But what if religion is not primarily about knowledge? What if the defining core of religion is more like a way of life, a nexus of action? What if, as per Charles Taylor, a religious orientation is more akin to a ‘social imaginary,’ which functions as an ‘understanding’ on a register that is somewhat inarticulable? Indeed, I think Taylor’s corpus offers multiple resources for criticizing what he would describe as the ‘intellectualism’ of such approaches to religion—methodologies that treat human persons as ‘thinking things,’ and thus reduce religious phenomena to a set of ideas, beliefs, and propositions. Taylor’s account of social imaginaries reminds us of a kind of understanding that is ‘carried’ in practices, implicit in rituals and routines, and can never be adequately articulated or made explicit. If we begin to think about religion more like a social imaginary than a set of propositions and beliefs, then the methodologies of surveys of religious ‘knowledge’ are going to look problematic.
In this vein, I’m reminded of an observation Wittgenstein makes in the Philosophical Investigations: One could be a master of a game without being able to articulate the rules. Surveys like this mistakenly assume that everyone who plays the game (of religion) can also articulate the rules. I think Charles Taylor gives us good reason to be suspicious of such assumptions.