Sunday Quote

Sunday Quote!- The Invention of Religion

mrv-cavanaughEvery Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

The Invention of Religion

One book which has influenced my thought quite a bit was The Myth of Religious Violence. I recently reread the book and thought I’d share a rather poignant quote:

There was a time when religion, as modern people use the term, was not, and then it was invented. (81)

The notion that religion is a socially constructed concept is essential to Cavanaugh’s work, and he argues meticulously towards this end. His point is not that all so-called “religions” are false. Rather, his point is that the notion that there is such a thing as a secular/religious dichotomy is itself a construct with a historical development. Moreover, this construct, he argues, has been useful for creating an “Other” who is then deemed “religious” in order to separate this Other from spheres of influence. It’s a highly interesting book, and one I recommend strongly. I have reviewed it here.

What do you think? How might you define “religion”? If Cavanaugh is right, how might this notion influence your thought?


The Myth of “Religion”: Constructing the Other as an enemy– Here, I draw out more of Cavanaugh’s claims regarding the usage of the term “religious” and how it is used at times to create an “Other” to repudiate.

Book Review: “The Myth of Religious Violence” by William T.  Cavanaugh– I review the book which has led me to discuss the ways the category of religion is used to stigmatize the other and also forced me to rethink a number of issues. I highly recommend this book.


William T. Cavanaugh, The Myth of Religious Violence (New York: Oxford, 2009).



About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick is a Lutheran, feminist, Christ-follower. A Science Fiction snob, Bonhoeffer fan, Paleontology fanboy and RPG nerd.


10 thoughts on “Sunday Quote!- The Invention of Religion

  1. This sounds like a fascinating book. It is common for secularists to create a religious “other” so they can set religious people apart as different and then worse than they are.

    Posted by criticalmass | April 27, 2014, 6:42 AM
  2. This sounds quite interesting. I’ll have to be on the look out for it.

    Posted by bryanajoy | April 27, 2014, 2:06 PM
  3. I honestly think that the (atheist) sociologist Emile Durkheim’s definition of religion as “a unified system of beliefs and practices” is about as useful a definition as we’re likely to get (that covers even just today’s major world religions), and one that acknowledges that there is no Other religious/secular dichotomy. All belief-systems are essentially religious and many seemingly ‘secular’ ideas are held sacred like democracy, human rights, scientific method et cetera. Additionally, people tend to have multiple complementary (and even competing) belief-systems as part of their personal religion whether or not they subscribe to traditional public religion like Christianity or Buddhism.

    Posted by powerofnaming | April 27, 2014, 4:07 PM
    • That’s an interesting definition! How does Durkheim deal with the notion that such a definition essentially makes the category of “religion” as separate from other spheres of life meaningless?

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | April 28, 2014, 10:17 AM
      • Well, Durkheim thought that religions focusing on an external figure, like God or gods (or whatever) were really substitutes for society, in that people instinctively knew that there was something bigger than them that they were part of but that that thing was really society. Therefore, religion and society were essentially the same. Durkheim referred to a society of believers (of any religion) as a church, which makes his ideas a kind of ‘secular’ ecclesiology.

        What I find particularly fascinating about this is that if still makes sense if you are a believer (as I am) and cannot accept that society is being mistaken for God because it means that religion is a part of human life at a basic level that cannot be done without because it is the way that human beings think and function socially. It becomes especially interesting in the context of the Church-as-the-Body-of-Christ theology/ecclesiology or even just the idea of seeing Jesus Christ in the faces your fellow human beings (which is made most pointedly in the Gospels of Matthew and John.

        Tolkien’s idea of Christianity as True Myth (as opposed to fractured, mostly false myths like those of Greek or Norse mythology) would be a similar idea from an Christian-aesthetics perspective rather than Durkheim’s atheistic-sociology perspective; combined we think in stories which shape ourselves and our society (which then tells our story).

        Interestingly, there are plenty of examples where people have been deliberately guided towards worshiping the idea of a society itself in an overtly religious way. Nationalism, like the way in which the flag, constitution and pledge of allegiance in the USA are taken sometimes is practically indistinguishable from religious worship in the degree of reverence accorded, though it is relatively innocuous (usually). More extreme (and dangerous) examples would be the explicit state-and-leader worship of Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.

        Posted by powerofnaming | April 30, 2014, 9:51 AM
  4. Cavanaugh is right. It always seemed so odd to me, that if Christianity is truth, if Jesus Christ is real, that we could compartmentalize life that way modernity does.

    Posted by williamfrancisbrown | April 28, 2014, 7:13 AM


  1. Pingback: Sunday Quote!- The Invention of Religion | J.W. Wartick -"Always ... - The Last Invention - April 27, 2014

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