Assessing a Key Term in David Chidester’s Analysis of Religion

  • Johan M Strijdom University of South Africa
Keywords: Visions, Dreams, African indigenous religions, Interior senses in medieval European theories and practices, Media


The purpose of this article is to illustrate and assess Chidester’s use of the ‘senses’ as an analytical term in his study of religion. Under ‘senses’ Chidester includes not only the five conventional senses of Aristotle, but also analyzes metaphorical uses of the senses in religious discourse, the visions and dreams of mystics and shamans, and eventually new media as extensions of the human senses. Chidester’s analysis of the senses in European Christian discourses on the one hand, and in colonial and postcolonial African indigenous religion and imperial religious studies on the other hand, is compared and assessed. Although he does not offer a systematic comparison of these case studies, I argue that his analysis lends itself to an explicit comparison of the senses as material aspects of religion and show how his contextualized and historically nuanced analysis of the senses in religion and religious studies informs a critical study of religion. Since critical assumes judgment, values need to be explicated in terms of critical theories, which in my view need further elaboration.