Reflections for “Theory Week”

The idea behind theory week was to pull together a plethora of resources for thinking systematically about both religion and gender, resources that will be used in the upcoming weeks to analyze the historical accounts and will be harnessed for reading texts that do not directly address questions of gender in a gender-focused way.

These texts fall into two general categories (though these overlap and inform one another in, of course, interesting ways): reading from sociology and anthropology, focusing largely on questions of religion but also on questions of social structures, and readings from cultural theory and gender studies that focus on the construction of gender.

One of the largest contrasts I felt in this combination of readings was the tension between the structuralist impulse of the sociologists and the post-structuralist impulse of the gender theorists. Where Durkheim, Turner, and Weber are looking for basic and fundamental structures of human experience, theorists such as Scott, Smith-Rosenberg, and Butler emphasize the contingency and constructed nature of patterns as seemingly basic as gender. I find the idea that gender is not “natural” but constructed and performative to be very persuasive, which makes me even less comfortable with Durkheim’s positing society and the experience of society as the source of religion.

While there is something very interesting about the idea of experience of a collective consciousness as enlightening, empowering, and the rest, it concerns me that his analysis is as tidy as it is. While religion on his account is completely natural and reasonable, it also has very little transcendence. There is some – the experience of the social lifts the individual beyond his/her self – but still, that’s rather horizontal. While Durkheim would respond that he has identified the structure that gives rise to feelings of transcendence and that more elaborate interpretations are just mistaking the experience for something larger, I personally find this explanation/response results in the majority of people being deceived by their religious beliefs. And that is an unappealing place to start from.

Note for Sharon: I have yet to write up a piece for Douglas and Weber. Douglas is just an issue of time – I will get to that shortly. Weber, on the other hand, is defeating me. What is a rational economy? My best guess is that he is referring to objective or disinterested economic relationships. I am not sure what the goal of “Religious Rejections of the World” is.

From what I have gotten from him, it seems that Weber’s theory is aimed at making sense of Protestant (and specifically Calvinist) religious practice where Durkheim is more focused on Catholic (and liturgical) religious practice. Does that sound right?