Center for Humanities Monday Night Lecture Series


Peter Gottschalk

Beyond Islam, Christianity, and Hinduism: The Quest for Compatible Categories of Comparison in the Academic Study of Religion

“Islam is a religion of peace.” “Islam teaches hate.” The current American and European public discussion about Islam can be characterized by fierce debates regarding the nature of the religion. Muslim and non-Muslim journalists, academics, politicians, and self-declared experts take turns in the media spotlight to declare the essence of Islam and, by extension, of Muslims. Inherently, most such Western claims derive from comparison with other religions – especially Christianity and Judaism – or secularism or atheism. These comparisons derive from a long history of European and American domestic conquest, foreign imperialism, and Christocentric travel. Demonstrating the power of Western hegemony, many non-Westerners have eagerly sought to create an essentialized version of “their religion” to fit the paradigm of “world religions.”

Some scholars and religious community members have challenged this approach and championed claims to Islams, Christianities, and Hinduisms. Others have indicted the comparative study of religion because of its imperial and Christian heritage. Others have sought to disqualify the comparative use of the category “religion” itself as a theme.

Since none of these approaches have proven effective, observers of religions must move beyond a focus on labels such as “Islam,” “Christianity,” and “Hinduism.” Serving too long as both first- and second-order terms, these categories prove incompatible for comparison when both practitioners and outsiders make vastly divergent claims to their meanings. Only through a focus on Muslims, Christians, and Hindus – and their use of these terms – can scholars create an adequate paradigm for comparison.

Mon Apr 18, 2016
6:00 PM - 7:30 PM EST
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Usdan University Center Usdan 300 (Daniel Family Commons & Lounge)
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Usdan University Center Usdan 300 (Daniel Family Commons & Lounge) United States
Center for Humanities Monday Night Lecture Series