Kraemer, Hendrik

views updated


KRAEMER, HENDRIK (18881965), was a Dutch historian of religions. Kraemer spent his professional career mainly in three significantly different settings: working with the Dutch Bible Society in Indonesia (19211935), serving as professor of the history and phenomenology of religions at the University of Leiden (19371947), and functioning as the first director of the Ecumenical Institute Chateau de Bossy in Switzerland (19481955). His guest lectureships included, among many others, a stay at Union Theological Seminary in New York (19561957), and the Olaus Petri Lectures at the University of Uppsala (February 1955).

Beginning with the Second International Missionary Conference held in Tambaram, India (December 1938), Kraemer played a major role in the ecumenical theological discussions on the relations between Christian faith and other religions. His works The Christian Message in a Non-Christian World (1938), Religion and the Christian Faith (1956), and World Cultures and World Religions: The Coming Dialogue (1960) explore this theme.

Among the less well known titles that are important for an assessment of Kraemer's work as a historian of religions and of how he viewed religio-historical data "in the light of Christ, the 'kritikos' of all things," four publications deserve special attention. The earliest of these is the article "Geloof en Mystiek" (Faith and Mysticism), which appeared in the missionary journal Zendingstijdschrift "De Opwekker" 79 (Bandeong, Netherlands Indies, 1934). Next is Kraemer's inaugural address in Leiden, De Wortelen van het Syncretisme (The Roots of Syncretism; 1937). Third is the study "Vormen van Godsdienstcrisis" (Forms of Crisis of Religion), originally published in Mededelingen der Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen, Afdeling Letterkunde, n.s. 22 (1959): 103134, and later reissued as a booklet (Nijkerk, n.d.); it is based on four lectures given in 1959 on the place of the history of religions in the faculty of theology. Finally, of particular interest are Kraemer's remarks on W. Brede Kristensen (who was his predecessor at Leiden) in the introduction to Kristensen's The Meaning of Religion, edited by John B. Carman (1960).

Without ever abandoning his earlier thesis of a discontinuity between the biblical revelation and all forms of religionmost radically expressed in his 1938 study for the Tambaram conferenceKraemer tried later, in his own words, "to improve upon" that view of "the non-Christian religions [as] great human achievements" by paying careful attention to "the religious consciousness as the place of dialectic encounter with God" (Religion and the Christian Faith, p. 8). He affirmed religiosity as a fundamental aspect of human structure and as manifesting the permanence, amid various forms of religious crisis, of the sensus divinitatis and semen religionis "whatever the content of the 'divinitas' and whatever the quality of the 'semen'" ("Vormen van Godsdienstcrisis," p. 134). As the notion of "communication," including communications between people of different traditions, became a key concern for Kraemer in the later years, he stressed the need for participants in an interfaith dialogue to "be open to new insights through the instrumentality of contact with one another," and he called for "a real openness to truth wherever it may be found" (World Cultures and World Religions, pp. 356365).

From 1938 onward the debate on Kraemer has focused on his theological views, and relatively little attention has been given to the question of the extent to which his theological perspectives and the categories derived from them influenced his description and analysis of world religions.


Kraemer's extensive studies of Islam include his doctoral dissertation, Een Javaansche Primbon uit de estiende eeuw (Leiden, 1921); "Eenige grepen uit de moderne Apologie van de Islam," Tijdschrift voor Indische Tall-, Land- en Volkenkunde 75 (1935): 135, 165217; and Een nieuw geluid op het gebied der Koranexegese (Amsterdam, 1962). Kraemer discussed Christian-Muslim relations in "L'Islam, une religion, un mode de vie: L'Islam, une culture; Points de confrontation entre l'Islam et le Christianisme," Revue de l'évangélisation 41 (1959): 238; "Die grundsätzlichen Schwierigkeiten in der Begegnung von Christentum und Islam," in Neue Begegnung von Kirche und Islam, edited by Walter Holsten (Stuttgart, 1960), pp. 1527; and "Islamic Culture and Missionary Adequacy," Muslim World 50 (1960): 244251.

For a bibliography of Kraemer's works, see Carl F. Hallencreutz's Kraemer towards Tambaram (Lund, 1965), pp. 309317. A comprehensive list of biographies and works of appreciation can be found in Jacques Waardenburg's Classical Approaches to the Study of Religion, vol. 2, Bibliography (The Hague, 1974), pp. 133135.

New Sources

Perry, T. S. "The Significance of Hendrik Kraemer for Evangelical Theology of Religions." Didaskalia 9, no 2 (1998): 3759.

Perry, T. S. Radical Difference: A Defence of Hendrik Kraemer's Theology of Religions. Waterloo, Ont., 2001.

Willem A. Bijlefeld (1987)

Revised Bibliography