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Understanding Religion from the Inside

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Part of the New Approaches to the Scientific Study of Religion book series (NASR,volume 10)


The scientific study of religious evolution should include a hermeneutic dimension. Information gained by understanding religion from the inside balances systematic, generalized, and descriptive knowledge obtained by objective methods. Without a hermeneutic approach, there is a danger of “systemic blindness”: Hypotheses are constructed without taking the actual complexity of religious systems and experiences into account. Biology deals methodically with the complexity of life forms by specialization and by the choice of appropriate examples to study. Religious studies are obliged to proceed in an analogical manner. In addition, scientific knowledge concerning religion is a reflexive phenomenon. There is a wealth of extra-scientific, trivial knowledge to consider, and straightforward communication with believers is in principle possible. These epistemic aspects support the hermeneutic dimension of the pertinent methodology. Hermeneutics provide, at first sight, proximate causes for religious phenomena. Modeling ultimate causes, however, depends upon a systemic perception of proximate causations and interactions. The “philosophy of understanding” by Jean Paul G. Ricœur is discussed as background or scaffolding for the study of religious evolution.


  • Hermeneutics
  • Hermeneutic circle
  • Measureless complexity
  • Mesocosm
  • Nature writing
  • Systemic blindness
  • Specialization
  • Generalization
  • Systematization
  • Paul Ricœur
  • Proximate cause
  • Ultimate cause

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  • DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-70408-7_4
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Hemminger, H. (2021). Understanding Religion from the Inside. In: Evolutionary Processes in the Natural History of Religion. New Approaches to the Scientific Study of Religion , vol 10. Springer, Cham.

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