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2024 | OriginalPaper | Chapter

On Religion and Social Criticism

Authors : Caroline Anglim, Bharat Ranganathan

Published in: Religion and Social Criticism

Publisher: Springer Nature Switzerland

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Abstract

In an effort to understand how religious ethicists carry the practice and tradition of social criticism forward, the contributors to this volume investigate the unique religious resources that religious ethicists draw upon to evaluate social practices and the methods of humanistic scholarship that encourage dialectical exchange about matters of religion and ethics in our multicultural politics. While we draw from diverse intellectual, methodological, and religious commitments, we all have academic and personal connections to Richard B. Miller, with the diversity of our perspectives and projects reflecting the breadth of his own interests. Individually and collectively, our chapters give textual shape to the robust interdisciplinary conversations that Miller’s research and teaching have inspired over the course of his career, especially those pertaining to the content of and justification for humanistic scholarship. Throughout this volume, we aim to offer guidelines for and advances within the study of religion through social criticism.

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Footnotes
1
On conceiving religious ethics as a “field” or “discipline,” see Reeder (1978).
 
2
On the history of religious ethics, see, e.g., Gustafson (1997) and Miller (2023).
 
3
We acknowledge the contestability, relevance, and weight of terms such as “rational analysis,” “justification,” and “norms” both within and across diverse religious traditions. But in undertaking religious ethics, we need some definitions, however provisional they may be. For an influential and still relevant defense of such an approach, see Little and Twiss (1978). In religious ethics, comparative religious ethicists—especially those involved with the so-called third wave of comparative religious ethics—have been especially critical about how such terms are used. On such criticisms, see Bucar and Stalnaker (2012). For a rejoinder to Bucar and Stalnaker (2012), see Ranganathan and Clairmont (2017). For a reflection on the rational work of religious traditions, see Schweiker (2008).
 
4
In the “Editor’s Note” introducing the inaugural issue of the Journal of Religious Ethics, the Editors write, “[g]iven the present state of our discipline, we have no illusion that essays on Buddhist, African, Hindu or Islamic ethics will come our way as readily as will essays on Christian or Jewish ethics. We realize that we will not easily escape in our initial issues the parochialism and Western bias that tends to characterize our discipline” (1973, 3). For a reflection on the formation and purposes of the field of religious ethics, see Miller (2016, 2023). For a recent example that proposes conceiving Christian ethics as religious ethics, see Ranganathan and Woodard-Lehman (2019).
 
5
In this story, the main characters are concerned with whether religious studies should include normative (e.g., ethical, philosophical, and theological) methodologies in addition to descriptive ones. In recent years, several scholars have influentially and powerfully argued that religious studies is ineliminably normative. For three such arguments, see Jenkins (2013), Lewis (2015), and Mundra (2019).
 
6
For his own account about what attracted him to the study of religion, see Miller (1997).
 
7
In developing his view of social criticism, Miller acknowledges his debts to Michael Walzer (1977, 1987, 1988, 2019). Furthermore, Miller is committed to liberal social criticism. For him, the adjective liberal means two things: (1) “a basic philosophical view of morality and anthropology and, in particular, the value of freedom and deliberation” and (2) the “general values underlying modern, liberal democratic societies: the presumption of individual liberty; respect for persons and, with that, the tolerance of different loyalties, communities, and convictions; a commitment to equality; an account of the limited authority of the state; and the organization of political life premised on popular sovereignty” (Miller 2010, 3–4). For further reflections on the adjective “liberal,” see Walzer (2023).
 
8
For a recent reflection on these questions that focuses on Christianity and ethics, see Beckley et al. (2022).
 
9
In holding these commitments, we follow Miller’s call (2005) for religious ethics to take a “cultural turn.” In 2016, Miller further develops this call and deploys it in considering a range of theoretical and practical issues in religious ethics.
 
10
Given the expertise of the respective contributors to this volume, the volume doesn’t consider environmental responsibility in relation to Miller’s religious ethics. But consider the work of Miller’s former doctoral advisee, Lisa Sideris (2003, 2017).
 
11
In Miller’s telling, Critical Humanism takes as axiomatic that we are “persons with depth, free and responsible for expressing, interrogating, and changing [our] desires against a backdrop of options that provide reasons for action … Critical Humanism enables us to grasp and evaluate the processes, idioms, and contexts of moral subjectivity as well as the interpersonal, political, cultural, and environmental contexts that help shape them” (Miller 2023, 17).
 
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Metadata
Title
On Religion and Social Criticism
Authors
Caroline Anglim
Bharat Ranganathan
Copyright Year
2024
DOI
https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-48659-3_1

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