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Traditional theological concepts, including revelation, shaped academic disciplines as they emerged in nineteenth-century Germany. The first university professor of geography, Carl Ritter, crafted an intriguing spatial history of revelation in his masterful Earth Science in Relation to Nature and the History of Man (1817–1859). The teleological bent of Ritter’s geography and his commitment to intelligent design have encouraged most commentators to regard Ritter as a late manifestation of physicotheology. However, this long-standing explanation of a crucial geographer’s religious platform misconstrues the field’s theological commitments. Physicotheology suffered irreversible losses in the German states in the late eighteenth century. Ritter’s adherence to primordial revelation and biblical literalism typify the religious awakening of the Napoleonic period more than enlightened rationalism. He is best understood as a geographer of religion, dedicated to evangelical missions and intrigued by how the Earth’s features shaped the spread and transformation of religious ideas and practices, including Buddhism.

In: Erudition and the Republic of Letters

The desire to uphold monogenesis encouraged Christian Bunsen (1791-1866) to bridge the Semitic and Indo-European language families. Bunsen’s identifying ancient Egyptian as a linguistic bridge had implications for the supposed history of God’s revelation to humankind, as well as for German conceptions of “Semitic” as a racial category in the 1840s. The rise of Sanskrit as a possible Ursprache, as well as new critical methods and the rationalist critique of revelation, altered the position Egypt once held in ancient wisdom narratives. However, the gradual decipherment of hieroglyphs and efforts to historicize ancient Egyptian encouraged Bunsen to rethink the history of religion. His faith in monogenesis and Bunsen’s deriving Aryans and Semites from a common ancestor did not inhibit the racialization of “Semitic” as a category or reverse the loss of status Hebrew antiquity suffered as other scholars located primordial revelation in the Aryan past. Instead religion itself became racialized.

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In: Philological Encounters