Towards the concerned study of religion: Exploring the double power-play disparity

A.F. Droogers

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademic


Increasing numbers of students of religion, from various disciplines, address issues of public interest, going beyond documentation and analysis, taking the quality of human life in religion and society as a criterion for their recommendations. Accordingly, systematic reflection on the concerned study of religion is gaining relevance. The approach chosen in this article is to focus on one particular aspect, in this case the double - cognitive and moral - disparity in religious contexts between forms of power and play.Power is viewed as the human capacity to influence other people's behaviour, even against their will. Play is defined here as the human capacity to deal simultaneously with different realities. Power and play represent two human capacities that in themselves are neutral but in combination may change from means, a situation of parity, into goal, a situation of disparity. A first type of disparity is cognitive in nature. It stems from the reduction of the potential open dynamic meaning-making that the power-play constellation could stimulate as well. A second disparity is of a moral nature. It stems from the fact that the power-play set may come to interfere with the quality of human life. As a set, power and play thus move between the roles of being either subservient means or self-fulfilling goal, between a soft and a hard version.Religion is one field in which the gift for play is applied, resulting in the relationship with a sacred or divine reality. Whereas religions cannot survive without some form of power, the form given to the power-play set marks out a religion's identity. Within our time the critical study of the double disparity of hard power and play has gained urgency. Global society faces severe problems of poverty, violence, pollution and miscommunication. Religions may act as a cause, but also as problem solver.Students of religion are invited to form multidisciplinary teams to study the double disparity in its actual form, while simultaneously exploring prospects for the promotion of both open meaning-making and the quality of human life, with power and play in a relationship of parity. This turn would necessitate a reappraisal of the research agenda for Religious/World-view Studies. It demands an identity change for this study field, both in the selection of themes for research and funding, and in the explicitly applied nature of scholarly work. © 2010 Elsevier Ltd.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)227-238
JournalReligion: a Journal of Religion and Religions
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2010


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