With the growing awareness of the importance of ‘religion’ in the modern world, the debate about this complex notion becomes more intense, intensified and confused. Some argue that this notion is a meaningless ‘theological’ construction and must be replaced by the concept of culture, whereas other authors defend the view that it refers to very real and distinct phenomena, whereas again others claim that religion is more often than not located in other fields, such as esthetics or politics. The present-day predicament in which ‘religion’ is a deeply contested notion has led to much research into its genealogy.
This project, however, does not focus so much on the emergence of the concept of religion, as on the use of it by two types of groups which can be characterized by the terms ‘moderns’ and ‘anti-moderns’. In the Netherlands for instance, the Neo-Calvinist politician and theologian Abraham Kuyper famously spoke in 1871 of the ‘fata morgana of modernism’, attacking his own former teachers at Leiden university, whereas in the Catholic world a fierce struggle began in the late nineteenth century between scholars such as Alfred Loisy, George Tyrrell and Friedrich von Hügel at the one hand and the offical Roman Catholic institutions on the other. Both groups – which, of course, are quite heterogeneous – define themselves by framing and reframing concepts such as ‘religion’, ‘magic’, and ‘superstition’. The actual focus will be on the international debates among influential protagonists in this renewned struggle des anciennes et des modernes, focussing on religion, modern(ity) and a modernized religion around 1900 in Germany, Great Britian and the Netherlands. Special point of attention will be the space that is allocated to religion, along different ‘scales’ such as rational – emotional, political – non-political, private and public.