How Historical is the History of Religions?

Robert A. Segal*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


How historical the history of religions is has long been debated. This chapter details Skinner's approach to history of political thought. Skinner distinguishes three kinds of historical questions that can be asked of the works of political thinkers. Textualists do so for two seemingly opposed reasons. One, the meaning they seek does not go beyond what the author has stated in the work. And two, that meaning is not limited to the times in which the author lived. Skinner distinguishes even this kind of intent from the meaning, which would be the theme of the tragedy. Eliade is right to assume a symmetry between explanation and interpretation. A Freudian explanation of the cause of religion does pre-suppose a Freudian interpretation of the meaning of it. In his History of Religious Ideas, which is virtually a foil to Patterns, Eliade focuses on individual religions rather than on religion per se.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTheory and Method in the Study of Religion
Subtitle of host publicationTwenty Five Years On
EditorsAaron W. Hughes
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9789004257573
ISBN (Print)9789004256019
Publication statusPublished - 25 Sept 2013

Publication series

NameSupplements to Method & Theory in the Study of Religion
ISSN (Print)2214-3270


  • Eliade
  • Skinner
  • Freudian
  • History of Religious Ideas


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