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Introduction

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 September 2009

Olav Hammer
Affiliation:
Professor, History of Religions University of Southern Denmark
James R. Lewis
Affiliation:
Lecturer in Philosophy University of Wisconsin
James R. Lewis
Affiliation:
University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
Olav Hammer
Affiliation:
University of Southern Denmark
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Summary

Modern societies present us with an ambivalent attitude toward the past. On the one hand, most of us are so much part of a culture of innovation that we tend to accord little power and importance to tradition. Being old-fashioned is an invective, whereas it is a virtue to be up to date. As Marx famously phrased it, in modern life all that is solid melts into air.

Yet, at the same time that the idea of change, innovation, and progress permeates so much of our society, there are areas of life where tradition reigns. A felt continuity with the past provides social institutions and private life with a sense of stability. Religion must surely be one of the domains where the habit of referring to hoary tradition is most prevalent. Ancient texts are passed on through the ages, accepted ways of interpreting them are taught to new generations of members, and rituals are performed according to age-old precedents.

In the dictionary sense of the word, tradition constitutes a set of inherited patterns of beliefs and practices that have been transmitted from generation to generation. In another sense, tradition can rest simply on the claim that certain cultural elements are rooted in the past. Claim and documented historical reality need not overlap. Indeed, in their classic study The Invention of Tradition, Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger remind us that some of the best-known “ancient customs” are, in fact, quite recent innovations.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2007

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References

Berman, Marshall, All That Is Solid Melts into Air: The Experience of Modernity (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1982).Google Scholar
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van den Broek, Roelof, “Hermes Trismegistus I: Antiquity,” in Hanegraaff, , Dictionary of Gnosis and Western Esotericism, i, pp. 474–8.

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  • Introduction
    • By Olav Hammer, Professor, History of Religions University of Southern Denmark, James R. Lewis, Lecturer in Philosophy University of Wisconsin
  • Edited by James R. Lewis, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Olav Hammer, University of Southern Denmark
  • Book: The Invention of Sacred Tradition
  • Online publication: 22 September 2009
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511488450.001
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  • Introduction
    • By Olav Hammer, Professor, History of Religions University of Southern Denmark, James R. Lewis, Lecturer in Philosophy University of Wisconsin
  • Edited by James R. Lewis, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Olav Hammer, University of Southern Denmark
  • Book: The Invention of Sacred Tradition
  • Online publication: 22 September 2009
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511488450.001
Available formats
×

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

  • Introduction
    • By Olav Hammer, Professor, History of Religions University of Southern Denmark, James R. Lewis, Lecturer in Philosophy University of Wisconsin
  • Edited by James R. Lewis, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Olav Hammer, University of Southern Denmark
  • Book: The Invention of Sacred Tradition
  • Online publication: 22 September 2009
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511488450.001
Available formats
×