Essays in the History of Religions

by Joachim Wach

Joachim Wach was born in 1898 in Chemnitz, Saxony and died in 1955. Wach insisted there was a definite distinction between the history of religion and the philosophy of religion. He felt an inquiry into the difference must be carried out by employing the religo-scientific method (Religionswissenschaft).

Published by Macmillan Publishing Company, 866 third Avenue, New York, NY 10022, in 1988. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.


(ENTIRE BOOK) This book is a collection of essays by Joachim Wach representing each major phase of his scholarly career. Wach emphasizes that both historical and systematic dimensions are necessary to its task, and he argues that the discipline’s goal is "understanding."


  • Introduction by Joseph M. Kitagawa

    This introduction by Kitagawa is a biography of Wach. He began his teaching career in Germany which ended in 1935 under pressure of the Nazis because of his Jewish lineage, even though the family had been Christian for four generations. Thereafter he taught in the U.S. at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island and later at the University of Chicago.

  • Master and Disciple: Two Religio-Sociological Studies

    The student admires in the teacher the greatness and significance of his learning; and his merit consists in his willingness to give freely of this treasure. The student is dear to the teacher to the extent that he is willing to open himself to the teacher’s communication; the student’s value depends on his individual success or failure to appropriate the subject matter. This entire relationship is born and lives by means of the common interest in the object of study. A diversion from it results in the disintegration of the relationship between them.

  • Mahayana Buddhism

    Mahayana Buddism’s philosophy and its way of looking at the world along with its attitudes toward God, toward mankind, and toward the world are discussed along with how its piety determines its ethic.

  • Wilhelm Von Humboldt

    Wilhelm Von Humboldt was a Protestant in whose worldview Hellenism strongly colored Christianity. He looked to metaphysics or philosophy for justification. Language, to him was the medium in which he followed the growth and articulation of human freedom. He devoted profound and penetrating thought to the nature of speech, to the structure of language, to its psychological and sociological problems, to its typology and its function in the development of human civilization.

  • Sociology Of Religion

    Sociology of religion shares with the sociology of other activities of man certain problems and, in addition, has its own problems due to the peculiar nature of religious experience and its expression. The greatest differences and varieties can be found in the structures of religious groups. The French School of Sociology of Religion, the German, the English, the North American, are discussed, along with expressions of concern to those interested in the systematic development of the temporal, the spatial, the ethnic and cultural, and the religious viewpoint.

  • Radhakrishnan and the Comparative Study of Religion

    The challenge by Christian critics of Hinduism — Radhakrishnan’s own faith — impelled him at the time of his student-days at Madras to "make a study of Hinduism and find out what is living and what is dead in it." Again and again in writings, he has traced historically phases of development in Western (Greek and Christian) and Indian (Brahmanic, Hindu and Buddhist) religious thought, and has analyzed in systematic fashion basic notions in Hinduism and Christianity.

  • Religion In America: The Sociological Approach to Religion and its Limits

    Wach divides American religious groups into a trichotomy — ecclesiastical bodies, denominations, and sects. The nature of American religion is discussed as a function of these divisions.

  • On Teaching History of Religions

    Whatever the teachers approach, it will have to be adapted to the special needs and demands of each successive generation. However there are certain requirements for teaching the History of Religions: Instruction in the field must be 1. integral; 2. competent; 3. existentially concerned; 4. selective; 5. balanced; 6. imaginative.

  • On Understanding

    All theories of understanding which try to analyze its nature and the stages of its development will have to begin with a concept of existence, and this means, implicitly if not explicitly, with a metaphysical decision. As I see it, there exist three possibilities which I should like to call the materialistic, the psychophysical and the spiritual interpretations of existence.