Religious history and History of Religion

As a result of the efforts undertaken by religious communities to interpret and identify themselves through their past, scholars of the history of religion have a large body of sources at their disposal. But above all, the scholars themselves are imbued with narratives that were produced to serve this very purpose of delineating groups and genealogies. The task of emic historiography, as we might describe it here, is pursued with much ingenuity and energy, and produces accounts with a correspondingly dense veneer of plausibility. Thus, historians of religion, who are supposed to produce etic accounts and strive to apply a methodology of understanding (Verstehen) of their scholarly objects, necessarily tend to follow the constructs produced by historiographic sources and to ignore the subjective and interpretive nature of that framework. One cannot, after all, question everything at the same time. From a hermeneutical perspective, there is no clear dividing line between emic and etic in the contents of historiography.

Identities and interpretations generated by religious communities - or rather by individuals for such communities - in the course of historicizing are themselves taken over by scholars as if they may legitimately be used as valid models on the basis of which to study the history of religion. Thus, we continue to hear and read about ‘the church of the martyrs’, or about ‘the victory of Buddhism in Japan’, or the ‘Hellenization of Christianity’ (see Markschies 2012), and even about Christianity, Judaism, and paganism (in the late antique Mediterranean context, for example) as if these were all separate, stable, and unified entities which may or may not have influenced and interacted with each other in various ways. The first of the above terms and conceptualizations was advanced by religious historiographic agents (most famously the aforementioned Eusebius). The ‘Hellenization of Christianity’,

Historiography of religion 127 meanwhile, is an extrapolation from false dichotomies and portrayals proffered by Christian historiographers who depicted the appearance of Christianity on the world stage as if it were a separate and new entity.

 
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