Scholem, Ellis, Dasgupta

What is the role of the academy, and academia, in the study of religion and spirituality? The role of academia is often oversimplified and romanticized to that of a truth-seeking force that peels away the myths and misconceptions which have accrued around a hard core of “the facts.” Sometimes, academia, on the one hand, and religion/spirituality, on the other hand, are set up as opposing forces. This is a particularly forceful paradigm for thinkers in the West who have been influenced by the Enlightenment narrative of reason and progress vs. superstition and obscurantism; I would venture that few of us reading today have escaped some degree of influence by the Enlightenment belief system. Religious and spiritual traditions (particularly insular and highly traditional ones), for their part, often warn their adherents against venturing into secular academia, lest they destroy their faith. What, then, are we to make of the figure of the scholar-practitioner, who seems to exist at this semi-taboo intersection of personal religious experience and putative academic impartiality? Whatever personal reconciliation of this problem, or lack thereof, we might achieve, we can at least rest assured that other humans before us grappled with this tension. The works of the early-twentieth-century scholars John Tracy Ellis, Surendranath Dasgupta, and Gershom Scholem offer us precedents, and possible models, for navigating between the two poles of the academy and spirituality. 

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