Acts of Imagination

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By Kenneth G. MacKendrick

Religion: “While there is a staggering amount of data, of phenomena, of human experiences and expressions that might be characterized in one culture or another, by one criterion or another, as religious – there is no data for religion. Religion is solely the creation of the scholar’s study. It is created for the scholar’s analytic purposes by his imaginative acts of comparison and generalization. Religion has no independent existence apart from the academy.” – Jonathan Z. Smith, Imagining Religion.

 

History: While there is a staggering amount of data, of phenomena, of human experiences and expressions that might be characterized in one culture or another, by one criterion or another, as historical – there is no data for history. History is solely the creation of the scholar’s study. It is created for the scholar’s analytic purposes by his imaginative acts of comparison and generalization. History has no independent existence apart from the academy.

Politics: While there is a staggering amount of data, of phenomena, of human experiences and expressions that might be characterized in one culture or another, by one criterion or another, as political – there is no data for politics. Politics is solely the creation of the scholar’s study. It is created for the scholar’s analytic purposes by his imaginative acts of comparison and generalization. Politics has no independent existence apart from the academy.

Capitalism: While there is a staggering amount of data, of phenomena, of human experiences and expressions that might be characterized in one culture or another, by one criterion or another, as capitalist – there is no data for capitalism. Capitalism is solely the creation of the scholar’s study. It is created for the scholar’s analytic purposes by his imaginative acts of comparison and generalization. Capitalism has no independent existence apart from the academy.

Truth: While there is a staggering amount of data, of phenomena, of human experiences and expressions that might be characterized in one culture or another, by one criterion or another, true – there is no data for truth. Truth is solely the creation of the scholar’s study. It is created for the scholar’s analytic purposes by his imaginative acts of comparison and generalization. Truth has no independent existence apart from the academy.

Meaning: While there is a staggering amount of data, of phenomena, of human experiences and expressions that might be characterized in one culture or another, by one criterion or another, as meaningful – there is no data for meaning. Meaning is solely the creation of the scholar’s study. It is created for the scholar’s analytic purposes by his imaginative acts of comparison and generalization. Meaning has no independent existence apart from the academy.

Reality: While there is a staggering amount of data, of phenomena, of human experiences and expressions that might be characterized in one culture or another, by one criterion or another, as real– there is no data for reality. Reality is solely the creation of the scholar’s study. It is created for the scholar’s analytic purposes by his imaginative acts of comparison and generalization. Reality has no independent existence apart from the academy.

Sex: While there is a staggering amount of data, of phenomena, of human experiences and expressions that might be characterized in one culture or another, by one criterion or another, as sexual – there is no data for sex. Sex is solely the creation of the scholar’s study. It is created for the scholar’s analytic purposes by his imaginative acts of comparison and generalization. Sex has no independent existence apart from the academy.

Death: While there is a staggering amount of data, of phenomena, of human experiences and expressions that might be characterized in one culture or another, by one criterion or another, as dead – there is no data for death. Death is solely the creation of the scholar’s study. It is created for the scholar’s analytic purposes by his imaginative acts of comparison and generalization. Death has no independent existence apart from the academy.

Intelligence: While there is a staggering amount of data, of phenomena, of human experiences and expressions that might be characterized in one culture or another, by one criterion or another, as intelligent – there is no data for intelligence. Intelligence is solely the creation of the scholar’s study. It is created for the scholar’s analytic purposes by his imaginative acts of comparison and generalization. Intelligence has no independent existence apart from the academy.

Elitism: While there is a staggering amount of data, of phenomena, of human experiences and expressions that might be characterized in one culture or another, by one criterion or another, as elitist – there is no data for elitism. Elitism is solely the creation of the scholar’s study. It is created for the scholar’s analytic purposes by his imaginative acts of comparison and generalization. Elitism has no independent existence apart from the academy.

Stupidity: While there is a staggering amount of data, of phenomena, of human experiences and expressions that might be characterized in one culture or another, by one criterion or another, as stupid – there is no data for stupidity. Stupidity is solely the creation of the scholar’s study. It is created for the scholar’s analytic purposes by his imaginative acts of comparison and generalization. Stupidity has no independent existence apart from the academy.

Humor: While there is a staggering amount of data, of phenomena, of human experiences and expressions that might be characterized in one culture or another, by one criterion or another, as humorous – there is no data for humor. Humor is solely the creation of the scholar’s study. It is created for the scholar’s analytic purposes by his imaginative acts of comparison and generalization. Humor has no independent existence apart from the academy.

Kenneth MacKendrick is an associate professor in the Department of Religion, University of Manitoba. His teaching interests include cognitive theory of religion, contemporary Christianity (fundamentalism and charismatic movements, secularization), evil in world religions, method and theory in the study of religion, and rituals of death and mourning. His current research focuses on the relation between cognition, imagination, and religion. Recent publications include “Evil in the Age of World Religions” (forthcoming), “We have an Imaginary Friend in Jesus” (2012), “The Challenge of Postmetaphysical Thinking and the Nature of Religious Thought” (2010), and “Chuck Palahniuk and the New Journalism Revolution” (2009).

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