The Metaphor of “Distance” in the Study of Religion: Four Case Studies

By Aydogan Kars.

Published by The International Journal of Science in Society

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In this paper, the nature of the relationship between the scholar of religion and her subject is described by using the metaphor “distance” and identifying the multi-faceted appearances of the metaphor in the study of religion. Four celebrated works by Eliade, Lévi-Strauss, Müller and Durkheim are the four case studies via which the manifold appearances of distance are analyzed. The paper claims that all four scholars start their studies from a constitutive “distance of objectification.” Along with this foundational appearance, distance shows itself in four different ways in these four case studies. In Eliade’s work, “experiential distance” shows itself as a gap to be closed through phenomenological reduction (epoché). In Lévi-Strauss’ study “linguistical distance” discloses itself between the linguistical layers of myth and science. In Müller’s translation project, there is a huge “temporal distance” between today and the times to which these books belonged. Finally, Durkheim’s method of studying Australian totemism while being in France reveals an intricate problem of “spatial distance.” All these four corresponding types of distances appear in accordance with the first, founding distance of objectification. The closure of these different appearances of the phenomenon “distance” seems neither desirable nor possible. Distance, with is manifold appearances and ubiquity, is relevant in the study of religion from all points of view. Therefore, the insider-outsider metaphor as a measure for the soundness of different accounts emerges useless; the forms of distance are existential, and an insider has no inherently privileged or unbiased access to the religious phenomena in any sense. Methodology of religion has to be developed in a way to use, rather than close, the ever-present distances it encounters. This corresponds to Jonathan Z. Smith’s “manipulating the differences,” as opposed to closing them, which would be a methodological fallacy in the study of religion.

Keywords: Distance, Difference, Insider-Outsider Metaphor, Study of Religion

The International Journal of Science in Society, Volume 3, Issue 1, pp.87-100. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 851.690KB).

Aydogan Kars

Graduate Student, Graduate Department of Religion, History and Critical Theories of Religion Program, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN, USA

Aydogan Kars is a Ph.D student and a Teaching Fellow in the Graduate Department of Religion at Vanderbilt University. He received his B.S in Economics, and his M.A in Philosophy. His M.A thesis was a comparative study analyzing the ontology and hermeneutics of the Sufi Ibn al-’Arabi by appealing to philosophical hermeneutics and phenomenology. He has worked four years for the Scientific & Technological Research Council of Turkey, in the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Grant Committee. His current field of research is “History and Critical Theories of Religion.” His readings in Islamic philosophy and Sufi hermeneutics are paralleled with those in phenomenology and modern hermeneutics.