Saturday, 8 January 2011

Ninian Smart's inaugural lecture - launching British Religious Studies

Ninian Smart outlined his basic understanding of Religious Studies in his inaugural lecture The Principles and Meaning in the Study of Religion in 1968.
In this lecture he summarized his views about the teaching of religion in an upbeat manner. Religion, he argued, must be studied in the following ways:

1) Historically
2) Phenomenologically
3) Anthropologically and sociologically
4) Psychologically
5) Philosophically

Then he added that the study of religion must:

1) engage with modern atheistic thought
2) engage other religious traditions and not simply Christianity
(Smart 1968:10-11)

He ended his lecture by arguing that “the pattern of religious studies is determined by an inner logic. This pattern of a pluralistic, structural, ancient and modern study of religions suits all interests (Smart 1968:14)

Twenty-one years later, on 22 June 1989, Ninian Smart delivered his exaugural address shortly before leaving Lancaster to take up a full time position at the University of Santa Barbara. In sharp contrast to his inaugural address Smart’s words were heavy with foreboding.

The title was Religious Studies & some contradictions in Mrs. Thatcher’s policies, summed up his main concern that the educational “reforms” pushed through by Sir Keith Joseph were a step backwards and no reforms at all. The quest for “economic relevance,” he argued was a short term expedient that failed to offer long term solutions to Britain’s future (Smart 1989:1-5).

Smart, Ninian, The Principles and Meaning in the Study of Religion, Lancaster, Department of Religious Studies, 1968.

Smart, Ninian: Religious Studies & Some Contradictions in Mrs. Thatcher’s Policies, Lancaster, Department of Religious Studies, 1989.

Copies of both of Ninian Smart's lectures will soon be available for download from the "Study of Religion" link on the Understanding World Religions Website. The website is linked to this blog. Profesor Smart gave me permission to distribute them years ago well before his tragic death. It can be found at:

More to follow …

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