Discovering Religious History in the Modern Age

By Petersen, William H. | Anglican Theological Review, Winter 2007 | Go to article overview

Discovering Religious History in the Modern Age


Petersen, William H., Anglican Theological Review


Discovering Religious History in the Modern Age. By Hans G. Kippenberg. Translated from the German by Barbara Harshav. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2002. xvi + 264 pp. $24.95 (paper).

This is intellectual history as it should be written. Briefly, it is the story of how the study of religion, specifically comparative religion, came to be separated from theology. Overall the work presents "an analysis of the rise of comparative religion between 1850 and 1930" (p. xi). But in this claim the author is too modest. Kippenbergs first chapter alone is worth the price of the book us he takes us on a whirlwind and demanding four of developments in philosophy that cleared the path. Though the usual suspects are rounded up (Hobbes, Hume, Kant, Rousseau, Schleiermacher, Hegel, and Schopenhauer), they, their motives, and the results of their deliberations are freshly, appositely, and insightfully presented.

Upon this basis, Kippenherg over his chosen period and in the remaining twelve chapters turns to the examination of the dramatis personae who forwarded the cause, often in conflicting ways rellective of issues pertaining to their national/cultural milieus. In this latter regard, the story moves principally among English, German, French, and American contexts. Thus, among others, we are engaged by F. Max Müller, E. B. Taylor, W. Robertson Smith, J. G. Frazer, Jane Harrison, R. R. Marett, K. Durkheim, Max Weber, William James, and Rudolph Otto-and all with due attention to their personal and cultural sitz im leben.

The principal burden of this book is to examine how the rise of comparative religion is in itself a response to modernization. Some of the chapter titles are particularly instructive in this regard: chapter 4. "The Presence of the Original Religion in Modem Civilization"; chapter 6, "Under Civilization: The Menacing Realm of Magic"; chapter 9, "Competing Models of the Recapitulations of the Histon of Religions": chapter 11, "The Great Process of Disenchantment"; and chapter 12. "Religion as Experience of the Self." Other chapters are foundational in presenting either elements that incited the development of comparative religion-such as the philological studies and theory of Müller (chap. 3)-or challenges to such theories that carried the development of comparative religion in new directions-such as chapter 5, "The Origin of All Social Obligations: the Ritual of Sacrifice." In the latter, the investigations of W. Rohertson Smith prove singularly important to the exhibition of ritual in such a manner its to break the priority of myth in religious studies. Mythos appears, rather, as reflection upon something prior. This last observation, at least for reader sol this review, can be translated back into the realm of studies in Christianity to indicate what has become the liturgiological commonplace that liturgy represents a primary doing of theology while doctrine is derivative, being ordered and articulate reflection upon that which is experienced at the center of worship. …

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