I have not read Why Tolerate Religion?, but I have read its NDPR review and its bibliography, as a result of which I am unsurprised by the reviewer's assertion that the book "manifests little engagement with serious history of religious thought". I suspect, again based on the bibliography, that it does not manifest a great deal of engagement with the history of thought about religion; in particular, I wish the review had spent more time not simply critiquing the "four features that he says are, or may be, distinctive of religious belief and essential to religion as such" but going into how Leiter identifies them, and their broad adequacy. Is it true, in fact, that all the things we are apt now to call religions issue in categorical demands for action? Is that true of everything discussed in The Golden Bough, for instance (I don't know if Leiter observes a difference between myth and religion)? Is it true that Religion after Idolatry manifests culpable failures of epistemic warrant on Johnston's part? (Manifesting such a failure isn't itself one of Leiter's features, but it seems from the review that they jointly entail such a manifestation.)
Neglect of thought about religion is unfortunate in part because if one does want to come up with a catalogue of features characteristic of religion one has to start from some understanding of what religion is, to get one's topic into view, even if that understanding will be revised and sharpened as the investigation proceeds. But without study one is apt to simply recapitulate (in this time and place) a vulgar Christianity, as it latterly understands itself. (Latterly because, obviously, what was considered to be religion, or a religion, has not been constant; JZ Smith mentions in "Religion, Religions, Religious" that in the early 16th century, for instance, "religion" was just a category of customs and rites, not of beliefs, which (in the case of the beliefs of members of cultures encountered by Europeans abroad) "could simply be recorded as 'antiquities'"; that they yonder believe such-and-such about the world would not have made it into an account of their religion. That's reaching way back for a point that could also be made just in the 20th century with the increasing prominence of evangelicalism.) The idea that all religions essentially issue categorical demands for action and involve "explicitly or implicitly" a "metaphysics of ultimate reality" seem particularly likely to have such an origin. (I'm curious about that implicitness: it clearly has to be there because it would be absurd to claim that all religious beliefs involve a metaphysics of ultimate reality. But how implicit is the metaphysics allowed to be, and how determinate must it be? Implicit and indeterminate enough that just about any ordinary belief also implicitly involves such a metaphysics?)
A different (and excellent) Smith essay, "God Save This Honorable Court", demonstrates the ways that "a notion of self-evidence derived from using lay understandings of varied forms of Christianities" leads people (in the case of the essay, Supreme Court judges) to try to press the unfamiliar into familiar molds, assimilating Santeria to Christianity, and to not examine the familiar, illustrated with a series of Durkheimian takes on Lynch v Donnelly. It is very long, but I'm going to quote a substantial section of it, because I only wrote this post because I wanted to quote it (in what follows, ellipses in square brackets were introduced by me, and other ellipses were introduced by Smith into material he's quoting):
I quote, without intervening comment, two extracts from the majority opinion in Lynch v Donnelly … the first may be taken as an ethnographic description, the second as a statement by native informants. […]
Each year, in cooperation with the downtown retail merchants association, the city of Pawtucket, R.I. … erects a Christmas display as part of its observance of the Christmas holiday season. The display is situated in a park owned by a non-profit organization and located in the heart of the shopping district. The display comprises many figures and decorations traditionally associated with Christmas, including, among other things, a Santa Claus house, reindeer pulling Santa's sleigh, candy striped poles, a Christmas tree, carolers, cut out figures representing such characters as a clown, an elephant, a teddy bear, a talking wishing well, hundreds of colored lights, a large banner that reads "Seasons Greetings," and a creche. The creche has been on display for forty or more years. It consists of the traditional figures including the Infant Jesus, Mary and Joseph, angels, shepherds, kings and animals, all ranging in height from five inches to five feet. The crech is positioned in a central and highly visible location, an almost life sized tableau marked off by a white picket fence.
The display engenders a friendly community spirit of goodwill in keeping with the season. The display brings into the central city shoppers and serves commercial interests and benefits merchants and their employees. It promotes pre-Christmas retail sales and helps engender goodwill and neighborliness commonly associated with the Christmas season. It invites people to participate in the Christmas spirit, brotherhood, peace, and to let loose with their money.
[…] Let us begin by granting for purposes of argument the finding of fact by the Court: that the display consists of the copresence of sacred and secular items. In the Court's reasoning, religion would be present only if the exhibit consisted entirely of sacred symbols; that is to say, for the Court, following some generalized Christian prototype, religion is the sacred. Durkheim might reject both the Court's premise and its conclusion, while accepting its finding of fact. For Durkheim, religion is the oppositional relationship of sacred to profane. The presence of both are required for there to be religion. […]
In the case at hand, the native informant predictably stressed the economic and pragmatic consequences of the display. This understanding was, from Durkheim's view, erroneously accepted as true by the Court. The informant claimed that the exhibit "benefits merchants and their employees", it "serves commercial interest" […] Durkheim might remark that embedded in this economic discourse is a second language of sociality, specifically tied to a particular season. […] As translated by Durkheim, members of the Pawtucket society usually live dispersed in their separate homes, following individual biological and economic pursuits For Durkheim, this is the fundamental social translation of the profane. By contrast, in the shopping center, these same folk come together to "participate" in what Durkheim would define as a "moral community", his translation of the sacred. […] The coming together "into the central city" is a ritual that resignifies the sacred. In Durkheim's sense of the term, this coming together in the shopping center constitues Pawtucket's 'church'.
From this perspective, Durkheim might go on to argue two reinterpretations of the native informants' account. Both would reject the Court's understanding that Pawtucket's beliefs are secular. On the one hand, Durkheim might argue that, in religion, the experience of the collectivity is objectified, often as an impersonal force, sometimes as a supernatural being. In the native's erroneous understanding, it is this force (or being) rather than the coming together that is thought to "engender" the powerfully experienced sentiments of collective life. In Pawtucket, this objectification is variously named the "Season", the "Christmas Season", or the "Christmas Spirit". This is a sacred power in that it can be profaned. Think of the canonical example of Scrooge.
Alternatively, Durkheim might argue that as these sentiments are "engendered" by this periodic coming together, seasonal shopping in Pawtucket constitues that society's religious ritual.
Later Smith has Durkheim observing that while all come together to shop at the mall, after doing so they "disperse to their individual homes and denominational houses of worship, a dispersal that likewise markes the profane". (For all that Smith refers to mistaken objectifications of the collectivity as impersonal forces or supernatural beings, I'm not sure there's an objectionable metaphysical view underlying the informant's claim that the display engenders goodwill, etc.)