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Themenfeld 3



All members and fellows of the consortium are invited to the meeting:

1. Introduction to the research focus (see below)

2. Lecture of Nadia Al-Bagdadi: The scandal of translation: a case study  in the politics of religious language (see below)


1. Religious Language – an introduction

by Lucian Hölscher

In Research Field 3 one of the main discussions concerning the emergence, change and transfer of religious concepts is about the character of religious languages: Can „religion“ be described by certain concepts, idioms or ways of communication, which may be called exclusively religious? Is religious language something distinct from secular language? When and how did it emerge and disappear in certain societies? Is there a transfer of religious concepts or languages between different societies and how was this described by contemporary observers?

The discussion of such questions has covered much of the last two years. In a basic contribution of December 2010 the Frankfurt philosopher Gesche Linde has discussed several approaches to the definition of religious languages: by defining words, texts and other sets of linguistic units, situations of communication and the speech of religious groups as being “religious”, looking from the side of the speaker and of the hearer to the understanding of religion. Summing up she observed that what we call “religious” in such activities depends very much on those who participate in such speech acts. The act of defining them as being religious is part of the game and hence part of the object which we as scientific observers investigate.

In an earlier paper Lucian Hölscher analysed the dictionary of the German lexicographer Johann Christoph Adelung (Wörterbuch der hochdeutschen Mundart, 1st ed. 1777, 2nd ed. 1793) looking for religious identifiers in the semantic description of words. As he found out, only very few words (such as God, devil, church) were characterised as being religious exclusively; most entries combine religious with secular meanings. What may be described as a religious vocabulary seems either to represent an earlier, already by the end of the 18th century old-fashioned state of language (as it was used in the Lutheran translation of the Bible); or it becomes religious in a given discourse only by referring to exclusively religious key-words.

In the research year 2011/12 the debate will go on with contributions on Bible translations (Nadia Al Bagdadi) and to the definition of religious vocabularies in the Near and Far East. A first step in this direction was made by Stefan Reichmuth in a paper on “Religion und Sprache im islamischen religiösen Feld zwischen Deutschland und Nahost” (2010) and a presentation on the definition of religious concepts in an English dictionary of the 19th century. We look forward to further contributions to this field of research.

Bochum, April 21st, 2011


2. Against the background of Arab modernity and of the nahda, I shall discuss the two competing, first modern translations of the Bible into modern Arabic. Faris al-Shidyaq’s translation, produced in Cambridge, England (around 1850),and Butrus al-Bustani’s, produced in Beirut, Lebanon (1860) demarcate a defining moment of modern confessionalization processes and an illustrious example of the uses and abuses of religious language.

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