Essentialism and the World Religions Paradigm
This chapter examines the prior concept 'world religions' as a pervasive, but problematic term that continues to be used rather uncritically within the academic study of religions despite efforts to undermine it. One of the most prolific writers on the world's religions during the latter third of the twentieth century was Ninian Smart, whose volumes has been read widely and has influenced methodological approaches within the academic study of religions. This analysis of the power relations between the West and the remainder of the world serves as a preamble to Smith's biting criticism of the world religions paradigm. The essentialist dogma deftly combines the assertion of Western power in relation to non-Western cultures with the theologically-loaded idea of a universal religious essence. Despite Hinnells's attempts to qualify the notion of world religions and to present each as responding dynamically to emerging global situations, the New Handbook, just as the original had done, perpetuates the world religions paradigm.