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Religions in World- and Global History

A View from the German-language Discussion

Hans-Heinrich Nolte

The author argues that religious history is underestimated in its importance for World- and Global history. The history of religions is quite often an established sub-discipline within convincing research traditions. In order to reconstruct the past adequately, historians need academically controlled data about the beliefs of the people they are dealing with. This book offers ten examples from a wide range of religious beliefs which show that developments in religion have far reaching consequences for general history – in the change from Empire to the system of European nations, in establishing social disciplines as part of capitalist societies, in attempts of semi-peripheral states struggling for a place in the European World-System, in defence of Muslim societies on the peripheries and in postcolonial Africa.
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II. Case-Studies


II.    Case-Studies

II.1    Some famous ones

On the role of religions in World History I shall neither present the most famous cases as religion in India, which inter alia Said Arjomand and Sujata Patel have sketched,68 nor elaborate on the problems of Islam and Secularism.69 Also I only recall, that the oldest world-systems are religious ones, which started two and a half millennia ago in the “Achsenzeit”.70

We are accustomed to writing global history of religions in the sense of worldwide connections and entanglements, especially in the histories of expansions, what in Christianity would be called history of missions. But it was and is more than that – transnational and transcontinental intellectual exchange by preaching and by books71 and by travelling persons, by “preachers”.72 Examples are many: for instance the Buddhist monk, who founded the Wild-Goose-Pagoda in ← 29 | 30 → Xi’an in China in the 7th century, Ibn Battuta from Tanger, who lived as a Muslim teacher and even Kadi in many countries between Mali and China in the 14th,73 and the Herrnhut missions, which connected the small German village of that name governed by the Count of Zinzendorf to the Caribbean, to South Africa and to India in the 18th. and 19th. centuries.74

II.2    Catholic Church and European World System in the 13th. century.

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