A schoolmate of mine from undergrad commented to me that she believes what I’m doing here on this site is as kind of public theology. She said, “Anytime that you are considering questions of community and culture, with a lens on religion, you are asking and answering God questions….therefore, theology.” This sort of misconception is common, because most people do not understand what a person in the field of Religious Studies does. Therefore, it is the fate of those with an educational background such as my own to dispel such perceptions one person at a time.

To me, a critical difference between a religious scholar (theologian) and a scholar of religion (secular academic) is an interest or disinterest in supernatural forces (God, angels, devils, etc…). Theologians care about the supernatural and wish to understand the intentions of a supernatural force (God) that they worship. However, secular scholars, such as myself, have no interest in understanding the supernatural. Secular scholars in the field of Religious Studies are instead interested in the natural (human) intentions and behavior: specifically of those who would be categorized as ‘religious believers.’

Misconceptions on Religious Studies is understandable. Surveys taken on the category of “religion” indicate the word itself is malleable and holds countless inexact definitional propositions (Despland 1979; Bossy 1982; J.Z. Smith 1998). The Western history of theorizing “religion” has especially been filled with ambiguity which has at times required substituting terms for religion such as “the sacred.”

It is true that the academic field of religious studies can be a baffling jungle. Conflicting and contradictory theorems on “religion” are espoused alongside each other in university departments throughout the world. However, an intellectual constant in the field remains that our methods are understood as a research strategy whose goal is to employ the study of religion as a contributing partner in the search for a science of human social life (Braun 2000).

In order for research on “religion” to be contributory to other disciplines, we scholars have to get our research, findings, and analysis “out there.” Once cultivated, knowledge of religion is in demand by the masses. Especially since 9/11, the category of “religion” is affecting the disciplines of Sociology, Political Science, International Relations, Security Studies, and many others. Therefore, it is the duty of scholars such as myself to relay our findings for both scholarly and popular consumption through various forms of media such as this blog.

What I am doing here on this site is not theology. While my work deals specifically with Islam, I’m not interested in “knowing” Allah or any theological implications one can derive from the teachings of the Qur’an or hadith. I am not, nor do I have any interest in being, a Muslim. What I am interested in is how Islam as an ideology is used to motivate or justify events in the Middle East. My interests are specifically tuned to how “religion” and violence interact in communities and networks. As a university student, I wrote my Master’s thesis on suicide bombers in Iraq. So expect the bulk of my posts to inspect, disaggregate, and nuance violent acts perpetrated in the name of religion. But I don’t want that to be all that my blog is about.

The Middle East is a region rich in culture. I would be remiss if I only focused on the shocking and exotic. In order to put events and individuals in the Middle East into their proper context, I have to write about the history, customs, beliefs, and social norms found in the subjects that I focus on. While it is impossible for any blog to paint a region as large as the Middle East in any sort of systemic way, this blog is designed to navigate the topical, and in some cases urgent, religious currents that cross and dwell within the region today.

One Response to “What Is Religious Studies?”

  1. Mark said

    Love to hear your thoughts and/or response to this post and clip:

    http://loga-abdullah.blogspot.com/2009/11/10-reasons.html

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