- History of religions
The History of religions ("Religiongeschichteschule", school of religious history) was a
19th centuryGerman school of thought which was the first to systematically study religionas a socio-cultural phenomenon. It depicted religion as evolving with human culture, from primitive polytheism to ethical monotheism.
"Religiongeschichteschule" appeared at a time when scholarly study of the Bible and church history was flourishing in Germany and elsewhere (see
Higher criticism, Historical-critical method).
nineteenth centurysaw a dramatic increase in knowledge about other culturesand religions, and also the establishment of economic and social histories of progress. The "history of religions" school sought to account for this religious diversity by connecting it with the social and economic situation of a particular group.
Typically religions are divided into stages of progression from more simple to more complex societies, especially from
polytheisticto monotheisticand from extempore to organised. (There are now claims "that religion evolved from polytheism to monotheism has now been discredited" p. 1763 Man, Myth and Magic1995)
Thus, the starting point is the
tribal bandwhose religion is animisticand involves shamans and totems. Since the group is tribal, there is no permanent sanctuary. Cultic rites centre on identificationwith wild animals and appeasing spirits, often of the hunted.
As society developed into
chiefdomsand small kingdoms, religious rites began to serve different functions. Agriculturebecame important and so fertility gods were introduced (often female, as it is the woman who has the power to produce life). The status of the "big man" (or chief) was supported with mythic tales of heroes and demigods, from whom he may be descended.
When these small kingdoms merged into larger groups (often through conquest), different cults merged. The conquest of one group by another is therefore recorded in an epic tale of the conquest of the conquered group's god by the victor's (e.g. some
Hinduismand the Babylonian Marduk). Another solution was to syncretise different religious traditions, for example, the Romans' identification of their Gods with the Greeks and the Greeks' adoption of Anatolian myths and characters.
Finally, the growth of the
city statebrought about progression to the most "civilised" level of religion, ethical monotheism. Students of the history of religions often learnt that this began in Egyptwith Akhnatenand grew through 7th century BC Judaism, Persian Zoroastrianismand Greek Philosophyto endow Western societywith the most progressive form of religion. The historical basis of this — that religion moved from polytheism to ethical monotheism — is now doubted.
Nevertheless, it is still widely held that ethical monotheism (e.g. Judaism,
Christianity, Islam, some forms of Hinduism and Buddhism) was encouraged by the growth of city states. This was partly due to the role of a hierarchical societywith a god-like absolute ruler. A more powerful social force was the isolation of the individual as he moved from the clan to a more cosmopolitan lifestyle. Questions of justiceand value that had been previously answered by the family and small tribe were now to be pursued independently. The relative anonymity of the cityafforded the opportunity for not only "sin" but also loneliness. "Ethical" monotheism answered society's need for a moral guide and motivation, whilst a unique "personal God" who was sovereign over all areas of life answered people's feelings of isolation and powerlessness.
Good examples of this are the prophetic literature of the Jewish
Tanakh(Old Testament), especially Isaiah, and the wisdom literature of the ancient near east dealing with apparently unjustified suffering. This includes Job, in the Judaeo-Christian Bible, and " The Dialogue of Pessimism", a Babyloniantext.
Development of new religions
hamanism and ancestor worship
African traditional religion
Australian Aboriginal mythology
History of Shintoism
Ancient Near Eastern religion, Egyptian mythology
Historical Vedic religion
Ancient Greek religion, Ancient Roman religion
Germanic paganism, Finnish Paganism, Norse paganism
Maya religion, Inca religion, Aztec religion
Neopaganism, Polytheistic reconstructionism
History of Buddhism
History of Jainism
History of Hinduism
Monotheism, Abrahamic religions".
History of Judaism
History of Christianity
History of Roman Catholicism
History of Eastern Orthodox Christianity
History of Protestantism
History of Islam
New religious movements
History of Ayyavazhi
History of Wicca
Religion and politics
Christianity and politics
Women as theological figures
Origin of religion
List of founders of religious traditions
Code of Hammurabi
* [http://www.historyofreligions.com/ History of religion]
* [http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/DicHist/analytic/anaVI.html The history of religious and philosophical ideas, in "Dictionary of the History of Ideas]
* [http://mapsofwar.com/ind/history-of-religion.html History of Religion as flash animation]
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