Academic journal article Church History

Religion Enters the Academy: The Origins of the Scholarly Study of Religion in America

Academic journal article Church History

Religion Enters the Academy: The Origins of the Scholarly Study of Religion in America

Article excerpt

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In this brief but insightful trio of essays, James Turner maps the origins of the study of religion in America from the colonial period to the late nineteenth century. The first chapter examines the study of non-European religions up to the 1820s. In America, unlike Europe, the study of comparative religions began outside of the academy. Although many colonists were trying to convert native-Americans to Christianity, they demonstrated remarkably little interest in non-European religions. What they know about other religions was often steeped in error and prejudice. This reticence to study non-European religions, Turner suggests, represented a reaction, or over-reaction, to moderate Enlightenment attacks upon Christianity. Since critics of Christianity were looking into other religions, such studies were easily associated with the enemies of the faith. The second essay, covering the 1820s to 1870s, explores the emergence of serious attempts to study non-European religions with Unitarianism and Transcendentalists leading the way. Finding alternatives to Christianity in the hope of going beyond it or of reforming it fueled these studies. …

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