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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


RPP: Religion Past & Present

Religion Past And Present: Encyclopedia of Theology And Religion (Complete 10 volume set)

Religion Past & Present:, Volume 1 (A-Bhu): Encyclopedia of Theology and Religion by Hans Dieter Betz, Don S. Browning, Bernd Janowski, Eberhard Jungel (Religion Past and Present: Brill Academic Publishers)

Religion Past and Present, Volume 2 (Bia-Chr) by Hans Dieter Betz, Don S. Browning, Bernd Janowski, and Eberhard Jungel (Religion Past and Present: Brill Academic Publishers) not seen

Religion Past and Present, Volume 3 (Chu-Deu) by Hans Dieter Betz, Don S. Browning, Bernd Janowski, and Eberhard Jungel (Religion Past and Present: Brill Academic Publishers) See below for review

Religion Past & Present: A-Bhu: Encyclopedia of Theology and Religion by Hans Dieter Betz, Don S. Browning, Bernd Janowski, Eberhard Jungel (Religion Past and Present: Brill Academic Publishers) At this time I’ve only seen the first volume, but this eventually 10 volume set offers a very fundamental  survey of Christian religious thought with a reasonable representation of Jewish and Islamic influences. The volumes do not represent Eastern religious traditions except in a once over lightly fashion. I have included the subject areas because it best describes the strengths of this reference book which is in its theological considerations of major religious themes as institutionally defined primarily by Christian dogmatics, secondarily considered is the Jewish tradition, with some nods to the Islamic especially in its historical modes.  There are articles on the major non-Western religions but for the most part none are representative or integrated into the theological discussions that the reference chronicles. Perhaps some future edition, where comparative theologies have wrangled with the nature of Buddha and the divine, the paramitas and virtues, the nature of prayer, the rise of Pentecostalism and other features of our global religious outlook.

However if you overlook this lack of balanced broad focus, and instead concentrate on what the reference volumes actually offer, someone seeking elucidation of the major themes and traditions of Western European, especially Germanic, religious engagement will find this reference quite useful.  From examining only this first volume it was difficult to gauge to what degree orthodoxy in its Greek and Russian forms are given full scope, nor was it easy to tell how well their theological traditions are integrated into the discussions present.


This English version Religion Past and Present (RPP) is a translation and adaptation of the fourth edition of Religion in Geschichte tend Gegenwart (RGG). This work provides the reader with a depth and breadth of information unmatched by any comparable theological reference work in the English language. In its compre­hensiveness and through its systematic presentation of the material, RPP offers a coherent theological vision rooted in the tradition of modern Protestantism without, however, being bound to any particular theological school or program. In doing so, it recalls the tradition of the universal encyclopedia, providing a compendium of material extending across a wide and diverse range of disciplines. It covers not only all the major theological disciplines (biblical studies, church history, systematic theology, ethics, church law and practical theology) but also allied fields such as history, philosophy, sociology, psychology, science, law and economics. In addition, there are a substantial number of entries on topics in literature, music and the arts. Naturally, the entire field of religious studies is represented, as is the range of religious experience found in traditions other than Christian­ity. But in addition to its aim of comprehensiveness, RPP strives to be both international and contemporary, providing the reader with summary of the state of each discipline at the dawn of the twenty-first century. Although its language is terse and compact, befitting an encyclopedia, RPP will appeal to a wide range of read­ers. For the sake of readability, abbreviations in the text have been minimized, and RPP's style follows current academic convention in following, where appropriate, that of the Society of Biblical Literature. In short, this is a reference work that embodies the highest standards of contemporary scholarship without sacrificing clarity and accessibility.

In the interest of mediating the full depth and scope of the German work, we have been selective and conservative about making changes.

We are convinced that readers will benefit from learning how topics are approached from perspectives which may stand at variance with their own habits and styles of thought. At the same time, the work has been selectively adapted to bring out the international character and intent of the original. This has been done in the first place by omitting a number of minor articles that were written primarily for the especially German circumstances of the original audience. We have also lightly edited some articles in order to meet the needs of the international reader. In adapting the work we were guided by the principle: as little as possible, but as much as necessary. We have, however, been able to add a small number of new articles, including biographical ones on figures such as Gerhard Ebeling, Paul Ricoeur, Hans-Georg Gadamer, John Paul II, who have died since the publication of the German work. In addition, we have tried to aid the reader by providing information about existing English editions where available and accessible, including originally English items which RGG cites only in German translation. At the same time, we have resisted any temptation to equate international scholarship with works written in or translated into English, and the bibliographies contain references to works in all major European and many non-European languages. 

Preface to the Fourth Edition

As the fourth edition is published, the RGG has almost reached the century mark in its history. Both in their entirety and as individual articles, the four editions together reflect the 19th and 20th centuries in a way unmatched by virtually any other document in the history of religious and theological scholarship.

Alongside the evident differences between the editions, it is not difficult to see the points of agreement. The planning for the first edition (1909-1913) in 1904-1906 already linked its intent to summarize the state of research of the 19th century with an extension of perspective beyond the traditional primary disciplines, listed as the history of extra-Christian religion, art and music, education, the social sciences, church law and church politics, as well as contemporary Christianity. This basic concept continued to apply in the subsequent editions, though the overall perspective and the attention given to individual subject areas were necessarily subject to change as appropriate.

The preparations for the second edition (1927-1932), which began shortly after the end of the First World War, amounted almost to a complete revision. The 1927 Preface lists its aims as consideration of the new gen­eral situation in theology, an increased emphasis on non-Christian religions and the interplay between religion and culture (art, literature, philosophy, the social sciences) as well as an account of the results of scholarly endeavor thus far, in view of the "dynamism and abundance of present-day religious and theological life," as it cautiously puts it.

The third edition (1957-1965) emerged at the time of European reconstruction after the catastrophe of the Second World War. It was a result of the new orientation in the church and theology in view of the collapse that occurred at the end of the war, a collapse that had left nothing but ruins in the fields of religion, theology, and the church. A feature of this edition was the seriousness with which the "Protestant" Christian faith was now regarded as well as its deliberate location in the increasingly significant ecumenical movement among the churches. From these points of view, established wisdom and the recently added reservoir of knowledge was sifted and set out in accessible order. The fact that this edition was tailored largely to the prevailing circum­stances in the German-speaking world contributed, paradoxically enough, to its abiding importance.

It is appropriate here, finally, to point out a further point of agreement between the editions up to now. All three editions would never have been possible without the initiative, risk-accepting courage and resolute com­mitment of the publishing house of Mohr Siebeck. The new fourth edition also stands in this tradition.

The developments of the last 50 years in the areas of science and technology have not left the world of reli­gions untouched. For one thing the general economic upturn and the global expansion of scholarly research in old and new subject areas have led to an accumulation of knowledge that would scarcely have been conceivable in earlier times. Not only this, but on the basis of new knowledge, methods and perspectives scholarly think­ing has itself undergone radical change, though the extent of these changes and their effects on the fields of theology and religious studies are not yet clear. In addition a new ecumenical appreciation of the problems has established itself.

So what does "completely revised" mean in relation to the fourth edition? Completely revised, first of all, are the list of subject areas and the list of entries, though the tracking down of gaps and overlaps by careful com­parison with earlier editions was only the beginning. The lists of subjects and lemmata then had to be adjusted to the new scholarly circumstances. New too is the international perspective in the commissioning of area edi­tors and authors, extending beyond Europe. For the editors too, this expansion made the preparatory work a voyage of discovery in less familiar fields. The journey was longer than expected, and on the way we learned to appreciate our traveling companions, the area editors, authors, editors and the publisher. For our part we now invite readers to discoveries in the variety of articles in the new RGG.

The articles take their orientation by the following guidelines:

I. The fourth edition of RGG, too, sees itself as a continuation of the aim that began with the first edition to provide a reference dictionary for theology and religious studies that would give an account of the essential phenomena of religious and ecclesiastical life and of the theological reflection pertaining to this life. Despite all the necessary changes, the traditional framework of the division of subjects has been largely maintained. The title, however, has dropped its former definite article, which was open to misunderstanding. The dictionary is now called "Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart".

2. In dealing with the evangelic heart of the Christian faith, Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart is to be so presented that readers are informed in the best way possible in the available space and that they are given the wherewithal to form a balanced view in relation to other and alien religious realities as well as their own. The RGG is not committed to any particular theological tendency or school.

3. The articles should offer a snapshot of the current state of knowledge, present the relevant methodologi­cal issues and draw attention to open questions and tasks for future research.

4. Regarding the problem of how to refer to the Jewish Scriptures and the Christian Old Testament in articles and article headings, a rule was established that should ensure the cooperation of all authors. Follow­ing a number of discussions aimed at facilitating Christian-Jewish cooperation on biblical texts, an interna­tional compromise solution has emerged which has in the meantime been acknowledged by all sides and has established itself. In accordance with this, both Old Testament and Hebrew Bible are used as standard terms. Authors are free to use either of these terms.

5. In order to avoid imbalance in the compilation or an arbitrary selection, the fourth edition of RGG has refrained from including articles on persons who are still alive. Significant figures in contemporary history may be found in the corresponding specialized articles via the index.

6. The bibliographical information in RGG has been kept brief in view of the many possibilities of access to detailed bibliographies in modern databases. Mention is made of standard works, text editions, biographies, and special monographs essential for scholarly work, important journal articles, as well as references to com­plete bibliographies in other publications. No bibliographies are given for the history of interpretation of bibli­cal books, since these are now available in up-to-date commentaries and electronic media.

7. Although the home ofRGG is in Germany, from the first edition on, it has been a feature of the work to take in a perspective beyond the national boundaries. This orientation will be reinforced in the fourth edition, so that the dictionary will in future have an even stronger international profile and also be able to serve as a source of information for countries beyond Europe.

Subject Areas and Area Editors

  • Biblical and Christian Archaeology

    • Hermann Michael Niemann, Rostock, in cooperation with Guntram Koch, Marburg

  • Church History: Asia, Africa, Latin America

    • Klaus Koschorke, Munich, in cooperation with Johannes Meier, Mainz, Kevin Ward, Leeds, England, and Martin N. Dreher, Sao Leopoldo, Brazil

  • Church History: Early Church

    • Christoph Markschies, Berlin (preparation until 1995: Barbara Aland, Munster)

  • Church History: Middle Ages and Reformation Ulrich Köpf, Tubingen

  • Church History: Europe in Modern Times I

    • Albrecht Beutel, Münster (until vol. II: Johannes Wallman, Bochum)

  • Church History: Europe in Modern Times II

    • Friedrich Wilhelm Graf, Munich (until vol. II: Joachim Mehlhausen, Tubingen)

  • Church History: North America, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand

    • Mark A. Noll, Wheaton, IL (until vol. I: Martin E. Marty, Chicago, IL)

  • Church Music and Liturgy

    • Franz Karl Prathl, Graz, Austria, in cooperation with Anthony William Ruff, Collegeville, MN (until vol. III: Don E. Saliers, Atlanta, GA, in cooperation with Robin A. Leaver, Princeton, NJ; vol. IV: J. Neil Alexander, Atlanta, GA)

  • Church Law

    • Christoph Link, Erlangen

  • Culture, Art, Media, and Religion

    • Enno Rudolph, Lucerne, Switzerland, in cooperation with Thomas Schmidt, Gottingen, Reinhard Schmidt-Rost, Bonn, and Peter Burke, Cambridge, England (until vol. I: Frank Burch Brown, Indianapolis, IL, in cooperation with Rainer Volp, Mainz, and Graham Howes, Cambridge, England)

  • Ecumenism: Catholicism

    • Peter Neuner, Munich (preparation until 1995: Werner G. Jeanrond, Lund, Sweden)

  • Ecumenism: Orthodox Church Karl Christian Felmy, Erlangen Ecumenism: Reformed Churches

    • Mark A. Noll, Wheaton, IL (until vol. I: Glenn Hinson, Richmond, VA)

  • Dogmatics

    • Christoph Schwöbel, Tubingen Ethics and Related Social Sciences Eilert Herms, Tubingen

  • Fundamental Theology

    • Christoph Schwöbel, Tubingen

  • History of Religion: Prehistory to the Ancient Near East

    • Manfred Hutter, Bonn (until vol. IV: Firtz Stolz, Zurich, Switzerland)

  • History of Religion: Greco-Roman Antiquity Hubert Cancik, Tubingen

  • History of Religion: Pre-Islamic Religions, Islam and Arab Christianity

    • Josef van Ess, Tubingen

  • History of Religion: South, Central and East Asia Hubert Seiwert, Leipzig

  • History of Religion: Other Religions

    • Lawrence Sullivan, Notre Dame, IN

  • Judaism: Early Judaism

    • Peter Schafer, Berlin and Princeton, NJ, in cooperation with Klaus Herrmann, Berlin

  • Judaism: Middle Ages and Modern Times

    • Michael Brenner, Munich (until vol. II: Joseph Dan, Jerusalem, Israel and Berlin)

  • New Testament

    • Hans-Josef Klauck, Chicago, IL

  • Old Testament/Hebrew Bible

    • Eckart Otto, Munich and Pretoria, South Africa

  • Philosophy

    • Gunter Figal, Freiburg i.Br. Philosophy of Religion

    • Christoph Schwöbel, Tubingen

  • Practical Theology and Related Social Sciences, Education

    • Christian Grethlein, Münster (until vol. I: Friedrich Schweitzer, Tubingen in cooperation with Richard R. Osmer, Princeton, NJ, and Volker Drehsen, Tubingen)

  • Religion and Science

    • Ted Peters, Berkeley, CA (until vol. III: Philip Hefner, Chicago, IL)

  • Religious Studies

    • Manfred Hutter, Bonn (until vol. IV: Fritz Stolz, Zurich, Switzerland)

  • Religious Studies and Missiology Werner Ustorf, Birmingham, England

Religion Past and Present, Volume 3 (Chu-Deu) by Hans Dieter Betz, Don S. Browning, Bernd Janowski, and Eberhard Jungel (Religion Past and Present: Brill Academic Publishers) As might be expected a full quarter, 200 of 800 pages is devoted variations on Church.

The idea of church is discussed at many levels: theological, philosophical, and political.    The understanding of the Church as a specifically Christian theological construct has been neutralized to represent any religious collectivity of people.  Still the editorial focus is on the Christian Churches per se.

There is a discussion of the nature of discipleship and the characteristics of Jesus’ message around the imminent coming of the Kingdom of God. A brief history of the Western churches then outlined; followed by a description of the Orthodox churches and Church formations in Asia Africa and Latin America.

Next volume 3 deals with the theological dimensions of the church, especially in the formation of dogmatics. Protestant Catholic views are discussed at length. Practical theology and ethics as well as ecumenical ecclesiastical law and a brief discussion on when it is fitting for church admission each have an entry in this volume. The church as an advocate is discussed as well as the nature of the confessional Church in modern-day Germany.  How the church interacts with the media is discussed

The next major section dealing with church treats specifically church and state issues. After a survey history which also includes a section on North America and the development of orthodoxy, the legal, theological and political aspects of church state relations are surveyed. And this is only the first 35 pages!

Church Architecture has an extensive illustrated treatment of 55 pages, inclusive of historical and architectural details development to modern day. Discipline, dues, elections, governance, growth, levies, membership, order, politics, polity, reform, registers, schools, seal, seating, studies, taxes, unity. The churched and unchurched, The Church of England, of Ireland, of South India, and the several Church of God are treated. Major sections are reserved for church history, Music, Song, and music scholarship, church polity, liturgical year, and Church-state agreements.

The following lists of entries are ones I thought especially noteworthy: circumcision, city cult, city mission, civil rights, social class, clergy, climate change, clinical pastoral education, clothing and vestments, cloud of Unknowing,  club of Rome, colleges and universities, colonialism and neocolonialism, commandment, common sense realism, communications and communications theory, communism, community,  community movement, compassion, concilarism, formula of concord, confession, confirmation, consciousness, consecration, Constantinople, Byzantium, constellations, conversion, Copts, cosmology, council, counter-Reformation,  covenant,  creation, creed, criminal law, crisis cults, cross / crucifixion, crusades, cult / worship, culture. Dalai Lama description of the office begins the extensive articles for D. Then follows, Damascus, damnation, dance, Darwinism, dasein, days of prayer and repentance, cult of the dead, death, death penalty, Decalogue, dechristianization, decision, deconstruction, deeds and consequences, deism, the demonic, demons and spirits, demythologization, denominations,  decent into hell, desire / lack of desire,  determinism and indeterminism, deuteronomistic history, Deuteronomy. This selection does not represent the full range of entries, names of cities, states,  historic buildings and organizations were not noted.

Here follows a selection of people covered in brief entries, usually less than half a page, or not quite one column:  Bernard of Cles, Clare of Assisi,  Matthias Claudius, Clement (many),  George Albert Coe, Henry Sloane Coffin, Hermann Cohen, Thomas Coke, Samuel Collenbusch, John Coltrane, Confucius,  Constantine the Great, Pedro de Cordoba, Hernan Cortes, Isaac de Costa,, Charles Edward Coughlin, Miles Coverdale, William Cowper, Ralph Adams, Cram, David Creamer, August Hermann Cremer, Thomas Cromwell, Samuel Ajayi Crowther, Oscar Cullmann, Franz Cumont,. The D begin toward the end of the volume with several names: Uriel da Costa, Robert Lewis Dabney, Salvador Dali, Dante Alighieri, John Nelson Darby, Petrus Dathenus, Carl Daub, David, Donald Davidson,  Robertson Davies, Gustav Adolf Deissmann, Frederick Delius, Alfred Delp, Heinrich Suso Denifle, Jacques Derrida, Johann Deutschmann. This is a smattering of people identifies. Except for important personages such as David, most entries for people are brief and for identification only as it relates to religion.