Incurably religious? Consensus gentium and the cultural universality of religion. De Roover, J. NUMEN-INTERNATIONAL REVIEW FOR THE HISTORY OF RELIGIONS, 61(1):5–32, Brill, 2014.
Incurably religious? Consensus gentium and the cultural universality of religion [link]Paper  abstract   bibtex   
For centuries, the question whether there were peoples without religion was the subject of heated debate among European thinkers. At the turn of the twentieth century, this concern vanished from the radar of Western scholarship: all known peoples and societies, it was concluded, had some form of religion. This essay examines the relevant debates from the sixteenth to the twentieth century: Why was this issue so important? How did European thinkers determine whether or not some people had religion? What allowed them to close this debate? It will be shown that European descriptions of the “religions” of non-Western cultures counted as evidence for or against theoretical claims made within a particular framework, namely that of generic Christian theology. The issue of the universality of religion was settled not by scientific research but by making ad hoc modifications to this theological framework whenever it faced empirical anomalies. This is important today, because the debate concerning the cultural universality of religion has been reopened. On the one hand, evolutionary-biological explanations of religion claim that religion must be a cultural universal, since its origin lies in the evolution of the human species; on the other hand, authors suggest that religion is not a cultural universal, because many of the “religions” of humanity are fictitious entities created within an underlying theological framework.
@Article{	  4261918,
  abstract	= {For centuries, the question whether there were peoples
		  without religion was the subject of heated debate among
		  European thinkers. At the turn of the twentieth century,
		  this concern vanished from the radar of Western
		  scholarship: all known peoples and societies, it was
		  concluded, had some form of religion. This essay examines
		  the relevant debates from the sixteenth to the twentieth
		  century: Why was this issue so important? How did European
		  thinkers determine whether or not some people had religion?
		  What allowed them to close this debate? It will be shown
		  that European descriptions of the “religions” of
		  non-Western cultures counted as evidence for or against
		  theoretical claims made within a particular framework,
		  namely that of generic Christian theology. The issue of the
		  universality of religion was settled not by scientific
		  research but by making ad hoc modifications to this
		  theological framework whenever it faced empirical
		  anomalies. This is important today, because the debate
		  concerning the cultural universality of religion has been
		  reopened. On the one hand, evolutionary-biological
		  explanations of religion claim that religion must be a
		  cultural universal, since its origin lies in the evolution
		  of the human species; on the other hand, authors suggest
		  that religion is not a cultural universal, because many of
		  the “religions” of humanity are fictitious entities
		  created within an underlying theological framework.},
  author	= {De Roover, Jakob},
  issn		= {0029-5973},
  journal	= {NUMEN-INTERNATIONAL REVIEW FOR THE HISTORY OF RELIGIONS},
  keywords	= {consensus gentium,explanations of
		  religion,religion,universality,concept of religion},
  language	= {eng},
  number	= {1},
  pages		= {5--32},
  publisher	= {Brill},
  title		= {Incurably religious? Consensus gentium and the cultural
		  universality of religion},
  url		= {http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/15685276-12341301},
  volume	= {61},
  year		= {2014}
}
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