Kocku von Stuckrad
The Scientification of Religion
An Historical Study of Discursive Change, 1800-2000
De Gruyter 2014
New Books in Big IdeasNew Books in European StudiesNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Intellectual HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in ReligionNew Books in Religion & FaithNew Books in SociologyNew Books Network July 6, 2015 Kristian Petersen
Science and religion are often paired as diametric opposites. However, the boundaries of these two fields were not always as clear as they seem to be today. In The Scientification of Religion: An Historical Study of Discursive Change, 1800-2000 (De Gruyter, 2014), Kocku von Stuckrad, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Groningen, demonstrates how the construction of what constitutes ‘religion’ and ‘science’ was a relational process that emerged with the competition between various systems of knowledge. In this book, von Stuckrad traces the transformation and perpetuation of religious discourses as a result of their entanglement with secular academic discourses. In the first half of the book, he presents the discursive constructions of ‘religion’ and ‘science’ through the disciplines of astrology, astronomy, psychology, alchemy, chemistry, and scientific experimentation more generally. The second half of the book explores the power of academic legitimization of knowledge in emerging European modernities. Here, the discursive entanglements of professional and participant explanations of modern practices shaped and solidified those realities. Key figures in the history of the field of Religious Studies, such as Martin Buber, Gershom Scholem, Rudolf Otto, and Mircea Eliade, played instrumental roles in legitimizing the authority of mysticism, goddess worship, and shamanism. Ultimately, what we discover is that ‘religion’ and ‘science’ are not so much distinctive spheres but elastic systems that arise within the particular circumstances of secular modernity. In our conversation we discussed discursive approaches to the study of religion, the Theosophical Society, marginalized forms of knowledge, the occult sciences, Jewish mysticism, secularization, nature-focused spiritualities, experiential knowledge, pagan religious practices, and ‘modern’ science.