Troeltsch and Modem American Religion / Troeltsch et la religion américaine moderne - article ; n°1 ; vol.58, pg 85-116
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Troeltsch and Modem American Religion / Troeltsch et la religion américaine moderne - article ; n°1 ; vol.58, pg 85-116

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Archives des sciences sociales des religions - Année 1984 - Volume 58 - Numéro 1 - Pages 85-116
32 pages
Source : Persée ; Ministère de la jeunesse, de l’éducation nationale et de la recherche, Direction de l’enseignement supérieur, Sous-direction des bibliothèques et de la documentation.



Publié par
Publié le 01 janvier 1984
Nombre de lectures 21
Langue Français
Poids de l'ouvrage 3 Mo


Théodore Steeman
Troeltsch and Modem American Religion / Troeltsch et la
religion américaine moderne
In: Archives des sciences sociales des religions. N. 58/1, 1984. pp. 85-116.
Citer ce document / Cite this document :
Steeman Théodore. Troeltsch and Modem American Religion / Troeltsch et la religion américaine moderne. In: Archives des
sciences sociales des religions. N. 58/1, 1984. pp. 85-116.
doi : 10.3406/assr.1984.2328 Sc soc des Rel. 1984 58/1 juillet-septembre) 85 116
Théodore STEEMAN
Dans ses Soziallehren Troeltsch ne est pas particulièrement
étendu sur le thème du protestantisme américain mais il indi
quait clairement il convenait en parler sous les rubriques res
pectives de (L glise Libre et du Protestantisme ascétique Il
affirmait du reste que ce type de néo-calvinisme constituait une
phase historique de glise chrétienne comparable au catholicisme
médiéval sur le plan de sa portée culturellement formatrice
En son temps pourtant Troeltsch remarque agissant aussi du
christianisme américain que les bonnes relations implicites entre
les organisations chrétiennes et la société profane étaient termi
Cet article rappelle dans un premier temps la perspective socio-
historique de Troeltsch sur le christianisme Ensuite il montre que
on peut effectivement interpréter histoire du protestantisme
américain au début de ce siècle dans les termes de ap
proche troeltschienne Enfin en essayant appliquer la perspec
tive de Troeltsch des développements qui lui sont ultérieurs et
en allant au-delà de Troeltsch cet article démontre que le chris
tianisme américain tant protestant que catholique adopté
une attitude nouvelle égard de la société profane laquelle était
étrangère Troeltsch une attitude où glise se comporterait en
critique loyal
What-if questions are notoriously difficult to answer and trying to do so is
usually an exercice in futility Among such questions are am sure the follo
wing What would Troeltsch have said if he had been able to observe the
present-day religious scene how would Troeltsch have applied to modern Wes
tern religion the theoretical perspective that he opened up in his distinction bet
ween Church Sect and Mysticism if he had had the opportunity to do so The
answer is simply that we will never know such questions are as questions ille
gitimate Quite legitimate however and much less pretentious is to try to adopt
the Troeltschean perspective and to see without claiming that one is backed up
by authority whether one can put it to work for better understand-
ing of present-day religious realities in the cultural area on which
analyses were focused Western civilization and Western Christianity Having
found perspective helpful as providing key to the understanding of
the main outline of the development of the Christian West would find it sur
prising if that same would not mutatis mutandis be fruitful for the
ordering of our experience with religion in Américain society as it developed af
ter the time of writing
In sociological circles Troeltsch is of course best known for his typology
of Christian churches and groups i.e the distinction between Church Sect and
Mysticism with the Free Church or Denomination just lurking under the sur
face though not presented as fourth type In an earlier publication have
made the case however that these types function in uvre not so
much as abstract transhistorical concepts intended to identify révélant formal
differences between various forms of religious organization but incorporated
both periodization in the history of the Christian movement and an internal
dynamic which Troeltsch sees at work in that history will not repeat these
analyses here but rather concentrate on the underlying perspective that
Troeltsch brings to bear on his material
Starting points
For Troeltsch Christianity finds its origin and basic inspiration in the his
torical fact of the prophecy of Jesus which centered upon the belief in gra
cious and loving God whom Jesus calls Father and whose love and concern ex
tend to the whole human family while demanding ethical perfection in the love
of humans for humans Acceptance of Jesus preaching leads to the formation of
Kirchen und Gruppen variety of sociological formations based on different
understandings of the central concern of the Christian message In the history of
the Christian movement one can discern three such basically distinguishable
emphases differentiated out in the course of time but retrospectively traceable
to three basic orientations present in the original writings of the Christian move
ment Troeltsch characterizes them by the form of their social organization
Church Sect and Mysticism As forms of Christian association they govern in
ternally the ethical lifestyle of their membership and externally their attitude to
ward the larger society and thus represent typical modes of mediation between
the Gospel and the secular world
We can briefly describe the three types
The Church is based on the universalism salvific will
extends to all of humanity and consequently Christianity must adopt an open
posture toward the realities of the secular world in which its members have to live
their lives thus the Church is community of saints and sinners where for
giving acceptance of the repenting sinner is preached
The Sect is based on the high ethical demands of the Scriptures notably
of the Sermon on the Mount thereby making membership in the Christian com-
munity hard to obtain and to maintain at the same time the Sect separates its
members from the secular world which it rejects as given over to sin
Mysticism builds on those elements in the scriptural tradition notably in
Paul and John which emphasize the intimacy of the soul with God in Jesus
Christ this leads to the cultivation of individual spiritual well-being in groups of
like-minded people and to an attitude of social indifferentism
Two remarks are in order First of all the three types remain intermingled
in the earliest phases of Christian history and are differenciated only in the lon
ger historical process But even then the three basic motifs are never fully sepa
rated Differentiation of one organizational type means the predominance of one
of the basic motifs in particular instance never excluding the presence of the
other motifs completely For this reason we find in work cases of
combinations of typical traits as well as instances in which classification
along the lines of the basic types becomes difficult even impossible The impe
tus coming from the New Testament writings is constant and keeps the three
motifs present at every moment of Christian history Keeping this caveat in
mind and not expecting that Troeltsch would always be able to fit each of the
various historical groupings neatly into one of his types we can nevertheless
discern how Troeltsch uses the typology to describe in terms of basic tendencies
in the Gospel message the development of Christianity up to his own time 3)
Implied in the above remarks is that Troeltsch saw the sociological forms
of Christianity both as ways in which Christian movement organized itself in
ternally and as ways in which it articulated itself externally in relation to the
surrounding socio-economic political and cultural environment In fact one of
the principal foci of his discussion is the relationship between the internal orga
nizational structure and the formative potential for the surrounding society
main concern from the very outset is it should be recalled to ex
plore how Christianity might contribute to the shape of modern society His his
torical work is an effort to see how this relationship between the Christian mes
sage and the surrounding society had been worked out in the past The presup
position of this approach is that the Christian movement can be viewed as rela
tively independent vis-a-vis its environment as having an internal dynamic of
its own and as relating to the larger society with certain amount of free
dom and in variety of ways Thus one should not expect to find one-to-
one relation between events belonging to the history of the Christian movement
and events belonging to the simultaneous history of the secular world The his
tory of the Christian movement is rather to be seen as the continuous but varied
response of the Christian community drawing upon its own inner ressources
and basic impetus to the realities of the history of Western civilization To keep
this in mind is think crucial to an adequate understanding and interpretation
of work 5)
central concern the Church-type
Little doubt is possible about preference for the Church-type as
the main historical carrier of the Christian idea and tradition Though he ex
pressed his admiration for the Sect-type as the heroic form of Christian commit-

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