51st Biennial Meeting of German Historians in Hamburg, 20–23 September 2016
The 51st Biennal Meeting of German Historians will take place at the University of Hamburg from the 20th to the 23rd of September 2016. As in previous years, the Board and Committee of the German Historical Association (VHD) have chosen a theme that should serve as a general orientation for session proposals. This year’s theme is:
Matters of Faith.
This theme is relevant not only for the history of religion but for the histories of science and the humanities as well. It is also an invitation to reflect on the foundations of the discipline of history itself.
Ancient historiography was characterised by tensions between myth and the endeavour to understand the past. With the emergence of history as an academic discipline, anything understood to be a ‘matter of faith’ was dismissed as unfounded speculation and excluded from it. The rules of historiography were established and implemented in order to counter the acceptance of subjective perceptions and beliefs as true and the transmission of apocrypha. Such rules are based on empirical research and logical deduction and intended to lead to knowledge rather than to faith. The rejection of empirically unsubstantiated assumptions about the past, of ‘armchair prophecy’ as Max Weber put it in “Science as a Vocation”, was thus understood as constitutive of the historian’s profession.
The boundaries between faith and knowledge have since become porous, however. This is attested by the concept of ‘religious knowledge,’ the central criterion of which is not the potential for substantiating (revealed) knowledge, but the integration of knowledge bases and their acceptability for particular groups. Even more illuminating for a critical reflection on the history of the discipline is the fact that many theories used to analyse historical processes entail elements that are for all intents and purposes empirically non-falsifiable, i.e., ‘matters of faith.’ There is hardly a better example of this than the theory of secularisation, which like its opposite number, the theory of the persistence of religion in view of ‘religious pluralism’, has constituted in academic discourse since the nineteenth century a narrative with prognostic assumptions that is largely resistant to empiricism.
The theme of ‘matters of faith’ covers not only the relationship between faith and knowledge, but also religion as a subject of historical research. As a disciplinary field in its own right, the history of religion has long been emancipated from that of the church, although the latter remains important in many respects. The Biennal Meeting of German Historians welcomes perspectives from neighbouring disciplines, such as theology and the sociology of religion, that are concerned with the phenomenon of faith. In its transepochal coverage, this 51st Biennal Meeting promises to yield integrative perspectives on ancient, medieval, and modern religious history. Given the high level of specialisation of the field, approaches that straddle established period boundaries are especially welcome.
As in past biennal meetings, not all sessions will be devoted to this main theme. Much of the conference will be concerned with other issues, so that the state of current research in the field can be given a sufficiently broad range of coverage.
The 51st Biennal Meeting of German Historians marks the German Historical Association’s first collaboration with a partner from outside Europe – India – and will thus reinforce ties with that country’s vast and vigorous humanities community. It also takes account of the fact that in the past few years historians in Germany have increasingly turned their attention to the entanglements of European history with that of other regions of the world. The choice of India as a partner country likewise signals the Biennal Meeting’s interest in inquiry that engages transnational and global history perpectives.
You will find further information at www.historikertag.de/Hamburg2016
For registrating, please follow this link.