This raises the question of the status of religion for the inquiry. It elaborates the hypothesis that religion is a mode. Alternative accounts are possible. One hypothesis is that religion is a sort of sub-mode of a more general mode or group of modes.. Another is that religion is an overarching meta-mode, englobing all modes. In each case the specific difference of religion is maintained, but analysed differently. Only the anthropological inquiry can decide which hypothesis is verified.
It is by no means self-evident, without consulting its practitioners and representatives, that religion is a mode on the same plane as any other mode, rather than an overarching understanding containing all modes. For example, Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Kelly in ALL THINGS SHINING argue for the need of a return of the sacred, which they analyse in terms of a pluralism of values and of the “understandings of Being” that correspond to them.Their aim is to restore our awareness of and receptivity to the different modes (values, understandings of beings), to “lure back the gods”, to “become receptive to a modern pantheon of gods” (222). In effect, they argue that REL is both an overarching meta-mode (the ontological pluralism of values, modes, and beings), and one specific mode, that they include under a more general grouping of modes that they call “poiesis” (which corresponds to MET).
Dreyfus and Kelly argue for a renewed sense of the sacred in terms of a pluralist sensibility to multiple valuues embodied in a modern pantheon of “gods”, ranging from emblematic figures (Roger Federer, Marilyn Monroe , Albert Einstein) to works of literature. This both poses religion as an overarching background framework for the whole inquiry into multiple modes of existence (pluralism of modes) and includes the beings of REL under the more general mode of MET (pluralism of beings). They also give an analysis of the religious mode of existence (in their terms “understanding of being”) as a separate mode on a par with others. They link REL to love in the form of a new sense of agape, that they assign to the “Jesus figure” of the gospels.
This analysis is very interesting as they describe the birth of a new mode in terms of a division of labour between the ontological genesis (called “reconfiguration”) and its semiotic formulation (“articulation”). They argue that Jesus as the ontological reconfigurer introduced a new practice and mode of existence, but that this new mode would have gone unperceived if Saint Paul as semiotic articulator had not furnished the language to make it discernable and intelligible.
They describe what one could call the dilemma of incommensurability: either the new mode cannot be understood in terms of pre-existing modes and its practitioners are unintelligible, or it can be understood and it represents no real transformation or break compared to the previous modes:
“if Jesus really revealed a radically new way of life there could be no current language for expressing it. So, if one tried, one would either be unintelligible, and so seem to be crazy, or one would make sense and then the transformation wouldn’t be radical. How can there be a middle ground? In the New Testament, thanks to Paul, we get to see before our very eyes an example of how to manage this seemingly impossible task” (108-109).
So for Dreyfus and Kelly a new mode of existence includes a background framework, paradigmatic beings (in this case Jesus, but also devils and angels), a particular mood or value (agape), and a semiotic formulation (the gospels and epistles). This complexity is responsible for the hesitation over the status of religion. As sensitivity to a multiplicity of values, religion is a meta-mode, as receptivity to the passages of a multiplicity of different sorts of beings it is a sub-mode of poiesis, as understanding of being it is a mode.