History of religion

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History of religion is a university subject - a science that deals with the historical and current development of religions and religiosity with regard to their respective development in a historical context. Here, the respective religions are first examined in their own history and tradition, in order to classify them later, for example using functional or typological criteria, and finally to work out a system of belief systems. This creates a basis that is essential for comparing different religions regardless of faith (comparative religious studies). In practice, the transition to the independent subject of religious studies is fluid. In contrast to this, there is the phenomenological trend within the history of religion, which understands the term 'religion' as an abstract and therefore rejects comparative or historical-chronological methods, as these cannot do justice to the uniqueness of the various religious ideas.

The first question in the history of religion is: “Is the development of religion subject to a direct sociocultural evolution or is it just a by-product of other cognitive developments?” An evolutionary process always requires selective factors , so that the question can only be answered if unequivocal factors can be determined that give believers some survival advantage.

Religious history was especially in the 19th century by religious scholars and religious anthropologists mostly evolutionary interpretation, often with colonialist-Darwinian coloring, that is, as the development of original, "primitive" forms that were seen often as a low - animism , totemism , or the so-called primitive monotheism Wilhelm Schmidts - linear and undifferentiated to further developed, higher forms, for example via polytheism to monotheism ; to the " high religions ". James Frazer postulated a development from magic through religion to science . These teleological positions often suffered from inadequate empirical foundations , mostly contained explicit or implicit evaluations (from primitive to higher stages) and were often not applicable to the individual case of concrete religious-historical events. Only a few researchers (such as Edward Burnett Tylor ) recognized even then that even the evolution of religion does not mean a steady upward progression. In modern religious studies, evolutionist step models only play a role as a material supplier and as part of the specialist history (see also: Dead ends in ethnological research on religion ) .

In return, an egalitarian, descriptive, phenomenological approach developed later within the scientific discipline, which led to the fact that books with the title “History of Religion” can only be a disconnected juxtaposition of monographs. Other authors now suggest that if the attempt is not made to trace developments and to understand the later from its relationship to the preceding, the concept of history loses its content ( see, for example, Leslie White and other representatives of neoevolutionism ).

In recent times, the history of religion as a universal history has taken a back seat to the study of the history of individual religions or cultural areas. However, theories relating to the history of religion, such as secularization and pluralization, are being given increasing attention again.

Development of the science of religious history in Germany

The first chair for the history of religion was established in Leipzig in 1912 for the Swedish phenomenologist Nathan Söderblom . This happened even though the churches were more interested in denominational theology than in the then unpopular history of religion, and represented a fundamentally new development in terms of scientific research into religions. The historically determined development of the history of religion from Christian theologies meant that this subject was located in the theological faculties - which can still be observed today. Religious studies later developed from the history of religion. Despite the relatively short influence, the Christian perspective still has an inhibiting effect on research on the history of religion.

History of Religions and Religious Studies

Although the practice-relevant differences between the history of religion and the study of religion may be small, there are voices that assign distinctive peculiarities to the subjects. So there is the argument that the history of religion as a historical science examines religions “in depth”, whereas religious studies contrasts and compares religions “broadly”. Ie the methodology of the two subjects differs in these points. Basically it can be said here that the history of religion provides the basis for a systematic study of religion. It is this important link between the two subjects which, in contrast to other disciplines such as the sociology of religion or psychology of religion, connects the history of religion most closely with religious studies. This is also expressed, for example, in the changed name of the largest religious studies association in Germany: Up until 2005 it was still called “German Association for Religious History e. V. "(DVRG), as is their current name" German Association for Religions science e. V. "(DVRW). In contrast, there are universities at which one can study both religious studies and religious history.

See also


  • Hans G. Kippenberg et al. (Ed.): European history of religion. A multiple pluralism. 2 volumes, Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2009 (UTB), ISBN 978-3-8252-3206-1 .
  • Hans G. Kippenberg: The discovery of the history of religion. Religious Studies and Modernism , Munich: CH Beck, 1997.
  • Günter Lanczkowski : Introduction to the history of religion . Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 1983, ISBN 3-534-08780-1 .
  • Religious history of the modern age. Profiles and Perspectives . Special issue of the magazine zeitenblicke , 5th year 2006, No. 1 ( all articles in full text )

Web links

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


  1. z. B. Paul Wurm: Handbook of the history of religion. Calw, Stuttgart, 1904. This is where the development of “Part One: The Religions of the Uncultivated Peoples” goes through “Part Two: The National Religions” to “Part Three: The Universal Religions”
  2. Frazer based his thesis on a wealth of historical data
  3. "The alphabetical order of the articles [...] is [...] the most neutral imaginable. Any other classification of the religions of the world, for example according to monotheistic and polytheistic, according to world religions and regionally bound, according to primitive religions and religions of high cultures or according to the value of ethical content, implies a qualification or can at least be understood as such. "In: Günter Lanczkowski: History of Non-Christian Religions. Frankfurt a. M. 1989. p. 7.

Individual evidence

  1. Julia Haslinger: The evolution of religions and religiosity, pp. 1–3, 13.
  2. ^ A b Walter Hirschberg (greeting), Wolfgang Müller (red.): Dictionary of Ethnology. New edition, 2nd edition, Reimer, Berlin 2005. P. 311 (Religionsethnologie).
  3. Karl – Heinz Kohl: Edward Burnett Tylor , in: Axel Michaels, (Ed.): Classics of Religious Studies. Munich 1997, pp. 41-59.
  4. ^ Fritz Stolz: Fundamentals of Religious Studies. Göttingen 2001.
  5. ^ Uehlinger, Christoph: Religious Studies in Switzerland: History and Current Perspectives . In: Kostorz, Gernot (Red.): Bulletin of the Association of Swiss University Lecturers / Association Suisse des Enseignant-es d'Université . 36th volume , No. 1, Forch / CH, April 2010. ISSN  1663-9898 . P. 53