2nd Edition

Critics Not Caretakers Redescribing the Public Study of Religion

By Russell T. McCutcheon Copyright 2024
    398 Pages
    by Routledge

    398 Pages
    by Routledge

    The essays collected together in Critics Not Caretakers argue that the study of religion must be rethought as an ordinary aspect of social, historical existence, a stance that makes the scholar of religion a critic of cultural and historical practices rather than a caretaker of religious tradition or a font of timeless wisdom and deep meaning.

    The book begins with several essays that outline the basis of an alternative, sociorhetorical approach to studying religion, before moving on to a series of discrete dispatches from the ongoing theory wars, each of which uses the work of such writers as Karen Armstrong, Walter Burkert, Benson Saler, and Jacob Neusner as a point of entry into wider theoretical issues of importance to the field’s future. The author then examines the socio-political role of this brand of critical scholarship—a role that differs dramatically from the type of sympathetic caretaking generally associated with scholars of religion who feel compelled to “go public.” Concluding the work is a consideration of how scholars as teachers can address issues of theory, method, and critical thinking in a variety of undergraduate classrooms—the location where they have always been publicly accountable intellectuals.

    The new edition of this still read and, for some, controversial book preserves the original essays but includes a new opening chapter and new introductory commentaries across all of the chapters to demonstrate how little the field has changed since the volume was first published in 2001. Accordingly, the book continues to provide a viable alternative for those wanting to take a more critical approach to the study of religion.

    Foreword to the Second Edition

    Acknowledgments to the First Edition

    Acknowledgments to the Second Edition

    Copyright Permissions

    Introduction to the Second Edition

    Part I. Background

    1. "Not Nearly Critical Enough": Studying Religion as Part of the Humanities

    Part II. Redescribing Religion as Something Ordinary

    Introduction to Chapter 2

    2. More than a Shapeless Beast: Lumbering Through the Academy with the Study of Religion

    Introduction to Chapter 3

    3. Redescribing "Religion" as Social Formation: Toward a Social Theory of Religion

    Part III. Dispatches from the Theory Wars

    Introduction to Chapter 4

    4. Writing a History of God: "Just the Same Game Wherever You Go"

    Introduction to Chapter 5

    5. Explaining the Sacred: Theorizing on Religion in the Late Twentieth Century

    Introduction to Chapter 6

    6. "We’re All Stuck Somewhere": Taming Ethnocentrism and Trans-Cultural Understandings

    Introduction to Chapter 7

    7. The Economics of Spiritual Luxury: The Glittering Lobby and the Parliament of Religions

    Introduction to Chapter 8

    8. "My Theory of the Brontosaurus...": Postmodernism and "Theory" of Religion

    Part IV. Culture Critics and Caretakers

    Introduction to Chapters 9 and 10

    9. A Default of Critical Intelligence? The Scholar of Religion as Public Intellectual

    10. Talking Past Each Other: Public Intellectuals Revisited

    Part V. Going Public: Teaching Theory

    Introduction to Chapters 11–14

    11. Our "Special Promise" as Teachers: Scholars of Religion and the Politics of Tolerance

    12. Redescribing "Religion and..." Film: Teaching the Insider/Outsider Problem

    13. Methods and Theories in the Classroom: Teaching the Study of Myths and Rituals

    14. Theorizing in the Introductory Course: A Survey of Resources

    Part VI. This Messy Mix of Historical Human Performance

    Afterword to the Second Edition




    Russell T. McCutcheon is University Research Professor and, for 18 years, was the Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama, USA. His publications include a variety of works on the history of the field, the everyday effects of the category “religion,” along with a number of practical resources for scholars, teachers, and students.

    "The issues discussed in the first edition have not gone away; they are here now with a vengeance. This second edition rises to the occasion with new provocative chapter introductions that are not to be missed. But what is most remarkable is how the old and new come together in a way that will have us read the field—its history, its challenges, and its potential--with fresh perspective and the vigor to make it better."

    Richard Newton, The University of Alabama, U.S.A.

    "Russell T. McCutcheon’s Critics Not Caretakers was one of a small handful of key works from the last thirty years that helped to bring about a paradigm shift in the academic study of religion, a shift that opened up space for all-new avenues of research on the political history of the concept of religion. The material new to this second edition helps readers—both old and new—situate the book in relation to the history of the discipline, the debates that were taking place at the time of its publication, and the scholarship since that has participated in the book’s trajectory; along the way, McCutcheon points to where his hopes for the discipline remained as yet unfulfilled. Critics is now essential reading for any scholar writing on the contested history of "religion.""

    Craig Martin, St. Thomas Aquinas College, U.S.A.

    "What McCutcheon does so masterfully in this work is to provide clarity on what religious studies as a discipline has the power to do so well: to analyze how people both create and respond to ideas of unquestionable authority, the driving concept behind so many movements we call “religion” today. However, this book’s longevity and relevance lies in its central claim that scholars of religion also have these unquestionable authorities with which they must grapple. This is a must-read for anyone who takes seriously the social and political dynamics that define the academic study of religion."

    Leslie Smith, Avila University, U.S.A.

    "In Critics Not Caretakers, McCutcheon offers a way of writing about and teaching contentious topics, not only in the study of religion but also in the wider humanities and social sciences since it is not really about ‘religion’ but the critical study of a category that has been taken for granted. This augmented second edition is a reminder of what it is a scholar of religion is studying: the ways in which humans categorise, classify, divide the world around them into sacred/secular, insider/outsider and so on, bringing to our attention the scholarly assumptions privileging the ‘sacred’ and the ‘insider’ in these bifurcations. McCutcheon gives attention to both theoretical concerns and pedagogy, and thus this book has a practical application for those researching and teaching the study of religion."

    Suzanne Owen, Leeds Trinity University, UK.