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The Invention of World Religions

Or, How European Universalism Was Preserved in the Language of Pluralism

The idea of "world religions" expresses a vague commitment to multiculturalism. Not merely a descriptive concept, "world religions" is actually a particular ethos, a pluralist ideology, a logic of classification, and a form of knowledge that has shaped the study of religion and infiltrated ordinary language.

In this ambitious study, Tomoko Masuzawa examines the emergence of "world religions" in modern European thought. Devoting particular attention to the relation between the comparative study of language and the nascent science of religion, she demonstrates how new classifications of language and race caused Buddhism and Islam to gain special significance, as these religions came to be seen in opposing terms-Aryan on one hand and Semitic on the other. Masuzawa also explores the complex relation of "world religions" to Protestant theology, from the hierarchical ordering of religions typical of the Christian supremacists of the nineteenth century to the aspirations of early twentieth-century theologian Ernst Troeltsch, who embraced the pluralist logic of "world religions" and by so doing sought to reclaim the universalist destiny of European modernity.

384 pages | 1 halftone, 1 line drawing | 6 x 9 | © 2005

Religion: Comparative Studies and History of Religion, Philosophy of Religion, Theology, and Ethics

Table of Contents

1. World Religions in the Academy Today
2. The Discourse on Religion as a Discourse of Othering
3. A Synoptic Overview
4. Writing History in the Age of Theory: A Brief Discourse on Method
Part 1
Chapter 1: "The Religions of the World" before "World Religions"
1. "World Religions" in the Age of World Wars
2. Early Modern Taxonomy, or the Order of Nations
3. Before the Birth of Science
Chapter 2: The Legacy of Comparative Theology
1. Two Pioneers: Frederick Denison Maurice and James Freeman Clarke
2. Strategies for Representation
3. A Critic: Charles Hardwick
4. The Variety of Parascientific Comparativism
Part 2
Chapter 3: The Birth Trauma of World Religions
Chapter 4: Buddhism, a World Religion
1. Before Buddhism
2. Europe Discovers Buddhism
3. Buddhism and the Future of Europe
Chapter 5: Philology and the Discovery of a Fissure in the European Past
1. The Discovery of the Indo-European Past
2. The Birth of Comparative Grammar
3. The Supremacy of Inflection
4. The Essential Nature of the Semitic: Ernest Renan
Chapter 6: Islam, a Semitic Religion
1. The Problem of Islam for Premodern and Early Modern Europe
2. The Problem of Semitism and Aryanism for Nineteenth-Century Europe
3. Islam, the Arab Religion: Abraham Kuenen
4. Sufism, an Aryan Islam: Otto Pfleiderer
Chapter 7: Philologist Out of Season: F. Max Müller on the Classification of Language and Religion
1. The Aristocracy of Book Religions
2. On the Possibility of the Common Origin of Languages
3. The Trouble with the Turanian
4. The Real Trouble with the Turanian
5. A Tale of Two Burnoufs
Part 3
Chapter 8: Interregnum: Omnibus Guide for Looking toward the Twentieth Century
1. Bequest of the Nineteenth Century: The Sacred Books of the East, 1879-1910
2. The World’s Parliament of Religions, 1893
3. Amateur Interests Have Their Say: Private Foundations and Endowed Lectureships
4. Colonial Self-Articulation
5. Transitional Systems
Chapter 9: The Question of Hegemony: Ernst Troeltsch and the Reconstituted European Universalism
Unconcluding Scientific Postscript


American Academy of Religion: American Academy of Religion Awards for Excellence

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