In this highly provocative investigation, Sommerville examines common linguistic uses of the terms religion religious, spiritual, and secular in order to discern the meaning and connotations of these words in contemporary American culture.
We all talk about it, but historian Sommerville says we don't do so in the right way. This work seeks to end the confusion in American public life over what religion is by studying the definition of the word itself rather than the thing. Religion is something, Sommerville argues, that must be defined before we can identify cases. Sommerville says we need a nominal rather than a functional definition, but readers may grow frustrated that he never states exactly what this would be. His work's strength, however, is in showing us the ways we use the word religionand the problems those usages producein a variety of fields such as education, law, science and politics. In politics, for example, we often make the mistake of treating religion as a set of ideas when instead we should think of it as an experience of transcendence. General readers may find this distinction irrelevant and see Sommerville's discussion as frustrating if not overly theoretical. Still, scholars will appreciate the important questions the author raises about language, theory and methodology when we talk about religion. (Feb.)Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.
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