theological debate was an answer to the question of the relationship between the King (the emperor) and the Pope. consider the claim that ‘religion’ is not a matter for state intervention and that it is a ‘private’ affair of the individual in question. we believe in the role of reason in social life.

the spiritual and the temporal? What was the relationship between these two spheres? Etc. Being a Christian believer is a matter between the Maker (i. The triumph of Protestantism in Europe has led even the Catholic Christians to accept a watered-down version of this theological claim as a political doctrine.. intellectuals and political thinkers in Europe have been ceaselessly selling Protestant theology (albeit dressed in secular clothes) as the summum of human civilization. God) and the Individual. it involved the relationship between ‘religion’ and ‘state’. Neither the Catholic Church nor the secular authorities could interfere in the affairs of religion. and men could not judge each other in matters of faith.have different spheres of influence. Over the centuries. especially in Continental Europe. 13 . this theological debate became more generalized. No human law or organization can dictate how a man worships or what he worships. Theologically at stake was the nature of Catholic Church and its theology. the Christian God).e. which was seen as a human institution by the Protestants. add anything to the word of God? Much like the earlier debate. who judged man. Protestant theologies make the following claim: nothing can come between an individual and God except God’s revelation. Any such incursion in the worship of God is the corrupting influence of the Devil. With the Protestant reformation. It now involved every single Christian: could the laws and institutions of men (the secular structures and their injunctions) in any way restrain the revelations of God? Could an institution like the Catholic Church. which involves the relationship between the individual and God. politically. viz. this was also theological and political. It was ‘God’ (i. The theories of state neutrality we have (the so-called Liberal theories) secularize this Protestant theological claim.e. The separation of state from religion (to put it crudely) is a theological doctrine of Protestant Christianity.

No possibility exists of conceptualizing such a distinction outside of some or another theological framework.This claim makes sense only in relationship to what religion is (i. To begin appreciating the plausibility (if not the truth) of my claim. ask yourselves the following question: why are the so-called ‘social sciences’ different from the natural sciences? I mean to say. The lines of distinction between the ‘religious’ and the ‘secular’ spheres are drawn within a religion. no ‘neutral’ or ‘scientific’ description of such a divide will ever be forthcoming. the mathematical and logical sophistication in some of the social sciences is simply mind-bending. but an embroidering of theology. why have the social sciences not developed the way natural sciences have? There must have been many geniuses in the field of social sciences. Why is this? There are many answers provided in the history of philosophy and many of you may have your own favourite explanation. Most of our so-called social sciences are not ‘sciences’ in any sense of the term: they are merely secularized Christian theologies. the social sciences are not progressing. The enlightenment thinkers repeated this Protestant story and this has become our ‘secularism’. It is not even as though the social sciences are totally starved of funding or personnel. What you get then is not a scientific theory. Here is my answer: you cannot build a scientific theory based on theological assumptions. Historically speaking.e. The so-called ‘religious and secular divide’ is a distinction drawn within a religion and is internal to it. 14 . we have computers that can simulate almost anything. this demarcation is the work of Christian theology and our political theories are Christian theologies in disguise. I put to you that this is what has happened. ‘in what form is Christianity a religion?’) and how religion draws a line between the ‘secular’ and the ‘sacred’. Despite these. Those who moan about the process of ‘secularization’ as a ‘disappearance of religion’ are ignorant of what they are talking about: ‘secularization’ is one of the ways in which a religion spreads in society.

As such. This framework compels them to ‘discover’ religions in every culture. This theology is primarily Christian in its nature and Semitic in its origin. the belief that all cultures have some or another native religion is itself theological in nature. Therefore. western intellectuals mistakenly see religion in all cultures because of the compulsion exerted by the religious framework in which they are situated. The modern day social sciences embody the 15 . our theories about the state and politics. This list is both varied and huge.. Is there any wonder that they set out to naturalize this mode of being by chattering incessantly about the evolutionary and biological origins of religion? One might plausibly assent to what I have said so far and to one of its implications: The western intellectuals were mistaken and continue to be mistaken in seeing religions in India because they make use of ‘theological frameworks’ to study other peoples and cultures. To such people. I suggest that when people do research into the evolutionary and natural origins of religions in human communities. our constitutions that erect the wall of separation between religion and politics.. they are doing theology even though they proclaim to the world at large that they are doing ‘science’. our theories about human ethics and moralities. Let me summarize what I have said so far very sharply. in fact.These secular variants of Christian theology include our theories of human rights as natural rights. there is only one mode of being-in-the-world: the western mode. Christianity spreads in two ways: through conversion and secularization. The secularized-theological framework is absorbed in multiple ways by the western intellectuals. for example. what they tell us about our nature and the nature of our interactions with fellow human beings is also what Christianity tells us. In this sense. our theories about the growth and development of human psychologies. Theories in multiple domains about human beings and their endeavours build on secularized versions of Christian theological assumptions.

therefore. has brought forth a ‘secular’ phenomenon. religiously secular: it is a secular world within the ambit of a religious world and is created by the latter. This western culture is. a particular religion. In this sense. which answer the above question. The reason why the Semitic religions are ‘religions’ and not something else has to do with the fact that each possesses this property. namely. albeit in a ‘secularized’ form. namely Christianity. has also brought forth western culture. Religion: A Characterization The presence of which properties transform some phenomenon into a religion? What makes the Semitic religions into religions at all? Why do I argue that Indian culture does not have ‘native’ religions? Even though I cannot give detailed answers to these questions in the course of this paper. the process of secularization of Christian ideas. My characterization of religion is that it is an explanatory intelligible account of both the Cosmos and itself. Let us say that we need to account for this objecting behaviour: Why does he object if others smoke in his presence? Let us now consider the two kinds of accounts. in my story. Christianity. western culture. that is to say. Let me use an analogy to elucidate this point.assumptions of Christian theology. let me provide the outlines of my answer. This thesis is consistent with my claim that the secular is generated by the religious and that the secular remains within the boundaries of the religious. an explanatory and an intelligible one. One could make the objection of the non-smoker intelligible by appealing to the (reasonable and justifiable) beliefs held by him: he believes that smoking is injurious to 16 . It is an insidious process. Consider a non-smoker who objects to others smoking in the same room where he is present. we should locate the causes in those properties that make something into a religion. Why has this movement of secularizing the religious come about? I claim that we should seek the answers in what makes Christianity into a religion.

“Because”. by looking at this behaviour as an intentional act. Because I merely want to illustrate the difference between two kinds of account using the same example. it appears impossible to speak of human actions without appealing to desires and beliefs. And that the relationship between ‘intending’ and ‘acting’ is not only constant but that nothing else interferes between the former and the latter to such an extent that they virtually become 17 .” On the one hand. I now tell you that the cause of his objection has nothing to do with his `beliefs'.. It suggests or hints that some sets of actions are intelligible because they instantiate some sets of beliefs. but doing so reduces the predictive power (or the problem solving capacity) of the accounts we may give.. “Why does this non-smoker object to the others smoking in his presence?” “Because”. each of which appears to focus on different questions. let me introduce myself into this picture as a possessor of some piece of information. in fact. Smirking smugly. I say grinning from ear to ear. etc. breaking for the good of science) he informed me that he cannot withstand smoke. an explanatory account and an intelligibility one.. Consider now an account. “he cannot withstand smoke. alas. in strict confidence. we can understand his behaviour by appealing to his beliefstates (or intentional states).. which promises to give us both.) He does not believe that the smell is injurious to health and that. It is important to note that his beliefs are connected to his actions by means of principle(s) of sound reasoning. the search for the underlying (contingent) causal laws governing human behaviour has not yielded fruits either. “he believes that. he likes it..” The ellipsis would get filled-in by these above beliefs. In any case. On the other hand. (He has severe asthma and some other allergies that make him react physically to smoke.. Hence. That is to say. and that he does not desire to injure his health. Let us suppose that I am his friend and that one day. so the intelligibility account goes on. (which I am. and that passive smoking is also a form of we have two kinds of accounts.

prediction becomes possible as well. the message. It claims that all there is. The causal law will be general. its predictive power is not reduced. and shall be (the ‘Cosmos’. these. happenings. His actions are the universe. His message is precisely the above doctrine. At best. such actions exist too. We now have on our hands what we call a ‘religious doctrine’. that is) are expressions of a will that 18 . It adds further that this being has communicated its purposes to us – the understandability of this message is again restricted by the descriptive possibilities open to us. because each type of action instantiates one and only one purpose. we have two sources of knowledge: some sets of actions that we try to understand. and the causes are the intentions of such a being. and phenomena. The reason for calling it thus must be obvious: the causes of the action are also its reasons. if they are possible. That is to say. In such a case. Suppose that we now have a doctrine which says the following: such a being exists. when it is forthcoming. but we could never provide a complete description of the actions of such a being nor possibly observe all the actions of that being. There is only one proviso attached. will give us an explanatory intelligible account of that being and its actions. one can only read-off the purposes of the actions exhaustively if the descriptions of these actions are themselves exhaustive. was. Suppose further that this being is called ‘God’. Further. Such an account.identical. which we try to make sense of. To those from the outside. of such a being. together. a complete and totally accurate description of the actions is required before we can be said to have a complete knowledge of the reasons for the actions. Because the observer’s knowledge of these actions is always framed in some description or the other. This doctrine makes the Cosmos into an explanatorily intelligible entity but not by providing us with a detailed explanation of all events. if it exists. of such sets of actions. knowledge of these actions is sufficient to draw inferences about the reasons for actions. we could have a very fragmented and partial description of such actions.

the latter involves that the ‘religion’ itself exemplifies explanatory intelligibility. There would have been a logical problem here. because God has revealed His purposes by speaking to us about them. This. then. It is the explanation of the universe which includes itself as an explanandum. That is. Which kind of an account? It is an account that not only says that the Cosmos is explanatorily intelligible but also one which makes the Cosmos into such an entity. a religious account must itself be explanatorily intelligible. so is this knowledge about the world.constitutes the cementing bond of the Cosmos. the threat of circularity perhaps. It is not just any knowledge-claim but one which brings reasons and causes together in an extraordinary way. if this were to be the result of our (human) understanding or theory of the world. As religious 19 . it imparts knowledge by saying that the world is the expression of the purposes of God. is the crucial component that breaks the possible circularity. consider what religion does. To get a better grasp on the issue. ‘Revelation’. then. Since the religion in question is making a claim about the world. Consequently. Among other things. Because this is what the world is. it is not enough that the doctrine ‘says’ that the world expresses the Will of God. However. is what makes an explanation ‘religious’: it is knowledge of the Cosmos which includes itself. this claim about the nature of the Cosmos is not a bare and simple statement but is itself couched in the form of an account. it is a knowledge-claim. First. it must also exemplify that property which makes the universe into a specific kind of a place. this knowledge of the world is also in the world. the knowledge of the world will be an explanatory intelligible account. Second. In so far as it makes this particular claim about the Cosmos. That is. If the universe is explanatorily intelligible. But this problem does not arise. but it must also exhibit or ‘express’ the very same will of God as well. Religion makes both the Cosmos and itself explanatorily intelligible. it must not only tell us why God created the world and us but also why He gave religion to humankind.

it is not evident that religion answers this question at all. However. Consequently to accept that life. A religious doctrine need not specify the purposes of any individual life or death. Consequently. One of the oft-heard claims about religion is that it helps human beings to find meaning and purpose in their lives. a meaning. religion need not prove the existence of God at all. religion is God’s gift to mankind and not a human invention. we are born and die in the Cosmos. and a purpose. I know of no religion that has been able to answer a specific individual’s ‘existential question’. As an individual. Yet others would say ‘yes’. the existence of religion is the proof for the existence of God. you do not know what the purpose or meaning of your birth or death is. However. To be part of a religion – as a first approximation – is to believe that human life and death have significance. it is not always clear what this claim amounts to. Equally often heard claims suggest that one of the problems in the secularized societies of ours is that individuals experience ‘anomie’ or ‘alienation’ by virtue of not finding such a meaning. What religions have done is to assert that life and death have a meaning and purpose. including your life. has meaning and purpose is to accept this doctrine. Are the diverse religions so many different attempts to find solutions to the question of meaning of one’s life and death? Some would say ‘no’. it is enough that it merely says that there is one. or. both events have a purpose as well. 20 . But because you believe that your life itself is explanatorily intelligible. As human beings. Religion and Meaning To accept this account is to accept that everything in the universe has a purpose. absurd. finding that life is meaningless. In this sense.figures would put it perhaps. your actions appear to you as constituting (or exemplifying) the meaning of your life. used often as a synonym in this context. as an explanatory intelligible account.

I lose all interest. said a doctor to me once. As soon as I get them. you get the following reply as an explication of the said meaning of their lives: they describe what they are doing.” Even though what you have on your hands is a mere re-description of his action. we do redescribe the action. if you talk to people who do believe that they have found their meaning and purpose in life. which you have observed. Equally regularly. this account makes it intelligible. this is what makes my life meaningful to me”. but we can see that it has the structure of an intelligibility account. Neither you nor I are any the wiser for this piece of knowledge. “Where I can help people using my skills”. and inform you that this description is the meaning of their lives. let us consider the following event and its account. he succeeds in picking them up – each time a different woman. Suppose that you have a friend who attends parties or goes to dancing clubs very regularly. “I do so. they merely reply that their lives have meaning and that the meaning of their lives is the lives they are leading. To understand this better. he chases after women on such occasions and. and in this way the action is explained (in Davis. which is why I drop them. His answer goes like this: “I always want a woman I cannot get – that is why I go after women at the parties.In fact. Ed. As Davidson (1963) formulates it: “ (T)here is no denying that this is true: when we explain an action. by re-describing the pattern he also appears to place it in a bigger pattern accessible to you. by giving the reason. 1983: 64). redescribing the action gives the action a place in a pattern. Your friend made his action of chasing after women intelligible not merely by describing the pattern in his actions. That is. Puzzled. the bigger pattern 21 . it also places it in a bigger pattern. The description of a pattern in one's life also re-describes the pattern in one's life. That is. “a reason makes an action intelligible by redescribing it” (ibid. let us say.. Those who have found meaning in their lives do precisely this: re-describe the lives they are leading. To those from the outside. you ask him one day why he does this.: 67).

which makes either meaning attribution or its denial sensible with respect to individual or collective life. Take religion away. By saying this. From the inside though.. They cannot tell you what that pattern is. the intelligibility appears missing because the pattern where it requires to be placed is not known. I do not imply that life is either meaningless or that it is absurd. These problems do not antedate religion. the religious framework tantalizingly hints that the problem is solvable. the answer to the question of the meaning of life is not to be sought in the answer. In this sense. you will also take these questions away.e. Religion was not invented to answer questions about the meaning and purpose of the life of some or another specific individual.appears absent. it is not true to say that one cannot communicate the meaning one has found to one’s life because it is some “intensely personal thing” or because such a deep ‘personal’ thing is not communicable. to those to whom their own lives appear meaningful. to someone who listens to such accounts. religion generates them. they are religious questions no matter what the answer is. Rather. They feel that their lives are placed in a pattern and not merely that their lives have a pattern. what I am saying is that the questions about the meaning of life are internal to religion. even this answer is given within a framework. a pattern appears to be present. from the outside. nor are they the questions of the ‘modern’ man but those of a religious man 22 . No. It is found in the belief that enables the formulation of such a question.000 years ago. No. Such questions come into being within the framework of religion. because. any more than your friend can tell you about the pattern where his women-chasing activity is placed. Religion enables one to raise such questions because it is the only framework where such queries can arise. which is why this account of life does not appear intelligible. More generally. In fact. instead. Having done so. these people are able to communicate the meaning of their individual lives. i. They are not questions that a ‘primitive’ man raised 10.

promises also to relate us intelligibly to the world. therefore. It makes the world explanatorily intelligible by structuring experience accordingly. some or other statement need occur to the effect that the Cosmos is an explanatorily intelligible entity. As an account. then. of course. the sense that we could make of this knowledge is fallible unless. In simple and simplified steps. it avoids a crippling circularity by placing the origin of this account outside those who accept it. characterizes both itself as an account and the account of the Cosmos as true (step 3). to grow up within a religious tradition is to grow up with this fundamental experience where the Cosmos has explanatory intelligibility. when viewed from the standpoint of finite individuals with finite knowledge and abilities. Equally. to have a religion is to have this experience. we know this because God has revealed it. religion tells us what the Cosmos is like (step 1). Religion makes the world intelligible to us. step 3: God’s revelation consists precisely of both the above steps. in any particular religion. makes them into rival religions is their characterization of this explanatory intelligibility of human life and death (at a minimum). the Cosmos exhibits His purpose. both the problem and its solution can be described as follows: step 1: Created by God. However. In a deep and fundamental sense. In doing so. What. What is paradoxical. this Divine Being 23 . ceases being so when claimed to instantiate the infinite knowledge of some ‘totally other’ kind of being. this does not imply that. perhaps even impossible.– a homo religiosus. The problem that we could have with respect to such knowledge is not epistemic but hermeneutic in nature: our interpretative abilities are finite. including this step. makes itself into an object by telling us how we could know that such is the case (step 2). Their affirmation that the Cosmos is an explanatorily intelligible entity makes them into religions. the difference among religions will revolve around the specification of these purposes. step 2: As human beings. Clearly.

The same God.would also help us out in this case. and expressed in them. He brought forth everything for some purpose or another. It is its own justification. Even such a ‘trivial’ action as my opening a door could not be said to instantiate some or other belief unambiguously: perhaps. Looked in terms of what human beings do and what they think. and in His product. founded on nothing that is human. You could also ask me the reasons for my action: but I could deceive you by telling a plausible lie. viz. the world is governed by the Will of The Sovereign. As a Being with goals and purposes. The cosmic products and processes embody the Will of this God. how can we know (or even hypothesize about) God’s Will by studying His actions? 24 . we do know that there is a hiatus between the actions we perform and our belief states. Nature. has manifested His Will to us in two ways: through revelation. there is also the Biblical revelation.. and then. readoff my intentions unambiguously by looking at my actions.. I feel that the room is stuffy or that it is too cold. Candour requires me to add: rumour has it that this Being is known to do precisely that. the Bible tells us.. Given the nature of this object. What we human beings see are the phenomena. we need not wonder anymore that we have to take recourse to religious/theological vocabulary in order to explicate the concept of religion. or I sense an eavesdropper … You cannot. perhaps I want you to get out. but underlying them. as expressed in the scriptures. In a deep and fundamental sense. in other words. is the Work of God. The creation of the world and all that is in it. its own truth. is the Will of God. This being the case. or I forgot my own reasons. How can we know the will of an actor by studying his actions? From our experience in the world. even if His criterion for selecting individuals remains rather vague and mysterious. the Good Book further tells us. or that I am not even sure that I have reasons. We can study His Works and through such a study learn inductively about His Will. religion involves a peculiar kind of reflexivity.

. Commendable and necessary though such attitudes are. I suggest. for example. One such candidate. by contrast. etc. The ascription of predicates of perfection to God. perfectly consistent and that His actions perfectly express His intentions. Thus. Consider. The Sovereign's Will is not arbitrary but perfectly constant. Even though we do not know whether they are true. the Romans. His works do not deceive us. which many authors use as an argument for the impossibility of His existence. This constancy is the Will of The Sovereign. His Will governs the world. or the Hindus.. we assume that many of our beliefs and theories are true. underlying constancy. the ‘gods’ of the so-called religions like those of the Greeks. The assumption about the truth of these beliefs is strengthened by a whole number of other beliefs – from sending satellites to circle the earth to biological theories and medical practices – and we do not really despair about the tentative and hypothetical nature of our theories. we have no reason (as yet) to presume their falsity.The answer must be obvious. Religion and Truth In our daily activities in the world. was a necessary condition for the emergence of human knowledge about the natural world. our indifference does not affect the epistemological point: any and all of our theories could turn out to be false. They ceaselessly interfere with the affairs of mankind but in ways that are both unpredictable and mysterious. 25 . is that the earth revolves around the sun or that we do not change shape while we sleep. What is constant about these gods is their capriciousness or unpredictability. and this order consists of the fact that phenomena express a deep. Because he is a Being who is perfectly trustworthy. it is only right and proper that the universe is not governed by their will. God is perfectly good. Let me reformulate the earlier paragraphs in the following way: the Bible inculcates an experience of the Cosmos as a particular kind of order.

whether one can understand Gödel’s theorem or the mechanism of gene-splicing. whether one can drive a car or not. we think that our folkpsychology makes use of intelligibility accounts. On our own. We know of partial explanatory accounts. or quantum particles. we could never arrive at an explanatory intelligible account. the issue and the question of truth take a radical form. which includes itself as an explanandum.Religion not only tells us the way the Cosmos is. Furthermore. Whether one believes in the existence of witches. which claims to be the truth about the world. But this notion does not make the world explanatorily intelligible. Such is not the case for religion at all. God has to reveal himself and aid us in seeing the truth because this truth does not depend upon human knowledge and what we. Based on human knowledge and human cognitive abilities. is an account that has no parallels in the domain of human knowledge. it looks as though we cannot use it for anything else: what makes religion true cannot make 26 . believe to be true. The problem is not whether religion is true in the same way my belief about Brussels being the capital city of Belgium is true. Corresponding to this. What we have on our hands. is about the Cosmos. If we use the predicate ‘true’ to describe religion. at any given moment. The latter’s truth depends on other beliefs being true as well. then. is radically independent of our prior theories about the world. note well. as these religions have explained themselves. religion. but also makes itself explanatorily intelligible. one’s access to the ‘message’ of religion is not affected. Grasping the truth of the religious account does not depend on our finite knowledge of the world and this truth. but of the Cosmos and itself. Religion alone is both an explanatory and an intelligibility account. we could only arrive at a ‘vague’ conception of God as the creator. ancestors. Not of this or that individual phenomenon. both of which are finite.

If they are ‘religions’. two things must be clear by now: (a) my characterization of religion attempts to make sense of the experience of the believers. Only that entity (‘God’. one can do what I have done: take note of the fact that religion is an 27 .anything else true. we cannot study religion as religion (or under the description of ‘religion’) from outside. I ‘privilege the insider perspective’ as against the ‘outsider perspective’. ever. what does the explanatory intelligibility consist of. Consequently. However. I seem to speak of ‘religion as sui generis’. there is no ‘outsider’ perspective available to us human beings. What we have in human cultures are specific phenomena like Christianity. Maximally. why it does this to some and not to the others. In contemporary jargon. I seem to talk as though religion cannot be studied using methods and theories from other sciences. I cannot say what makes some account an explanatorily intelligible account of the Cosmos. ‘religion’ is a property of these specific phenomena. Judaism and such like. etc. The ‘insider’ and ‘outsider’ problem makes sense only with respect to specific religions because they also have other properties than that of religion. then they are that by virtue of possessing some property that makes them into religions. let me make a few points in my defence. From the outside. I am not speaking about what makes some phenomenon into Christianity but what makes Christianity into religion. without having any such account. (b) In doing so. with respect to that property which makes them into religion (the explanatory intelligibility that I talk about). Religion ‘Sui Generis’? To the reader and to someone familiar with contemporary religious studies. in our case) whose will is the causal force of the Cosmos has an ‘outsider’ perspective with respect to the explanatory intelligible account that religion is. Islam. using a realist language. In the words of McCutcheon. Because I cannot fully answer these objections in the course of this article. Religion is the truth in the specific sense of not being dependent on the truth of any other belief we hold about the world. In this sense.

the ‘other’ is not “The Totally Other” of Schleiermacher. In this sense. we will have some idea about what it means to be religious. it does mean the following. we can study religion scientifically but we must know the level at which we can provide a scientific description. we can ask the believers to explain themselves. only then are we forced to do theology. Without such an account. the possibility of a ‘science of religion’ resides in our willingness to accept theology as science. and that the nonrational elements are related to the rational. there is no question of experiencing the ‘absolute dependency’ that Schleiermacher talks about. this does not mean that one cannot study religion scientifically. In such a case. To 28 . Religion is an account that involves concepts. But. all we can experience is a kind of relative dependency upon each other. But religion can be studied at different levels of description: (a) as religion. Both argue that having a religious experience presupposes that one belongs to a religion. But that is a different issue altogether.explanatory intelligible account. (b) as world view. Consequently. we will be studying what it means ‘to believe’ for these people. To accept it is to feel a part of the purposes of that Being and depend on Him. if and where we can understand their answer to the ‘meaning’ of the Cosmos and life. In such a case. (c) as a causal force in a culture. Religion exhibits reflexivity: religion includes what it says about itself. However. religious language is both the object language and its own meta-language. yes. my characterization of religion says as much. (d) as specific religions. In fact. If we study religion as religion. at best. etc. In this sense. Indeed so. My characterization of religion enables us to come to grips with authors like Schleiermacher and Otto. I am not in the least suggesting that we cannot study religion using theories and methods from the sciences. without accusing them of bad faith or imputing ‘apologetic motivations’ to them. To be sure. who have spoken of religious experience.

accept religion. Each is a specific religion. He can judge that one religion is better than the other. Brilliant and reputed thinkers have tried to argue for this point of view. Therefore. Very often. Some individual may.e. But he can only do so after the other account has made the Cosmos explanatorily intelligible to him but not before. that is. simple: religion must make the Cosmos explanatorily intelligible to the individual in question. including both religion and science. Why should one believe in God in order to discuss His existence? One does not have to be a stone to describe its fall. It is this property that makes not only Christianity but also Judaism and Islam into religions. only after trading places. he has to – that this superiority arises from the fact that one is better than the other. why should one be religious to scientifically investigate religion? 29 . switch from one to the other on the ground that one does it better than the other. The reason is. indeed. we need to accept the explanatorily intelligible account of the Cosmos. at any given moment of time. but the point is that there is no vantage point for the human being to judge the superiority of one religion against the other. of course. But that which makes them into religion also divides. He may even believe – and. each is an explanatorily intelligible account and each makes the Cosmos into an explanatorily intelligible entity to those who accept this account.. Equally often.have the kind of experience that Schleiermacher talks about. dogmatism and suspected of harbouring apologetic motivations. such people have been accused by their opponents of bad faith. any more than one has to be a neurotic to discuss the nature of neurosis. But his ground is that one succeeds better than the other in making the Cosmos explanatorily intelligible to him. Any phenomenon can be scientifically studied. unless one is a believer oneself. i. A ‘formal’ conversion may (and often does) come later. and this dispute is unsolvable because it has no solution. believers make the claim that one cannot investigate the nature of religion. the opponents have maintained.

So. This position stands to reason because. as I have said. Some Contemporary Criticisms Quite apart from the above remarks. as Söderblom did. those who do not accept it do criticize and discuss this doctrine. my attempt has also met with criticisms either directly or indirectly. it is important to note what I am saying and what I am not. After all. who denies the existence of God? Belonging to a religion is not equivalent to holding a party card. The believers are not. Any specific doctrine within a specific religion – say. One can only do so from within the framework of some specific religion or another. Protestant Christianity) as an exemplary instance of the category of religion. that the only science of religion could be theology. religion is an object of investigation from within some or another religion. the doctrine of trinity – is not immune from criticism or beyond discussion. religion can be investigated only by being religious yourself. beginning with those of Sweetman and Pennigton. In this sense. according to them. I submit. as I have said. Again. for example. Failing to appreciate what I do or even understand the difference between a definition and a hypothesis. That is. dogmatic when they say. if a Jew can criticize the doctrine of Trinity. Only from within the framework of one religion can we judge the ‘adequacy’ of the other. The reason. religion makes itself explanatorily intelligible too.Consider what I just said above regarding how anyone could judge the superiority of one religion against the other. Both believe that my ‘definition’ of religion is flawed because I take Christianity (especially. lies in the fact that they are all explanatorily intelligible accounts. I should like to answer a few of them. In 30 . In the starkest possible terms: to investigate religion – as an explanatorily intelligible account of the Cosmos – we need to accept some or another explanatorily intelligible account of the Cosmos. why not someone else. in all probability. every single doctrine of every religion has been discussed and criticized either at one time or another. they come up with totally muddleheaded criticisms.

Yet. Second premise: Hinduism does not share all (or perhaps any) of the relevant properties of Christianity. Let me take up the more substantive issues. this could imply that ‘Hinduism’ is a religion. Falsity travels. In the first place. he does exactly that. In deductive logics. He detects the following form in my argument: “First premise: Christianity is prototypically what religion is. My statement about the exemplary nature of Christianity must. again in deductive logics. instead. No one can derive the conclusion (without adding additional premises) that Sweetman attributes to me: ‘Hinduism is not a religion’. truth is transmitted from the premises to the conclusion but not their falsity. there is an asymmetry in the transmission of truth and falsity in deductive logics. In other words.337) To begin with. second. even if it is not prototypically what a religion is. the conclusion is invalid: the only possible conclusion that one can draw from the above is the following: ‘Hinduism is not prototypically what a religion is’. Such an ostensive gesture – though given in 31 . address myself to his ‘central’ criticism. let me make three logical points about his ‘reconstruction’ of my argument. the ‘conclusion’ that Sweetman attributes to me is not derivable on the basis of these two premises alone: we need more. Thus. above everything else.” (p. as it stands now.) Third. he wants to take issue with the truth of the conclusion but he does so by throwing doubts upon the truth of the premises. the other way round: falsity is transmitted from the conclusion to the premises. be situated in the context of providing an ostensive definition of the term ‘religion’. Conclusion: Hinduism is not a religion. As a result. he cannot contest the truth of the conclusion (that he attributes to me) on logical grounds by challenging the truth-value of the premises. A freshman introduction to logic course would have told him that he cannot do this.what follows. I shall not try to set right the manifold confusions in Sweetman’s thinking but. (Of course.

I do not even assume the existence of religion. then we have no other examples of religion. If ‘religion’ refers to something at all. I merely point out the fact that unless we can show that our language-use refers to an entity that does not exist in our world – in which case we need not study religion at all – we may not reject our linguistic practice. it must at least refer to Christianity. Rather. In fact. it is sensible to say this only when we have a theory of religion and not before. Therefore. ‘Satyrs’ and ‘Unicorns’. of the category ‘religion’. I am not providing an explicit definition of the word ‘religion’. the history of our natural language-use with respect to this word does suggest that it does. ‘Cyclops’. it is easily conceivable that Christianity is not even a religion and that our language-use is wrong. one’s view of Christianity – whether it is a ‘true’ religion or merely a false consciousness – does not affect the definition I am putting forward. I am not making any assumptions about what religion is. in our language-use (in western languages). In fact. Otherwise. I am simply identifying an example. My definition registers a fact about a language-use but makes no further assertions either about Christianity or about religion. I make no assumptions about the nature of religion or of Christianity in beginning a study of religion. it picks out a ‘fictitious entity’ – and this is a theoretical claim that one cannot make at the preliminary stage of defining a word in a theory. However. Suppose that we extend this argument further. a prototypical example. My only argument is: if Christianity is not an exemplary instance of ‘religion’. In other words.language instead of in physical gestures – does not make any claims about the nature of religion except to point out that. the word ‘religion’ refers at least to Christianity. or what makes Christianity into one. Our linguistic practice not only assures us that these words refer to creatures in the world but 32 . Such an ostensive definition does not mean that Christianity is the best religion or the most perfect one or the only one. The very same linguistic practice that I talk about also refers to following entities: ‘Leprechauns’.

the word found a home in Christian theory and practice. Let me linger on this point a bit longer because quite a few scholars argue today (Jonathan Smith. but. whether these words have any reference in the real word) only by accepting the theories in evolutionary biology and not by talking about some or another philosophical claim about ‘meaning’ and ‘reference’. Why ‘minimally’? What if someone refuses to recognize that Christianity is a prototypical instance of the category ‘religion’? My answer is that this is the only option open to us. In fact Jonathan Smith even claims that “there is no data for religion”. one should have some or another substantial theory about the relevant part of the world. We can take issue with the claims about the existence of such creatures (and. for more than two-thousand years. Such a theory also has to explain why. How much is this argument 33 . On the reference of the word ‘religion’ When we use the category ‘religion’. if one wants to challenge the linguistic-use with respect to the word ‘religion’. Suppose that someone denies the prototypicality of Christianity as a religion. If he argues the first position. Of course. it is advisable that one arms oneself adequately. one is at perfect liberty to counter the linguistic practice. then. he is running counter to our linguistic practice where the word does have a reference. (b) or claim that it has some other reference.also provides us with entertaining tales about the behaviour of such creatures. Russell McCutcheon to name a few) that the word ‘religion’ has no reference to anything in the world and that it is merely a part of scholars’ talk. i.e.. unless we make epistemic assumptions about the object before having studied it. A bare claim about ‘meaning’ and ‘reference’ will not do. thus. he must also have some kind of a theory about what ‘religion’ is and what it is not. Then. we minimally refer to Christianity. In this sense. he has to (a) either deny that the concept ‘religion’ has any reference to any entity in the world.

the accusation is that some scholars attempt to 34 . it is meaningless to make the claim that ‘there is no data for gravity’. Otto. However. It is only a theory about these phenomena that tells us that the free fall of objects. Eliade and others). etc. one cannot conclude anything because we cannot know what the data sets for these words are. it is the theory of gravitation that tells us what ‘its’ facts are. In the absence of theories about gravity and gravitational force. or are they discrete facts for different theories? There is no way we can answer such questions in the absence of a theory that effectively solves these problems. But our problem is: which theory should explain these facts? Should a theory in geography or a theory from physics or a theory about the fairies and angels tell us about the ‘why’? Should one particular theory explain all the above facts. it is meaningless. it is actually ad hominem: they are directed against certain authors (Scheleirmacher. Worse. Such a theory also postulates relations between these phenomena and gravitational force. who are characterized as harbouring ‘apologetic motivations’. their claim is unfounded. In the absence of such theories. They are parts of scholarly discourse. Actually. Without such a theory. what could we possibly conclude about the reference of these words? Epistemically speaking. the ebb and tide in the sea and the presence of atmosphere on earth. let me identify the conditions under which such an argument becomes admissible. have all to do with gravity and gravitational force.worth? By building an analogical argument. Thus. it is meaningless only if treated as a philosophical objection. though disguised as an ‘objective criticism’. Let us suppose that I make the following claim: the words ‘gravity’ and ‘gravitational force’ are mere words in the scholarly talk. or a theory of theologies. we might notice some facts: that objects in free fall downwards or that there are ebbs and tides in the sea etc. Basically. Because none of the authors named above have anything that remotely resembles a theory of religion or a theory of scholarly discourse in the domain of religious studies.

are ‘unique’ to religion. and the word has its home in the European languages.prevent a ‘naturalistic’ study of religion by cordoning off religion from any such approach. If taken as philosophical criticisms. This is a philosophical stance that some assume with respect to scientific theories: one could consider such concepts as ‘fictions’. it is a sensible metascientific standpoint that tries to account for scientific theories by denying reference to theoretical terms. that as socio-cultural entities. To go against either of these two facts is to have a theory about both. such fallacious arguments have no place in an intellectual discussion. This linguistic practice itself is not neutral. One cannot either criticize or explain Schleirmacher’s theory about religion by suggesting that he had apologetic motivations. it also underlines the fact that scientific enquiries have a context too. we function in a context. Apparently. it is the practice of a community that speaks this way and not that or another way.. one could meaningfully suggest that ‘gravity and gravitational force’ do not refer to anything in the real world. they do this by suggesting that ‘religious experience’. I can be briefer. But then. or as ‘theoretical terms’. After all. ‘religiosity’. Regarding the second point. today. etc. they are meaningless. In other words. To be sure. as I have said. Indeed. but it minimally picks out Christianity. This fact about the linguistic practices of a community having a cultural history reflects a general point. these are the general presuppositions of any 35 . we are not in such a situation. On the other hand. viz. the concept could have other references. I do not deny this. Though meaningful in so far as speculations about motives are concerned. However. when there is a theory of gravity and gravitational force. or as ‘pragmatically useful’ concepts that help us predict etc. Christianity has described itself as a religion. To argue that it refers to some other entity without referring also to Christianity is to take an epistemic decision: after all. The problem with ad hominem attacks is that they embody fallacious reasoning.

that I am a human being and. This situation does not tell us a great deal: it could be that the former is merely less prototypical than Christianity.human enquiry – not merely of this one. However. I am situated in a cultural and intellectual milieu is not quite the same as accepting presuppositions either about religion or the relation of Christianity to religion. or even a group of them. or that the former is a ‘truer’ religion than Christianity. it could be that both have all the properties of religion. some other tradition is not a religion. (say. One may want to argue that Christianity has progressively become less of a religion because it is now more interested in earthly possessions. Needless to say. television studios. land. This is so obvious a point that one wonders how Sweetman could possibly see me arguing the opposite. can we argue that because some properties characteristic of Christianity are absent from traditions elsewhere. Let us say that in some phenomenon this or that property. Today. the former owns buildings. is absent. aircrafts. Could we answer the question about the existence or nonexistence of religion by simply looking at the properties of Christianity? That is. Or the other way round. that this argument can work only if we 36 . These are the properties – in both the senses of possessions and predicates – of Christianity. In the absence of such proof. etc. because of these differences. one cannot argue that. in ‘Hinduism’ or ‘Buddhism’) the latter cannot possibly be religions? Such an argument is possible only if one is able to show that the properties of Christianity which one has identified are also the properties of religion. let us assume that these very same properties are present in Christianity. telephones. etc. Is it any more or less of a religion because of that? The only way we can answer this question either way is by postulating (or having a theory about) the relation between Christianity and religion. consequently. Consider the distinction between Christianity as a historical movement and Christianity as a religion. Notice. all that one can do is to notice that Christianity and some other tradition differ from each other. however.

the former is also a religion even if it does not believe in God. but also helped it to recognize some of the 37 . Because some or another tradition appears to share some of the properties of Christianity. having a few teeth. having one eye. the former is also like Christianity minus its belief in God. If Southwold can argue anything at all on grounds of his polythetic attributes. By looking at Christianity alone – as the exemplar of the concept of religion – we can make no such claim. a tail. has one eye. one ear. the former is also a religion. let me outline the way I formulate the problem of studying religion. As I have argued. One such is the obverse of this argument. a brown cat that limps. it refers at least to Christianity because the latter refers to itself as a religion (i. Precisely. eating rats. If Christianity refers to itself as a religion and recognizes itself as one. This concept not only enabled Christianity to describe itself as a religion.. Question: Is limping. then the terms in which it does so gives us ‘its’ concept of religion. This is how the anthropologist Martin Southwold. This argument is flawed for exactly the same reason as well: the properties that Christianity has by virtue of being a religion may or may not be identical to the properties that it has by virtue of being a historical movement. he would have to say: because Buddhism shares many properties of Christianity. The Argument Explained Instead of focussing further on Sweetman and Pennigton. people have argued. a tail. let us say. one ear. and eats rats. a few teeth. This self-reference is not a few centuries old: it has been so used ever since the inception of Christianity. being brown. it uses the word with respect to itself). if the word ‘religion’ picks out something. does he? In more mundane terms: we are studying.know what religion is. the properties of all cats or merely of this specific cat? Answer: that depends on the knowledge we have of cats. argues: because Buddhism shares many properties of Christianity. One can think of many such examples. for instance. But he does not say this.e.

forced to accept the terms of Christianity’s self-description – is ruled out by the second salient fact: all three 38 . the concept used by Christianity to call itself a ‘religion’ is also the one which makes some (Judaism and Islam) who do not call themselves as ‘religions’ into religions (because it is also their self-description). So are Judaism and Islam. The possibility that Judaism and Islam were merely reacting to the attacks of Christianity – and were. It cuts across the three Semitic religions. if Christianity is a religion. the ‘Christian’ concept is not just Christian. allow us to take the second step. therefore. This lends a greater probability to the claim that whether or not Judaism and Islam use the word ‘religion’. The third step picks out two salient facts. This is not my concept or your concept. Judaism and Islam were not merely baptized as rival religions by Christianity. At the same time. That is to say. This is the first step of the argument. they did/do so as religions. Whatever goals they were/are competing for. and Islam and Christianity rivals to Judaism. These very same terms. These two also saw Christianity as a rival religion under the same description. Christianity is a historical movement. but self-descriptions of these religions. Therefore.rivals it encountered as religious rivals. The former has construed the latter as rival religions. however. The second step establishes that the terms under which Christianity recognized itself as religion are also the terms under which Islam and Judaism recognize themselves as religions as well (using whatever word they use). so are Judaism and Christianity. One: the terms under which Christianity transformed Islam and Judaism are also those that make Judaism and Christianity rivals to Islam. This step merely allows us to establish the terms of description. That is. it suggests that the concept of religion is itself part of a religious framework and vocabulary. Therefore to study Christianity as a religion is to study those properties by virtue of which not only did Christianity think of itself as a religion but also confronted rival or competing religions. they too are religions.

On the one hand. and Islam. did not recognize themselves in the description provided by Christianity. said the one shrugging its shoulders. our hypothesis must capture the selfdescription of the Semitic religions. Precisely this description was incomprehensible to those in whose language the word ‘religion’ existed (the Roman ‘religio’) and to those who had no such word (the Indians). Nor did they see the relationship between themselves and the latter as religious rivalry. the Roman religio and the Indian traditions. The persecution of the Christians in the early Roman Empire did not take place using those terms which Christianity would use to persecute the pagans centuries later. together. Judaism and Islam. Neither recognized itself in this description. These rivals. The third and the fourth step. “There are different roads to heaven”. neither fought the others as rivals under this description. Judaism. it must also explain why ‘Hinduism’.singled out exactly the same rivals under the same description elsewhere unerringly. Even under persecution. centuries before the European Christians launched their major and massive evangelizing activities. Islam had picked out precisely those Indian traditions as its rivals. Incomprehension of the terms of description and indifference to the alleged rivalry characterize the reactions of those belonging to the Roman religiones and the Indian traditions. These four steps constitute the historical constraints under which we must generate our hypothesis about religion. Judaism had singled out the Roman religio as its rival before Christianity was even born. The fourth step completes this argument by looking at the reaction of the rivals identified by Christianity. 39 . “How could only your religion be true and ours false?” asked the other uncomprehendingly. further. establish the following case: the terms under which Christianity recognized itself and identified rival religions were also those that provided self-identity and rivals to Judaism and Islam. this tone did not change. which Christianity was also to identify.

This is one side of the coin. For all that matters. also appear as ‘religions’ (even if they are ‘false religions’) to them. If. etc. the situation is far worse: theological theories tell us more about the differences between. The second side of the coin is this. Only the arrogant or the foolish would take this route taken by some of the ‘naturalist’ thinkers of today. Consequently. then we merely side with the pagans and discount more than two thousand years of human history. On the other hand. on the other hand. In other words. the Jews. if one intends to be scientific. If one merely generates a ‘naturalistic’ hypothesis about religion that tells us why both the Semitic religions and the Indian traditions (and the Roman religiones) are religions. we develop a ‘naturalistic’ hypothesis about religion that merely shows that ‘Hinduism’ etc are not ‘religions’ (because there is no ‘religion’).‘Shintoism’. viz. theologies provide additional explanations of these differences: Hinduism is a ‘false’ religion because it practices idolatry (for example). the Christians and the Muslims simply do not exist or do not form a part of human history. the only reasonable and scientific avenue is to generate a hypothesis that accounts for both sets of facts in the same move.. the very same hypothesis must also explain why neither the Hindus nor the Romans were able to recognize themselves as ‘religions’. That is. The historical constraints that I have 40 . say. then one has to choose a theological explanation above a ‘naturalistic’ hypothesis because the former explains more facts than the latter can possibly do. Why this double constraint and what does it do? Quite apart from the issue that these are historical facts that any hypothesis on religion has to explain. then there is no reason to choose a so-called ‘naturalistic’ hypothesis above a theological explanation: both explain the same phenomenon in the same way. there is something more intriguing here.. Hinduism on the one hand and the Semitic religions on the other. whether true or false. Actually. they are all ‘religions’. apart from noticing all kinds of detailed differences between these two groups (which a ‘naturalistic’ hypothesis can also do).

an unsolvable one. one can argue backwards to their ‘concept of religion’. by arguing that the presence of ‘something’ makes Christianity. 41 . In fact. The problem which appears empirical is the following: what is Christianity’s concept of religion. which involves the use of the word ‘religion’ – after all. In other words. Judaism and Islam into religions. because doing so will enable us to realize why we have to move beyond the ‘concept of religion’. in all probability. and how is it possible to show that its concept is also that of Judaism and Islam? Let us appreciate this problem in its complexity. that its meanings have changed according to the linguistic and historical contexts. then this problem is solved. and showing that it captures their self-descriptions. etc. This is an inductive task of trying to find out what Christians have said about ‘religion’ over the course of the last two thousand years. one does not even have to do a survey to predict such a conclusion. One appears as an empirical problem and the other is a historical problem. but also. by talking about the object that religion is. that it disappeared for centuries. Neither uses the word ‘religion’ – unless in modern writings on the subject. An obvious solution to this problem is not only a Herculean job. which we need to solve. If one can generate a hypothesis of religion and show that Christianity. As though this is not enough.. There is another solution.identified vouch for a hypothesis generation under constraints. Judaism and Islam recognize themselves in such a portrayal. we have to do the same with respect to Judaism and Islam. Even a preliminary survey.. The solutions to these will give us a preliminary hypothesis about religion. That is. re-emerged much later in yet other ways. that is the only way we can begin – in extant writings will lead us to the conclusion that the word was used in a variety of ways. we face two problems. another description of scientific theorizing.

in that case. The word was historically not coined by ‘the scholar’ during the enlightenment period: it was used in polemics and apologetics in Ancient Greece and Rome. That is. At this level of description. The believers took over the word ‘religio’ and gave it a different meaning than the one it had in Classical Rome. precisely. it is simply impossible for us human beings to have access to an ‘outsider perspective’. at the level of self-description of religion. Needless to say. they were entirely right when they suggested that one could study religion only by being a believer oneself. In a very specific sense. Our “data” are the experiences of the believers and the properties of religion (‘faith’. I do argue that religion can be studied. by virtue of the above mentioned constraints and my hypothesis about religion. In contradistinction to many writers on the subject. The peculiar self-reflexivity of religion explains to us how to understand authors like Schleirmacher. That. is what my hypothesis does. In other words. It is only at this level that we could hope 42 . I add that it could be studied at multiple levels: studying religion as religion is to accept its self-description and. but at a different level of description. And I have also said what that data is.This generates the historical problem: such a hypothesis of religion has to solve two further questions: (a) why do Semitic religions see religions everywhere (b) Why neither the Roman religiones nor the Indian traditions recognize themselves in this description. one can say that “there is data for religion”. Conclusion Let me bring this rather long article to its conclusion. Otto and Söderblom without accusing them of apologetic motivations. all of these would have to be done without appealing to ad hoc hypotheses. that is. However. this does not mean that one cannot study religion scientifically: one can and should do this. Jonathan Smith is totally wrong when he says there is “no data” for religion. any hypothesis on religion will have to simultaneously solve both the empirical and the historical problem in one move. ‘worship’ and such like). However. being forced to do theology.

There is no ‘religion’ in India. ‘Jainism’ are fictional entities the way ‘satyr’ and ‘unicorn’ are. ‘Buddhism’. nor has there been develop a scientific theory about religion and the role it plays in human societies and cultures. entities like ‘Hinduism’. 43 . In any case. ‘Religions’ were constructed in India as experiential entities by people who had a religion. provided one does not take the presence of Judaism. Christianity and Islam in India into account.