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Clemen, Carl


CLEMEN, CARL (18651940), Protestant theologian and historian of religions. Carl Christian Clemen was one of the founders of research in the science of religion and of its institutionalization in Germany. After qualifying for a lectureship in New Testament studies in Halle, he taught there from 1892 to 1903 and in Bonn from 1903 to 1908. After visiting the United States as a guest lecturer in 1908 and 1909, he became in 1910 associate professor and in 1920 professor of the history of religions in the philosophy department of the University of Bonn. The breadth of his scholarship is indicated by the fact that his publications number approximately six hundred titles, that he lectured on the Old Testament and on systematic and practical theology, and that he taught Avestan.

His publications first concerned the New Testament and its background in the history of religions. His inaugural lecture at Bonn, published as Die religionsgeschichtliche Methode in der Theologie (1904), outlined his program, first, of summarizing the different challenges confronting theology from the religio-historical method, especially that of the Religionsgeschichtliche Schule, and second, of tracing the derivation of religious views in the New Testament. For him the religio-historical method is a principle of research that Christian theology simply must apply if it is to be considered a field of knowledge. In this, however, Clemen believed that the comparison of Christianity with other religions (1) does not hinder the researcher, despite a temporary presumption of the equality of religions, from being convinced of the advantage of a certain religion and church; (2) does not promote the relativization of Christianity or, in its historical observation of Christianity, exclude the confirmation of its absoluteness; and (3) will lead, in fact, in its attempt to explain Christianity by means of other religions, to the verification of Christianity's originality and of its possession of content that was already present and only poured into borrowed forms.

Research is indebted to Clemen, in connection with these arguments, for a more precise definition of the idea of "influence" among religions through his application of three criteria. One can speak of "influence" if any one of the following criteria is met: (1) if a special religious view cannot be explained completely from the original ideas of the religions concerned; (2) if any hypothesized influence of one religion is actually demonstrable in another religion, and the precedence of the former is plausible; and (3) if the manner in which a religious view is transmitted is comprehensible (otherwise a correspondence must be shown to be so far-reaching that the former has to be regarded as the model, even if the way of influence is unknown). A broadly conceived exposition of these ideas appeared in his Religionsgeschichtliche Erklärung des Neuen Testaments: Die Abhängigkeit des ältesten Christentums von nichtjüdischen Religionen und philosophischen Systemen (1909; translated as Primitive Christianity and Its Non-Jewish Sources, 1912). A German revision of Religionsgeschichtliche Erklärung published in 1924 also incorporates his work Der Einfluss der Mysterienreligionen auf das älteste Christentum (The influence of mystical religions on primitive Christianity; 1913), while his book Die Reste der primitiven Religion im ältesten Christentum (Traces of primitive religion in primitive Christianity; 1916) adds a portrayal of concepts originating in nature religions. A summary view of the opposite relationships is provided by the late work Der Einfluss des Christentums auf andere Religionen (The influence of Christianity on other religions; 1933). Clemen's summary work, Die Religionen der Erde: Ihr Wesen und ihre Geschichte (1927), was translated into English as Religions of the World: Their Nature and Their History (1931). The broad scope of his approach to method is seen in writings such as Die Anwendung der Psychoanalyse auf Mythologie und Religionsgeschichte (The application of psychology to mythology and the history of religion; 1928) and Grundriss der Religionsphilosophie (Outline of the philosophy of religion; 1934). Yet his ideal was strongly source-oriented historical research, and his edition of Fontes historiae religionum ex auctoribus Graecis et Latinis collecti, beginning with his collection of sources and published as Die griechischen und lateinischen Nachrichten über die persische Religion (Greek and Latin accounts of Persian religion; 1920), has become an aid of lasting importance to religio-historical research.


Mensching, Gustav. "Carl Clemen." Die christliche Welt 54 (August 3, 1940): 353354.

Rühle, Oskar. "Clemen, Carl." In Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart. 2d ed., vol. 1. Tübingen, 1927.

Schrey, Heinz Horst. "Clemen, Carl Christian." In Neue deutsche Biographie, edited by Erich Angermann et al., vol. 3. Berlin, 1957.

Waardenburg, Jacques. Classical Approaches to the Study of Religion, vol. 2, Bibliography. The Hague, 1974. See pages 3940.

Christoph Elsas (1987)

Translated from German by Roger Norton

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