James A.K. Smith tries to make sense of Pew's recent survey on religious knowledge
I had two initial reactions to reports about this survey. The first was cynical: the inability of Americans to articulate the particularities of even their own religious faith sort of confirms the isomorphism of American religionthat the “religion” of this “deeply religious” country is, at the end of the day, just a functional deism necessary to sustain American civil religion.
My second reaction was more critical, and perhaps more charitable:
I continue to be suspicious of such surveys and reports precisely because they reduce religion to “knowledge.” … But what if religion is not primarily about knowledge? What if the defining core of religion is more like a way of life, a nexus of action? What if, as per Charles Taylor, a religious orientation is more akin to a “social imaginary,” which functions as an “understanding” on a register that is somewhat inarticulable? Indeed, I think Taylor’s corpus offers multiple resources for criticizing what he would describe as the “intellectualism” of such approaches to religionmethodologies that treat human persons as “thinking things,” and thus reduce religious phenomena to a set of ideas, beliefs, and propositions.
Douthat chews over both theories.
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