“Disenchantment” of the Bible and the Koran

Thomas Kaufmann and Angelika Neuwirth on the significance and exegesis of the holy scriptures

Prof. Dr. Thomas Kaufmann, Prof. Dr. Angelika Neuwirth, host Dr. Iris Fleßenkämper, Dr. Bernd Busch (Deutsche Akademie für Sprache und Dichtung, German Academy for Language and Literature) (from right to left)
© dak

At the Cluster of Excellence “Religion and Politics”, church historian Prof. Dr. Thomas Kaufmann and scholar of Arabic Studies Prof. Dr. Angelika Neuwirth discussed how Christians and Muslims deal with the Bible and the Koran. Following an invitation from the German Academy for Language and Literature (Deutsche Akademie für Sprache und Dichtung) and the Cluster of Excellence, they talked in Münster about the significance, interpretation and translation of these texts and about the different opinions that existed and exist thereof in the religions in the past and the present. They also discussed the origins of the texts and the canonisation, the development of binding versions of the Bible and the Koran. For that they looked at various exegetical traditions of both religions and the role of institutionalised authorities.

In a short lecture, Thomas Kaufmann outlined the historical development of the Christian understanding of the Bible until the period of Reformation. Christianity not only took over the holy scriptures of Judaism as Old Testament, but also “the openness for translations that was natural to ancient Judaism.” The church historian explained how the Bible, since ancient times, had increasingly become an “instrument of power of the Roman-Catholic clerical church” in Latin. Later, by interpreting and translating the Bible in a revolutionary way, Luther had enabled “participation and interference”.

“Instrument of Enchantment”

As an introduction, Angelika Neuwirth presented the Koran as a text of Late Antiquity that needed to be examined within the context of its date of origin. Thus the “word” in Koran was an “instrument of enchantment” that embedded reality “into a significant before, the time of creation, and a significant after, the end of times”. This “enchantment of the world” granted mankind a new status, “he enjoys ‘double civil rights, namely in this life and in the afterlife’”. The scholar of Arabic studies voiced the impression that, as Max Weber has put it, a “disenchantment” of the holy scripture “has not yet advanced as much in Islam” in modern times and that here the “transcendent embedding of the world is still a source of spiritual fulfilment of the believers.”

On the panel, the researchers discussed how binding versions of the holy scriptures developed. Prof. Neuwirth argued that it is also possible to see historical stages of the textual formation of the Koran although to a far lesser degree than the Bible. Prof. Kaufmann emphasised that even today, the Christian confessions do not see the canon of the biblical books in a completely uniform way. Further, they critically examined the concept of verbal inspiration of the Koran, according to which God himself spoke the text. The researchers discussed to what extent a historical-critical interpretation of the holy scriptures contributed to their “disenchantment” and which effects this could have on the believers' piety.

Area of Tension of Text and Religion

The public panel “Arbeit am Text – Tora, Bibel und Koran” (Working on the text – Torah, Bible and Koran) was part of the national series of events “Wo das Wort ist, da tappe nach” (Where you find the word, go further) (Luther) that was arranged by the Academy on the occasion of the anniversary programme “Luther 2017”. The series is sponsored by the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media. Historian Dr. Iris Fleßenkämper of the Cluster of Excellence hosted the evening.

Prof. Dr. Thomas Kaufmann, Prof. Dr. Angelika Neuwirth, host Dr. Iris Fleßenkämper (from right to left)
© dak

The lecture series “Wo das Wort ist, da tappe nach” (Where you find the word, go further) (Luther) within the framework of the programme “Luther 2017” concentrates in four lectures on the area of tension of between text and religion. The first two lectures took place in Darmstadt and Munich and covered religious tolerance in literature and comparative considerations on the religious and poetic power to inspire. In Münster the focus was on the sacred scriptures of the three monotheistic religions. The scholar of Jewish Studies PD Dr. Ottfried Fraisse from Halle, who had also been invited, had to cancel his attendance at short notice due to damages caused by storms.

The closing event in Cologne on 19 October is about the aesthetic power of religious texts: “The beauty of God's word”. The German Academy for Language and Literature (Deutsche Akademie für Sprache und Dichtung), based in Darmstadt, is dedicated to fostering and supporting the German language. Every year, it awards the Georg-Büchner-Preis, one of the most renowned literature prizes in German-speaking countries. (ill/vvm)