Centre for Advanced Study

at the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters

The Demise of Religions


Active 2018/2019 Humanities - Theology


Historiography tends to be a winners’ affair. The winners’ perspective is one factor that has occluded attention to the topic our group wishes to address: the demise (attrition, disappearance, disintegration, dissolution, death, collapse, dissolution, displacement, dwindling, downfall, eclipse, erosion, extinction) of religions. Another factor is the legacy of older evolutionary accounts. Yet another factor is the grand narrative of secularisation. Finally, another impediment in properly addressing our topic is the tendency to regard successful innovation and creativity as inherently more interesting than slow decline or apathy. These factors have effectively forestalled a general conversation about the fact that many religious groups and traditions have disappeared, in past as well as in present times.

Our group wishes to challenge this situation and provide a comparative analysis of the why and how of the decline of religions. Previous publications on this issue are quite limited. Our group aims to follow up on these initial attempts by providing a comparative, cross-cultural, and cross-historical analysis of processes of the demise of religions. The main shared research agenda of the group will be to develop an overarching analysis, typology, vocabulary, and theory of the demise of religion. The spectrum of cases ranges from religiocide -- the voluntary destruction or dismantling of religions, similar and often connected to genocide, cultural genocide, or cultural cleansing -- to the gradual attrition or creeping erosion of religions.

In order to get at a richer empirical basis, the group will also include cases of threatened or moribund religions. The theoretical agenda of the comparative design of the group will be to discuss and generalise processes, forms, structures, causes, and consequences of the demise of religions. Although this kind of work has been carried out for other cultural elements -- such as, e.g., the demise of specific languages -- it does not yet exist for the study of religion. Among other aspects of this project, we will seek to establish a workshop where we will try to disseminate our focus on the demise of religions to the demise of other cultural phenomena. Thereby we hope to make a cross-disciplinary impact.


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