Category Mistake

Now wait a minute. There is a limit. I can make fun of postmodernism as well as the next person, but it has to be actual postmodernism, not just any old thing I don’t happen to agree with. There’s no shortage of real, avowed, self-declared pomos out there, there’s no need to start expanding the pool by calling people postmodernist who aren’t.

By ‘engaging big issues with the depth of insight that social science can offer,’ Wolfe said, the Boisi Center will stand in ‘a great tradition’ reaching back to pioneering sociologists such as Max Weber, author of The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, and Emile Durkheim, author of The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, scholars who treated religion prominently in their inquiries. In the process, he said, the center will stand counter to postmodernist trends in scholarship which, by viewing human society solely through lenses of economic materialism or race, sex and class, ‘reduce human beings to people without souls or without minds.’

That’s from a comment by Alan Wolfe about his directorship of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life, a Center whose very name makes me want to rush hastily away and set up camp on the margin. But that aside, surely Wolfe knows that postmodernists aren’t the first people to think about human beings without thinking about their ‘souls’. And note the sly trick of conflating souls and minds, as if they were synonyms. Well, I suppose that’s the kind of thing people do who found Centers for Religion and Public Life.

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