Study of Religion: The Academic Study of Religion in Western Europe

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While avoiding an approach to religion and discourses about it in a manner that presupposes their existence as self-evident objects, one should also avoid a purely constructionist approach, for the contours assumed by religion and by its scholarship, rather than being merely the result of scholarly arbitrariness, take shape within certain constraints. In terms of the study of religion, the most pervasive pattern involves the tension that results from a position according to which religious phenomena, being the reflection of supernatural realities, must be approached in a reverential manner, and one that seeks to discernor, more radically, to unmaskthe connections between religions beliefs/practices and mundane realities, especially those that have to do with power relations. In this regard, as a sacralizing or as a critical enterprise, the study of religion is part and parcel of the struggle surrounding a society's mechanisms of legitimization.

In the area with which we are concerned, the study of religion can be traced back to Herodotos's interest in the beliefs and practices of non-Greeks, to the demythologizing efforts of Xenophanes, and to the reflexivity implied in the changing attitudes towards supernatural power found in terms such as góes/goeteía and mágos/mageía. The emergence of Christianity forced a confrontation between Christian religio and Roman ritus, Christian apologists becoming engaged in the delimitation of true religion and the condemnation of heresy and superstition. That apologetic approach continued during the medieval period, interspersed by ecumenical efforts such as Nicholas of Cusa's (14011464) Cribatio Alkorani (1461). Closer to the academic study of religion as such is the critique-of-ideology approach employed by the theorists associated with the Enlightenment. Most of them, especially the philosophes, do not usually appear in histories of the study of religion. But an eighteenth-century thinker, David Hume (17111776), must be mentioned among the early scholars of religion; indeed, one must agree with J. Samuel Preus, who regards Hume as the founder of the scientific study of religion. Hume's works, especially The Natural History of Religion (1757) and Dialogues concerning Natural Religion (posthumously published in 1779), contain insights that are yet to be fully assimilated about the role played by "the ordinary affections of human life" in the generation of religion. No less important is Ludwig Feuerbach (18041872), whose ideas about projection in Das Wesen des Christentums (1841) were anchored in political realities by Karl Marx (18181883), and then elaborated upon by Ernst Topitsch (19191993). It could be said, in fact, that Feuerbach's discoveries are present, however implicitly, at the heart of the cognitive approach.

Between Philology and Experience

While a critique-of-ideology approach to religion was taking place in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, there also occurred a linguistic deciphering that, having been made possible by European hegemony, has been itself subject to ideological analysis. The best-known cases involve the access to ancient Iranian, Egyptian and Mesopotamian texts, made possible in the eighteenth century by Abraham-Hyacinthe Anquetil-Duperron (17311805) and in the nineteenth century by Jean-François Champollion (17901832), Georg Friedrich Grotefend (17751853), and Henry Rawlinson (18101895). In India, on the other hand, Sanskrit, learned by Europeans toward the end of the eighteenth century, did not have to be deciphered, inasmuch as its transmission within brahman circles had survived political and cultural upheavals. It could be said, nevertheless, that a translation of sorts took place, insofar as William Jones (17461794) and Gaston-Laurent Coeurdoux (16911779), and then Franz Bopp (17911867) and Rasmus Kristian Rask (17871832) recognized the kinship between Sanskrit and languages later to be known as Indo-European or Indogermanisch. Unlike the Enlightenment critique-of-ideology approach, the early study of Sanskrit texts by European intellectuals such as the Schlegel brothers tended to be carried out in a reverential manner, a reverence that was consonant with the political reaction against the desacralizing impetus of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. The Romantics distrusted the deleterious effects of reason, stressing the power of the irrational and the immediacy of experiencean attitude we will encounter once again in the early decades of the twentieth century. Still influential regarding the role of experience in religion is Friedrich Schleiermacher's (17681834) Reden über die Religion (1799), addressed to religion's "cultured despisers," a work that in bypassing traditional theological concern with doctrine is centered around religious experience. Experience also plays a role in F. Max Müller (18231900), one of the pioneers of the comparative study of religion, for whom "Religion is a mental faculty or disposition which, independent of, nay, in spite of sense and reason, enables man to apprehend the Infinite under different names and under various disguises." Müller, once a celebrated scholar and essayist, is now remembered for his work as editor of the gveda and as general editor of the fifty-volume series "The Sacred Books of the East," as well as for emphasizing the role of language in the generation of mythology in ways that resemble Francis Bacon's (15611626) theory of the idols of the mind.

Origins and Evolution

Müller's was but one of many nineteenth-century attempts to explain the origins and function of religion. Another influential suggestion was Edward Burnett Tylor's (18321917) theory of animism, according to which "a minimum definition of Religion" involves "the belief in Spiritual Beings." In Tylor's evolutionary perspective, "animism characterizes tribes very low in the scale of humanity, and thence ascends, deeply modified in its transmission, but from first to last preserving unbroken continuity, into the midst of high modern culture." This approach was carried one step further by Robert Ranulph Marett (18661943), whose theory of "animatism" proposed an earlier stage of impersonal forces, related to concepts such as "tabu " and "mana " that had been recently popularized by ethnographers. Moving in the opposite direction, Andrew Lang (18441912) rejected the idea that gods originated in ghosts, maintaining the primacy of the belief in high gods, a thesis that would find its culmination in Wilhelm Schmidt's (18681954) primordial monotheism (Urmonotheismus ). Schmidt's theologically based theory reverses evolutionary assumptions, postulating a degeneration in conceptions of the divine. Working within an evolutionary framework, James George Frazer (18541941) wrote several massive works, the most popular of which was The Golden Bough, whose third edition in twelve volumes was published between 1913 and 1924. Trained in classics but writing from a comparative religion perspective, Frazer postulated a sequence from magic to religion to science, the section about "contagious" and "sympathetic" magic having become part of the vocabulary of the study of religion. Unlike today's scholarly debates, which have no repercussion among the public at large, the theories of Müller, Tylor, Marett, Lang, and Frazer were presented in widely sold books, in public lectures, and in encyclopedia articles, being debated in the press, not least because of the general interest in evolution.

In addition to their speculative character, their concern with the origins of religion, and the interest they awakened among the cultivated public, some of the theories mentioned above also shared the fact of their being based on reports by travelers and explorers, who in addition to collecting myths described ritual behavior. When the interest in ritual behavior was combined with philological rigor, and when this was done in a manner willing to disregard confessional prejudices, the results could be productive, albeit distressing to those who wanted to defend the uniqueness of Christianity. Just as the placing of Indian religious texts in the context of Indo-European mythology opened up new areas of research along with ideological controversies that last to this day, the discoveries of Mesopotamian and, later, Ugaritic materials allowed scholars to place the practices and beliefs of the ancient Israelites in the context of ancient Near Eastern religions. However, given the absorption of Israelite texts into the Christian Bible as the "Old Testament," the postulation of commonalities between Israelite and other Near Eastern religions has been regarded in certain circles as an attack on the uniqueness of the Christian message. A notorious example of this reaction occurred in 1881, when William Robertson Smith (18461894) lost his position at the University of Aberdeen after he wrote about the commonalities between ancient Israelite and Arabic sacrificial practices. As Julius Wellhausen (18441918) had already done, Smith focused on the ritual aspects of Israelite religion, paying special attention to sacrificial practices. No less controversial were the attempts by the scholars associated with the Religionsgeschichtliche Schule to understand early Christianity in the context of the religions of late antiquity. The approach to Israelite, Jewish and Christian religions from a comparative perspective, inaugurated by Hermann Gunkel (18621932), Wilhelm Bousset (18651920), Ernst Troeltsch (18651923), and Hugo Gressmann (18771927), among others, laid the foundations of the scholarly approaches on Old and New Testament studies prevalent today.

Around the time these controversies were taking place, sacrifice, ritual and in general the role of society in the genesis of religion were studied systematically by Émile Durkheim (18581917) and his collaborators, Marcel Mauss (18721950), Henri Hubert (18721927), and Robert Hertz (18811915), in articles published in the Année Sociologique. In France, as elsewhere in Europe, the period around 1900 was pivotal in the study of religion. It saw the publication of important works such as Durkheim's "De la définition des phénomènes religieux" (1898), Hubert and Mauss's "Essai sur la nature et la fonction du sacrifice" (1899) and "Esquisse d'une théorie générale de la magie" (1903). The seminal character of that period becomes even more evident when we recall that in 1904 and 1905 Max Weber (18641920) published his study on the spirit of capitalism and the Protestant ethic, which continues to be debated a century later. The culmination of this approach to religion is found in Durkheim's Les formes élémentaires de la vie religieuse (1912) and in Weber's Gesammelte Aufsätze zur Religionssoziologie, as well as his "Religionssoziologie," published between 1920 and 1922.

The Institutionalization of the Study of Religion

Already several decades before these developments, chairs in history of religions were created in Geneva (1873), the Netherlands (18761877) and Paris (1879). The creation of the chairs occupied in Leiden by Cornelis Petrus Tiele (18301902), in Amsterdam by Pierre Daniel Chantepie de la Saussaye (18481920) and at the Collège de France by Albert Réville (18261906), involving as they did decisions at the governmental level, constituted the institutionalization of the study of religion as well as the transfer of resources from the field of theology to that of history of religions. The process was carried a step further in laic France, when the Protestant Réville became in 1886 president of the newly established Fifth Section, Sciences religieuses, of the École Pratique des Hautes Études, which to this day assembles the largest concentration in Europe of scholars devoted to nonconfessional research on religion. As important as the creation of chairs were the scholarly exchanges that took place during the extended period of peace that preceded World War I. We have already encountered Max Müller, a German who, after studying in Leipzig and Berlin, moved to Oxford to work on a critical edition of the gveda, partly as a result of the encouragement he received in Paris from Eugène Burnouf (18011852). Similarly, Robertson Smith was inspired by Wellhausen in Leipzig. Réville, in turn, studied in Holland. The exchanges among the Scandinavian countries, the Netherlands, and Germany were even more intense. It is sufficient to recall the Swede Nathan Söderblom (18661931), who after studying Iranian philology in Paris under Antoine Meillet (18661936), held a chair in Leipzig from 1912 to 1914. Another student of Meillet, the Dane Edvard Lehmann (18621930), was appointed to a chair in Berlin in 1910, after holding from 1900 to 1910 the first Danish chair in history of religions. He was succeeded by Vilhelm Grønbech (18731948). Likewise, the Norwegian William Brede Kristensen (18671953) taught in Leiden from 1901 to 1937, as successor of Tiele, one of his students being Gerardus van der Leeuw (18901950). These academic lineages and appointments are mentioned in order to call attention to the intellectual cross-fertilization that occurred in large portions of Europe during the period of peace that would come to an abrupt end in August 1914.

Phenomenology and the Revolt against Reason

Several of the scholars named above have been identified with the phenomenology of religion, a term used for the first time by Chantepie de la Saussaye in 1887. Because of its vagueness this method or approach has been understood in a number of waysthe vagueness having also resulted in uncertainty as to who qualifies as a phenomenologist of religion. In general, phenomenologists attempted to discover the essence of religious phenomena, thus contributing to the postulation of the distinctive and indeed sui generis nature of a cluster of phenomena; they also sought to describe and classify the manifestations of religion, using categories such as "myth," "ritual," and "magic," still employed today. How the bracketing that allows the identification of the "religious" is achieved was generally left unexplained, for terms such as epoché and essence were used almost as incantations. Similarly, the procedure used to determine the "religious" character of certain practices and representations tended to involve circular reasoning. In some cases without using the term phenomenology in the title, Tiele, Chantepie de la Saussaye, Kristensen, and van der Leeuw authored widely read phenomenologies of religionvan der Leeuw's Phänomenologie der Religion (1933) being available still in several languages.

Besides the authors already mentioned, many of the early twentieth-century scholars identified with the history of religions in general, rather than with research in one religious tradition, were concerned with identifying and defending religiousness. This attitude can be seen among the theorists who worked in Germany during the first decades of the twentieth century: Rudolf Otto (18691937), Walter F. Otto (18741958), Jakob Wilhelm Hauer (18811962), Friedrich Heiler (18921967), and Joachim Wach (18981955), among others. Renowned as they once were, some of them are now known only to specialists in the history of the study of religions. An exception is Rudolf Otto, whose book Das Heilige (1917) is a phenomenology of a "holy" that transcends morality and reason. For Otto and many of his contemporaries, the precondition for the study of religion is having experienced religion's sui generis reality. Much like the theories of the jurist of the Third Reich, Carl Schmitt (18881985), about the foundations of sovereignty, Otto's conception of the "holy" is to be understood in the context of the revolt against the disintegrating effects of reason prevalent in European intellectual circles during the first decades of the twentieth centurya revolt that in many ways resembles the situation during the Romantic period. Even more popular than Otto, Mircea Eliade (19071986) continues to epitomize for many the proper, nonreductionist, approach to the world of religion. But as it happened with Otto, Eliade's conceptual apparatusthe sacred, hierophany, myth, homo religiosus, total hermeneuticshas been subject to conceptual and ideological critiques. The latter have been particularly forceful, having explored the links between Eliade's scholarly work and his right-wing political sympathies before and during the second world war, which he spent in Antonio de Oliveira Salazar's Portugal as cultural attaché of the Romanian regime. The same ideological analysis has been applied to the work of historians of religion associated with the Eranos meetings held in Ascona since 1933, some of whom advocated an esoteric, mystical approach to religion.

Whatever the phenomenologists' failings, even from a resolutely nontheological position it would be unwise to reject a priori the existence of the human proclivities that, perhaps because of the peculiarities of our cognitive apparatus, generate the building blocks of religionconceptions of superhuman agency, mechanisms of legitimization and boundary creation involving sacredness, repetitious patterned behavior, narratives about origins, and the like. It may be observed at this point that despite the generalized distrust of evolutionary approaches among scholars in the humanities, many of the same scholars assume that current theories are by definition superior to those held fifty or a hundred years ago. Yet if one looks at several of the theories mentioned above, one can see that their demise is far from certain. One can refer, for example, to Carsten Colpe's (b. 1929) attempt to reground the phenomenological approach; to Kurt Rudolph's (b. 1929) use of a critique-of-ideology approach indebted to Marx, Weber, and Durkheim; to Robin Horton's rehabilitation of some of the positions advanced by Tylor and Frazer; to Walter Burkert's (b. 1931) ethological approach to the role played by emotion in religion; to Fritz Stolz's (19422001) use of functionalist approaches; to neurological research that seems to validate some of the aims of a hermeneutic based on empathy; to ecological and ethological validation of Hume's theories; to cognitive science views of projection that validate Feuerbach.


A survey of the many areas of European research in religion since the early twentieth century would require discussing large bodies of scholarship on specific traditions or, more generally, cultural areas; to subdisciplines such as anthropology, sociology, and psychology of religion; as well as to comparative research on, among other topics, "magic," "mysticism," "ritual," "myth," and "religion" itself. Regarding the very concept of "religion," it can be said that after attempts in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to provide a definition of religion, as well as an account of its origin, efforts in that direction have diminished considerably, being replaced by an examination of the conditions within which the discourses that constitute religion emerge. Indeed, concern with the political dimensions of one's scholarly activities and the questioning of received categories have characterized the study of religion, especially at the turn of the millennium. In terms of the political aspects of the study of religion, reference may be made to Indo-European studies, perhaps the field that has aroused the most ideologically charged controversies in recent times. Much of this has to do with the ideological manipulation of archaeological and linguistic evidence by the Nazis; some is related to the political sympathies of scholars identified with Indo-European studies, the best-known of whom is Georges Dumézil (18981986). But despite the abuses at the hands of fascists and political reactionaries, it must be remembered that Dumézil's postulation of a parallel between the tripartite organization of society and an equally tripartite structure of the Indo-European pantheon is an application of Durkheim's social theory of religion. In any event, when confronting these issues it is necessary to keep in mind not just the work of Nazi sympathizers such as Stig Wikander (19081983) and Jan de Vries (18901964), but also the labor of scholars such as Émile Benveniste (19021976) and Bernard Sergent (b. 1946), who rightly protests that one can be an "indo-européaniste" without being a Nazi.

The current practice of seeking to establish a correlation between scholarly activities and the political and religious background of scholars constitutes a sharp departure from the academic practices prevalent just a few decades ago. One may remember in this regard the angry reaction of Henrik Samuel Nyberg (18891974) over attempts to link his approach to Iranian religions to his Lutheran background. In his response to the critiques by W. B. Henning (19081967), R. C. Zaehner (19131967) and others, Nyberg referred, among other things, to the "gentleman's agreement," according to which the religious background of a scholar is not to be mentioned in scholarly debates. In later times, on the contrary, it is not uncommon to focus on the religious or ethnic background of scholars or on their political sympathies when trying to understand or, more frequently, to refute their theories. In the field of Iranian studies the clearest example is offered by the rejection of Wikander's theories about the Männerbünde bands of Indo-Iranian warriorsbecause this theory was proposed by an author with national-socialist sympathies in a book published in 1938. Similarly, when dealing with religious allegiances, nobody would be surprised if in trying to assess Zaehner's theological approach to mysticism or E. E. Evans-Pritchard's (19021973) account of Zande theistic beliefs one were to take into account the fact that both converted to Catholicism. Similarly, nobody has objected to Gregory Schopen's (b. 1947) referring to "Protestant presuppositions" in his critique of purely doctrinal approaches to Indian Buddhism, an approach he detects even in Catholic scholars such as Louis de La Vallée Poussin (18691938) and his disciple Monsignor Étienne Lamotte (19031983), two of the great scholars of Buddhism in the twentieth century.

Reflexivity concerning the concept of religion has resulted in Michel Despland's (b. 1936) studies of the changing meanings of this term in the West; in Hans Kippenberg's (b. 1939) having placed the history of the study of religions within the social transformation that gave rise to modernity; as well as in Hans-Michael Haussig's comparative studies of the concept of "religion" in various cultures. Taking a radical position, scholars such as Dario Sabbatucci (19232002), Timothy Fitzgerald (b. 1947), and Daniel Dubuisson (b. 1950) have sought to show that religion is a Western construct suffused by ideological presuppositions. Besides this radical position, there has been a concerted effort to study nonofficial forms of religion, variously labeled as "popular," "folk," or "local," scholars having become aware of the need to avoid accepting official or clerical versions of what constitutes "magic," "superstition," "heresy," or "syncretism." It is instructive in this regard to compare Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff's (18481931) negative attitude toward Greek magic to that of Samson Eitrem (18721966), not to mention that of Fritz Graf (b. 1944) or Jan Bremmer (b. 1944), scholars who have made substantial contributions to the elucidation of magical practices in the Greco-Roman world. There is now an increased awareness of the fact that religious traditions are not to be understood as self-contained units, or as being coterminous with a geographical area. This realization has led to research projects dealing on the one hand with a "European religious history" that is more than just the history of Christianity and, on the other, with the forms assumed by diaspora religions in various parts of the world.

Beyond Official Religion

Rejection of a purely doctrinal/textual approach to religion has led to a revalorization of ritual activities and of nonofficial forms of religion in general. Lack of space allows for little more than mentioning the work of almost forgotten pioneers such as Peter Browe (18761949) and of influential scholars such as Marc Bloch (18861944), Georges Duby (19191996), Aaron Gurevich (b. 1924), Jacques Le Goff (b. 1924), Arnold Angenendt (b. 1934), Jean-Claude Schmitt (b. 1946), and Peter Dinzelbacher (b. 1948) on medieval Christianity; Julio Caro Baroja (19141995), Jean Delumeau (b. 1923), Keith Thomas (b. 1933), Richard van Dülmen (b. 1937), and Robert Muchembled (b. 1944) on early modern European religion; Kristofer Schipper (b. 1934) on Daoism; Axel Michaels (b. 1949) on Hinduism; and Michael Stausberg (b. 1966) on Zoroastrianism. The work of the scholars working on Asian traditions has the added significance of combining historico-philological approaches, involvement with contemporary practitionersincluding Schipper's ordination as a Daoist master in Taiwanalong with interest in the theoretical implications of their research, especially regarding the issue of ritual. It is true that European scholars' acquaintance with lived Asian religions is not newone need only think of Johann Jakob Maria de Groot (18541921), Marcel Granet (18841940), Henri Maspero (18831945), Giuseppe Tucci (18941984), Paul Mus (19021969), and Rolf Stein (19111999) in the fields of Chinese, Southeast Asian and Tibetan religionbut it would not be unfair to say that there is now among some scholars a heightened recognition of the need to combine history, philology, and anthropology, as well as of the need to be aware of one's frequently unstated theoretical presuppositions.

In order to achieve something more than the ritualized bemoaning of the mixing of history of religions and theology, reflexivity and meta-theoretical research require a high level of abstraction along with a knowledge of materials from many traditions. Some of the most rigorous work in this regard has been carried out by Fritz Stolzwhose premature death was a great loss to the fieldand by Burkhard Gladigow (b. 1939), whose many contributions to the study of religion, unfortunately still not collected in book form, include his service as one of the editors of the Handbuch religionswissenschaftlicher Grundbegriffe (19882001), a work devoted to the study of the conceptual apparatus of Religionswissenschaft. The Handbuch is just one of the reference works currently being published in the field of religion; indeed, despite the pervasive talk about the questioning of "master narratives" and the like, ours seems to be the age of compendia, encyclopedias, dictionaries, guides, and introductions to the study of religion. Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart is now appearing in its fourth edition. The Metzler Lexikon Religion (19992002), edited by Christopher Auffarth, Jutta Bernard, and Hubert Mohr, emphasizes the role of lived, everyday religion, in full awareness of the authors' European perspective.

Among collections designed to provide a comprehensive overview of the religious history of humanity none is more ambitious than Die Religionen der Menschheit, whose first two volumes were published in 1960. Several less ambitious collective works appeared around 1970: the Illustreret religionshistorie, edited by Jes P. Asmussen and Jørgen Læssøe (1968; revised German edition, Handbuch der Religionsgeschichte, 19711972); the fourth edition of La storia delle religioni, edited by Giuseppe Castellani (1970); and the Histoire des religions (19701972) edited by Henri-Charles Puech. The most recent attempt to present a multivolume panorama of the religions of humanity is the Storia delle religioni edited by Giovanni Filoramo (19951999). Among publications that deal with the phenomenon of religion we may mention Mircea Eliade, Traité d'histoire des religions (1949, translated into several languages); Kurt Goldammer, Die Formenwelt des Religiösen (1960); Friedrich Heiler, Erscheinungsformen und Wesen der Religion (1961); Geo Widengren, Religionsphänomenologie (1969); Fritz Stolz, Grundzüge der Religionswissenschaft (1988) and Weltbild der Religionen (2001); Francisco Diez de Velasco, Introducción a la Historia de las Religiones (1995); and Giovanni Filoramo, Che cos'è religione (2004).

National Traditions

As already indicated, a survey of the study of religion in twentieth-century Europe would require much more space than is available here. Regarding French-speaking countries, in addition to the authors mentioned elsewhere in this essay, reference must be made to the contributions of Jacques Duchesne-Guillemin (b. 1910), Philippe Gignoux (b. 1931), and Jean Kellens (b. 1944) on Iranian religions; to Jean-Pierre Vernant (b. 1914), Pierre Vidal-Naquet (b. 1930), and Marcel Detienne (b. 1935), whose approach to Greek mythology and ritual, particularly sacrifice, has influenced scholarship far beyond the domain of classical studies. As influential as French work on Greek religion is that produced by scholars associated with the École Française d'Extrême-Orient (established in 1900), especially the research on Daoism by Schipper and Anna Seidel (19381991). On the other hand, the absence of chairs devoted to the comparative study or the theory of religion at the Fifth Section of the École Pratique des Hautes Études and at the Collège de France has resulted in the neglect of theory as well as in the sparse participation of French scholars in the most recent international gatherings devoted to the study of religions. It may be pointed out in this context that the theoretical introductory chapter in the Histoire des religions edited by Puech was written by an Italian scholar, Angelo Brelich (19131977). That Brelich was invited to write that chapter, and that Dario Sabbatucci contributed the essay on "Kultur und Religion" for the Handbuch religionswissenschaftlicher Grundbegriffe, is an indication of the esteem in which Italian scholarship on religion is held. This prestige is inextricably related to the work of Raffaele Pettazzoni (18831959), holder of the first Italian chair of history of religions at the University of Rome (1924). The author of books on the ancient mysteries, Iranian religions, and, above all, conceptions of supreme beings, as well as the founder of Numen, International Review for the History of Religions (1954) and president of the International Association for the History of Religions (19501959), Pettazzoni was a proponent of the comparative method, which he pursued with rigor. Pettazzoni was also the teacher of several scholarsBrelich, Sabbatucci, Ernesto de Martino (19081965) and Ugo Bianchi (19221995)who in turn trained most of the current holders of chairs in religion in Italy. On the other hand, the study of Indian, Tibetan, and Iranian religions was promoted by Giuseppe Tucci, among whose disciples we may mention the Indologist Raniero Gnoli (b. 1931) and the specialist in Iranian religions Gherardo Gnoli (b. 1937). Among German-speaking scholars who have pursued historico-philological approaches while also being concerned with theoretical issues we may refer again to Colpe and Rudolph, and to Burkert, whose research on ritual, sacrifice and violence, is as influential as his work on ancient Greek religion. We find the same combination of historico-philological expertise and theoretical concerns in the next generation: the already mentioned Gladigow, Stolz, and Kippenberg, along with Hubert Seiwert (b. 1949), Seiwert being the only one among those named here to have occupied himself with religion in East Asia. In addition to the British anthropologists and historians of religion mentioned throughout this essayTylor, Lang, Smith, Frazer, Marett, Evans-Pritchard, Zaehner, Hortonmention must be made of the substantial contributions to the study of Iranian religions made by Mary Boyce (b. 1920) and to David Martin's (b. 1929) work on the sociology of religion.

The Scandinavian scene was dominated for many years by Geo Widengren (19071996), a scholar of ancient Near Eastern, especially Iranian, religions (Iranian studies having flourished in Scandinavia since the days of Rask and N. L. Westergaard [18151878] to those of Nyberg, Wikander and, more recently, Jes P. Asmussen [19282002] and Anders Hultgård [b. 1936]). Widengren was also concerned with methodological and theoretical issues, to which he devoted numerous articles as well as a work of synthesis, the Religionsphänomenologie, which despite its title has little in common with the approaches found in van der Leeuw's or Heiler's phenomenologies. Widengren's achievements should not prevent us from remembering Haralds Biezais (19091995), who in addition to studies of Latvian religion made important theoretical contributions. The same applies to the Finnish folklorist Lauri Honko (19322002), author of works on Finnish mythology and comparative religion. The study of religion continues to be pursued with distinction in Scandinavia, where large departments of religious studies are found in the capital cities as well as in Uppsala, Turku, Århus, and Bergen. In the Netherlands, the country that saw the creation of some of the first chairs of history of religions, the study of religion has continued to be carried out on several areas; it is sufficient to consider the significance of Schipper and Erik Zürcher (b. 1928) in Sinology and of Jan Gonda (19051991) and J. C. Heesterman (b. 1925) in Indology. Among scholars who have made contributions to the study of the historiography and theory of religion, myth, ritual and magic beyond their primary areas of expertise we may mention Jacques Waardenburg (b. 1930), Henk S. Versnel (b. 1936), and Jan Bremmer. In assessing the significance of the Netherlands for the study of religion one must not forget the role played by E. J. Brill, the publishing house active in Leiden for more than three centuries.

In Switzerland, the country in which a chair in history of religions was created as early as 1873, the study of religion is pursued in a way that exemplifies the various approaches mentioned in this article. Thus while Philippe Borgeaud (b. 1946) has made substantial contributions to the study of Greek religion as well as to theoretical and historiographic issues, Martin Baumann (b. 1961) studies diaspora Hinduism. In Spain, the post-Franco period has seen a resurgence of scholarship in religion, whose most important practitioner was for decades Julio Caro Baroja, author of works on witchcraft and popular religion, including one on "the complex forms of religious life" in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Spain. In Portugal as well, important work on heterodox forms of religion has been carried out by Francisco Bethencourt and José Pedro Paiva.

We may conclude this survey by mentioning the establishment in 2000 of a European Association for the Study of Religions (EASR), to which most European national associations are affiliated. As of 2004 the EASR had held four international conferences: Cambridge (2001), Paris (2002), Bergen (2003), and Santander (2004).


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Gustavo Benavides (2005)

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Study of Religion: The Academic Study of Religion in Western Europe

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