c6280932b49dc826a8e2e7ce5a059c97Religious freedom is, to put it as neutrally as one can, a contested concept nowadays. One reason for the controversy is that our culture, and therefore our law, no longer agrees exactly what religion is. So it’s important to grapple with the question, what is religion and why do we protect its exercise? A new book from Yale University Press, Seven Ways of Looking at Religion, by Benjamin Schewel (University of Groningen) may be helpful, if only to categorize our confusion. Here’s a description from the Yale website:

Western intellectuals have long theorized that religion would undergo a process of marginalization and decline as the forces of modernity advanced. Yet recent events have disrupted this seductively straightforward story. As a result, while it is clear that religion has somehow evolved from its tribal beginnings up through modernity and into the current global age, there is no consensus about what kind of narrative of religious change we should alternatively tell. Seeking clarity, Benjamin Schewel organizes and evaluates the prevalent narratives of religious history that scholars have deployed over the past century and are advancing today. He argues that contemporary scholarly discourse on religion can be categorized according to seven central narratives: subtraction, renewal, transsecular, postnaturalist, construct, perennial, and developmental. Examining the basic logic, insights, and limitations of each of these narratives, Schewel ranges from Martin Heidegger to Muhammad Iqbal, from Daniel Dennett to Charles Taylor, to offer an incisive, broad, and original perspective on religion in the modern world.

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