E.J. Hutchinson Nota Bene

Bavinck on Comparative Religion and Comparative Philology

In the nineteenth century, the methods of comparative philology were often transferred to interpret and explain cultural phenomena such as religion. Herman Bavinck offers a pithy caution against taking such an approach too far:

The philosophical premise that all religions are essentially the same and only differ in forms is directly contradicted by unbiased historical investigation. The comparison between the study of religions and that of languages is indeed popular, and in many respects there exists a striking resemblance between the two. But this resemblance must not blind us to the difference. In the study of language, we do not speak of heretics, schismatics, and heathens, but in religion we encounter these and similar terms everywhere. And it is contrary to the perspective of unbiased research to dismiss these terms beforehand as immaterial and worthless. Religious indifferentism is, for many reasons, untenable. (Reformed Dogmatics vol. 1, 248)

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.