The Sometimes Confusing History of Religions

If one is going to do a history of religions (as I am), then it is always good to read a history of the scholarship that comprises the “history of religions.”  With this in mind, I am nearly finished with Hans Kippenberg’s Discovering Religious History in the Modern Age.  It is a wonderful work of intellectual history that I highly recommend.

Because late nineteenth and early twentieth century German thinkers figure so largely in the origins of religious history as a distinct academic pursuit, Kippenberg necessarily reviews their work.  Those familiar with German intellectual history know that it can at times be dense, and indeed opaque.

Though Kippenberg does a nice job of summarizing this work and presenting ideas clearly, there are times when the source material simply will not allow an easy distillation.  If you have ever tried summarizing Kant, Hegel or Habermas in a page or two, you know what I mean.

So there are points in the book when Kippenberg is presenting ideas and I am having a bit of difficulty understanding exactly what is being said or argued.  In this state of mind, I came across this great quote from the Austrian novelist-poet Hugo von Hofmannsthal:

“My case, in short, is this: I have completely lost the ability to talk or think coherently about anything.”

Although Hofmannsthal was expressing his frustration with the bewildering swirl of modernity and collapse of stable boundaries, this is sometimes the feeling I get when dealing with Teutonic thought.

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