Book religion

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Book religion is a religious-scientific term used to designate those religions that have holy scriptures and are strongly based on texts. Related terms are revealed religion , world religion and scriptural religion. The classic type of book religion is embodied by Judaism , Christianity , Islam, and Bahaitum . Often, however, other religions are also classified as book religions, such as Orphism , Hinduism , Buddhism , Sikhism , Zoroastrianism , Jainism , Taoism and Mormonism .

Concept history

The concept of the book religion developed late. Preforms can be found in Islam, where the Koran speaks of Jews and Christians as people of the book . However, the term only appears in explicit form in the case of the Indologist and religious scholar Friedrich Max Müller , who on February 26, 1870, in a lecture at the Royal Institution in London, described eight religions as book religions: three Semitic ( Judaism , Christianity , Islam ), three " Aryan ”( Hinduism , Buddhism , Zoroastrianism ) and two Chinese ( Confucianism , Daoism ). For Müller, these eight religions represented "a kind of aristocracy compared to the common mob of bookless, unliterary religions".

The term also plays an important role in Gustav Mensching's typology of religion . He understands book religions to be those religions "in which the holy book has a central meaning." In this sense, he regarded the "Indian religion" as an "outspoken book religion" because the Veda remains "the sacred basis of all later forms of piety". In his view, Christianity is not originally a book religion, but only becomes one in the course of its history, "insofar as one asked about scriptural evidence". For Mensching, Islam was "perhaps a book religion in the strictest sense" because the Koran was already the holy book at the time of the Prophet. According to Mensching, a prerequisite for the designation of a religion as a book religion is "that the holy book has a determining meaning for the 'middle of life' of the religion concerned." In this particular sense, not all holy book religions are book religions. Parsism , Confucianism, Taoism and Shintoism , for example, according to Mensching, do not meet this requirement. Mensching counts the religion of the Greeks , the Roman religion , the Germanic religion and the ethnic religions among the religions without a holy book .

Bernhard Lang , who wrote the article on "Book Religion" in 1990 for the Handbook of Basic Concepts for Religious Studies, named the following elements as constitutive for a book religion: 1. The holy scriptures have a stabilizing and reforming power in religion; 2. the scriptures have an effect on religion and culture; 3. The book has a missionary meaning because it makes religion "transportable"; 4. The existence of holy books inhibits religion and provokes criticism. The functions of the holy book in the book religion extend to the following areas: 1. It permeates the various areas of life up to art and literature ; 2. it plays the central role in worship ; 3. it forms the basis of theology ; 4. it has an influence on the school system ; 5. it is used for private edification and 6. it becomes an object of customs and popular belief .

Relationship between different “book religions” to your book

The relation of the respective book religions to their holy scriptures is very different. Even between Christianity, Judaism and Islam there are in some cases considerable differences. It is true that the holy scriptures can be called the revelation of God in all three religions . For Jews, however, the primary revelation is God's acting and speaking in the history of Israel, for Christians (preparatory) in the history of Israel and (finally) in Jesus of Nazareth. The respective scriptures are the received written record of this divine action. The difference to Hinduism is even greater, where the Veda , which is considered to be knowledge “heard” by seers, was passed on orally for a very long time and was only recorded in writing centuries later.


The Orthodox tradition within Judaism regards the Torah as God's word given to Moses on Mount Sinai by God himself. In some orthodox circles it is quite admitted that some spelling mistakes may have crept in here and there in the tradition of the Word of God , but that does not challenge the fact that the Torah is the Word of God . So from the orthodox point of view a sentence like “God created man in his image…” ( Gen 1.28  EU ) is a fact, since the word of God is by definition the truth itself. This also implies that every word of the Torah must have a meaning, since no letter of God's word can be superfluous.


In Christianity, the Bible ( Old and New Testament ) is the Holy Scriptures. It is the written basis of the Christian faith. The books of the Bible were written by authors in different times and were combined into one book called the Bible. Jesus, who is proclaimed in the books as the promised Messiah (Christ) and Son of God , referred himself to the written scriptures of the Tanach , the Hebrew Bible ( Mt 4,4  EU ). For Christians, Jesus Christ is the “Word of God” into this world, of which Scripture only testifies - and in this way participates in its validity.


In the Koran, Jesus (who is called Isa ibn Maryam there ) is referred to as “the word of God”; for Islam, however, the holy book, the Koran , is the word form of divine revelation, whereby Mohammed is "only" the mediator of this word, but has no soteriological meaning himself as a person . At the beginning the wording was passed down orally and learned by heart, later written down by scribes during the recitation. In Islam, the wording of the Koranic sentences is regarded as a revelation from God and as unadulterated. So only Islam is a "scriptural religion" in the true sense, Christianity is considered a secondary religion of the book.


The term “book religion” as an attempt to clearly distinguish it from the religions of non-written peoples ( ethnic religions ) is questionable insofar as the written tradition often follows a longer period of oral tradition. The term also contains a problematic valuation or devaluation of non-scripted religions, which becomes clear in Müller's quote. The decision as to which religions are included in the book religions is subject to a certain arbitrariness, as the delimitation is not accurate. For this reason, the term is viewed critically in modern religious studies and is rarely used.


  • Andreas Holzem : Standardizing, handing down, staging: Christianity as a book religion . Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt, 2004.
  • Bernhard Lang : "Buchreligion" in H. Cancik , B. Gladigow, M. Laubscher (eds.): Handbook of basic concepts of religious studies, 5 vols. Second volume. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart a. a., 1990. pp. 143-165.
  • Gustav Mensching : The religion. Forms of appearance, structure types and laws of life . Curt Schwab, Stuttgart, 1959. pp. 97-108.
  • Arija A. Roest Crollius SJ: Book religions . In: Walter Kasper (Ed.): Lexicon for Theology and Church . 3. Edition. tape 2 . Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 1994, Sp. 753-754 .
  • Hansjörg Schmid, Andreas Renz, Bülent Ucar (eds.): “The word is close to you…” Scripture interpretation in Christianity and Islam. Verlag Friedrich Pustet, Regensburg 2010, ISBN 978-3-7917-2256-6 (Theological Forum Christianity - Islam) .

Web links

Wiktionary: Book religion  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Franz König , Hans Waldenfels : Lexicon of Religions: Phenomena, History, Ideas . 3. Edition. Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 1996, ISBN 3-451-04090-5 , Holy Scriptures, p. 256 f . (Karl Hoheisel).
  2. See Lang: "Buchreligion". 1990, p. 143.
  3. ^ See Lang: "Book Religion". 1990, p. 144.
  4. ^ See Lang: "Book Religion". 1990, p. 144.
  5. Cf. Mensching: Die Religion. 1959, p. 107.
  6. Cf. Mensching: Die Religion. 1959, p. 107.
  7. Cf. Mensching: Die Religion. 1959, p. 107.
  8. Cf. Mensching: Die Religion. 1959, p. 108.
  9. Cf. Mensching: Die Religion. 1959, p. 108.
  10. See Lang: "Buchreligion". 1990, pp. 145-147.
  11. ^ See Lang: "Book Religion". 1990, pp. 147-152.
  12. Sebastian Grätz (2014). Holy book - holy language? The World of the Orient: Volume 44, Issue 2, pp. 237–250. doi : 10.13109 / wdor.2014.44.2.237