Discussing Religious Freedom: Need for Religious Literacy

This is a paper I wrote recently on the issue of religious literacy:


It discusses an article originally from the Washington Post by Daniel Philpott which can be found here:


In it he argues that there is nothing inherent in Islam that prevents Muslim countries from having freedom of religion. While I agree with the basic thrust of his argument and quite a bit of his analysis, my Commentary picks up some issues in his language that seem to me to be problematic. My argument is not therefore so much with Philpott, with whom I agree, but with the way he phrases this which I suggest is indicative of a lot of media commentary, academic commentary from outside of Religious Studies on religion, and popular discussion which fails to understand religion by the way it talks. Indeed, I suggest the language itself is part of the problem. Does the wrong kind of language cause us to think about religion in essentialist and homogenising ways?

This entry was posted in Freedom of Religion and Belief (Human Rights), Religion and Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Discussing Religious Freedom: Need for Religious Literacy

  1. STEVEN PARKER says:

    Your post being focused on language caused me to be perhaps more aware than i might have been of your own usage of language. Being inclined to Wittgenstein’s opinion that clarity, lucidity and comprehensibility are the hall marks of a worthy thought well expressed, i’m often negatively impressed by that which seems willfully obscurantist in much theological and philosophical writing; often involving the unnecessary usage of specialist language or terminology where it would seem commonplace language could convey what was trying to be said perfectly well, but to a wider audience. I was sensitive to the word “essentialist” in your piece which to to me conveyed nothing, being not in my lexicon; but in a spirit of goodwill, i entertained the possibility that there may be a narrow, field of interest based, specialist usage here that could be excusable if writing for a specialist audience so i fed the string of symbols “essentialist definition” into the google search bar, here are the first three responses: Essentialism is the view that, for any specific entity (such as an animal, a group of people, a physical object, a concept), there is a set of attributes which are necessary to its identity and function. Essentialism – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Essentialism Feedback Essentialist | Define Essentialist at Dictionary.com dictionary.reference.com/browse/essentialist Essentialist definition, a doctrine that certain traditional concepts, ideals, and skills are essential to society and should be taught methodically to all students, … essentialism – definition of essentialism in English from the … http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/essentialism 1A belief that things have a set of characteristics which make them what they are, and that the task of science and philosophy is their discovery and expression; the doctrine that essence is prior to existence. Compare with existentialism. It is a different phenomenon from philosophical or metaphysical essentialism. now i don’t want to utter condemnation but the use of a word so little understood by even lexicographers that the first three references found are essentially incompatible and in such a context that one would find it hard to hazard a guess as to whether any of them were your intended usage certainly smacks of obscurantism to me. perhaps i’d better define, from a northern working class, manual worker perspective what i mean by obscurantism: the use of language not as an efficient vehicle for the communication of an idea, thought or situation into another’s awareness but as a sign declaring: i’m so clever that i use language that you can’t understand, and, as you can’t even understand my language don’t even think about attempting to penetrate the Olympian veils of my thought, you worm! that’s obscurantism, is that the message that you intend to convey? From : comment-reply@wordpress.com Date : 25/09/2015 – 09:14 (GMTST) To : steven.parker12@btopenworld.com Subject : [New post] 83045 a:hover { color: red; } a { text-decoration: none; color: #0088cc; } a.primaryactionlink:link, a.primaryactionlink:visited { background-color: #2585B2; color: #fff; } a.primaryactionlink:hover, a.primaryactionlink:active { background-color: #11729E !important; color: #fff !important; } /* @media only screen and (max-device-width: 480px) { .post { min-width: 700px !important; } } */ WordPress.com body { font-family: arial; font-size: 0.8em; } .post, .comment { background-color: white !important; line-height: 1.4em !important; } paulhedges posted: “This is a paper I wrote recently on the issue of religious literacy: https://www.academia.edu/15467808/Discussing_Religious_Freedom_Need_for_Religious_Literacy It discusses an article originally from the Washington Post by Daniel Philpott which can be f”

    • paulhedges says:

      Thank you for the reply Steve. I was aware when I used the term that it was not the most user-friendly, however, I did not imagine my blog would have a wide readership (being often somewhat specialised) and made the assumption that most people reading it would have some background in Religious Studies or similar academic fields and so I went ahead with the word. To clarify, it refers pretty much to the first of the meanings you came across in your search, and I used it as a shorthand for what would have been a longer explanation. The Commentary I posted is part of a series which are edited for anything too technical and so actually people outside my own subject area had thought it clear enough – admittedly people with an academic background. In reusing it in my brief description, as noted, I expected most of my audience would know the term (it is something that would likely be met early on in an undergraduate course in the area and so my assumption that most people I expected as readers would know it), but I should be aware that if things are going online there is likely to be a wider readership and I will be more careful about this. As a note, I would very much agree with what you say about clarity being a key part of a good argument.

  2. medical says:

    At this time it seems like BlogEngine is the best blogging platform
    out there right now. (from what I’ve read) Is that what you
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    • paulhedges says:

      The site is made using WordPress.com, medical. I am not familiar with BlogEngine so can’t really comment on what’s best. Started this site quite a few years ago now and have just stayed with the same site provider.

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