5. Scholars are People Too: The (Sometimes) Difficult Shift to the Discourse of Crisis

Discourses of Crisis and the Study of Religion - Lauren Horn Griffin

Russell T. McCutcheon [+-]
University of Alabama
Russell T. McCutcheon is University Research Professor and Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama, USA. He publishes widely on the history of the study of religion, the tools scholars use in their work, and the practical implications of that work. Among his recent publications are Reading J. Z. Smith (with Willi Braun; Oxford University Press, 2018), ‘Religion’ in Theory and Practice (Equinox Publishing, 2018) and Fabricating Religion (de Gruyter, 2018).


In response to the critical tools that Aaron Hughes offered to his listeners to examine how such things as rhetorics of crisis work, we instead learned about various actual crises that seem to preoccupy them: from the crisis of the scientific study of religion to various crises of the contemporary corporatized university and, yes, even the crisis of Donald Trump’s place in current American politics, not to mention some ill-defined things said to be “existential crises.” The moral of the story is that scholars are themselves no different from the people whom we study; for we deploy the usual set of techniques to establish group identity and to nurture what we take to be shared affinities and common alienations. Our critical intelligence, as useful as it is when engaging in the study of distant peoples and places—whether chronologically or geographically—can sometimes be of surprisingly little assistance when those things that we ourselves value feel under threat, even if that threat comes from the critical gaze of a colleague. While I would encourage scholars of religion to be rather more bold and uncompromising in the application of such critical, self-reflexive scholarship—even when it is felt to be applied uncomfortably close to home—we can take away something from this episode to help us understand the push-back that our work often receives either from the people being studied or, as is more likely, from those of our colleagues who hold them dear.

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McCutcheon, Russell. 5. Scholars are People Too: The (Sometimes) Difficult Shift to the Discourse of Crisis. Discourses of Crisis and the Study of Religion. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. Oct 2024. ISBN 9781000000000. https://www.equinoxpub.com/home/view-chapter/?id=43935. Date accessed: 22 Sep 2023 doi: 10.1558/equinox.43935. Oct 2024

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