Chapter 13 Widengren, Gnosticism, and the Religionsgeschichtliche Schule

In: The Legacy, Life and Work of Geo Widengren and the Study of the History of Religions after World War II
Einar Thomassen
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“Gnosticism” was established as an important field of research in the History of Religions around the turn of the previous century. This happened largely due to the work of the so-called “Religionsgeschichtliche Schule,” which in its attempts to break free from the limiting perspectives of traditional Biblical exegesis, Church history and classical philology discovered “die Gnosis” as a wide area of investigation that allowed for the integration of evidence taken from many different religious contexts and inspired bold hypotheses about inter-religious contacts and influence. Scholars such as Wilhelm Bousset (1865–1920) and Richard Reitzenstein (1861–1931) were particularly prominent figures in this line of research. It is therefore hardly surprising that when Geo Widengren made his contribution at the famous conference on the origins of Gnosticism in Messina in 1966, it was precisely this tradition of scholarship he, as a self-conscious historian of religions, associated himself with and sought to defend.

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