The History of Knowledge: An Indispensable Perspective for Contemporary History

Even if scholars are no strangers to the history of knowledge, it sometimes feels as though some cultural and social historians are not very open to the subject, at least not in the case of contemporary history. Questions put forward by the history of knowledge are seen as sidetracking research from “real” work or “important” questions. Although I sympathize with this reaction, I cannot see any way around the history of knowledge. Without renewing the discussion on replacing the “society” in Gesellschafts­geschichte with “knowledge,”[1] I agree with Simone Lässig’s inclusive position that the history of knowledge is “a form of social and cultural history that takes ‘knowledge’ as a phenomenon that touches on almost every sphere of human life, and … uses knowledge as a lens to take a new look at familiar historical developments and sources.”[2] In some cases, such as when examining the history of the revolutions of 1989–91 from a longer-term perspective, studying knowledge can also offer historians the opportunity to analyze material never before subjected to historical analysis. Continue reading “The History of Knowledge: An Indispensable Perspective for Contemporary History”

Religious Knowledge and Social Adaptability in the Face of Modernity

Knowledge has long garnered the attention of historians, although their explicit focus has been primarily on science, scholarship, and professional or technical expertise. For a long time, a progress-obsessed notion of society’s inexorable scientification underlay this research interest. Processes of descientification or tendencies to marginalize knowledge received little attention. This lack of attention was also apparent for those forms of knowledge that guided practical and moral behavior or that were considered religious.[1]

As long as scholars viewed religion and religiosity as the antipode to a modernity defined by rationality and secularism, knowledge as an analytical lens did not appear to offer any insights for the history of religion. The reverse was also true. At most, there were histories of theology and of the scientification processes that had helped bring about the Enlightenment and Haskalah in Christianity and Judaism respectively. Continue reading “Religious Knowledge and Social Adaptability in the Face of Modernity”