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Christianity and the History of Ideas

Christianity and the History of Ideas

According to many secularists, Christian modes of thinking were superseded by radically new, secular philosophies in the age of the Enlightenment. Ever since, or so the story goes, Christianity is struggling to maintain a marginal place in Western society.

The department Christianity and the History of Ideas takes issue with such singular narratives. It analyses the continuing formative power of Christianity from the perspective of a contextualized history of ideas, in which conceptual continuities and transformations are related to their broader cultural contexts. The thrust of the department’s work can be summed up by the slogan “Christian Tradition and the (Post)Secular”—analysing the impact of the Christian intellectual tradition in the past and aiming at new ‘postsecular’ historiographies geared to theorizing the presence and continuing formative power of Christianity in Western/European society.

Scholarly and Societal Relevance

In contemporary societal and political debates, the role of religions is highly contested. Much of the critique levelled at religions is underpinned by highly questionable notions about the role of Christianity in the history of Western thought. It is claimed that Christian modes of thinking were superseded by radically new, secular philosophies and this alleged history is then promoted as a model. In this situation it is crucial, for the sake of both scholarship and society, to offer cutting-edge research in the history of ideas, to answer this vital question for the future of Western/European civilization: what has been and continues to be the impact of the Christian intellectual tradition?

Research

All staff members work within the framework of a contextualized history of ideas. New research is discussed in monthly meetings. Our shared research efforts focus on two closely related projects. The projects explore the impact of the Christian intellectual tradition in the past as well as the possibilities of a rapprochement of religion and the secular in our time.

“Genealogies of the (Post)Secular”

In recent years, the concept of the postsecular has been promoted by scholars such as Jürgen Habermas to flag disagreement with facile secularist antagonisms between religion and secularity and to outline a constructive role for religion in Western democracy. The department’s joint project on the Genealogies of the (Post)Secular offers a valuable addition to the ongoing discussions on the postsecular from its integrative perspective of a contextualized history of ideas. The project aims at correcting facile historiographies of the secular age, e.g. by offering new readings of the interactions between Christianity and natural philosophy in the Enlightenment era, and more generally by questioning dominant differentiations between theology and secular philosophy in the history of ideas. The project thus aims at new ‘postsecular’ historiographies of the alleged religious/secular divide. The impact of the Christian intellectual tradition is traced right through to our present age. The project analyses new signs of a rapprochement of religion and the secular in contemporary Western/European culture, and interrogates the degree of change and continuity with the past.

“Traditions of Consolation—theological & philosophical”

The secularist bias in Western/European society is strongly evident in the ways people conceptualize and deal with questions of life and death. However, at times of loss and death, human beings are not only in need of proximity, they offer consolatory ‘arguments’—persuasive speech acts geared to attenuating or even overcoming grief. Such consolatory arguments and their visual/ritual expressions display how philosophical, scientific and theological convictions intertwine. In short, ideas about consolation are highly effective cultural markers to analyse the place of religion in the broader culture. The department members focus on consolation from the perspective of a contextualized history of ideas. The project analyses the intertwining of continuity and change with respect to consolation: in spite of all cultural change, there is a surprising degree of continuity in Western ways of consolation. There truly are interconnected traditions of philosophical and theological consolation. The project thus invigorates the question: how religious is our allegedly secular culture?

Last modified:January 10, 2014 10:36
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