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Bush p. 2
tices, power, bodies, and material culture displaces attention to subjective, phenomenological consciousness. David Chidester coins the label “new materialism” to describe this program in a discussion of the influential text, Critical Terms for Religious Studies. 2 In the same vein as Talal Asad’s criticism of Clifford Geertz for thinking of religion in men- talistic terms (as a matter of belief), the contributors to Critical Terms take aim at everything mental and/or subjective, including experience, but also such things as consciousness and ideas. 3

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They are writing AGAINST the rhetoric of experience. It is not private. Rather shared. It is not independent from beliefs. It is not subjective???? Is this a conclusion?
The rhetoric of experience regards religious experiences as being four things: absolutely private, subjective, indubitable (for the experiencer), and immediate, in the sense that the experience is independent of the experiencer’s concepts and beliefs.

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Bush p. 3 experience as a-cultural in Otto Eliade Suzuki Underhill etc.
The rhetoric of experience has been of tremendous significance in the modern study and practice of religion, in large part because those promoting the rhetoric, including figures such as Friedrich Schleiermacher, William James, Evelyn Un- derhill, D. T. Suzuki, Rudolf Otto, and Mircea Eliade, have tended to think of experience as acultural and as the most important aspect of religion in general. This enables a view of religion as univ

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Sharf subjects the rhetoric of experience to severe criticism. In keeping with the new materialist perspective, he directs our attention away from the nature of any supposed experiences and asks us to consider instead the ideological functions of an appeal to a universal, experiential religion. For scholars in the West, such an appeal allows them to grant legitimacy to non-Christian religions without sacrificing the truthfulness of Chris- tianity. In the Asian context, the rhetoric of experience supported twen- tieth-century Japanese imperial ambitions against China and the West by portraying Japanese culture as a unique expression of an experiential version of Zen. 8

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acknowledge that Sharf makes many legitimate points against the rhetoric of experience, and I appreciate his points that mystical texts often have ritualistic uses, as opposed to psychological ones, and that experience reports are shaped by and contribute to ideological aims. However, Sharf’s essays, and the new materialist perspective more gen- erally, exhibit tendencies that, if followed to their logical conclusion, could lead to the elimination of the category of experience from re- ligious studies. While I am not out to defend the rhetoric of experience, I do wish to defend the category and study of experience from the tendencies in new materialism that would disparag

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In one of them, which I shall call the modest interpretation, Sharf is not arguing against the category of experience—experiences however we might conceive them—just against the rhetoric of experience—experiences conceived of as private, subjective, indubitable, and immediate. In the modest interpretation, Sharf holds that if we conceive of experience like the rhetoricians of experience, then the term “experience” does not have what it takes to be a sufficiently meaningful term.

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categories: what is and what we can talk about? OR HOW we can talk about WHAT
the principal problem with his essay is that he fails to consider or discuss other conceptions of experience besides the rhetoric of experience, leaving the impression, even if he does not intend to, that the study of experience stands or falls with the rhetoric of experience.

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In contrast, he admits in “Buddhist Modernism” that there would appear to be ample evidence that those involved in the vipassana¯ revival, or those training under Zen teachers in the Sanbo¯kyo¯dan lineage, do experience something that they are wont to call sota¯patti, jha¯na,orsatori. I readily concede this point; indeed, it would be surprising if those who subjected them- selves to the rigors of a Buddhist meditation retreat, which can involve upwards of fourteen hours of meditation a day in an excruciatingly uncomfortable cross- legged posture, sometimes in an underground cell utterly devoid of sound and light, would not undergo some unusual and potentially transformative experi- ences. 25 So in “Buddhist Modernism,” Sharf maintains a view much like my own, which strives to acknowledge both that experiences of some sort do occur and that they and their repo

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Robert Brandom, for example, does so as an analytic and pragmatist philosopher and Iris Marion Young does so while drawing from Continental philosophical traditions of phenome- nology and poststructuralism. 27 Indeed, a comprehensive proposal for a viable notion of religious experience, which is more than I will attempt in this essay, could very well draw from people like Brandom and Young. In the meantime, I want to suggest that a major factor in the decline of religious experience, above and beyond the turns to language and practice, is the reluctance of scholars o

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Judging the experience to be an illusion of this or some other sort frees the third-person interpreter to theorize about the real nature of the causal process that the believer supposes to orig- inate in God. Such theories might come in any number of varieties: Feuerbachian projection theories; Freudian, Lacanian, or Irigarayan psychoanalytic theories; Marxist deprivation theories; Durkheimian so- cial theories; contemporary neuroscientific theories; or what have you. And finally, some might, like the experiencer herself, regard the ex- perience as veridical or at least possibly so. Theologians and those who are agnostic about God’s existence might be willing to consider as a possible option that God really did manifest to the Christian

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Martyr
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