Envisioning a Pragmatic Approach to the Archaeology of Religion



Over the past decade, many archaeologists have lamented over the parlous state of what is often labeled the “archaeology of religion.” Although much of the problem with the development of a satisfying approach to the study of religion in the past lies with religion itself, a notoriously difficult concept with a plethora of definitions, archaeologists themselves must acknowledge that they too bear responsibility for this unsatisfactory situation. Archaeologists have turned to the analysis of ritual in the past because it is easier to see ritual in the archaeological record than religion. But the result has been the creation of a corpus of disembodied ritual that may not fully capture the essential role that religion played in the past as a force for conservatism, transformation, or both. In this essay I argue that religion be reintroduced into the field by reminding archaeologists of what religion does. I illustrate how this can be accomplished within a program of philosophical pragmatism and an examination of contexts, contrasts, and combinations of archaeological data using two case studies.