Popular Religion In Old Testament Research: Past, Present & Future -- By: Jules Gomes

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 54:1 (NA 2003)
Article: Popular Religion In Old Testament Research: Past, Present & Future
Author: Jules Gomes

Popular Religion In Old Testament Research:
Past, Present & Future

Jules Gomes


The heightened interest in the study of popular religion in various disciplines has led to scholars giving it consideration in the field of biblical studies. The ‘popular religion movement’, if one can so call recent developments, has, up to now, had no voice within traditional biblical criticism that makes little room for the ‘religion of the marginalised’. Even more complex are the issues of definition, scope, and method from which scholars of popular religion struggle to extricate themselves. Nevertheless, given the cross fertilisation with ancillary disciplines and the rise of new perspectives on scripture from different continents, such a pursuit does offer surprises that can contribute to mainstream critical thought. This paper examines the history of the ‘popular religion movement’ and negotiates methodological possibilities for the future.

1. Introduction

The study of popular religion in the past has never really been popular in biblical or non-biblical research.1 Ignored by the history-of-religions school in biblical studies and overshadowed by the study of major comparative religions in non-biblical research, the study of popular religion is only just beginning to raise its head and find its footing. Despite the sudden flurry of publications on the topic, particularly in the non-biblical arena,2 in biblical research a

consensus3 on definition, content, method, sources, ideology and nature of popular religion4 (or religions5 ) is still a long way off.

This paper intends to add to the ferment of discussion by examining why popular religion was marginalised in the past, what its present status is, and consequently where it could proceed in the future.

2. History Of Research

Since its emergence, the study of biblical religion was almost entirely monopolised by the historical approach which proved unhelpful to the identification and development of Popular Religion as a legitimate field of exploration.

Rationalism at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries, in a bid to free itself from dogmatics and to demonstrate that biblical religion was reasonable, tended to explain all that fell short of rational criteria as an accommodation to inferior ideas of popular thought or as a compromise t...

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