On Essentialization

I’m most interested in how science and religion came to be essentialised such that we can talk about there being a relationship between them. The standard view is to think that today we’ve got science and religion, and that these things, or something analogous to them, are perennial features of human cultures. On this view, we look at history to see what essential relationship there is between them. I think that’s totally mistaken. What we see happening in the West is the emergence of quite specific conceptions of religion during roughly the 17th century. The very idea of ‘religion’, then, is a distinctively modern, Western notion. ‘Science’ too, to some extent. Our present understanding of what science is is also something we see developing over time. It’s really only in the 19th century that we get our current conception of the natural sciences as constituting a coherent body of disciplines that share some essential features.

Peter Harrison, “The Best Books on the History of Science and Religion Recommended by Peter Harrison,” fivebooks.com/best-books/history-science-and-religion-peter-harrison/.