Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Changing times

While Smart was still hopeful about the future of religious studies academic fashions began to change. First it was Marxism heavy. That is designer Marxism created for and propagated by highly privileged pseudo-intellectuals who were as far removed from the realities of the working class as it was possible to get. They corrupted the lucid prose of Marx with an intoxicating cocktail of early twentieth century scholastic German. As Karl Popper wrote in another context these authors had “nothing whatever to say”, but they said “it in Hegelian language”(The Myth of Framework, London, Routledge, 1994:78).

Marx and Engels in Alexanderplatz, Berlin

With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 everything changed. Within a couple of years the fog of designer Marxism had been replaced first by deconstruction and then by post-modernism. Both were equally mystifying as was the fact that former “Marxists” were now convinced post-modernists. The fact that the guru of these new trends Jacques Derrida (1930-2004), in his essay “The Force of Law,” found Deconstruction and the Possibility of Justice, edited by D. Cornell (New York: Routledge, 1992), admired the Nazi philosopher Carl Schmitt (1888-1985), whose political theories he aligned his own with worried no one.

After all Derrida was “on the left” and he clearly said that Schmitt was a Roman Catholic (Cornell, 1992:52) omitting to add that Schmitt had formally left the church as a teenager and consciously developed his political ideas in the service of Hitler. Thus the moral seriousness and clearly stated message of Marx was transformed into an unreadable morass of morally dubious assertions that only the unenlightened were interested in questioning while true believers swallowed them wholesale.

Derrida at the AAR in Toronto

At the same time research budgets began to shrink increasing the appeal of esoteric interpretations and endless discussions of language over the rigours of fieldwork and archival research. A new scholasticism took hold of many scholars and by his own admission Smart’s vision for the future of religious studies began to dim.

To be continued ...