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Date of Award

9-1980

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Religious Studies

Supervisor

Dr. Hans Mol

Abstract

This thesis undertakes a critical analysis and constructive development of Dr. Hans Mol's identity theory of religion, with an eye to more broadly exploring the complex methodological problems besetting the social scientific study of religion in general. The identity theory of religion is examined in three distinct, yet overlapping and developmentally related, analytical contexts. In the first place the theory is seen as an outgrowth of the basic tensions present in the community of scholars concerned with the 'scientific' study of religion. Arguing that the field of religious studies as a whole is unnecessarily burdened by an outmoded understanding of 'scientific' endeavor, an alternative methodological approach to the theory of religion is advanced based upon the work of the culture theorist Clifford Geertz and the philosopher of science Karl Popper. The value of the identity theory of religion is judged to be appreciable to the extent that it demonstrates accord with the new methodological realism outlined. Secondly, the content and implications of the identity theory are surveyed, turning in particular to a comparative analysis with Peter Berger's popular sociological theory of religion. In the third and final analytical context an argument is made for the presence of a 'conservative bias' in the identity theory of religion as presently formulated which unnecessarily restricts its proper methodological development. This state of affairs comes to light most clearly with regard to Mol's treatment of the central analytical category of identity itself. To counteract this situation it is argued that a proper operationalization of the identity theory of religion must be effected through the elaboration of the systems theory-like qualities of Dr. Mol's approach.

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