Driscoll, Christopher M., & Miller, Monica R. Method as Identity: Manufacturing Distance in the Academic Study of Religion. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2019. Pp. xxx + 233. ISBN: 9781498565622.
From its very title, one may surmise that the core issue of the book under review is the currently en vogue and rather complicated topic of “identity” — here, however, intertwined with what scholars broadly call “method” in the study of religion. This short description, however, would be accurate if the latter actually evoked unison among scholars. For Driscoll and Miller, in particular, method (and theory) in the academic study of religion is categorically predicated on a particular principle: “<…> much of the interests informing the data we come to take up is likewise organized represented by us, and for us, according to the very interests and experiences scholars seek to theorize and analyze” (p. xv; original emphasis). This is by no stretch of the imagination inaccurate in many respects. If, however, Driscoll and Miller would have stopped there, further analyzing this assertion in terms of epistemology, theoretical input, and genuine scholarly interest, I would have found in their Method as Identity one of the most appealing publications in the field today. However, their objective is to concentrate on race — and more particularly against modernity and its racial past and present, extending such an agenda to and focusing in the field of religious studies. In this respect, their work stands on the most extreme pole of postmodernism, while primarily addressing not broader questions but specifically North American ones. Hence, chapter titles and subtitles such as “The Battle for Identity in the North American Academic Study of Religion”, “What is ‘Black’ about ‘Black’ Religious Studies”, “Tracing Co-Constitution in the Twilight of (White) Normativity”, or “N-Words and M-Words” clearly indicate the spatial and socio-political spectrum Driscoll and Miller write about and for. In this respect, the volume’s subtitle should have been adjusted accordingly to clearly indicate the actual focus of the book for the interested reader.
Given this essential element of Method as Identity, I am convinced that this particular work is of interest primarily to scholars who espouse the postmodern outlook and are active within cultural environments where discourses on, for example, the “N-Word” or the push for “Black” Religious Studies, have currency. To give one particular example — which indicates where I primarily disagree with Driscoll and Miller’s fruitful (in some respects) but argumentatively problematic (in most respects) approach: the authors fail to make a clear distinction between scholars of a particular race and gender who have an agenda linked to their identity as such, and other equally gendered and race-specific scholars. It appears that for Driscoll and Miller, race and gender play a (crucial, if not the primary) role when individuals’ argumentation contradicts what they cherish as the ideal way to proceed with method (and theory) in the study of religion. As such, to take just one example, Driscoll and Miller refer to the Canadian scholar of religion Donald Wiebe as the “white male scholar” who fails himself to see how his motivations when talking about “a disinterested, objective scientific study of religion” are “about him” (p. xiv; original emphasis). On the contrary, the celebrated figures in the volume (such as Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Pierre Bourdieu, or Russell T. McCutcheon) are apparently not “white male scholars” (they are not referred to as such anywhere in the volume) but rather models to be eagerly followed theoretically and methodologically wise.
What one may readily take from such a wobbly argumentation is that the racial classification of Wiebe (or any other scholar for that matter) is equally applicable to Driscoll and Miller themselves (whatever that might mean eventually). Additionally, and following their suggested perspective to method and theory as linked to identity, one should approach this book and its objective as a result of their (Driscoll and Miller’s) motives, their data, their interests, and their experiences. I am not persuaded that such an approach has much to offer to the academic study of religion in toto; rather, it does have a lot to propound in regard to ideological, political, or otherwise discourses if one sees the field of Religious Studies immersed into such discourses. If one agrees with the premise that all we are primarily dealing with (in Religious Studies or in any other field for that matter) is first and foremost an issue of identity politics and ensuing privileges or lack thereof, then Method as Identity will be a great book to have in your arsenal. If, on the other hand, one subscribes to the scientific principles of the Enlightenment and modernity, Method as Identity reads as an ideological manifesto of little or no interest to the uninitiated or indifferent to such discourses reader.
Nickolas P. Roubekas
University of Vienna