Religion and Innovation

ROOTS of Knowledge
Research field:
Usually, the sources on ancient religion, both in a literary or in a documentary sense, are used to focus on a status quo of religious or cultural conditions in a specific cultural or political frame, or are generally situated in a theological discourse. Thereby, religion is usually characterised by a conservation quality, anchored in cultural tradition and performed in ritual action. In this sense, religion is also attributed with the quality to acquire, document, collect and store knowledge in general. The attractiveness of religion is not only the supposed connection to a – whatever – divine sphere but also the existence of institutions of religion (abbeys, monasteries, temples, etc.) as ‘hoards of knowledge’ with the religious personal as competent administrators and mediators. Thus, religion is characterised by a very modern or modernising aspect – the implementation of collected knowledge for actual innovative impact.

Research purpose:
It is the purpose of the project to study the innovative dynamics of religion in pre-modern societies in a transcultural and trans-disciplinary way. Therefore, the research focus will be placed on the administration of the ‘archives of knowledge’, the ways of acquiring, exchanging and protecting knowledge, the fields of innovation in sciences, ritual performance, theological conceptions, society and policy. Last but not least, the ways or routes of innovative influences – especially those triggered by a religious context, for example, by religious personal, temples, cult performances, etc. – will be considered.
Because of the broad concept with an interdisciplinary and intercultural approach, it is necessary to clarify the borders of the project. Thus, the project definitely will neither study the theology or theological concept of religion, in particular, nor analyse them in a general overarching way. Similarly, it is not the duty of the project to discuss, develop or scrutinise religious terminology in practice or conception. Finally, the project also does not document the importance of religion for society or policy. Instead, the project focuses on processes of knowledge transfer and innovative dynamics. From this point of view, it is necessary to study ‘religion’ as a trigger of innovation in ancient and premodern societies. The adaptation, collection, and handling as well as the release, exchange and transfer of knowledge, ideas and sciences within the scope of religion and cult is still a desideratum in religious studies as well as in the history of science.

ROOTS of KnowledgeRoman fasti consulares as a source for Roman historiographic literature (source: Wikimedia Link).

ROOTS of Knowledge

The medical Papyrus Ebers from Egyptian Thebes (1550 BC) (source: Wikimedia Link).

Conference schedule:
The innovative functions of religion will be structured in four main fields, covered by international and interdisciplinary conferences with the following topics:

Spring 2020: “Religion as an archive”
Publication of the conference papers in autumn 2021

Summer 2021: “Religion and science”
Publication of the conference papers in autumn 2022

Summer 2022: “Religion in conflict”
Publication of the conference papers in autumn 2023

Summer 2023: “Religion and economy”
Publication of the conference papers in autumn 2024

Project by Hilmar Klinkott
Sascha Boelcke (PhD)


Fieldwork + Activities


Participating Institutions