Perhaps I will begin with just a comment or two on your earlier essay comparing Professor Davis and me. I think if you look at the essay (and notes) of The Failure of Nerve article you will see that I do not really overlook what you and Davis refer to as the “evolving nature of theology itself.” I don’t go into the history of theology in detail but I do provide sound reason for recognizing the difference between capital C confessionalism and small c confessionalism, with the latter largely identified with the philosophy of religion. The fact that I do not take the latter as being a huge move away from traditional capital-C confessionalism is that it still makes the same substantive assumption (without providing anything by way of support that might give the assumption at least an initial degree of epistemic credibility) as capital-C conrfessionalism. The study of religion, I had argued, must begin with what is intersubjectively available to all those who wish to explain religious phenomena, and that is restricted to what the anthropologist Spiro referred to as “the cultural postulation” of such transcendent realities. As for the neutrality to which you refer – this is not a metaphysical position, either assumed or argued for, but rather the acceptance of what we might call a conventionalism scientific stratagem that involves transcending idiosyncrasy in the making of knowledge claims about states of affairs (physical or psychological) in the world. So, the objectivity sought (what you and Davis call the self-deceptive illusion of cognitive neutrality) is really nothing more than achieving intersubjective convergence of opinion about states of affairs in the world (which, again, is simply refusing to accept idiosyncratic claims to knowledge as legitimate knowledge claims). A final comment about Davis on reason: Davis is concerned, as you suggest, with the the value of reason beyond simply obtaining knowledge about the world; Davis, that is, espouses reason not as a non-moral instrument of inquiry as it developed first among the ancient Greek philosophers and then the modern western scientific tradition, but rather right reason that involves intelligibility with respect to living “a flourishing life.” That is, no doubt, something of value to all persons, but it is not the avenue by which the sciences adjudicate claims to knowledge about states of affairs in the world.
So, now on to Martin and Wiebe: our concern is with the claim of students of “religious studies” who wish to claim the scientific legitimacy for their ‘understanding’ of religion; for laying claim to the same cognitive/epistemic legitimacy for their ‘understanding’ of religion as the other sciences make for their claims about states of affairs in the physical and social worlds. That just doesn’t wash. Nor does your wish to assume that science is simply another discourse like all other discourses. When it comes to manipulating the physical world, science is simply more successful (without political coercion or any other kind of power tripping) than any of the other “discourses.” That people can abuse scientific knowledge for political, religious, or personal ends doesn’t make knowledge simply “another discourse” – it is simply knowledge that is abused.
So to repeat the essential message in our article: people in research university departments are claiming the same (epistemic) status for the results of their work as natural, social scientists, and historians claim for theirs but do not work within the same epistemic framework – indeed, they flout that framework and lay claim to some other basis for their (special?) epistemic claims. That’s what we were trying to “clean up,” but were unsuccessful in doing so; and were deluded in believing that it was actually possible to achieve that goal.