I finally got around to reading Tom Tweed’s recent Journal of Religion essay the other day, “After the Quotidian Turn: Interpretive Categories and Scholarly Trajectories in the Study of Religion Since the 1960s.” I’ve got a paper of my own in which I argue that we should turn our attention toward studying what I’ll just call the common, so I thought I should see what Tom had to say — those who advocate for studying so-called everyday religion, such as finding a small, simple shrine in a notch on a sidewalk’s wall, or those who go looking for, say, the implicit religion of baseball, are certainly talking about rather different things than I am in my paper, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth seeing what they’re all up to.
For the time being what stood out for me was his essay’s opening line:
I’m not really sure what to make of this claim, inasmuch as it strikes me as asserting, rather than arguing for, collapsing that longstanding distinction between interpretations of meaning, on the one hand, and explanations of causes, on the other — a distinction very much at home in some parts of the study of religion. (Note: he doesn’t go on to say that some other categories we use are explanatory, indicating to me that his claim is not just about all scholars in the human sciences but also about all of their categories.) So is it all reducible to meaning (as a classic humanist might arguer), thereby eliminating the notion of an explanatory category? That Tom limits his claim to the so-called human sciences is telling, I think, for it suggests that he’s trying to make a case that, at the end of the day, all human activity (including scholarship on that activity, of which Tom’s essay and this blog are but two examples) is somehow about either making or interpreting meaning — a claim in keeping with not only Dilthey‘s well-known approach but also a Geertzian model of culture.
How the natural sciences are exempt from all this, I’m unsure, unless we assume their objects of study transcend or predate the human — i.e., that a mitochondria is just a really real thing that’s interesting all on its own. Since I don’t think their categories are any truer than ours (to use Tom’s criterion: our categories are interpretive, he says in the next line, because they are neither true or false but, instead, more or less adequate to the task). For it isn’t difficult to imagine that the definition of mitochondria is not only just as pragmatic and human a tool as any term I use in my work but also that it (driven by the series of human assumptions and interests that motivate and inform its use in specific situations) is the thing that coaxes that little part of the cell into existence as a seemingly separable thing to study and talk about.
Same thing applies to “cell” of course. And to “thing.” And so on, and so on…
But I’ll leave that line of reasoning aside for the time being.
Instead, all I want to ask is whether this is the only model — i.e., that our categories are interpretive — we might pragmatically operate with? If not, then might we need some argumentation to establish the utility of such a point instead of asserting it on the first line?
For if it stands on its own, without argumentation and persuasion, then I’m not sure how this claim stacks up to itself, for it starts to sound as if all scholars in the human sciences use interpretive categories (i.e., that are neither true nor false) except those used in that opening line, for it seems to me that only self-evident first principles are universal, factual, and thus requiring no evidence and persuasive argumentation.
So is there a contradiction buried in that opening line, one that calls the entire paper — when seen itself as a piece of work in the human sciences and not somehow floating above it — into question?
The assertion is one of the most important parts of an essay- especially an argumentative one- so it’s very important that you know how to write them.
The assertion is where you make a claim and/or clearly define the side you want to argue. It's easy to get lost when coming up with assertions. . Here’s a quick guide to help you write perfect assertions for your essay.
Before you start writing your assertions, make sure your facts are straight. Do some research on the subject, and collect any important information that you might need. Remember, every topic has two sides to it.
Learn what they are, the pros and cons of each, and then compare. Be extra vigilant when looking for sources. There should be a reputable source behind any claim, so that you can be sure they’re accurate.
Back it all up
Your assertions needs to be a stable throughout. One of the best ways to hold up your assertions is to surround them with your research findings. I recommend following the assertion, evidence, commentary rubric.
An essay asserting that Martin Luther King Jr. was a great man would be true, but unconvincing if you don’t have enough evidence to support it, and commentary to explain yourself? In addition, be careful not to stray too far away from your topic when using evidence. Use your thesis statement as a stabilizing guide while you are writing.
Be clear and concise
Since each assertion lets you take a stand on your topic, it’s very important that you keep things clear and concise. Don’t beat around the bush. State your claim during the introduction, but don’t elaborate extensively yet. That’s for the latter parts of the essay. There’s also no need to use too many adjectives. Just keep everything short and to the point. Ideally, an assertion is only one sentence long, much like a thesis statement.
Once you’ve written your assertions down, you can proceed with the rest of your essay. You have to keep in mind that your essay’s structure has to be built around the assertions that you made in the first place. This means that most of the things you write afterwards should support and corroborate your assertions, and not contradict them.
You can present differing evidence, but be sure that they are used as possible counter-arguments, and address them efficiently in your essay.