Modern Societies and the Science of Religions: Studies in Honour of Lammert Leertouwer

By Gerard Wiegers | Go to book overview

THE SCIENCE OF RELIGION IN ISRAEL
WITH NOTES ON INTERLOCKING CIRCLES OF
TRADITIONS

SHAUL SHARED

Department oj Comparative Religion.
the Hebrew University of 'Jerusalem


Introduction

The problems with our discipline begin with its name. English does not particularly favour the combination of 'science' with disciplines that belong to the field of humanities. English, which is imposed on us in an international forum, is perhaps unique in making a rigid and somewhat arbitrary distinction, one that is historically unjustified, between 'sciences' and 'arts' or 'humanities'. The name to apply to the study of religion thus becomes, partly because of the limitations of English, an issue that distracts attention from the actual subjectmatter.

Hebrew, like Dutch, German, French, Italian, and many other languages, has a general term for 'science' which covers all kinds of enquiry and all fields of knowledge. The relevant department at the Hebrew University is accordingly called in Hebrew 'Department for the Science of Religions'. In English we usually call our department, for want of a better term that would not sound too outlandish, the 'Department of Comparative Religion'. Comparison is indeed one of the methods being used in the study of religions, although it is hardly the only one, or even the most conspicuous. 'History of Religions' is another way of referring to our discipline. This latter label has the merit of being more neutral and more modest in its claims, but it comes nowhere near to describing what specifically is being done when one studies religious phenomena. History is only one aspect of the study of religions. Other aspects include the study of religious expressions through ritual and liturgy, the social organization of religious groups, the interaction between religion and society, the workings of individual piety, and further themes that do not easily lend themselves to historical enquiry. These enquiries can be conducted

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