The Value of Comparison
Peter van der Veer is Director at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity at Göttingen, Germany and Distinguished University Professor at Utrecht University. He is the author of several books, including
The Fragment and the Whole
This chapter of book explores the advantage that particular forms of anthropology have for comparative analysis and seeks to ground the study of the fragment theoretically. Anthropology is the only social science that reflects on Western ethnocentrism and takes the problem of translation seriously. The chapter gives a detailed critique of quantitative analysis of nationalism and of evolutionary cognitive understandings of religion and shows the superiority of a more interpretive anthropology in the study of nationalism and religion. It thus gives not only a critique of some existing approaches but also a demonstration of preferable perspectives.
This chapter argues that market theories of religion that are based on the notion of “rational choice” do not contribute to our understanding of the transcendental value of money and markets in our social life. Such theories depend on a too narrow interpretation of “rationality” and neglect the importance of enchantment in financial transactions, consumption patterns, and religious life. The chapter addresses studies of religion in China and South Asia to illustrate its theoretical points.
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