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New Trends and Recurring Issues in the Study of Religion: Perspectives from Eastern and Western Europe

Panel Chair: James L. Cox | Friday, August 28, 1:30-3 p.m.

The European Association for the Study of Religions Conference held in September 2011 in Budapest brought together keynote speakers from Eastern and Western Europe to offer regional perspectives on the historical development in the study of religion and to reflect on contemporary issues affecting the academic study of religion. This resulted in a book entitled New Trends and Recurring Issues in the Study of Religion (Paris and Budapest: L’Harmattan, 2014), edited by Abraham Kovacs and James L. Cox. This panel reflects on the trends identified by the contributors to the book and on the recurring issues they emphasised by analysing the at times conflicting understandings of the field of Religious Studies that characterize Eastern and Western European contexts.

James L. Cox

The Debate between Theology and Religious Studies in Britain as Demonstrating a Radically Divergent Approach from Eastern Europe

The twenty-first century began with the landmark book published by Timothy Fitzgerald entitled The Ideology of Religious Studies, which outlined the theological underpinnings for the development of the academic study of religion, largely in Western European contexts. Fitzgerald controversially called for the academy to drop the term ‘religion’ altogether, if what they mean by the term refers to culture rather than theology. During the first fifteen years of the new century, various responses have been developed in Britain to Fitzgerald’s argument that underscore the radically divergent approaches to the academic study of religion represented by the contributors from Eastern Europe to New Trends and Recurring Issues in the Study of Religion. This paper analyses the debate over ‘Religion’ in Britain in light of the theological trends displayed by Eastern European scholars.

Abraham Kovacs

On the border lines of Religious Studies and Theologies of World Religions

This paper is to offer some reflection on how often exclusive current American and Western European trends intend to dominate the field of religion with a dismissal of other approaches to the study of religion including issue the may rise out of philosophy of religion and theological reflections of not only Christian but many other world religions. The research paper relies on the experience of the debates in the Hungarian Association for the Study of Religion and some Asian approaches to the study of religion where the presence of a distanced, and objective form of the insider voice articulated in the respective theologies of world religions is peacefully accepted. The paper offers some insights to the philosophical/metholdological biases of some Western approaches which often are inimical towards all forms of theological reflections if it comes to Christianity but more lenient if it is a world religion from Asia.

Bulcsú K. Hoppál

“Primordiality Paradox”: What Does the Hypothetical Understanding of Religion Imply?

In the postmodern discourse on religion there is one point held in common among many authors: the semantic content of the word “religion” varies depending on the situation and context of the discussion. This insight implies at least four further perceptions. Firstly, almost every religion tends to be eternal. This what I call the “eternity paradox” of religions. Secondly, religions change notably in time, while all religions tend to be limitless/timeless. This phenomenon is what I call the “continuity/discontinuity paradox”. Thirdly, the criteria under what one can call a phenomenon by the term religion again varies from culture and to culture. This is what I call the“definition paradox”. Fourthly, the methodological concerns within the scientific study of religion show that religious studies is extremely interested in historical roots, in the forms of religions and in their truth-claims. Contemporary scholars of religion seek ancient (atavistic) roots and forms of religions. This is what I call the “primordiality paradox”. In my paper I will argue that the first insight necessarily implies the further four points, and I will discuss their significance for the current study of religion in Eastern Europe.


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