Tiele, C. P.

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TIELE, C. P. (18301902), Dutch historian of religions. Cornelis Petrus Tiele studied theology at the University of Amsterdam and was a Remonstrant minister for twenty years (18531873). During this time he applied himself to the study of ancient religions and taught himself the Avestan language as well as Akkadian and Egyptian. In 1872 he obtained the Th.D. degree at the University of Leiden; and the following year he became a professor at the Remonstrants' seminary in Leiden, where he taught the history of religions. In 1877, Tiele was appointed to the new chair in history of religions and philosophy of religion at the University of Leiden, in the faculty of theology. He retired in 1900.

Tiele was a pioneer of the "science of religion" and one of the first to offer a historical survey of a number of religions based on the study of source materials. His own research opened up the religions of ancient Iran, Mesopotamia, and Egypt, putting the history of religions on a firm philological-historical basis that was long to be the hallmark of the discipline.

Tiele was much concerned with the broader notion of a "development" of religion, a notion that was natural at a time when evolution and progress were accepted ideas. He saw religionman's "disposition of the heart toward God"as a distinct province of life that can be found everywhere, and he was convinced that there is a unity and independence of religious life underlying all its different external forms. The gradual development of the human mind in history implies a parallel development in religion, which is, basically, a progressive expansion of self-consciousness. According to Tiele, the historical changes of the forms of religion show a process of evolution in the course of which the "religious idea" and the religious needs receive an ever fuller and more perfect expression. The historical forms of religion represent different stages of this evolution, in particular from nature religions to ethical religions. The historian of religions has to compare and classify religious phenomena in accordance with the state and direction of their development.

Tiele sharply distinguished all forms of religion from religion itself, and his deeper concern in the study of religion is the question of the real nature and origin of the religion that "reveals" itself in its manifold forms and phenomena. He therefore divides the study of religion into two parts. The first is morphology, that is, the inductive study of the phenomena and their changes and transformations as a result of a continuing development. This study requires, among other things, a comparative history of religion.

The second part of the study of religion is ontology, the study of the permanent element, beyond and through all changes and passing forms, that is the core and the source of religion. The real nature of religion is under investigation here, and this part of the study demands a deductive reasoning on the basis of what has been reached by means of inductive "empirical" research. The ontological study contains both a phenomenological-analytical part, in which the religious phenomena are studied in each stage of development, and a "psychological-synthetic" part in which the essence and origin of religion are investigated; in fact this stage is philosophical (rather than "psychological") in nature. For Tiele historical, phenomenological, and philosophical questions logically followed from each other. Because Tiele took as his departure the premise that religion fundamentally is a general human phenomenon and that the way in which it has manifested itself as well as the elements of which it is composed are the same always and everywhere, the study of permanently recurring phenomena made sense.

Tiele's history of religions may have been somewhat schematized, but it was dynamic; further, his phenomenology had a dynamic character because of his notion of the development of the human mind. His insistence that religion "manifests" itself in the phenomena, and that this manifestation happens through the activity of the human mind, has an almost modern, phenomenological flavor, like the idea that religions are different expressions of that "religion" that as a tendency slumbers in every person. Religion here is investigated as a human phenomenon, and the unifying factor of all religious phenomena is the human mind.


For bibliographic data on Tiele's person and work, see my Classical Approaches to the Study of Religion, vol. 2, Bibliography (The Hague, 1974), pp. 283286. A noteworthy commemoration by Tiele's colleague P. D. Chantepie de la Saussaye was delivered at the Netherlands Royal Academy of Sciences in 1902 (in Dutch) and republished in the latter's Portretten en kritieken (Haarlem, 1909), pp. 82120.

Three of Tiele's longer works exist in English translation: Outlines of the History of Religion, to the Spread of Universal Religions, 7th ed. (London, 1905); History of the Egyptian Religion, 2d ed. (London, 1884); and his Gifford Lectures, Elements of the Science of Religion, 2 vols. (Edinburgh, 18971899).

New Sources

Molendijk, Arie L. "Tiele on Religion." Numen 46, no. 3 (1999): 237268.

Molendijk, Arie L., and Peter Pels, eds. Religion in the Making: The Emergence of the Sciences of Religion. Leiden, 1998.

Ryba, Thomas. "Comparative Religion, Taxonomies and 19th-Century Philosophies of Science: Chantepie de la Saussaye and Tiele." Numen 48, no. 3 (2001): 309338.

Jacques Waardenburg (1987)

Revised Bibliography