Interpreting Religion: The Phenomenological Approaches of Pierre Daniel Chantepie De LA Saussaye, W. Brede Kristensen, and Gerardus Van Der Leeuw

by George Alfred James


The nature of what has been termed the ""phenomenology of religion"" has been the subject of controversy and confusion within the academic study of religion since the early 1950s. Here George Alfred James attempts to clarify the subject through an exploration of the self-understanding of three of its key exponents: Pierre Daniel Chantepie de la Saussaye, W. Brede Kristensen, and Gerardus van der Leeuw. Though the three are widely acknowledged to have had a decisive impact on the phenomenology of religion, they are not widely studied. James deals with each of the three in turn and shows how each saw his efforts as at once a-historical, a-theological, and anti-reductive. According to James, this family of phenomenological approaches can contribute a wealth of insight to the study of religion today. The author offers a groundbreaking challenge to the received image of the phenomenology of religion as an approach of merely historical interest. He shows that phenomenology of religion is not a development or application of the philosophical method initiated by Edmund Husserl, but an approach to religion that has its own claim to authenticity as a discipline distinct from theology, from the history of religions, and from contemporary social scientific approaches to religion. Phenomenology of religion is revealed to be a radical departure from contemporary efforts to understand the religious dimension of human nature and culture. Interpreting Religion reveals how the exponents of the phenomenology of religion were concerned with avoiding doctrinaire interpretations on the one hand and reductionism on the other, and explains their varying strategies for achieving this goal. It also shows how successive efforts toward a phenomenological approach to religion have addressed the weaknesses, and built upon the insights, of earlier efforts of this nature. The book advocates a reexamination of the phenomenology of religion in the light of recent developments in post-modern theology, literary criticism, and philosophy. George Alfred James lives in Denton, Texas, where he is associate professor of philosophy and religion studies at the University of North Texas. He has contributed articles to a variety of publications, including The Journal of Religion and The Encyclopedia of Religion.

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