Religious Realism

  • M. Gail Hamner
Part of the New Approaches to Religion and Power book series (NARP)


My intellectual attraction to the realist semiotics of C. S. Peirce sits a bit awkwardly with the general current of “theory” that is dominated by the nominalism of poststructuralism and deconstruction. Over many years, reflections on what counts as an image of religion or a productive semiotics of religion have broadened into a larger argument for the reality of general concepts. This short chapter turns directly to this argument about the semiotics of religion and how it affects the interpretation of film images.


General Concept Material Force Friday Night Peculiar Combination Actual Proposition 
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  1. 1.
    Alain Badiou, Deleuze: The Clamor of Being, trans. Louise Burchill (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999), 16.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Timothy Fitzgerald, The Ideology of Religious Studies (New York: Oxford University, 1999); and Russell McCutcheon, Manufacturing Religion: The Discourse on Sui Generis Religion and the Politics of Nostalgia (New York: Oxford University, 1997). These authors would have produced stronger arguments if they had framed their critiques in terms of epistemology. They are right to suggest that many scholars of religion implicitly hold to metaphysics of presence that assume that language refers to actual objects in the world. Fitzgerald and McCutcheon are worthy postmodern theorists in rejecting this position; but without locating their arguments within a broader semiotic framework, their attacks against the conservatism within the study of religion sound shrill.Google Scholar
  3. 8.
    The semiotic claims of this paragraph can be found in Roland Barthes, Mythologies, trans. Jonathan Cape, Ltd. (New York: Hill and Wang, 1972) [1957]; and in the discussion of discursive practice articulated in Michel Foucault’s Archaeology of Knowledge, trans. A. M. Sheridan Smith (New York: Pantheon/Random House, 1972 [1969]). Both texts have been critiqued as structuralist. For a helpful introduction to Barthes’s semiol-ogy, see John Storey, Cultural Studies and the Study of Popular Culture (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1996), 87–92. See discussion of Foucault’s archaeological method in Hubert Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow, Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics, 2nd edition (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago, 1983).Google Scholar
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    Michel Foucault, Society Must Be Defended, Lectures at the Collège de France 1975–1976, trans., David Macey (New York: Picador, 2003), 14.Google Scholar
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    Jane Tompkins, “Indians: Textualism, Morality, and the Problem of History,” in Henry Louis Gates, ed., “Race,” Writing and Difference (Chicago, IL: Chicago University, 1986), 76, cited in David Morely, “Theoretical Orthodoxies,” in Cultural Studies in Question, ed. Marjorie Ferguson and Peter Golding (London: Sage, 1997), 135; italics added.Google Scholar
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    Morely, “Theoretical Orthodoxies,” 137. Morely here is paraphrasing Donna Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York: Routledge, 1991), 187.Google Scholar
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    Valerie Walkerdine, Daddy’s Girl: Young Girls and Popular Culture (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 1997), 57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 24.
    See J. Samuel Preus, Explaining Religion: Criticism and Theory from Bodin to Freud (New York: Oxford University, 2000) for a clear argument about and against merely explaining away religion.Google Scholar

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© M. Gail Hamner 2011

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  • M. Gail Hamner

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