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Phenomenology and Theology—Reflections on the Study of Religion

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The academic study of religious belief and practice is frequently taken to debunk the content of religion. This attitude impedes the science-theology dialogue and causes believers to react defensively toward studies of religion. I argue that a large, although not unrestricted, domain exists in which phenomenology of religion is neutral with respect to content, that is, compatible with either belief or unbelief. Theology can constructively interact with secular studies of religion, in some cases even explicitly hostile ones. Three themes emerge that elaborate on this interaction: (1) the claim that a scientific study of religion is capable of refuting belief is a logical mistake; (2) religious practice, and to some extent belief, can benefit from secular scrutiny; (3) the entirety of religious expressions is richer than the content that can be captured by analytical study of the phenomenon.

Keywords: anthropomorphism; asceticism; atheism; belief; credibility; debunking; functional analysis; metaphor; objectivity; ritual of religion; theology; virus theory

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Iowa State University

Publication date: 2000-12-01

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