6. Comparing Comparison: Smith and Davidson

Thinking with J. Z. Smith - Mapping Methods in the Study of Religion - Barbara Krawcowicz

Mark Gardiner [+-]
Mount Royal University
Mark Q. Gardiner is Professor of Philosophy at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Canada. He is co-author (with Steven Engler) of In the Beginning was the Network; Semantic Holism and the Study of Religion (De Gruyter, forthcoming)
Steven Engler [+-]
Mount Royal University
Steven Engler is professor of Religious Studies at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Canada. He teaches a variety of courses and research popular Catholicism, Umbanda, Kardecist Spiritism and related spirit-incorporation religions in Brazil, as well as theories and methodology in the study of religions.


The topic of comparison, another of J. Z. Smith’s persistent preoccupations, is addressed also by Mark Q. Gardiner and Steve Engler. As they note in their chapter, “comparison as a method in the study of religion has had a bumpy history. At one time it was the method; more recently it has been attacked in various ways” and J. Z. Smith’s perceived position in this history is quite ambiguous: “on the one hand, he is widely regarded to have launched a formidable, if not decisive, assault on comparison. On the other, he is widely regarded as one of its modern-day champions”. This ambiguity, in Gardiner’s and Engler’s opinion, stems from a misunderstanding of Smith’s starting point on which, as they point out, he was never quite explicit. Smith’s work, Gardiner and Engler argue, presupposes a specific view of the nature of meaning: interpretationism. Pairing Smith’s ideas on comparison, redescription, and rectification with interpretive methodology proposed by philosopher Donald Davidson, they submit, not only helps us make sense of the somewhat sketchy account of comparison in Smith’s work but additionally it increases Smith’s ongoing relevance by bringing to light his particular semantic presuppositions.

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Gardiner, Mark; Engler, Steven. 6. Comparing Comparison: Smith and Davidson. Thinking with J. Z. Smith - Mapping Methods in the Study of Religion. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. Oct 2023. ISBN 9781781799840. https://www.equinoxpub.com/home/view-chapter/?id=39927. Date accessed: 26 Nov 2022 doi: 10.1558/equinox.39927. Oct 2023

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