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Religion: A Contested Site in Theology and the Study of Religion

  • Francis Schüssler Fiorenza (a1)


I first became acquainted with Richard Niebuhr's scholarship and thought in a German graduate seminar on Friedrich Schleiermacher and Ernst Troeltsch. Niebuhr's book, Schleiermacher on Christ and Religion, was a required text for the course and was regarded as the most significant study on Schleiermacher. My interest in Karl Rahner's theology had led me to go to Germany for doctoral studies. Once there, I discovered that much of what I had admired in Rahner had already been anticipated a century and a half earlier in Schleiermacher's work. Professor Niebuhr's study on Schleiermacher was the source of this insight. It influenced my decision later to translate into English Schleiermacher's On the Glaubenslehre: Two Letters to Dr. Lücke. My topic for this article, the theological retrieval of the category of religion, is obviously suggested by Niebuhr's study of Schleiermacher, which sought to overcome the dichotomies associated with the category of religion by the then-dominant Neo-orthodoxy. This topic is also a theme of Niebuhr's ensuing book, Experiential Religion, in which he elaborated his own constructive account of religion and experience. In addition, this topic appropriately relates to Niebuhr's activity at Harvard University, where he helped establish a program of studies in religion within the Committee on the Study of Religion.



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1 Niebuhr, Richard R., Schleiermacher on Christ and Religion: A New Introduction (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1964).

2 Schleiermacher, Friedrich, On the Glaubenslehre: Two Letters to Dr. Lücke (ed. and trans Fiorenza, F. S. and Duke, J.; AAR Texts and Translations 3; Chico: Scholars Press, 1981).

3 Niebuhr, Richard R., Experiential Religion (New York: Harper, 1972).

4 Barth's relation to Schleiermacher is much more complex and nuanced; see Duke, James O. and Streetman, Robert F., eds., Barth and Schleiermacher: Beyond the Impasse? (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988).

5 , Niebuhr, Schleiermacher on Christ and Religion, 7.

6 Ibid., 178.

7 Ibid., 212. See Gerrish, Brian A., Continuuing the Reformation: Essays on Modern Religious Thought (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993) for a sustained argument on importance of Schleiermacher's relation to Calvin for an understanding of Schleiermacher's theology.

8 , Niebuhr, Schleiermacher on Christ and Religion, 230.

9 The term is from Gallie, W. B., “Essentially Contested Concepts,” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 56 (1955-1956) 167.

10 Barth, Karl, Church Dogmatics. 1/ 2 (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1956) 284.

11 Barth, Karl, Protestant Thought: From Rousseau to Ritschl (New York: Harper, 1959).

12 For the parallels that Barth's interpretation draws among nineteenth-century theology, Schleiermacher, and Feuerbach, see Fiorenza, Francis Schtissler. “The Response of Barth and Ritschl to Feuerbach,” SR 7 (1978) 149–66.

13 Thiemann, Ronald F., Revelation and Theology: The Gospels as Narrated Promise (Notre Dame: Notre Dame Press, 1985).

14 Lindbeck, George, The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1984) 31.

15 Ibid., 32.

16 Ibid., 120.

17 See Placher, William, Unapologetical Theology: A Christian Voice in a Pluralistic Conversation (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 1989).

18 Louis Henry Jordan, Comparative Religion: Its Genesis and Growth (1905; reprinted Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1986) 19.

19 See the chapters on Müller, Max and C. P. Tiele in Donald Wiebe, The Politics of Religious Studies: The Continuing Conflict with Theology in the Academy (New York: St. 1998) 9-30 and 3150.

20 See Penner, Hans H., Impasse and Resolution: A Critique of the Study of Religion (New York: Peter Lang, 1989) 1540.

21 Godlove, Terry F. Jr, “The Instability of Religious Belief: Some Reductionistic and Eliminative Pressures,” in Idinopulos, Thomas A. and Yonan, Edward A., eds., Religion and Reductionism: Essays on Eliade, Segal, and the Challenge of the Social Sciences (Leiden: Brill, 1994) 49. See also idem, “Religious Discourse and First Person Authority,” Method and Theory in the Study of Religion 6 (1994) 147-61.

22 Raphael, Melissa, Rudolf Otto and the Concept of Holiness (Oxford: Clarendon, 1997).

23 Saler, Benson, Conceptualizing Religion: Immanent Anthropologists, Transcendent Natives, and Unbounded Categories (Leiden: Brill, 1993) 102.

24 Eliade, Mircea, Patterns in Comparative Religion (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1958) xiii. Eliade's emphasis on religion as sui generis has been followed by his student Lawrence E. Sullivan; see Sullivan, Lawrence E., Icanchu's Drum: An Orientation to Meaning in South American Religions (New York: Macmillan, 1988).

25 Segal, Robert E., “Reductionism in the Study of Religion,” in , Idinopulos and , Yonan, eds., Religion and Reductionism, 6. See also idem, “In Defense of Reductionism,” in JAAR 51(1983) 97-124.

26 Brown, Robert F., “Eliade on Archaic Religion: Some Old and New Criticism,” SR 10 (1982) 429–49.

27 Wiebe, Donald, “Religious Studies as a Saving Grace? From Goodenough to South Africa,” in Martin, Luther, ed., Religious Transformations and Socio-F'olitical Change: Eastern Europe and Latin America (New York: de Gruyter, 1993) 412–38.See also Wiebe, Donald, “The Failure of Nerve in the Study of Religion,” SR 13 (1984) 401–22.

28 Penner, Hans H., Impasse and Resolution: A Critique of the Study of Religion (New York: Peter Lang, 1989); Asad, Talal, “Anthropological Conceptions of Religion: Reflections on Geertz,” Man 18 (1983) 237–59, reprinted in idem, Genealogies of Religion: Discipline and Reasons of Power in Christianity and Islam (Baltimore: John Hopkins Press, 1993); Lawson, E. Thomas and McCauley, Robert N., Rethinking Religion: Connecting Cognition and Culture (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990).

29 McCutcheon, Russell T., Manufacturing Religion: The Discourse on Sui Generis Religion and the Politics of Nostalgia (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997). See also the collection of essays on the study of religion: in idem, ed. The Insider/Outsider Problem in the Study of Religion (New York: Casell, 1999).

30 MacQueen, Graeme, “Whose Sacred History ? Reflections on Myth and Dominance,” SR 17 (1998) 143–57.Lincoln, Bruce, Myth, Cosmos, and Society: Indo-European Themes of Creation and Destruction (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1986).

31 Smith, Wilfred Cantwell, The Meaning and End of Religion (1962; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991).

32 Smith, Wilfred Cantwell, Faith and Belief (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979).

33 See his address to the American Academy of Religion, “The Modern West in the History of Religion,” JAAR 52 (1984) 316.

34 Smith, Wilfred Cantwell, “Retrospective Thoughts on The Meaning and End of Religion” in Despland, Michel and Vallée, Gérard, eds., Religion in History (Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1992) 1222

35 Smith, Jonathan Z., “Religion, Religions, Religious,” in Taylor, Mark C., ed., Critical Terms for Religious Studies (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998) 269–84, esp. 284.

36 Staal, Frits, “The Himalayas and the Fall of Religion,” in Klimburg-Salter, Deborah E., ed., The Silk Route and the Diamond Path (Los Angeles: Univerisy of California Press, 1982) 3851.

37 Chidester, David, Savage Systems: Colonialism and Comparative Religion in Southern Africa (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1996).

38 Ibid., 11.

39 Ibid., 12-13.

40 Birkner, Hans Joachim, Fischer, Hermann, and Scheliha, Arnulf von, Schleiermacher-Studien (New York: de Gruyter, 1996); and JΦrgensen, Theodor Holzdeppe, Das religionsphilosophische Offenbarungsverständnis des späteren Schleiermacher (Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 1977).

41 See the criticisms that both Wolfhart Pannenberg and Jürgen Moltmann make of Karl Barth's understanding of revelation. Pannenberg, Wolfhart, ed., Revelation as History (New York: Macmillan, 1968) and Moltmann, Jürgen, Theology of Hope: On the Ground and the Implications of a Christian Eschatology (New York: Harper & Row, 1967).

42 See also The Christian Faith, § 6.2.

43 Ibid., § 4.4, translation modified.

44 For a criticism of those interpretations that do not take sufficiently into account the centrality that the quesiton of individuation plays in Schleiermacher's interpretation of Christianity, see Schröder, Markus, Die kritische Identität des neuzeillichen Christentums: Schleiermachers Wesenbestimmung der christlichen Religion (Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 1996), 4855.

45 , Schleiermacher, The Christian Faith, § 10.

46 See, for example, , Augustine, Enarrationes in Psalmos 30, 1.1. For an exposition, see the section “Offenbarung durch Ekstase,” in Weiland, Wolfgang, Offenbarung bei Augustinus (Mainz: Matthias-Griinewald, 1978) 9499.

47 Butler, Judith, The Psychic Life of Power: Theories in Subjection (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997).

48 Ibid., 17.

49 Compare Barth, Church Dogmatics 1/ 2, 344 with idem, Church Dogmatics, IV/ 3 (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1961) 38-164.

50 Rahner, Karl, “Christianity and the Non-Christian Religions,” Theological Investigations (New York: Seabury, 1966) 5: 534.“Anonymous Christianity and the Missionary Task of the Church,” Theological Investigations (New York: Seabury, 1974) 12: 161–78,and “The One Christ and the Universality of Salvation,” Theological Investigations (New York: Seabury, 1979) 16: 199224.

51 McCutcheon, Russell T., Manufacturing Religion: The Discourse on Sui Generis Religion and the Politics of Nostalgia (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997) 60.

52 The critique of Schleiermacher has taken two different, almost opposing, paths. Roman Catholic theology, especially the Neo-scholasticism that formed the background to Vatican I's document on faith, viewed Schleiermacher primarily as a fideist and misinterpreted his understanding of feeling as non-rational and individualist, whereas Karl Barth and George Lindbeck underscored the humanism of his general anthropology and the universalism of his conception of religion.

53 Schleiermacher, Friedrich, On the Glaubenslehre: Two letters to Dr. Lücke, 8.

54 The Christian Faith, § 5. See Gerhard Ebeling, “Schlechthinniges Abhangigkeitsgefiihl als Gottesbewusstsein,” in idem, Wort und Glaube (Tubingen: Siebeck, 1975) 116-36.

55 Lange, Dietz, “Das fromme Selbstbewusstsein,” in Meckenstock, Giinther, ed., Schleiermacher und die Wissenschaftliche Kultur des Christentums (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1991) 196.

56 Frank, Manfred, What Is Neostructuralism? (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989) 212.

57 Schleiermacher, Friedrich, Schleiermachers Werke, Vol. 2: Entwürfe zu einem System der Sittenlehre (ed. Braun, Otto; Aalen: Scientia Verlag, 1927) 80. The quotation is from , Schleiermacher'sBrouillon zur Ethik of 1805/1806.

58 Spiegel, Yorick, Theologie der biirgerlichen Gesellschaft; Sozialphilosophie und Glaubenslehre bei Friedrich Schleiermacher (Munich: C. Kaiser, 1968) 12.

59 My own translation from , Schleiermacher, Schleiermachers Werke, Vol. 2: Entwürfe zu einem System der Sittenlehre, 99100.

60 See Scholz, Gunther, Ethik und Hermeneutik. Schleiermachers Grundlegung der Geisteswissenschaften (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1995) 7879.

61 See Schleiermacher, Friedrich, Hermeneutik, in Kimmerle, Heinz, ed., Abhandlungen der Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften. Philosophisch-historische Klasse (Heidelberg: C. Winter, 1959); See the English translation, Schleiermacher, Friedrich, Hermeneutics andCriticism and Other Writings, (ed. Bowie, Andrew; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998).See Ricœur, Paul, “Schleiermacher's Hermeneutics,” Monist 66 (1977) 181–97; and Huang, Yong, “The Father of Modern Hermeneutics in a Postmodern Age: A Reinterpretation of Schleiermacher's Hermeneutics,” Philosophy Today (1996) 251–62.

62 See Fiorenza, Francis Schilssler, “Schleiermacher and the Construction of a Contemporary Roman Catholic Foundational Theology,” HTR 89 (1996) 175-94; and idem, “History and Hermeneutics,” in James Livingston and Francis Schiissler Fiorenza, Modern Christian Thought, Vol. 2: The Twentieth Century (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1999) 341-85.

63 , Schleiermacher, The Christian Faith, § 6, postscript.

64 Friedrich Schleiermacher, Hermeneutics and Criticism and Other Writings.

65 Jacques Derrida, “Violence and Metaphyscis: An Essay on the Thought of Emmanuel Levinas,” in idem, Writing and Difference (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978) 79-153.

66 See Kisiel, Thomas, The Genesis of Heidegger's Being and Time (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993) 159.

67 , Niebuhr, Schleiermacher, 190. See also , Schleiermacher, Dialektik, 297314.

68 , Schleiermacher, The Christian Faith § 6. In the first edition of The Christian Faith § ( 12.3; footnote 6), Schleiermacher notes that the notion of religion has its roots in paganism and is a difficult word to explain. Schleiermacher's suggestion of Glaubensweise as a preferred term is close to Smith's own proposal to emphasize the personal pole of religion.

69 Birkner, Hans-Joachim, “Beobachtungen und Erwagungen zum Religionsbegriff in der neueren protestantischen Theologie,” in Rossler, Dietrich and Voigt, Gottfried, eds., Fides et Communicatio: Festschrift für Martin Doerne zum 70. Geburtstag (Friedrich Wintzer: Göttingen, 1970).

70 For the distinction between theology and religion in Semler, see Rendtorff, Trutz, Church and Theology: The Systematic Function of the Church Concept in Modern Theology (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1971).

71 Schleiermacher's own understanding of dialogue is connected with his translation of the Platonic dialogues. For background, see Bubner, Rüdiger, “Die Entdeckung Platons durch Schelling und seine Aneignung durch Schleiermacher,” in Innovationen des Idealismus (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck, 1995) 942.

72 See Kaufman, Gordon D., God, Mystery, Diversity: Christian Theology in a Pluralistic World (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996).

73 See the recent collection of essays, Burdorf, Dieter and Schmücker, Reinhold, eds., Dialogische Wissenschaft: Perspektiven der Philosophie Schleiermachers (Paderborn: Schoningh, 1998).See Kaulbach, Friedrich, “Schleiermachers Idee der Dialektik,” Neue Zeitschrift für systematische Theologie 10 (1968) 225–60.

74 Despland, Michel, La Religion en Occident: Évolution des Idées et du Vécu (Montreal: Fides, 1979); see also Despland and Vallée, eds., Religion in History.

75 Feil, Ernst, Religio. Bd. I: Die Geschichte eines neuzeitlichen Grundbegriffs vom Frühchristentum bis zur Reformation (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1986) and idem, Religio. Bd. II: Die Geschichte eines neuzeitlichen Grundbegriffs zwischen Reformation and Rationalism (ca. 1540-1620) (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 1997).

76 Needham, Rodney, Circumstantial Deliveries (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981)

77 Larson, GeraldJames, “Is South Asian Yoga ‘Philosophy,’ ‘Religion,’ Both or Neither?” in Bianchi, Ugo, ed, The Notion of Religion in Comparative Research (Rome: “L'Erma” di Bretschneider, 1994) 261–69.

78 See also Clayton, John, “Was ist falsch in der Korrelationstheologie,” Neue Zeitschriftfür systematische Theologie 16 (1974) 93111.See also Murphy, Tim, “Wesen und Erscheinung in the History of the Study of Religion: A Post-structuralist Perspective,” Method and Theory in the Study of Religion 6 (1994) 119–46.

79 Saler, Benson, Conceptualizing Religion: Immanent Anthropologists, Transcendent Natives, and Unbounded Categories (Leiden: Brill, 1993).

80 , Niebuhr, Experiential Religion, 33.

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Religion: A Contested Site in Theology and the Study of Religion

  • Francis Schüssler Fiorenza (a1)


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