Sidestepping Islam, Christianity, and Hinduism: Resetting the Terms of Empirical Description

Sponsored by the Institute for Religion, Culture & Public Life

Wednesday, April 20

Time: 4:00-6:00pm

Location: Hamilton Hall, Room 402, Columbia University, New York, NY 10027 


Peter Gottschalk, Professor of Religion at Wesleyan University

"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.

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 broadly effective or convincing, observers of religions must move beyond a focus on labels such as "Islam," "Christianity," and "Hinduism." Only through a focus on Muslims, Christians, and Hindus - and their use of these terms - can scholars of the empirical study of religions create an adequate paradigm for comparison.

More information is available here.