The Future Belongs to the Brave: Some Thoughts on the Fate of Decolonization in Religious Studies

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2019
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Haverford College. Department of Religion
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Thesis
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Award
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eng
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Open Access
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Abstract
This senior thesis project contributes to the ongoing conversation surrounding decolonization efforts in the field of religious studies. I argue that scholars, having already devoted much focus to understanding the colonial origins of the discipline, now must shift to concentrating on continued decolonization in practice. Linking decolonization explicitly to means of representation, this thesis in particular explores some of the ways that scholars have both theorized about and chosen in practice to represent both themselves and the interlocutors present in their projects. I first explore the recent debate between two scholars of religious studies, Robert Orsi and Stephen Prothero, about the place of the scholar in ethnographic research. Framing the representation of the scholar around their debate, I claim that Orsi’s call for the suspension of the self in ethnographic research lends itself to decolonizing efforts moreso than Prothero’s call for temporary bracketing. I then turn to two texts, Leela Prasad’s Poetics of Conduct and Karen McCarthy Brown’s Mama Lola, to explore the ways that two prominent scholars have made innovative choices in representing interlocutors. I see both of their approaches, although distinct from one another, as successful examples for scholars seeking to further the process of decolonization to follow. Finally, I explore the possibilities for decolonization through visual representation, using the recently published Lissa as an example of work that religious studies scholars could potentially produce in the future.
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