Luther Martin’s Response to “Substituting One Delusion with Another”

Hello Jean-Michel,

Here are some comments on your recent blog:

You state that “Martin and Wiebe seem quite allergic to the word “theology” as if the point of religious studies was for it to be anything but”. Historically, religious studies (Religionswissenschaft) was, in fact, proposed explicitly as an alternative to theology. We needn’t be bound by historical definitions; however, I understand theology to be the discursive or ideational *practice* of religion,
not its study.

Consequently, your invocation of D. Davis’s position is curious. If there is “no longer a discernible difference between theology and philosophy of religion” then why continue to defend its place in the study of religion. Is there perhaps a discursive strategy concealed here? (HA).

Wiebe and I do not advocate “some kind of all-encompassing cognitive scientific theory”. As you correctly note, we do argue for any empirical (including experimental) approach to the study of religion (as to the study of anything in the modern university; in other words, we do not privilege the study of religion). And, we give the example of cognitive science as, perhaps, but one of the most promising paradigms at the moment.

We do not argue for “legitimate” knowledge; only for valid knowledge and, it is true, that we prefer valid knowledge to “authority” as “a context for social collaboration”. So, for example, it is good to know that flying to Europe is one of the safest ways to travel or, that in the midst of this flu season, to have access to vaccines–rather than simply to discourse. Yes, we prefer a valid knowledge that “purposely” conceals “alternative and contradictory ones”, chemistry over alchemy, for example, or astronomy over astrology.

The problem that I have with the notion of “discourse”, including Foucault’s use of it, is that it is like “culture” or “religion”, i.e., an academic abstraction that has no location in time or space apart from the minds of intellectual elites. And, assuming that it does have some sort of location, discourse analysis presumes a view of human brains as tabulae rasae upon which discourse acts agentively to inscribe its agenda. We now know enough about the way human minds work to know that this presumption is false.

Now, on Foucault. Foucault is on record as saying that he “hated postmodernism.” He was much too careful a scholar for that. Every day that he was in Paris, he spent mornings in the Biblotheque Nationale carefully researching what others have abstracted as “discourse”. The wall of his rather large apartment in Paris was lined with floor to ceiling bookshelves crammed with boxes of 3 x 5 cards (i.e., the metric equivalent thereof).

And (now I’m being entirely speculative, but) having watched the way his mind worked, I strongly suspect that Foucault would himself have been quite interested in the insights of the cognitive sciences (which, of course, wasn’t really on the table in the 1980s). He always insisted that he was “interested in what real people actually do”. In pursuit of this question, at the end of his life, he was actually turning towards psychology, e.g., Rene Girard’s VIOLENCE AND THE SACRED.



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