The Dynamics of Religious Knowledge: Resilience and Innovation in the Face of Modernity

AHA Session 99
Central European History Society 3
German Historical Institute 1
Friday, January 6, 2017: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Governor's Square 15 (Sheraton Denver Downtown, Plaza Building Concourse Level)
Simone Lässig, German Historical Institute, Washington DC
David M. Luebke, University of Oregon

Session Abstract

This session will explore religious knowledge as signifier for the transformation of social and cultural orders on the threshold of modernity. Focusing on different religious groups, regions, and time periods, the papers will address changes in religious semantics and practices and the importance of the familiar in the struggle to accept socio-cultural change. The session will discuss the question of how religion and appeals to religious traditions foster resilience in various groups grappling with new challenges, and whether/how religion facilitates the production of new social knowledge. The overarching question the session seeks to address is whether religion and religious knowledge can serve as the basis for social innovation.

These and similar questions have long been neglected in research on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as a result of the influence of the secularization thesis. The turn toward a cultural history of religion and religiosity along with the turn toward a socially oriented history of knowledge have resulted in a broadening of research on religion in the modern era. The focus is no longer resistance to change but rather the capacity of religion and religious groups for change and renewal in modern history – and thus also the new knowledge that is communicated and made socially relevant through appeals to religious tradition and religious certainties. What is of interest here is not only the new areas and new content of religiously defined knowledge but also the relationship between this new knowledge and new cultural practices, including “civilizing” senses and emotions.

Two developments were of fundamental importance in the formation of religious knowledge in the modern era: first, the change in the stance of religion and religious authority toward state and society, which reinforced the trends toward growing individualism, increasing social differentiation, and pluralism; and second, the formation of a new knowledge order shaped by universalization and systematization, rationalism and criticism. This new order was the foundation for modern scholarship and scientific research and an entirely new understanding of education. It was no accident that education was a central instrument of social change in Europe and beyond, including it’s colonies. This is evident with regard to the often competing actors – the various religious communities and the state – and with regard to the different modes of interpretation.

The four papers to be presented will illuminate these questions from differing perspectives. They will explore the transformation of the religious knowledge orders in modern Jewish history (von der Krone), in multi-confessional Alsace-Loraine after 1870 (Steinhoff), and in colonial India (Tschurenev). The comment (Luebke) will consider the points of intersection of these three case studies from a theoretical perspective and contrast the forms of religious knowledge in the modern era with the experience of religion and religiosity in the pre-modern period.

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