Religious definition of the testimony of it

Definition of the term "religion". The relational-structural concept of religion in Hans-Joachim Höhn

Table of Contents

0. Introduction

1. Definition and change in meaning of the term “religion” from antiquity to the 20th century

2. The concept of religion in modern times
2.1. The functional and the substantial definition approach
2.2. Dispensing with a definition as a way out?
2.3. Hans-Joachim Höhn's relational-structural concept of religion on the basis of an existential-pragmatic reconstruction of human existence
2.4. Definition of religion and religious reason by Thomas Rentsch
2.5. The structural model of religiosity in Ulrich Oevermann
2.6. Comparative commentary on the three definition approaches

3. Conclusion


0. Introduction

What is religion

In a certain way, this question forms the basis of any philosophy of religion, since the answer to this question can only outline the field of research in the philosophy of religion. The concept of religion has been subject to constant change since ancient times and there have been various attempts to define it or to describe its content.

Today, at a time that Jürgen Habermas diagnoses as “post-secular”, there is a broad sociological discussion about a return of religion after its disappearance was predicted everywhere in the phase of secularization in the second half of the last century. In order to be able to take a well-founded position in this discussion, the question of what religion actually is needs to be clarified.

In the following I will briefly outline the historical development of the concept of religion up to the middle of the 20th century, in order to then take up the current discussion about the concept of religion and highlight three structural attempts at definition.

1. Definition and change in meaning of the term “religion” from antiquity to the 20th century

The term “religion” is etymologically derived from the Latin term “religio”. Where this term comes from is unclear, there are different opinions. Cicero derives it from “relegere”, “reread” or “look carefully”, while Lactanz derives it from “religare”, “to bind”.[1]AH. In 1984 Bergmann made a third proposal to derive “religio” from “res” and “ligare”.[2]

Regardless of the etymological derivation, Erich Feil assumes that "careful observations" reflect the original understanding of the term.[3]Initially, the term was also used profane, for example in the field of jurisprudence (religio iudicis). In the sacred area he referred to the careful observance of the acts owed to the gods such as prayer, sacrifice, etc.

According to Feil, the concept of religion undergoes a fundamental change in the 18th century, which, according to Friederike Nüssel, was already prepared by Augustine by formulating a connection between the knowledge of God and the worship of God.[4]Religion is, among other things, through F.D.E. Schleiermacher, understood as a "feeling" for the transcendence, the infinite, the most sacred, God, whereby Schleiermacher defines "feeling" as "unmediated self-confidence" or as an "immediate existential relationship".[5]For Schleiermacher religion, the existential relationship of “absolute dependence” and to be “absolutely dependent” means the same thing for him as being “in relationship with God”.[6]For the new conception of the term religion in the 18th century, the considerations of Immanuel Kant, who, with a stronger dominance of reason over the feeling, called "religion" as the knowledge of all our duties ... as divine commandments ".[7]Thus religion is seen as an existential fact that is inherently part of every human life.

In the further development, the term "religion" was used as a "collective term" for everything that belongs to a certain form of this existential relationship, for example the Christian religion, and at the same time as an "umbrella term" for its various forms, such as Christianity, Judaism or also natural religions.[8]

2. The concept of religion in modern times

According to Feil, the modern understanding of religion “as an anthropological constant” described above came to an end in the second half of the 20th century.[9]The scientific and technical progress of the 20th century and the attempt to rationalize and demythologize human life relativize religious experiences and traditions and increasingly question their significance for the reality of human life. Some sociologists derive the secularization theorem from observing this development, which predicts the end of all religion.

However, this assumption has not been confirmed. The rationalization processes have reached their limits. Man is not able to create a functioning social order through reason alone. Obviously there are conditions of human existence that are not subject to autonomous reason, a realization that in the increasing secularization process of modernity, more and more people are becoming painfully aware. "There are obviously technically inevitable, economically irreconcilable and politically unavailable", the absence of which ultimately makes a successful life impossible.[10]This experience means that religious interpretations of the world in the broadest sense are gaining in importance again. What kind of religiosity it is based on and what role it plays must be examined more closely. Is it really about a "renaissance of religion" or rather only "about the temporary return of a need for religion", as Hans-Joachim Höhn suspects.[11]Feil clearly judges that the so-called “new religions” can be called “religions” “at best out of habit”.[12]For the sake of clarity, he argues that in connection with Christianity, the term religion should be dispensed with altogether and instead “faith” should be taken into account.[13]

It is true that Höhn also observed various phenomena in post-secular society of an instrumentalization of the religious as well as a "dispersion" of the religious, a "breaking and decomposition of religious contents when they encounter secular fields, their mixing with other patterns of world interpretation and design" and he also creates the question of whether religion only survives in terms of its “aesthetic and therapeutic side effects” or whether it plays a role as a religion.[14]However, he advocates creating criteria for answering this question with the help of a definition of the term religion that is as sharp as possible.

2.1. The functional and the substantial definition approach

Two common approaches to defining the term “religion” are the functional approach and the substantive approach.

The functional approach, referred to as a functionalist definition by Wilfried Löffler, focuses on the function of religious practices as a criterion for a term definition.[15]Such a function can be, for example, help in coping with a serious crisis situation, such as illness or the experience of death, or the achievement of a stabilizing, calming, anxiety-reducing effect that helps cope with everyday life. In this context, Ulrich Oevermann speaks of the fact that religious practice is defined “by recourse to the category of need”.[16]Religious practices are therefore necessary in order to satisfy certain needs that are imputed to every human being, for example for giving meaning.

The substantial approach, Löffler also speaks of the essentialist approach, while Oevermann uses the term "experiential approach" in this context, tries to define religion through its substance or its essence, for example by describing the specific object of religious practice, the "sacred" , describes the “divine” or specific features of religious practice, such as sacrifice or prayer.

These two common approaches ultimately do not lead to the goal of a clear definition:

- The functional approach means a narrowing insofar as all those religious acts fall out of this definition which are not functional, but only "ad maiorem dei gloriam"[17]be done.


[1]Kasper, W. et al. (Ed.), Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, Vol. 9, third, completely revised edition, Freiburg et al. 2000, 1034.

[2]Bergmann, A.H., Studies on the history and prehistory of the Latin word re (l) ligon, Univ. Mag. Diss., Marburg 1984, quoted from Feil, E., On the problem of determining and delimiting “religion”, in: Ders., Streitfall “Religion”. Discussion on the definition and delimitation of the concept of religion, Münster 2000, 18.

[3]Feil, E., On the problem of defining and delimiting "religion", 18.

[4]Nüssel, F., End or return of religion? On the theological function of the concept of religion, in: Feil, E., Streitfall “Religion”, 98.

[5]Schleiermacher, F.D.E., The Christian Faith according to the principles of the Protestant Church presented in context (Redeker, M. (Ed.)), Berlin / New York 1999, 16; Schleiermacher, F.D.E., “An Lücke” in: Friedrich Schleiermacher's complete works, Berlin1835 ff, quoted from Schleiermacher, F.D.E., Der christliche Glaube, 21.

[6]Schleiermacher, F.D.E., The Christian Faith, 23.

[7]Feil, E., On the determination and coordination problem of "religion", 23.


[9]Ibid., 5.

[10]Höhn, H.-J., Postsäkular, Paderborn 2007, 18.

[11]Höhn, H.-J., Post-religious or post-secular? Where today religious needs revive, in: Renaissance of Religion. Fashion or mega-topic, Herder Korrespondenz Spezial, Freiburg / Basel / Vienna 2006, 6.

[12]Feil, E., On the problem of determining and coordinating "religion", 25.

[13]Ibid., 26.

[14]Höhn, H.-J., Postsäkular, 34; Ibid., 51.

[15]Löffler, W., Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion, Darmstadt 2006, 13.

[16]Oevermann, U., Structural Model of Religiosity, in: Gabriel, K. (ed.), Religious Individualization or Secularization, Gütersloh 1996, 30.

[17]Höhn, H.-J., Postsäkular, 61.

End of the excerpt from 19 pages