In academic circles, “tradition” has long taken a beating. Scholars have correctly pointed out that “tradition” or “traditions” are often quite malleable as Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger put it in the title of their edited volume, The Invention of Tradition.
While all of this is well and good, the concept “tradition” itself has been undertheorized. What do we really mean by this term, and can it be used as an analytic category for the study of religion? I have recently published an essay in which I attempt to resuscitate the term and argue for a working definition: static resources that individuals, communities, and institutions understand as authentic and regard as authoritative.
The full essay explaining what I mean by this definition can be found in Michael L. Satlow, “Tradition: The Power of Constraint,” in Robert A. Orsi, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Religious Studies (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 130-150.