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Religious Theories of Religion (2/2)

Chair: Jörg Rüpke, Michael Stausberg | Tuesday, August 25, 3:30-5:30 p.m. | Venue

Theories of religion are conceptual and metaphorical narratives that seek to account for or/and explain religion. In particular, theories of religion account for the specificity, origin, function, and structure of “religion” (what it is, how it comes about, what it does, and how it works). Academic theories of religion need to satisfy the criteria accepted by the respective scholarly community; different disciplines may vary in their criteria. In addition, theories of religion can emerge in other discursive contexts. In this panel, we wish to explore the formation of theories of religion that may have emerged within different religious traditions, even though they obviously will not have used our term ‘religion‘ (or an apparent cognate term that might address problems which are only part of or more embracing than the range of cultural practices defined as coherent by the term “religion”). Are there such theories? How are they structured? How do they argue? When have they emerged and how have they changed?

Christiane Altmann

Reconstructing Judaism in a time of deformation

In the scholarly community Judaism is commonly considered as a subject of studies of religion. At the beginning of the 20th century Mordechai M. Kaplan formulated a new theory of Judaism to make a stand against assimiliation and growing self-hatred among the Jews. He redefined Jewish religion in a functional sense and attempted to reconstruct Judaism as a civilization. His concept sought to interrelate to the Jewish denominations by creating a Jewish identity in a society of multiple identities. His modern vision of being Jewish took up contemporary problems, which scholars of today discuss in teh context of secularization, multiple identities and pluralism. The presentation seeks to retrace his ideas by asking whether his ideas represent a kind of a religious theory of religion. How did the theories of religion of his time affect Kaplan's own one about Judaism? How has his 'theory of religion' evolved to the Reconstructionism of today?

Cristiana Facchini

Jewish religion and Judaism as a civilization

In historical descriptions notions of religion often compete with concepts like ‘culture’ or ‘civilization’. The same holds true for concepts of religion developed within Judaism. “‘Judaism’ and ‘Jewish religion’ are not synonymous terms. ‘Judaism is more comprehensive than ‘Jewish religion’, for ‘Jewish religion’ is only a part of ‘Judaism’” rabbi Mordechai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism in the United States, formulates as exergon of Judaism as a civilization (1934). - Mordechai Kaplan was born in Lithuania and emigrated at a early age to New York, where he attended the Jewish Theological Seminary and Columbia University. The Reconstructionist movement in Judaism followed the path of American congregationalism, and mainly influenced groups of intellectuals, among whom the renown Israeli sociologist Shemuel N. Eisenstadt. This paper aims at analyzing new conceptualizations of the notion of religion in their role for and interaction with new modes of conceptualizing Judaism in the wake of the great changes that affected American and European societies in the early 1930s.

Rahul Parson

All Things Being Relatively Equal: Indic Accomodations of Religious Difference and the Category of General Religion

Many scholars (van der Veer, Dundas, Doniger, etc.) have noted that there is no term in any Indian language corresponding exactly with the word ‘tolerance’, an idea that emerges in the context of the European Enlightenment. Despite the absence of the term, there are irenic intellectual positions within Indic traditions that attend to ‘otherness’ and the accommodation of religious difference. Some of these, anekāntavāda (non-absolutism), syādavāda (maybe-ism, relativism), madhyastha (standing in the middle), have been lauded as religious ‘tolerance’, and yet they maintain a complicated relationship with religious difference. This paper focuses how so-called Indic notions of religious ‘tolerance’ can fathom the contours of what counts as ‘religion’ or dharma/dhamma, and how it is determined. For example, madhyastha, literally positioned in the middle, is an approach to divinity and doctrine from a position of neutrality, which allows the viewer to see another religious path ‘objectively’, and potentially grant it a place in sāmānyadharma, a general theory of religion. Yet this other path must ‘qualify’ by having a legitimate perspective, and – my central claim - it is these requirements that suggest what may be religion.

Darja Sterbenc-Erker

Ancient Greek and Roman theories on religion

In the paper I am going to present indigene alternatives to modern concepts of religion in the ancient Greek and Roman world. Some metaphorical narratives on religion, exegetical endeavours and „theories“ on religion had a place in intellectual debates of Graeco-Roman antiquity which was similar to our modern religious studies. The aim of the paper is to present the formation of intellectual reflection on religion in Graeco-Roman antiquity. Its typical characteristics include individual ways of rationalising knowledge on religion, traces of which can be found in the plurality of opinions in intellectual elaborations on religion. Important strands in the incipient theorising were the formulation of questions introducing the notions of „essence of religion“, „nature of the gods“ and the „meanings of rituals“. These different building blocks of Roman notions of religion can be identified and are brought together in Varro’s model of „three types of theology“. Special emphasis will be given to the conceptualisation of religion in sceptical theories on religion (Euhemerus) and in criticism of myths about gods.


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