Forthcoming STaR Seminar: Re-thinking Religious History in Global Perspective: songlines, sacred stories, and theologies


Religious history can often be a parochial affair, transmitting local memories rather than reflection on multiple perspectives. Yet these memories were for centuries transmitted orally, in the manner of a songline, before being regulated through writing. This paper reflects on the evolution in the 20th century of the discipline of religious history, as well as the challenge of moving towards a global perspective. It considers the difficulty of relating this discipline to the codes developed to classify research in Australia, in which religious studies are linked to philosophy rather than to history. It argues that theology developed as a discipline within the University of Paris in the thirteenth century just as intellectuals were becoming aware of a multiplicity of religious and philosophical traditions. The discipline provided a new way of controlling potentially disruptive readings of the Bible, a set of texts able to be interpreted by different groups, not just within the university. Scholastic theology is just one manifestation of a phenomenon evident in many different cultures, in which rational disputation is used as a way of regulating and controlling the manifold stories and traditions preserved within a community.

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