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ENCYCLOPEDIAS . Most generally, there are two ways of understanding encyclopedia (from Greek kúklos, "circle," and paideía, "education"), namely: (1) after Hippias of Elis, a Sophist of the fifth century bce, as a term denoting a universal education, subsequently the everyday education that prepares for the universal education (Isocrates, 436338 bce). Since Marcus Terentius Varro (11617 bce) the encyclopedia is organized within the system of the artes liberales as a preparation and introduction to philosophy, in the Middle Ages also to theology (already in Jerome's Chronicon (380 ce). Rabelais, in Pantagruel (1532), still referred to encyclopedia as a formal education and complete system of learning. From the seventeenth century onwardmainly through the influence of the French encyclopedistsit was used to denote the entirety of human knowledge. (2) Encyclopedia is also common to indicate a presentation of the contents of knowledge, either in certain fields of interest or in a general way, along with a detailed description of respective subjects. While in earlier times the systematic encyclopedia was more prominentthat is, an encyclopedia structured according to themes and issuessince the eighteenth century the alphabetical encyclopedia gained the upper hand. The latter is often referred to as a "General" or "Universal Encyclopedia"; in German as Realenzyklopädie, Reallexikon, Sachwörterbuch, or Konversationslexikon. Although there are many overlaps and although the differentiation is debated among scholars, it is often argued that encyclopedias explicate subjects while dictionaries explicate words. In the end, however, subjects are also words, a fact that makes the differentiation difficult.

The aim to present principally everything that is known about a great variety of subjects and fields in one publication is an ambitious project (Cappelletti, 1983). It needs the collaboration of many people over a long period of time. And it "can hardly be done without some overarching goal, some hope of making a point, or at least without reflecting on the relationship of knowledge to truth and the impact of such truth on individual and social life and the direction of history" (Sullivan, 1990, p. 317). Indeed, since presenting the complete knowledge of humankind is a futile task, it is important to note that behind encyclopedic treatment of knowledge there stands a certain ideology that structures the pieces of knowledge in a way that fits a preconceived program or discourse. Given this subtext of the encyclopedic genre, it is astonishing that encyclopedias as discursive sources, organizing knowledge in a meaningful way, have only rarely been the object of scholarly scrutiny (but see Kircher, 2003).

It is noteworthy that the understanding of encyclopedias as representing the ultimate knowledge of humankind is a product of an ideology that viewed the cosmos as utterly decipherable. Vincent of Beauvais, for instance, entitled his seminal medieval encyclopedia Speculum maius (The Greater Mirror, 1244) because his book was thought to represent the perfect integrity and harmony of the universe. The same is true for the twelfth-century encyclopedia Speculum universale (Universal Mirror ) by the French preacher Raoul Ardent. The world itself is a text, and its hidden truthits textureis made accessible to humankind by means of textual representation. The claim to present the entirety of human knowledge is also a claim to master the universe, a totalizing attitude that had its impact on discourses and power relations. With the early-modern growth of scientific knowledge and the encounter with formerly unknown regions and cultures, the encyclopedia as an instrument of power gained new momentum. Examples of this are Paul Scalich's Encyclopaedia: seu, orbis disciplinarum, tam sacrarum quam prophanum epistemon (Encyclopedia; or [knowledge of] the world of disciplines, both sacred and profane, Basel, 1559), a decisively Protestant publication that for the first time used the term "encyclopedia" to designate a book; and Francis Bacon's famous encyclopedia Instauratio magna (The Great Renewal, London, 1620), with a frontispiece showing a vessel that sails through the pillars of civilization into the wide open of unknown seas to be explored.

Early Encyclopedias

The beginnings of systematic encyclopedias are usually related to Plato's nephew Speusippus (c. 408339 bce), but of his encyclopedia only fragments remain. Varro compiled an encyclopedic reference work for stately affairs, including information about the people and geography of the Roman Empire, government, state, law, and religion (Antiquitates rerum humanarum et divinarum [History of Human and Divine Matters ]). In this tradition stood Pliny the Elder (2379 ce) with his famous Historia naturalis (Natural History, 77 ce), in which he tackled geography, astronomy, meteorology, ethnography, anthropology, zoology, botany, medicine, dietetics, magic, mineralogy, and the arts. Along with the Origines or Etymologiae (Etymologies, in fact an encyclopedia with little use of etymologies in the modern sense of the word) of Isidore of Seville (560636) and Jerome's Chronicon, the Historia naturalis remained the most influential encyclopedia for the Middle Ages.

Among the medieval encyclopedias reference must be made of the Hortus deliciarum (Garden of Joy ) of Herad of Landsberg (c. 11251195), as this is the first encyclopedia compiled by a woman. Vincent of Beauvais's Speculum maius had a tremendous impact on the high Middle Ages and the Renaissance; compiled from some two thousand sources, it deals with the issues of God and creation, or the human and the divine (physics, geography, agriculture, alchemy, botany, astronomy, language, grammar, logic, rhetoric, ethics, family, economy, politics, law, handicraft, architecture, war, sports, seafaring, medicine, mathematics, metaphysics, theology, history, culture). The Compendium philosophiae, compiled before 1320, is usually seen as the first modern encyclopedia because it mirrors the thirteenth-century merging of Aristotelianism with the Scholastic doctrine in the genre of encyclopedia; it strives for objectivity and wants to inform about the newest scientific developments. Most encyclopedias of that time were written in Latin. There are exceptions, however. The German Buch der Natur (Book of Nature, 1350) by Konrad of Megenberg and P. Königsschlacher's untitled encyclopedia (1472) were simplified works written for a lay public; they were based on Thomas of Cantimprés's Liber de naturis rerum (Book of Things in Nature ).

Particularly in the Middle Ages, the Arabic and Chinese encyclopedic literature was blossoming. In "Sources of History," Ibn Qutayba (828889) devoted a single volume of his ten-volume encyclopedia to the issues of sovereignty, war, nobility, character, education and rhetoric, asceticism, friendship, prayer, food, and women, respectively. The encyclopedia T'ung-tien by Tu Yu (eighth century) informed about the sciences, educational systems, government, customs, music, army, jurisprudence, political geography, and defense. As a matter of fact, the encyclopedia as a genre of its own has a tradition in China that exceeds the Western development. From the no longer extant Huang-lan (Emperor's Mirror, compiled in 220 ce) to the revised four-hundred-volume edition of the Qing chao xu wen xian tong kao, edited by Liujin Zao in Beijing in 1921, Chinese encyclopediasas their Muslim fellow publicationsfollowed an agenda of educating the civil servants (see Giles, 1911).

Early alphabetic encyclopedias

While alphabetic encyclopedias are dominant in modernity, there are only a few forerunners in antiquity. The most important is De verborum significatu (The Meaning of Words, early first century ce) of M. Verrius Flaccus, a dictionary of rare terms with grammatical and historical explanation that transmitted the findings of late Republican scholarship (Varro) to later generations.

In the seventeenth century, three encyclopedias were influential: L. Moréri's Grand dictionnaire historique (1674), A. Furetièr's Dictionnaire universel des arts et sciences (1690), and P. Bayle's Dictionnaire historique et critique (16961697). The latter is seen as a modern encyclopedia already because it puts forward a new conception with clear, brief, critical ("enlightened") articles instead of uncritical compilations of quotations. Its influence is reflected in a number of translations, among them the German version of J. C. Gottsched (Historisches und Critisches Wörterbuch [17411744]). These works set the tone for the enormous encyclopedic projects that followed the European Enlightenment.

Encyclopedias and Enlightenment

In the eighteenth century the Enlightenment led to a new phase in encyclopedic publishing (Kafker, 1981). In all cultural centers in Europe projects were launched that by far surpassed the encyclopedias known from early modern times. The underlying rationale of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century encyclopedias was an ideology of enlightenmentsometimes in clear opposition to clerical truth claimsand of education of the masses or, rather, the middle class. Of paramount importance was the effort of the so-called encyclopedists in France.

The Encyclopédie

"Encyclopedists" is the name for the group of scholars thatunder the direction of Denis Diderot and, in its mathematical part (until 1759), Jean le Rond d'Alembertcollaborated in the publication of the Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des Sciences, des Arts et des Métiers par une société des gens de Lettres (35 vols., 17511780; about 72,000 entries in seventeen volumes of letterpress, eleven volumes of engraved plates, five supplement volumes, and two index volumes). Taking up an idea of Leibniz, and building on the older English (e.g., Ephraim Chambers' Cyclopaedia, 1727) and French encyclopedias (e.g., Pierre Bayle's Dictionnaire historique et critique ), the encyclopedists intended to present the complete knowledge of the time (Lough, 1971). With its discussion of all relevant problems, from general philosophical to religious, scientific, historiographical, ethical, political, and social issues, along with Voltaire's writings the Encyclopédie is regarded as the climax of the French Enlightenment. Of the important authors who considerably contributed to the ideological framework of the encyclopedia, alongside the editors (see particularly d'Alembert's Discours préliminaire, which is still read in French schools today), special mention must be made of Voltaire, who collaborated until the letter M before he began his own Dictionnaire philosophique ; Holbach with his articles about chemistry; Mallet, Bergier, and others for theology and history; Yvon for ethics and metaphysics; and Montesquieu and von Grimm. The political, philosophical, and religious positions of the authors vary, although they are united in a confrontation against radicalism and control of thought that were seen in the intolerant despotism of the ancien régime and the church. With regard to religion and theology, differences can be noticed between Diderot and d'Alembert on the one hand, and Mallet and his party on the other. While Diderot in his comparative articles on religion gives long excerpts from the works of English Deism (see his articles on Christianisme, Foi, Raison, Révélation, Religion naturelle, Théisme, Théologie, etc.), Mallet shows a determined anti-Deistic polemic (see his Bible, Dogme, Inspiration, Prophétie, etc.).

Censorship (or the fear of it), however, had its influence on many of the articles, a problem that increasingly troubled the whole project (see Darnton, 1979). Even d'Alembert agreed to include the petites orthodoxies in the encyclopediaalbeit not without trying to undermine their content with renvois, that is, "allusions/suggestions." On July 21, 1757, he replied to Voltaire, who had grumbled about the meekness in matters theological: "We published bad articles about religion and metaphysics; but with theological censors and such a restrictive permission of publication, I beg you to write better ones!"

Other seminal contributions

The French Encyclopédie, although paradigmatic in its intentions, was not the only important encyclopedia of the eighteenth century. In England, the Encyclopaedia Britannica (3 vols., 17681771) gained international fame. In 1976, the entries were divided in so-called Macropaedia (that is, the major articles in nineteen volumes) and Micropaedia (that is, the smaller articles in ten volumes). The Encyclopaedia Britannica became a vital reference point for the Scottish Enlightenment. How important these publications were in religious-political discourse can be seen from the fact that historian of religion William Robertson Smith (18461894), who was involved in the ninth edition of the encyclopedia, lost his professorship and good reputation in the Free Church of Scotland because of his article "Bible."

In the nineteenth century other seminal encyclopedias followed. For philosophical discourse, of outstanding importance was G. W. F. Hegel's Enzyklopädie der philosophischen Wissenschaften (1817), in which he presented his system of philosophy in three parts: Logic, Nature, and Mind. The most extensive European project to date, the Allgemeine Encyclopädie der Wissenschaften und Künste by J. S. Ersch and J. G. Gruber (167 vols., 18181889) remained unfinished. The Conversationslexikon of K. G. Löbel was bought in 1808 by F. A. Brockhaus, who republished it one year later and (with additional material) in 18101811; to the fifth edition (18191820), with a new academic systematization, a number of important scholars contributed. Der Große Brockhaus became one of the leading encyclopedias in the German language, with more than 200,000 articles in its 19281935 edition. As a response to Brockhaus's Protestant dictionaries, Herder's Konversations-Lexikon (18531857) was published with a Catholic agenda.

J. Meyer published Das Große Conversations-Lexicon für die gebildeten Stände (46 vols., 18401855) with the clear political intention to educate the lower and middle classes and to enable them an intellectual emancipation. This agenda can still be found in encyclopedias of the early twentieth century. In addition, accompanying the emergence of the modern nation-state, encyclopedic projects were more and more absorbed by nationalistic interests, representing the "national culture" under the auspices of the academies of arts and sciences.

Encyclopedic Work in Religious Studies

Encyclopedias played a crucial role in the development and emancipation of various scientific disciplines, both in the humanities and the natural sciences (chemistry, medicine, technology, geography, linguistics, musicology, etc.). With the academic study of religion emerging as a separate area of scholarship, it comes as no surprise that there was a growing interest in encyclopedias that covered either the whole of religion or specific fields of study. This does not mean, of course, that religion was an issue of less importance in earlier encyclopedic discoursequite the contrary. Not only did religious rationales influence the structure of almost all early encyclopedias (including the "enlightened" ones), but also the customs, religious traditions, and myths of people played a significant role in all these publications. In addition, from early on there existed published encyclopedias that gave special attention to customs and mythologies. As for mythologies, one may think of Antoine Banier's La Mythologie et les fables expliquées par l'histoire (3 vols., Paris, 17381740); Benjamin Hederich's Lexicon Mythologicum (Leipzig, 1724); John Bell's New Pantheon; or, Historical Dictionary of the Gods, Demi-gods, Heroes, and Fabulous Personages of Antiquity (2 vols., London, 1790); William Sheldon's History of the Heathen Gods, and Heroes of Antiquity (Boston, 1810); and Henry Christmas's Universal Mythology: An Account of the Most Important Systems (London, 1838).

When it comes to encyclopedias that specifically focus on religion, one of the earliest major contributions is the Real-Encyklopädie für protestantische Theologie und Kirche (26 vols., Basel 18541868) by the Swiss theologian J. J. Herzog. This publication of German-speaking Protestantism was countered by French Protestants with the Encyclopédie des sciences religieuses (5 vols., Strasbourg 18771882). The editor, F. Lichtenberger, openly referred to Herzog's encyclopedia as an inspiration and provocation, and it is clear that the Strasbourg publication was meant as a nationalistic answer to the Basel project. From the Christian perspective, a number of important encyclopedic contributions came from James Hastings, a Scottish cleric. His A Dictionary of the Bible (London, 18981904), A Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels (London, 19061908), A Dictionary of the Apostolic Church (London, 19151918), andmost influentialthe Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics (reprint Edinburgh, 1955) were milestones in the formation phase of (theologically informed) religious studies.

Along with the emancipation of more specialized disciplines within the academic study of religions, other encyclopedias entered the stage, among them The Encyclopedia of Islam (Leiden, 19131936, new ed., 1960) and the Encyclopaedia Judaica (Jerusalem, 19711972). German classical philology and historiography culminated in the Real-Encyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaften, launched by August von Pauly in 1837 and revised by Georg Wissowa in 1893. In fact, the Pauly-Wissowa gained such fame that this encyclopedia was a main reason for earlier generations of scholars to learn German. Today, Der Neue Pauly and Der Kleine Pauly cling to this long-gone tradition of scholarship without really matching it.

Sometimes, a comparison between different editions of the same encyclopedia "offers a unique chance to have a look behind the scenes and to disclose elements of construction of an 'innocent' dictionary" (Kippenberg, 2003, p. 464), as Hans G. Kippenberg showed with regard to the celebrated Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart: Handwörterbuch für Theologie und Religionswissenschaft, of which the first edition was published 19091913 and the fourth edition is in the process of being published (since 1998; an English translation is in preparation). A similar case can be made of the seminal Encyclopedia of Religion that started in 1979 as a project that strongly reflected the particular phenomenological method of its editor, Mircea Eliade, but that subsequently grew into a landmark of scholarly discussion, mirroring a variety of different approaches to the study of religion (see Sullivan, 1990, pp. 333339).

See Also

Festschriften; Reference Works.


Brewer, Annie M., ed. Dictionaries, Encyclopedias, and Other Word-Related Books, 3d ed., suppl. Detroit, Mich., 1983. Along with the World Dictionaries in Print, a standard reference work that renders encyclopedias in hundreds of languages.

Cappelletti, Vincenzo. "Il problema dell'enciclopedia." Veltro 27, no. 506 (1983): 765781. Good analysis of the problems of encyclopedic publication.

Collison, Robert L. Encyclopedias: Their History throughout the Ages. 2d ed. New York, 1966. Global account.

Darnton, Robert. The Business of Enlightenment: A Publishing History of the Encyclopédie, 17751800. Cambridge, Mass., 1979.

Giles, Lionel. An Alphabetical Index to the Chinese Encyclopedia. London, 1911.

Kafker, Frank A., ed. Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century: Notable Encyclopedias of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries: Nine Predecessors of the Encyclopédie. Oxford, 1981.

Kippenberg, Hans G. "A Wealth of Small Articles, but Theoretical Reflections in Tiny Doses: An Evaluation of the New RGG4." Numen 50 (2003): 464474.

Kircher, Andreas B. Mathesis und poiesis: Enzyklopädik der Literatur 1600 bis 2000. Munich, 2003.

Lough, John. The Encyclopédie. New York, 1971.

Steinberg, Sigfrid H. "Encyclopedias." Signature, n.s., no. 12 (1951): 322. Brief, yet clear overview.

Sullivan, Lawrence E. "Circumscribing Knowledge: Encyclopedias in Historical Perspective." Journal of Religion 70 (1990): 315339.

World Dictionaries in Print: A Guide to General and Subject Dictionaries in World Languages. New York, 1983. See comment for Brewer.

Kocku von Stuckrad (2005)