Fish on the Spheres of Religion

Fri Jan 7, 2005

Stanley Fish’s article in the Chronicle today might get (or has already gotten–don’t know yet) a lot of attention among academic web log enthusiasts. He argues that religion is the barycenter of both the private and public spheres, and that academics better take notice (and have been taking notice) of this vital energy.

“Announce a course with ‘religion’ in the title, and you will have an overflow population. Announce a lecture or panel on ‘religion in our time’ and you will have to hire a larger hall” writes Fish, and my inner cynic wondered if the increases might be even larger if you substituted “sex” there. I don’t think that’s as trivial as it seems. Sex provokes interest because it’s exciting but also because it’s familiar. So might it be with religion. A course on “hermeneutics” may not attract the same audience simply because it’s a forbidding and boring-sounding word.

Several of Fish’s prognostications remind me of an oddity in which I’ve a long-standing interest, but I’m going to wait a while before posting anything about it. Very quickly, I think that Fish is ignoring economic factors which better explain the somewhat -exaggerated rise of religiosity that he observes and that its increasing importance in academic life is a result of that more substantive change.