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Title: The Place of Phenomenology of Religion in relation to Theology
Author(s): VAN WIELE, Jan
Volume: 61 Issue: 3 Date: 2000
In the field of theology, the comparative study of religions has exhibited growing interest in recent years. For this reason, more than ever, the moment seems right for a critical reflection on the status of comparative religious science as an autonomous discipline and on its relation to theology. At present, a consensus is growing among many – although seldom formally confirmed this tacitly remains, nevertheless, the ruling fundamental orientation – that the comparative study of religions, along with the scientific study of literature (exegesis), psychology, anthropology, sociology and the other “classical” human sciences, is the only way to practice theology in a “scientifically justified way”. This makes comparative religious science - along with the other human sciences - the only valid authority to claim truth in Christian doctrine. I believe this is an incorrect opinion, which is based upon an underestimation of the distinction between Christian theology and the “classical” practice of science. In the present article, I will attempt to provide a new interpretation of the position of the phenomenology of religion in relation to Christian theology by determining what functions theology is at liberty to perform in view of comparative religious science and vice versa. In doing so, I will restrict myself to the phenomenological method within the context of comparative religious science, a method which has served for a long time as themodel for every comparative research.
I intend to take the following twofold thesis as my point of departure: 1. In contrast to what its most fervent adherents claim, the understanding of the phenomenology of religion as a separate branch within human sciences is partly based upon prejudices regarding the scope of the latter disciplines. Theoretically and practically speaking, the research object of the phenomenology of religion can easily be arranged, broadly speaking, under the other disciplines of human sciences, which have religion as their object of research. 2. The relation of the phenomenology of religion to theology (if one must give it a separate status among human sciences) is that of an auxiliary science. While it is true that, under certain terms, there is a degree of cross-fertilisation between theology and the phenomenology of religion, theology and the phenomenology of religion must remain, nevertheless, theology and phenomenology of religion.