The metaphor of 'distance' in the study of religion: Four case studies

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In this paper, the nature of the relationship between the scholar of religion and her subject is described by using the metaphor "distance" and identi.fYing the mu/ti-faceted appearances of the metaphor in the study of religion. Four celebrated works by Eliade, Levi-Strauss, Muller and Durlcheim are the four case studies via which the manifold appearances of distance are analyzed. The paper claims that all four scholars start their studies from a constitutive "distance of objectification. "Along with this foundational appearance, distance shows itself in four different ways in these four case studies. In Eliade:. work, "experiential distance" shows itself as a gap to be closed through phenomenological reduction (epoche). In Levi-Strauss' study "linguistica/ distance" discloses itselfbetween the linguistica/ layers of myth and science. In Muller:. translation project, there is a huge "temporal distance" between today and the times to which these books belonged. Finally, Durkheim:. method of studying Australian totemism while being in France reveals an intricate problem of "spatial distance. " All these four corresponding types of distances appear in accordance with the first, founding distance of objectification. The closure of these different appearances of the phenomenon "distance" seems neither desirable nor possible. Distance, with is manifold appearances and ubiquity, is relevant in the study of religion from all points of view. Therefore, the insider-outsider metaphor as a measure for the soundness of different accounts emerges useless; the forms of distance are existential, and an insider has no inherently privileged or unbiased access to the religious phenomena in any sense. Methodology of religion has to be developed in a way to use, rather than close, the ever-present distances it encounters. This corresponds to Jonathan Z. Smith:. "manipulating the differences, " as opposed to closing them, which would be a methodological fallacy in the study of religion.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)87-100
Number of pages14
JournalThe International Journal of Science in Society
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Distance
  • Difference
  • Insider-Outsider Metaphor
  • Study of Religion

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