You may have heard the language of insiders and outsiders before. These terms are commonly used to talk about dynamics of inclusion–the “in-crowd,” the cool table, the accepted v. the rejects and all those on the outside looking in at all the fun.

A poster of 7 teenagers in front of lockers. Four on the left are social rejects. Three on the right are dweebs. Across the image it says "Freaks and Geeks." Am image from a short-lived 1999 television show.
A short-lived television show (c. 1999) that explored this dynamic of inclusion.

While this dynamic of inclusion is important, this is not what the phrase means in the academic study of religion exactly. I’m telling you this because I know its confusing and leads to one of the most common misunderstandings in the academic study of religion.

In Religious Studies, the language of insiders and outsiders refers to the perspective of those being observed (i.e. doing “religion”) and the perspective of those watching people do “religion” (i.e. scholars), respectively.

In our reading for class, Martin is going to delineate the insider v. outsider perspective. Please take note of the lists on pages 30 and 31.

I also would like you to note quotations from Anthropologist Mary Douglas (p. 30) and Religious Studies scholar (and University of Alabama prof.) Russell McCutcheon (p.32). For both, note their disciplines and their contributions to the academic study of religion as reflected in the reading.

Once you’ve completed the reading and the notes above, I’d like you to write down your own thoughts on the academic study of religion. Spend five sentences discussing what excites and frightens you about it. Commit to entertaining the possibilities. Your investment here will largely determine your investment in meeting our course goals, so don’t phone it in. Make this worthwhile for you.