Joachim Wach

From The SpiritWiki

Joachim Ernst Adolphe Felix Wach (German: January 25, 1898 – August 27, 1955) was a German religious scholar and sociologist of religion from Chemnitz. He emphasized the significance and importance of Religious Experience (a.k.a. Connection Experience as the foundation and root of Religion and religious expression.

Writings

  • Der Erlösungsgedanke und seine Deutung (1922)
  • Das Verstehen: Grundzüge einer Geschichte der hermeneutischen Theorie im 19. Jahrhundert (3 vols, 1926–1933)
  • Religionswissenschaft: Prolegomena zu ihrer wissenschaftstheoretischen Grundlegung (1924)
  • Meister und Jünger : zwei religionssoziologische Betrachtungen (1924)
  • Sociology of Religion (1947)
  • Types of Religious Experience: Christian and Non-Christian (1951)
  • The Comparative Study of Religions (posthumous, 1958)
  • Understanding and Believing: Essays (1968)
  • Introduction to the History of Religions (1988: English translation of Religionswissenschaft

https://www.lib.uchicago.edu/e/scrc/findingaids/view.php?eadid=ICU.SPCL.WACHGuide to the Joachim Wach Papers] University of Chicago

Notes

Religion

  • Definition: With reference to Rudolph Otto, "Religion is the experience of the Holy." [1] The function of religion is to express, codify, share religious experience. Though he does note, it's complicated. Religion also functions to tie groups together around shared religious experiences and beliefs. Points out that religion has a complex relationship to humanity and society. Complex interplay. Complex and varying functions, and variations in the way these functions are expressed.Here he references cultic acts which tend to "bind together and unite those animated by the same central experience."[2] References Potlatch style ceremonies here as illustrative of the fact that it's complex.
    • As he points out, this definition of religion "stresses the objective character of religious experience in contrast to psychological theories of its purely subjective (illusionary) nature which are so common among anthropologists.[3]
  • Signalled the cultural significance of religion.
  • Had an evolutionary perspective on religion. Saw religion, its practices, dogma, theology, etc., emerging through a contested evolutionary process.
  • Defined religion as an expression, codification of religious experience. Points out there has been a struggle to manifest and express religious experience.
    • "It would be interesting to review the saga of religion as a consistent and more or less successful struggle for the adequate manifestation and expression of religious experience."[4]
  • Wanted to eventually "understand better the various aspects of religious experience itself." [5]
  • He rejects a one-sided theorization of religion that sees it as emerging from as only a consequence of the social, material, economic conditions of society (i.e. as an expression of ruling interests, ideology).
  • Notes that the religious experience tends to objectivity itself in various ways. "Religious experience...enfolds itself in definite attitudes and different forms of expression." [6] This leads to Nomenclature Confusion. He calls for a "grammar" of religious language based on a" comprehensive empirical, phenomenological, and comparative study..."[7]
  • Sociologically, religion emerges as attempts to formulate, express in rights and forms of worship, ethical viewpoints, and practical activities the "sacred knowledge" derived from religious experience.

We find first that the group is united through the recitation of the myths of the tribe. This message expresses and proclaims a new experience of the unknown or the holy. The sacred knowledge might be formulated in individual utterances (prophecy, apophthegmata) or in sermons and tracts as proclaimed revelations. It succeeds in uniting those who open their ears to hear and their hearts to receive the new truth .... Doctrine, whether systematic or codified in the form of dogma, is often first formulated through polemics. This doctrine serves to initiate the first movements towards official organization within the unified group. The eventual definition and codification of a dogma does not end debate, for the desire persists to expound the implicit content of the characteristic experience and to defend it against doubt from within and attack from without. Eventually, divergences of opinion based on differences in temperament and character, as well as in the varying modes of interpretation of the basic experiences, lead to the formation of “schools” which gather about eminent preachers, interpreters, and theologians.13 A further consolidation of the unity of the religious society is achieved by the formulation of confessions and creeds designed both to express and to encourage the solidarity of those who are led and inspired by similar or identical experiences."[8]

  • Sociologically, the "cultus" the organized religion itself, influences backwards the religious experience and its interpretation."Prayer, sacrifice, and ritual not only serve to articulate the experiences of those taking part but contribute in no small measure to the shaping and determining of the organization and spirit of the group."[9]
  • Sees it instead as part of a contest (contested spirituality) and emphasizes that religious experience has had a "great" influence on social structure. [10]
  • Notes that the religious experience tends to objectivity itself in various ways. "Religious experience...enfolds itself in definite attitudes and different forms of expression." [11] This leads to Nomenclature Confusion. He calls for a "grammar" of religious language based on a" comprehensive empirical, phenomenological, and comparative study..."[12]

Religious Experience

Had some interesting things to say about religious experience

  • Notes that religious experience is often massive. A visionary experience can provide a complete, "comprehensive," and "coherent theoretical statement," in symbolic form. [13]
  • Suggests that religious experience is the root of religion

The contributions of the great religious leaders whom we designate “founders of religions” should also be interpreted in the light of this development. In the vision (prime intuition) of each of them is contained a germ of theory, later to be developed into doctrine and from there possibly into dogma either by the founder himself or by his followers.[14]

  • Argues there is an evolutionary character to our understanding of religious experience. "What is expressed by the primitive mind as myth is conceived of in terms of doctrine at a more advanced level of civilization." The establishment of doctrine is handled by an "over-all authority to decide and define doctrine." Once the authorities get control, a unification of doctrines occurs. Note, he misses the corruptions that occur when elites get their hands on mystically based teachings.[15]
  • Suggests religious experience gets expressed theoretically (dogma/doctrine), practically (cultic aspects), and sociologically (in social relationships).
  • Suggested that the cultic/ritual aspects of religion are formalizations of religious experience.

Corruption

  • Is are that the "official creed or statement of beliefs" of a religion may be corrupted by "more or less subtle (self-) deception on the side of the formulators and their followers."[16] Points to psychology, psychosociology, and psychopathology as areas which might shed light on the corruptions, deceptions, etc..

That does not necessarily mean that the official creed or statement of beliefs in which a particular group sees its basic religious experience formulated will have to be taken as an adequate expression or description of the social or psychological motives which contributed to its origin. We have to allow for the possibilities of error and, maybe, of more or less subtle (self-) deception on the side of the formulators and their followers.[17]

Religion and Society

  • Wach does an awesome job of showing all the various ways humans have incorporated religious experience, ritual, and practice into their daily lives, at all levels of social organization. In all cases, a running theme is how cultic practice increases social cohesion and group integrity.
    • Family Cults -- throughout history, the family has been the center of religious activity, training, and observance. "More than any other group, the family is integrated by common religious worship."[18] Worship of Gods, sanctification of life events.
    • Kinship/Clan Cults -- wider community expression beyond the family. Clans function as political, economic, military, and religious units.
    • Local Cults -- Cultic activity organized by proximity. The home, village, colony.
    • Racial Cults --

Footnotes

  1. Wach, Joachim. Sociology of Religion. Routledge Library Editions, Volume 16. New York: Routledge, 2019.
  2. Wach, Joachim. Sociology of Religion. Routledge Library Editions, Volume 16. New York: Routledge, 2019.
  3. Wach, Joachim. Sociology of Religion. Routledge Library Editions, Volume 16. New York: Routledge, 2019.
  4. Wach, Joachim. Sociology of Religion. Routledge Library Editions, Volume 16. New York: Routledge, 2019. Chapter 2, Paragraph 1
  5. Wach, Joachim. Sociology of Religion. Routledge Library Editions, Volume 16. New York: Routledge, 2019.
  6. Wach, Joachim. Sociology of Religion. Routledge Library Editions, Volume 16. New York: Routledge, 2019. Chapter 2, Paragraph 1
  7. Wach, Joachim. Sociology of Religion. Routledge Library Editions, Volume 16. New York: Routledge, 2019.
  8. Wach, Joachim. Sociology of Religion. Routledge Library Editions, Volume 16. New York: Routledge, 2019.
  9. Wach, Joachim. Sociology of Religion. Routledge Library Editions, Volume 16. New York: Routledge, 2019.
  10. Wach, Joachim. Sociology of Religion. Routledge Library Editions, Volume 16. New York: Routledge, 2019.
  11. Wach, Joachim. Sociology of Religion. Routledge Library Editions, Volume 16. New York: Routledge, 2019. Chapter 2, Paragraph 1
  12. Wach, Joachim. Sociology of Religion. Routledge Library Editions, Volume 16. New York: Routledge, 2019.
  13. Wach, Joachim. Sociology of Religion. Routledge Library Editions, Volume 16. New York: Routledge, 2019. Chapter 2, Paragraph 3
  14. Wach, Joachim. Sociology of Religion. Routledge Library Editions, Volume 16. New York: Routledge, 2019.
  15. Wach, Joachim. Sociology of Religion. Routledge Library Editions, Volume 16. New York: Routledge, 2019.
  16. Wach, Joachim. Sociology of Religion. Routledge Library Editions, Volume 16. New York: Routledge, 2019.
  17. Wach, Joachim. Sociology of Religion. Routledge Library Editions, Volume 16. New York: Routledge, 2019.
  18. Wach, Joachim. Sociology of Religion. Routledge Library Editions, Volume 16. New York: Routledge, 2019.