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Hermeneutics

(227 words)

Author(s): Auffarth, Christoph
The expression “hermeneutics” (from Gk., hermeneuein, ‘to translate,’ ‘to interpret’) denotes the methods of interpretation of a text (→ Text/Textual Criticism) when seen as part of its exposition. Hermeneutics is of key importance especially for religion, when the latter is no longer temporally and locally embedded in the context in which a proposition or relation has found its Sitz im Leben. One way of ‘translating’ such a text into the present consists in expounding its ‘deeper’ sense, its meaning for times and places other than those of its original …

Creation

(250 words)

Author(s): Auffarth, Christoph
When nineteenth-century scientists presented the claim that they could offer an exhaustive explanation of the world, the question of how life arose became a crucial issue. Their theories were set in competition with religious accounts. The confrontation climaxed on the horns of a dilemma: what need is there for a God if nature makes itself according to eternal rules? Or: what was there before the primordial soup, the Big Bang? To establish the nonexistence of God is no longer one of the goals of science. The creation account is simply a myth. A modern creation story, like Steven Weinberg's Th…

Theocracy

(1,051 words)

Author(s): Auffarth, Christoph
1. What has occurred in → Iran and in Algeria in the last two decades of the twentieth century, in terms of deadly violence, deprivation of individual rights, and coercion to live according to the rules of religious laws, is perceived in the West with horror and revulsion, and labeled ‘theocracy.’ ‘Theocracy’ (Gk., ‘God's government’) contradicts ‘democracy’ (Gk., ‘people's government’). The former designation fuses a criticism of the religious grounding of political crimes with a criticism of r…

Holocaust

(281 words)

Author(s): Auffarth, Christoph
The term ‘holocaust’ was proposed at the beginning of the 1960s by Elie Wiesel, who himself was nearly killed at Auschwitz. This term was intended to designate the unspeakable murder of six million European Jews, whose destruction was bureaucratically organized and industrially executed. Although the term originated in America, it has become current in Europe especially through the American media. The Greek word holókaustos is a translation of a term from the Hebrew Bible meaning ‘wholly burned’ or ‘burnt offering’ and describing the type of sacrifice in wh…

Exegesis

(178 words)

Author(s): Auffarth, Christoph
Exegesis (Gk., ‘explanation’; etym., ‘out-leading,’ ‘ex-position’) denotes the interpretation or explanation of a text or a passage of a text, especially one from the Bible, and especially at the hands of an expert. In Greek sanctuaries, exegetes stood ready to ‘translate’ oracles of the god into human speech, or to explain to strangers the meaning of the chunks of boulder, or the tree, in the sanctuary, having to find an answer for everything. In theology, professionals concern themselves with …

Dualism

(3,801 words)

Author(s): Auffarth, Christoph
We/Not-We 1. The most unambiguous and most simple way to ascertain one's own place in a complicated reality consists in dividing the world into ‘ We’ and ‘ Not-We.’ The social identity determining which individuals belong to ‘ We,’ and which as ‘ Not-We’ are to be left out, is constituted as the result of many criteria. After all, in many ways the members of a group are alike, while they are distinct in others. Culture operates precisely through the perception of difference. Since no individual case is unambiguous, dualism contributes to…

Sunday/Sabbath

(1,061 words)

Author(s): Auffarth, Christoph
1. a) In most Western societies where Christianity has been the dominant religion for a long time, Sunday has a special place as a ‘day off.’ As a day of rest and pause from labor, however, Sunday is not very old. In societies defined by the sowing, cultivating, and reaping of nutrients, season and weather govern the rhythm of work and rest. Animals must always be cared for: feeding, milking, and carrying out the dung must be seen to. The farm family cannot take a ‘day off.’ The dyers had their ‘blue Monday,’ when they dried and oxidized the wool that had been steeped in dye on Sunday. The Sabbath, a …

Marginality/Liminality

(526 words)

Author(s): Auffarth, Christoph
Marginality is a sociological term used to designate persons who live on the periphery of society as opposed to those who take up the central role in a society, enjoying particular privileges and access to power and influence from which marginalized persons or groups are excluded. The most influential segment of a society is not necessarily the same as the majority, nor do marginalized groups necessarily correspond to demographic minorities (e.g. blacks in the Antebellum South constituted the ma…

Blessing

(341 words)

Author(s): Auffarth, Christoph
While prayer expresses wishes in one's own or another's behalf, blessing expresses God's benevolent power ( salus, ‘salvation’) upon others. The Aaronite blessing, with which Christian divine service is concluded, expresses blessing not solely as wish, but at the same time as fulfillment: the minister or priest confers it upon the other in God's name (“The Lord bless you,” Num 6:21–27). He bestows his name upon Aaron, brother of lawgiver Moses, since the former is the model for all later priests. The authoritat…

Asylum

(1,033 words)

Author(s): Auffarth, Christoph
Human Right? 1. Asylum, the assuring of protection to strangers, has religious roots. Church asylum, and the sanctuary movement (in the United States), plead this ancient religious tradition. In 1949, the Federal Republic of Germany committed itself to the following human right: “Political refugees have a right to asylum” (Art. 16.2). This formulation goes much further than the (non-binding) United Nations Convention on Human Rights of December 12, 1948: “States may grant asylum to political refugees.” Nevertheless, even the German exp…

Hereafter

(323 words)

Author(s): Auffarth, Christoph
A hereafter, in the raw sense of ‘the other side,’ necessarily corresponds to the fact that a boundary is traced when a dead person must be withdrawn from the world of the living, to be buried beyond a boundary, a stream, or a cemetery wall, in a special area. Here, in ambivalent reciprocity, are both the ‘disposal of’ the corpse, lest the living suffer the peril of contamination (→ Purification/Hygiene/Bodily Grooming), and the ‘provision for’ the departed in the life after death. But the conceptualization of a life after death als…

Enthusiasm

(183 words)

Author(s): Auffarth, Christoph
Even more than the ‘enthusiasm,’ as the word is used loosely, that ‘arises’ when a ‘spirit’ takes hold of an assembly or gathering, the Greek word enthousiasmos ( en-, ‘in,’ + theos, ‘god’) describes the moment at which a god ‘comes into a person.’ This phenomenon can be attributed to a ‘medium,’ as for instance in ancient prophecy; of a poet, who senses the Muse at work within; or of the God received as wine, who alters consciousness. It does not actually refer to → possession by a demon. (→ ‘Ecstasy,’ for its part, indicate…

Apologetics

(107 words)

Author(s): Auffarth, Christoph
In order that theologians might be provided with arguments for the ‘defense’ of church teaching in discussions with ‘unbelievers,’ apologetics was taught as part of their education. First, in the debate with ‘scientific atheism,’ and then, in Germany, in that against National Socialism, apologetics experts gathered reports and distributed them to the pastoral clergy. Here it was, and is, necessary, first, to know the objections of opponents, and then the apposite responses to them. This process …

Humanism

(180 words)

Author(s): Auffarth, Christoph
There are various nuances to the term ‘humanism’ which arise out of its diverse uses throughout European history. The Renaissance has often been characterized as the age of humanism because of its fascination with and idealization of human achievement in the literature, philosophy, and art of antiquity, which were then being re-discovered. As an ideological continuation of this trend, humanism came to signify a belief in the value and dignity of the human being and an optimistic image of humanit…

European History of Religion

(3,506 words)

Author(s): Auffarth, Christoph
The Project 1. a) The project of a European history of religion is new. It is to be distinguished from two other perspectives on the same object. On the one hand, there is church history that finds religion, by definition, in the Church, with extra-ecclesial religion taken for heresy, paganism, and secularization. In such a view, any ‘religion’ is an illegitimacy. The counter-thesis presents Christianity as a late and foreign, Eastern, religion, which has suppressed “Europe's own religion” (Sigrid…

Archaism

(148 words)

Author(s): Auffarth, Christoph
With the crisis of the belief in progress, in the 1880s, came a change in the models of history. Instead of an evaluation of the progress of the ages as a progress from primitive beginnings to ever loftier rungs on the ladder of humanity, one encounters a complete reversal of the conceptualization of this development. First, archaeologists came to understand that pre-classical art is more than a ‘not yet’—the incapability, so to speak, of presenting anything worthwhile at this early stage—which …

Cross/Crucifixion

(1,217 words)

Author(s): Auffarth, Christoph
The ‘Crucifix Affair’ 1. In the folk schools of Bavaria, a crucifix hangs over the chalkboard—a ‘Cross with the Nailed One,’ the suffering Christ. In 1995, a parental couple insisted that children not be required to gaze upon this mute sign of Christian faith unless they shared the faith. In the Weimar Constitution, they argued, and in the German Basic Law, the state had obliged itself to ‘neutrality of Weltanschauung,’—neutrality when it came to a worldview—so that this display of the crucifix contradicted the basic rights of every citizen. True, unlike the case…

Middle Ages

(1,527 words)

Author(s): Auffarth, Christoph
The understanding of the Middle Ages by later ages in Europe has passed through a number of phases. Even the term ‘Middle Ages’ is a modern convention. Enlightenment thinkers tended to use the expression ‘the dark ages’ to refer to this period, in order to set it up as a gloomy foil, making the light of the new era shine all the brighter. In the confrontation of the French Revolution of 1789, both the revolutionaries, on the one hand, and the nobility and the Church, on the other, laid claim to …

Cemetery

(606 words)

Author(s): Auffarth, Christoph
Surrounded by a wall, and near a church (or even partly within), and enjoying the latter's ‘immunity’ from assault lies the cemetery (Middle English cimiterie, from Lat., coemeterium, Greek koimētērion, and ultimately from koiman, ‘to put to sleep’; compare Ger., Frieden, denoting ‘peace’; cf. Friedhof, ‘cemetery’). Even fugitives seeking asylum could find safety here. The social prestige of the departed is reflected in the choice and form of the burial place. In the course of the nineteenth century, locations of burial were established …

Orthodoxy/Orthopraxis

(157 words)

Author(s): Auffarth, Christoph
Orthodoxy may refer primarily either to right faith or right behavior. When we consider religion as a social phenomenon, orthodoxy as right behavior is the more relevant understanding of this term. On this understanding orthodox persons are concerned to follow certain patterns of behavior such as giving alms, praying, fasting and appearing at religious services. Conformity with these patterns identifies certain individuals as parts of a given community, while failure to conform identifies others as other—heterodox, outsiders. Orthodoxy may also be understood as referring…
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