Introduction: the comparative sociology of religion
Any discussion of the possibility of ‘the comparative sociology of religion’ takes us immediately into the problem of a generic definition of religion and eventually into issues surrounding Orientalism, post-colonial theory, reflexive sociology and the nature of the social. These reasons alone – epistemology, ideology and ontology – are in themselves sufficient to compel us to take religion seriously (Turner, 2009a). It goes without saying that attempts to define religion have for a long time troubled the sociology of religion. To return once more to the question of defining religion, as we have seen in this volume, the definitional issue came out very clearly in Max Weber's comparative sociology of religion in which, for example, it is not clear that the ‘Asian religions’ such as Confucianism, Shinto or Daoism are religions at all (Turner, 2009b). Émile Durkheim, in the introduction of his study of Australian Aboriginal religion in The Elementary Forms of Religious Life ( 2001), also wrestled with the problem of Theravada Buddhism, which in its orthodox form rejects any idea of God or gods. I return constantly to Durkheim and Weber because their legacy continues to shape debates about religion, secularisation and post-secularisation in the work of Charles Taylor, Robert Bellah, Pierre Bourdieu, Jürgen Habermas and (I would argue) Michel Foucault.