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The study of religions (in plural) in Catholic countries: particularities, specificities and challenges

Panel Chair: Francisco Diez de Velasco | Tuesday, August 25, 3:30-5:30 p.m. | Venue

Countries with a Catholic majority, and in which the Catholic Church has a strong weight in education and the formation of the intellectual elite, presented a peculiar development of the disciplines devoted to the study of religions. They are based in an approach that is necessarily built with a methodological opening towards diversity and plurality. Before the Second Vatican Council this plural position faced rejection in Catholic countries, and lasted sometimes even after, influencing in the academic consolidation of the disciplines of the study of religions and in the themes and ways of working in the field. This panel proposes a revision of different examples focusing in the particularities, specificities and challenges of the development of the study of religions (in plural) in those countries.

Natale Spineto

Catholic Church and history of religions in Italy

Aim of this paper is to study the relationship between the Catholic Church and the study of non-Christian religions in Italy, with particular reference to the period from the second half of the nineteenth century until the Second World War. Indeed, in these years, the history of religions has some special features that are related to the influence that the Catholic Church has had on Italian culture. For example, we can mention the role of the clergy in the abolition of theological faculties, the delay with which classic British anthropology (opposed by the church) spreads in Italy and the success of the school of Wilhelm Schmidt; the attempts to encourage the diffusion of a Catholic history of religions (especially related to the Jesuits) and the renewal of the religious-historical knowledge by the modernists.

Mar Griera

Cults, sects and heresies: the study of religious minorities in Spain

This paper examines the evolution of the scientific study of religious minorities in Spain, paying special attention to the twentieth century. The development of this field of research has been intimately linked with the historical, social and political context of the country, and strongly marked by the role of the Catholic Church. The goal of the paper is twofold: first, to describe the changes in the scientific approach, conception and definition towards religious minorities during the XX century; and, second, to analyze the political uses of the knowledge generated and, in particular, its role in the construction of conceptual foundations of public policies towards minorities.

Monica Cornejo

Catholic and folk: representations of popular religion and the spring of Spanish Anthropology

This paper explores the emergence of scientific studies on Spanish religiosity in twentieth century, trying to show how native anthropologists highlighted heterodox and sometimes bizarre representations of folk Catholicism against the orthodox point of view of Catholic Church. This kind of studies had a remarkable impact on emerging local identities and also on policy trends, especially at the period between the final decade of Dictatorship and the process of Democratic Transition. In that period, anthropological research gave account of some of the more widespread images of religious Spain: crowded processions in Sevillian Holy Week, weeping devotes of Virgin Mary, strange outfits with cones on the heads, statues of saints and “fiesta” everywhere. This paper will analyze the political and scientific context in which this interpretation of popular Catholicism in Spain became relevant.

Francisco Diez de Velasco

History of Religions vs. Sciences of Religions: names and shapes of a disciplinary field in Spain

History of religions was the name of the first Chair in the Spanish University on the subject which we are dealing. Created in 1954, its only holder was Ángel Álvarez de Miranda, trained with Raffaele Pettazzoni in Rome. He understood the history of religions as an autonomous discipline following the model of the Scuola di Roma. Upon his death in 1957, the political changes and the pressures of the Catholic authorities made disappear the Chair and the discipline in Spain. It emerged decades later not as an autonomous discipline but as a confluence of approaches from very different disciplines (philological, sociological, philosophical, historical, anthropological, legal, etc.) and except in Catalonia and some few universities in Spain, the name opted (e.g. in the SECR –member of the IAHR-) is Sciences of Religions (with both elements in the plural). The implications and models that underlie both denominations are analyzed in this contribution.


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