What Cultural Theorists of Religion have to learn from Wittgenstein, or, How to Read Geertz as a Practice Theorist

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Amid the debates over the meaning and usefulness of the word “culture” during the 1980s and 90s, practice theory emerged as a framework for analysis and criticism in cultural anthropology. While theorists have gradually begun to explore practice-oriented frameworks as promising vistas in cultural anthropology and the study of religion, these remain relatively recent developments that stand to be historically explicated and conceptually refined. This article assesses several ways that practice theory has been articulated by some of its chief expositors and critics, and places these developments in conversation with comparable accounts of “social practices” by recent pragmatist philosophers. My aim in generating such a conversation is to illuminate the ways that Ludwig Wittgenstein’s later work provides important resources for cultural analysis that are already implicit in practice theory, yet either frequently overlooked or dismissed by practice theorists. To demonstrate its relevance for cultural theorists in the study of religion, I show how such a Wittgensteinian understanding of practice theory coheres with, and illuminates, Clifford Geertz’s account of meaning, thick description and religious practices.
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Archival date: 2015-11-21
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