Chantepie de la Saussaye, P. D.

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CHANTEPIE DE LA SAUSSAYE, P. D. (18481920), Dutch theologian, philosopher, and historian of religions. Pierre Daniël Chantepie de la Saussaye, who was of Huguenot descent, studied theology at the University of Utrecht, where he obtained his doctorate in 1871. After a short stay in Bonn and Tübingen, where he worked with J. T. Beck, he served as a minister in the Dutch Reformed church (18721878). In 1878 he was appointed to the new Chair of the History of Religions in the faculty of theology at the University of Amsterdam. There he stayed until 1899, when he was appointed to the Chair of Theological Encyclopaedia, Doctrine of God, and Ethics in the faculty of theology at the University of Leiden, a post that he held until his retirement in 1916. Chantepie de la Saussaye was one of the representatives of the movement in Dutch Protestantism called "ethical theology," which stressed the value of religion both as a reality of the heart and as an existential datum with ethical implications.

Chantepie de la Saussaye defended the autonomy of the new science of religion, but he was always sensitive to its presuppositions and limitations. He had no knowledge of Asian languages; his own historical research concentrated on Old Germanic religion. After his appointment in Leiden, he practically left the field of history of religions and paid attention thereafter primarily to questions of faith and ethics. Among his students in Leiden, Gerardus van der Leeuw seems to have been the most sensitive to what Chantepie de la Saussaye saw as the direction that science of religion in a theological faculty should take.

Chantepie de la Saussaye's major work, the two-volume Lehrbuch der Religionsgeschichte (18871889; translated as Manual of the Science of Religion, 1891), is a handbook of the science of religion in a broad sense. As one of the first of such works, it is one of the discipline's great historical documents, and it deserves close attention. In its first edition the Lehrbuch was divided into four sections: an introduction followed by phenomenological, ethnographical, and historical parts. In the introductory section Chantepie de la Saussaye, distancing himself from the philosophical systems and general reductive theories of religion current at the time, discusses the new science of religion. He ascribes its rise to the discovery of many new source materials for ancient religions; to the fact that world history can now be described as an entity; and in particular to the modern philosophical view of religion as one whole. Over against theological distinctions, he asserts, modern philosophy recognizes "the unity of religion in the variety of its forms" and considers religion as a single phenomenon subject to "philosophical knowledge." Significantly, he pays tribute here to G. W. F. Hegel, who distinguished "the various modes for studying religion (metaphysical, psychological and historical) and made us see the harmony between the idea and the realization of religion." For Chantepie de la Saussaye the empirical science of religion is distilled, so to speak, from philosophy of religion as Hegel conceived it.

Chantepie de la Saussaye distinguishes more sharply than Hegel, however, between philosophy and history of religion, and between the "essence" and "manifestations" of religion: whereas philosophy of religion is concerned with the "essence" of religion, history of religion as an empirical discipline studies its "manifestations." History of religion is subdivided into an ethnographical section treating peoples "without history," and a much larger section treating the religions of peoples with written documents.

As for philosophy of religion, it treats religion in both its subjective and its objective aspects, and consequently consists of what Chantepie de la Saussaye calls a "psychological" and a "metaphysical" part. Metaphysical philosophy of religion stresses God's objective speaking in nature and life, whereas psychological philosophy of religion stresses the human's subjective reaching out to God. For Chantepie de la Saussaye, as for C. P. Tiele and van der Leeuw, "psychological" denotes not so much an empirical, verifiable reality as a philosophical category indicating the subjective side of human experience. It is important to see how large Hegel still looms in the background of Chantepie de la Saussaye's thinking on religion and consequently his phenomenology.

The Lehrbuch was an important contribution to the new science of religion in another respect, too. The phenomenology of religion contained in its second section was the first of its kind and drew largely on Hegel; it was published in 1887 before the work of Franz Brentano and Edmund Husserl, who were to conceive of phenomenology in a totally different way. Appropriately, given the clear distinction that Chantepie de la Saussaye made between philosophy and history of religionhe viewed the latter as an empirical disciplinehe conceived of phenomenology as a discipline mediating between history on one hand and philosophy on the other. Its task was to collect and classify the various religious phenomena, and to establish the meaning of the different classes of phenomena.

At the very beginning of the phenomenological section of the Lehrbuch, Chantepie de la Saussaye points out that a phenomenology of religious forms deals with facts of human consciousness; that these outward forms of religion can be understood only on the basis of "inward processes"; and that it is their particular "inward relation" that distinguishes religious from nonreligious acts, ideas, and sentiments. Consequently, phenomenology of religion was in principle closely connected with psychology. This was the line taken by his pupil Gerardus van der Leeuw, who was to develop explicitly this psychological-phenomenological research of religion.

Chantepie de la Saussaye himself does not go so far, treating only the forms and not the contents of religious consciousness. Already in his dissertation of 1871 he had considered religion as a kind of species comprising a number of different forms. To develop a classification of these forms, he distinguishes three sectors in religioncult, doctrine, and religious feeling, of which the first is the most stable sector and the last is practically limited to the present. The Lehrbuch' s phenomenological section describes (1) objects of worship, religious acting, sacred persons, religious communities, and sacred writings and (2) religious thinking (myth and doctrine). Religious feeling does not receive separate treatment.

It has often been noted that this phenomenological section was entirely dropped in the second edition of the Manual. Chantepie de la Saussaye explained that in his view this section had to be either considerably enlarged or omitted. He chose to omit it for reasons of space, and also because phenomenology constituted a border discipline between history and philosophy requiring separate treatment in a new book. Unfortunatelyand significantlythis book never appeared. It was his pupil van der Leeuw who worked in this direction and developed phenomenology of religion as a special branch of the study of religion.

In point of fact, Chantepie de la Saussaye's wish to develop a phenomenology of religion as a special field between history and philosophybetween empirical facts and systematic thoughtdid not achieve much more than an outward classification and systematization of religious forms. This he did on the basis of the Hegelian legacy, with its distinction between the essence and the manifestations of religion. His phenomenologywhich was quite independent of the phenomenological movement started by Franz Brentano, Edmund Husserl, and otherswas a very formal discipline relegating the problem of religious meaning mainly to philosophy or to the scholar's intuition, or, worse, to the scholar's personal religious views and convictions.

See Also

Leeuw, Gerardus van der; Phenomenology of Religion.


For bibliographic data on Chantepie de la Saussaye's person and work, see my book Classical Approaches to the Study of Religion, vol. 2, Bibliography (The Hague, 1974), pp. 3738.

Two books by Chantepie de la Saussaye exist in English translation. Manual of the Science of Religion (London, 1891) is the English translation of the first edition of the Lehrbuch der Religiongeschichte, 2 vols. (Freiburg im Breslau, 18871889). The second and third editions of the Lehrbuch, of which Chantepie de la Saussaye was no longer the author but the editor, have not been translated into English. The Religion of the Teutons (Boston, 1902) is a considerably expanded translation of a book published in Dutch in 1900.

New Sources

James, George Alfred. Interpreting Religion: The Phenomenological Approaches of Pierre Daniel Chantepie de la Saussaye, W. Brede Kristensen, and Gerardus van der Leeuw. Washington, D.C., 1995.

Plantinga, Richard J. "In the Beginning: P. D. Chantepie de la Saussaye on Religionswissenschaft and Theology." Religious Studies and Theology 8 (1988): 2430.

Ryba, Thomas. "Comparative Religion, Taxonomies and 19th Century Philosophies of Science: Chantepie de la Saussaye and Tiele." Numen 48, no. 3 (2000): 309338.

Jacques Waardenburg (1987)

Revised Bibliography