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Religious Development: C. P. Tiele's Paradigm of Science of Religion

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This essay explores C. P. Tiele's fundamental notion of religious development and, in a certain respect, it complements my earlier paper on his concept of religion, which he ultimately locates "in the innermost depths of our souls" (Numen 46 [1999]). The present article argues that the mere possibility of an interrelated, comparative study of religions (in the plural) is founded on the idea of a developmental history of religion (in the singular). To Tiele, this history testifies to the fact that the changing and transient forms of religion are ultimately inadequate expressions of the infinite in us. Thus, his "science" ties in perfectly with his liberal Protestantism. I start with some remarks on the use of the concept of religious development in the nineteenth century, then I outline Tiele's basic assumptions (with special reference to his 1874 article on the laws of development), and, finally, I scrutinize the first series of the Gifford Lectures (1896–1898), which epitomize his later views on religious development. It is shown that developmental thinking in early Dutch science of religion did not originate primarily in Darwinian thought but in German idealism. Moreover, one has to keep in mind that Tiele's developmental views met severe criticism among his successors. For instance, Gerardus van der Leeuw rejected the whole idea of religious progress because it did not comply with the unique and absolute character of religious experience. Thus, contrary to Eric Sharpe's suggestion, evolutionism was not dominant in Dutch religious studies throughout the period between the wars.


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