[Solution]General rule of thumb for a religious studies paper: avoid “confessional” language

As an academic discipline in the humanities and social sciences, the study of religion adheres to a non-confessional approach when engaging with various traditions. In…

As an academic discipline in the humanities and social sciences, the study of religion adheres to a
non-confessional approach when engaging with various traditions. In plain terms, this means that we
do not privilege one tradition over another. A non-confessional approach is distinct from theology, in
that it generally does not hold one’s personal beliefs or commitments to be relevant to their
argument. While faith-claims and personal allegiances are important to individuals, the academic
study of religion aims to examine the phenomenon of religion in a neutral fashion, drawing on
various methods and theories that are common to the humanities and social science (i.e.,
sociological, anthropological, psychological, etc.). And so, for example, while an individual may
believe that Mohammad is the messenger of God, or that Jesus Christ died for the sins of humanity,
we, as a discipline, seek to avoid such professions of faith in the interests of impartiality and
academic rigour. To be clear, we do not wish to denigrate theology or personal beliefs in any way,
but rather to promote a method of inquiry that enables us to speak of all traditions using the same
methods and tools across the board. If, for example, we were to privilege a Confucian worldview in
our approach to Hinduism, we would be prejudicing our analysis from the start.
One technique to avoid confessional language is as follows: until you are comfortable speaking of
all religions in a neutral, academic fashion, it is recommended that for essays and essay questions
you choose to write on a tradition(s) other than your own. This way, you will be able to separate your
analysis from your personal beliefs, which may prejudice your interpretation. If you do choose to
write on a tradition that you personally believe in, try and take a 3rd person perspective in your
analysis. For example, instead of writing that Jesus Christ performed several miracles and that this
affirms his teachings and divinity, you would add the caveat, “according to the Christian tradition […]
Jesus’ miracles are proof of the truth of his ministry and of his word.” To put it differently, since your
peers come from a variety of backgrounds (e.g., Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, atheist, agnostic, etc.), one
cannot assume that a “confessional” or “insiders” point of view will be shared by all. Maintaining a
critical distance from an insider’s perspective is one of key distinctions between the study of and
theology.

The post General rule of thumb for a religious studies paper: avoid “confessional” language

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