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Book: Global Phenomenologies of Religion

Chapter: Phenomenology of Religion Meets Theory of Science - A Lethal Encounter: Interviews with Peter Antes and Hubert Seiwert (Germany)

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.38467


Phenomenology of religion started to disappear during the 1960s and 70s in Germany and has remained marginal as a method in the comparative study of religions, with some notable exceptions mentioned in the interviews with Peter Antes and Hubert Seiwert. The two interviewees also address developments in Germany between 1948/9 and 1990 covering what was happening in two nations during the German division and two quite different academic cultures. German language publications of relevance appeared also in other European countries. Revisiting the history of the phenomenology of religion (PoR) in the memory of scholars in German-language contexts thus includes scholars active in Switzerland and Austria and other countries.

The interview texts with the commentaries aim to give an overview of the overall situation and the current state of debate. The two interviewees both clearly emphasize in differing ways that they reject, even strongly disapprove of, PoR because of significant flaws. They point out these flaws and recount the academic and political contexts of past debates. Antes is one of the witnesses of the demise of PoR in Germany in the 1970s and has remained a strong defender of the academic study of religions. Seiwert belonged to a group of young students who vehemently criticized PoR in the 1970s. From 1979 to 1994, the year he became professor in Leipzig, he worked at the University of Hannover. An essay with his critique appeared as early as 1977 in the journal Zeitschrift für Missionswissenschaft und Religionswissenschaft (Journal for Missionary Studies and Religious Studies). The essay of the then doctoral student is accompanied by a short supportive introduction by a professor in the field: Peter Antes. In his essay, Seiwert shows, following Karl Popper, that Friedrich Heiler’s (1892–1967) proposition that the cause for the act of transcending the “belief in immortality” cannot be falsified, and therefore does not qualify as a result of an empirically verifiable methodology. This shows, in a nutshell, Hubert Seiwert’s fundamental and critical view of PoR. The interview with Peter Antes took place on 23 February 2018 at his home in Hannover. It was conducted in German. The interview with Hubert Seiwert took place in a series of short e-mail sessions between March and May 2018 and was conducted in English.

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