(A Sketch) Religion & Society (First Things)


(Pompeii Family)

Against this nonsense that religion comes first, maybe it comes second.

Ornament, not foundation

Understanding that religion and society are almost always already there together, distinct, but not separable

The following is by way of a heuristic experiment + reading outline open to revision


In this world:

Religion is not a social “foundation.”

It does not come first.


Group life and bare life of society come first.

–Aristotle (politics and life)

–Foucault (the disciplinary state: hospitals, public health)

–Marx (economy, labor, capital)


Religion is a social “buttress.”

–Durkheim (religious moral community)

–De Beauvoir (a patriarchal structure)


Religion is attributive/ascriptive:

–Weber (meaning and value)



Religious experience is a psychic ornament:

–Tylor (animism of spiritual beings in the world)

–Max Müller (the infinite)

–James (varieties of religious experience)

–Freud (illusion)

–Caroline Walker Bynum (more varieties of religious experience)



This one is provided by colleague and friend Gail Hamner:



In this world:


Why the obsession with origins? (cf. Marx, Nietzsche, Foucault)

Religion is a social foundation because religion is an affective technology of valuation.

Which came first: society or valuation? What does it matter? They are just two ways of saying the same thing.


Bare life always refers implicitly or explicitly to a group:

–Genesis 1-2

–Plato’s Timaeus

–Augustine’s City of God

–Christine de Pisan, The Book of the City of Ladies

–Spinoza, Theologico-political treatise

Cf. G. Agamben’s Homo Sacer and K. Karatani’s Isonomia


Sometimes religion as valuation is ascribed:

–Hegel’s Philosophy of Right      

Cf. TL Brown, Religion, Modernity and Politics in Hegel and Jameson, The Hegel Variations: On the Phenomenology of Spirit

–Marx, “On the Jewish Question,” The German Ideology

Cf. The section on “Marx” in the opening of Spivak’s Critique of Postcolonial Reason

–Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of an American Slave

–Elizabeth Cady Stanton, The Women’s Bible

–Walter Rauschenbusch, Christianizing the Social Order

–Kathryn Lofton, Consuming Religion


Is “religious experience” a tool for analysis or an object of analysis?

–Nietzsche, Genealogy of Morals

–William James, VRE

–Durkheim, ERE

–Foucault on “political spirituality” (see op-ed.s on Iranian Revolution)

–Ashon Crawley, Black Pentecostal Breath

–Melissa Wilcox, Queer Religiosities: An Introduction; or, selections from Queer Nuns: Religion, Activism, and Serious Parody




About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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