The Politics of Spirit

Phenomenology, Genealogy, Religion

By Tim Murphy

Subjects: Phenomenology, Philosophy Of Religion, Philosophy, Theology, Anthropology Of Religion
Series: SUNY series, Issues in the Study of Religion
Paperback : 9781438432885, 405 pages, July 2011
Hardcover : 9781438432878, 405 pages, December 2010

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents

PART I. Introduction, Background, Methodological Issues
1. The Phenomenology of Religion: Introduction and Background
Traditional Historiography of the Phenomenology of Religion: Hegel versus Husserl
Geist and the Geisteswissenschaften in Nineteenth-Century Continental Thought
“Explanation versus Interpretation”: Previous Critiques of the Phenomenology of Religion
The Pedigree of Classical Phenomenology of Religion
Terminology: “Phenomenology” and “History of Religions”
Authorial Stance and Thesis
2. Discourse, Text, Philosophemes: Elements of a Postcolonial-Genealogical Reading
Overview: Method and Rezeptionsgeschitche
Language (Langue) and Discourse
Postcolonial Discourse Theory
The Politics of Geist
PART II. Readings in the Discourse of the Phenomenology of Religion
3. Geist, History, Religion: Hegel and the Structure of Phenomenology and Religionswissenschaft
The Nature of Historical Change: Hegel’s Articulation of the Concept of Entwicklung (“Development”)
Geist and the Unity and Stages of History
“In” History: Reason, Morality, and the State
Geist and the Stages of Religious Self-Consciousness
Spirit as Life and as Community
4. Religion in Essence and Development: C. P. Tiele, Early Religionswissenschaft, and the Phenomenology of Religion
The Concept of “Entwicklung” (Development)
Ontology, or the Essence of Religion
History of Religion/s
5. “Experience, Expression, Understanding”: Wilhelm Dilthey on Geist and the Methodology of the Geisteswissenschaft
Experience (Erlebnis)
Expression (Ausdruck)
Understanding (Verstehen)
Dilthey and Hegel/Geist und Natur
6. Geist, Nature, and History: The Phenomenology of Rudolf Otto
Geist versus Natur: The Structure of the Religious A Priori
“The Defi cient Rationalization and Moralization of Experience”:“Primitive” Religion
The (Feminine) Passivity of the East versus the (Masculine) Vitality of the Gothic West
The Stage of Monotheism: Judaism and Islam versus
7. Phenomenology as Empathetic Taxonomy: The Phenomenological Approaches of Chantepie de la Saussaye and W. B. Kristensen Chantepie: Religionswissenschaft as a Tripart Science
Phenomenology as Taxonomic Operation
Ethnographic Part
History of Religions
W. Brede Kristensen
The Representation of Religion
The Tripart Science: Philosophy, History, and Phenomenology in Religionswissenschaft
Phenomenological Limit
Classifi cation of Religions
8. Experience, Expression, Empathy: Gerardus van der Leeuw’s Phenomenological Program
Subject/Object; Experience/Expression; Inward/Outward
Structure, Meaning, and Phenomenological Reconstruction
Religion in History
Limits of Religionsphänomenologie
9. Overcoming the Foreign through Experience, Expression, Understanding: The Method/ology of Joachim Wach
History of Religions, Society, and Culture
10. The Total Hermeneutics of the New Humanism: Mircea Eliade’s Agenda for Religionswissenschaft
The Grounding of the Sacred as an “Irreducible Element”
Expression and Experience
Structure, History, Intelligibility
Religionswissenschaft, a Total Hermeneutic and the New Humanism
PART III. Poststructuralist, Postcolonialist Analyses
11. “The Center Does Not Hold”: Decentering the “Centrisms” of the Discourse of the Phenomenology of Religion
Phenomenology of Religion and/as Racism
12. The “End of Man” and the Phenomenology of Religion
“Man,” Subject, Consciousness, Geist
The Sickness unto Death of “Man”
The Sicknesses of “Man”
Incipit: Post-“Man”

A critical look at the development of the phenomenological approach to the study of religion, revealing its evaluative and metaphysical concepts.


A penetrating critique of the dominant approach to the study of religion, The Politics of Spirit explores the historical and philosophical scaffolding of the phenomenology of religion. Although this approach purports to give a value-free, neutral description of religious data, it actually imposes a set of metaphysical and evaluative concepts on that data. A very harmful ethnocentrism has resulted, which plagues the academic study of religion to this day. Analysis of the history, core texts, and discursive structure of phenomenology of religion reveals how this ethnocentrism is embedded within its assumptions. Of particular interest is the revelation of the extent to which Hegel's ideas—over those of Husserl—contributed to the tenets that became standard in the study of religion.

Tim Murphy argues that the poststructuralist concept of genealogy, as derived from Nietzsche, can both describe religion better than the phenomenological approach and avoid the political pitfalls of ethnocentrism by replacing its core categories with the categories of difference, contingency, and otherness. Ultimately, Murphy argues that postmodern genealogy should replace phenomenology as the paradigm for understanding both religion and the study of religion.

Tim Murphy is an Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Alabama. He is the author of Nietzsche, Metaphor, Religion, also published by SUNY Press, and Representing Religion: Essays in History, Theory, and Crisis.