The “Religion” Challenge. Comparative Religious Studies and the Trouble to Transfer Conceptional Terms from Europe to Asia


Madlen Krüger and Ann-Kathrin Wolf


The term “religion” always formed an intensively discussed issue within Religious Studies and related disciplines. Debates ranged between attempts to essentialize “religion” to the point of the notion of “religion” as a scientific construct. However, the basic trouble is that the term “religion” can neither be found in all periods of European history nor in all non-European cultures. Further, the division between “religion” and other concepts, like for example politics, cannot always be drawn. Nevertheless, “religion” is frequently used within studies related to Asia and other non-European parts of the world. A look into the latest introductory book of (German) Religious Studies1 shows that the discus- sions around the term “religion” by far have not come to an end, as six articles address this issue from different perspectives and give diverse approaches. Anyway, the fate of “religion” is shared by other terms as well. As seen in various publications that focus on specific terms, like for example Taylor2, there are quite a lot of terms that are discussed in Religious Studies with regard to their usability in scientific discourse, e. g. experience, modernity, or time.

Many terms that have their history in Europe were used from Colonial Times on for the description of structures and characteristics found in Asia and other parts of the world. The transfer and connected translation of terms always employs the dimension of comparison if not the very transfer of a term means one of the most basic occurrences of comparison. The assumption that a term could be used for the description of two or more different characteristics is based on the hypothesis that these particular characteristics are comparable to each other. Further, it is exactly this supposed comparability that causes in many cases problems with the employment of terms in the scientific discourse.
This panel aims to raise some of these challenging terms like religion, politics, history, modernity etc. and to illustrate the connected problem of these terms with concrete examples from South- and Southeast Asia. Based on these examples approaches will be drafted of how to handle occurring problems of terms and comparability.

1. M. Stausberg (ed): Religionswissenschaft. Berlin: 2012.
2. M.C. Taylor (ed): Critical Terms for Religious Studies. Chicago: 1998.

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