Intelligibility and Normativity in the Study of Religion

Bharat Ranganathan, University of Nebraska at Omaha

This is an open access article licensed under Creative Commons Attribution.

"Intelligibility and Normativity in the Study of Religion" by Bharat Ranganathan, Religions, 8(11) is licensed under CC BY 4.0


In his essay “The Devil in Mr. Jones,” J. Z. Smith issues a call. If religionists do not, he writes, “persist in the quest for intelligibility, there can be no human sciences, let alone, any place for the study of religion within them.” How should Smith’s call be construed? In other words, what constitutes the “quest for intelligibility”? And what (if anything) differentiates the religionist’s quest for intelligibility from that of other humanistic scholars? Taking as my starting point Smith’s call, I will mount a constructive proposal. On my proposal, religionists should conceive their task as twofold. First, religionists should comparatively describe religious phenomena. Second, they should evaluate these phenomena. Only if the practices of description and prescription are tethered will religious studies succeed in its quest for intelligibility.