Document Type


Publication Date



This book had its genesis in a faculty summer seminar held in the year 2000 at the University of Notre Dame, under the auspices of the Erasmus Institute. Our topic was the subject of the present book, which asks, as the title suggests, how we should talk about religion, especially in the languages of our various academic disciplines. The idea of the seminar was to collect a dozen people from very different fields and backgrounds, each of whom in his or her professional work has faced this question in a significant way. Each member of the seminar was responsible for leading a two-hour session on his or her work, beginning with a presentation that was then the subject of questions and comments. As we proceeded we found ourselves engaged in a conversation with its own shape and life, which continues today.

The purpose of the seminar was not to produce a book, but to educate ourselves and each other, expanding in various ways our sense of the reality and complexity of religious experience and intensifying our awareness of the difficulty and necessity of talking about it. When we finished our work together, we looked back over what we had done, saw certain common themes and interests, and concluded that we did have at least the beginnings of a book. There followed years of rewriting, editing, and conversation of other kinds, until we had the book before you, which can be conceived of as a kind of extension of the seminar itself.

These chapters should not be read as a series of unrelated essays aimed at distinct professional audiences-historians or psychologists, say, or philosophers- but as composed for the diverse audience to which they were originally given and then rewritten for the even more diverse audience we hope this book reaches. While each of the writers speaks from a disciplinary base, each of them also questions the nature and limits of that base, both as an independent matter and in connection with the other essays in this book. The writers of these essays know that they speak in different ways, and that these differences are an important part of our subject.