Introduction to the History of Religions

lreli1320  2018-2019  Louvain-la-Neuve

Introduction to the History of Religions
5 credits
30.0 h
Cornu Philippe;
Main themes
Through the study of selected themes, this course will attempt to compare the major religions (Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism) in order to highlight both their significant peculiarities and differences and their profound similarities. By making use of critical comparative analysis, the course will try to dismiss superficial resemblances and to recognize hidden correspondences or equivalences.

At the end of this learning unit, the student is able to :


At the end of this course, the student will be able:

- to take a critical look at the religious phenomenon as it appears in the great religions of the present world: representations of the world and of human existence, relation to the founding texts , rites, ethical proposals, disciplines of salvation;

- to use the basic tools of history and comparative study of religions.


The contribution of this Teaching Unit to the development and command of the skills and learning outcomes of the programme(s) can be accessed at the end of this sheet, in the section entitled “Programmes/courses offering this Teaching Unit”.
- Define the religious phenomenon and its varied expressions, the sacred and the profane, theistic and non-theistic religions, oral and textual spiritual transmission, religion and society.
- The history of religions: a multidisciplinary approach, the founders and the evolution of the discipline, methodological elements (analysis of texts, myths, study of cults and rites, crossed influences, ethical values, spiritual paths to salvation), the paradigm of religion.
- Criticism of methods, ethno-methodological tools, dangers and interest of comparatism.
- An overview of the major religious currents of humanity and their history (prehistoric religions, animism and shamanism, ancient religions, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism) and neo-religious movements.
- Studies on research topics such as the evolution of the notion of karman in India, death and future post-mortem in some religions, the status of causality in Christianity and Buddhism, God-gods and Buddhism.
Teaching methods
Magistral course in Amphi. Obligatory presence of students, except motivated impossibility (to see with the teacher)
Evaluation methods
A final written examination of knowlegde with five questions (on the basis on limitative list of questions),  or very exceptionaly a short dissertation (15pp) about a specific topic, to decide with the teacher.
Other information
  • Cornu, Philippe, Introduction à l'Histoire des religions, Louvain-la-Neuve, 2017
Cornu, Philippe, Introduction à l'Histoire des religions, tome I,  Louvain-la-Neuve, 2017 (support obligatoire).
Müller, Max, Mythologie comparée, édition établie, présentée et annotée par Pierre Brunel, Robert Laffont, Bouquins, 2002.
Smith, William Robertson, The Religion of the Semites, 1889 (2e éd. 1894).
Frazer, James George, The Golden Bough. A Study in Comparative Religion, 2 vol., Londres/ New York, 1890 (trad. française: Le Rameau d'or, 4 vol., Paris, 1981-1984.) ; cf. Ackerman, R., J.G. Frazer. His Life and Work, Cambridge UP, 1987.
Émile Durkheim, Les formes élémentaires de la vie religieuse. Le système totémique en Australie, Libraire Félix Alcan, 2e éd, Paris, 1925 (spécialement livre I, chap. 1; livre III, chap. 5), (réédition Quadrige, Paris, PUF, 1998).
Caillois, Roger, L'homme et le sacré, Paris, 1939.
Hubert, Henri, et Mauss, Marcel, «Essai sur la nature et la fonction du sacrifice», dans M. Mauss, Oeuvres, Paris, édition de Minuit, 1968, pp. 195-354.
Jung, Karl Gustav, Psychologie et religion, Paris, 1958.
Eliade, Mircea , Traité d'histoire des religions, Paris, 1949.
Eliade, Mircea, Le mythe de l'éternel retour, Paris, 1949.
Eliade, Mircea, Le sacré et le profane, Paris, 1965.
Lévi-Strauss, Claude, Mythologiques, 4 vols., Paris, Plon, 1964-1971.
Lévi-Strauss, Claude, Anthropologie structurale, Paris, Plon, 1958.
Lévi-Strauss, Claude, Anthropologie structurale deux, Paris, Plon, 1976.
Puech, Henri-Charles (dir.), Histoire des religions, Paris, Gallimard, 1970
Dumézil, Georges, Mythes et épopées, 3 vol., Paris, 1968-1973.
Burkert, Walter, Homo Necans, Berlin, 1972.
Leroi-Gourhan, André, Les religions de la préhistoire, Paris, 1964.
Meslin, Michel Pour une science des Religions, 1973
Recent parutions
Boespflug, F., et Dunand, F., (éds.), Le comparatisme en histoire des religions, Centre de Recherches d'histoire des religions, Paris, 1997.
Bonnefoy, Yves (éd.), Dictionnaire des mythologies et des religions des sociétés traditionnelles et du monde antique, 2 vol., Paris, 1981.
Borgeaud, Philippe, Aux Origines de l'histoire des religions, Paris, 2004.
Borgeaud, Philippe, Exercices de mythologie, Genève, 2005.
Detienne, Marcel, Comparer l'incomparable, Paris, 2000.
Detienne, Marcel, L'invention de la mythologie, Paris, 1981.
Hinnels, John R. (éd.), The Routledge Companion to the Study of Religion, London , 2005.
Kippenberg, Hans G., A la découverte de l'histoire des religions, Paris, 1999.
Lincoln, Bruce, Theorizing Myth. Narrative, Ideology, and Scholarship, Chicago, Chicago UP, 1999.
Masuzawa, Tomoko, The Invention of World Religions, Chicago, 2005.
Olender, Maurice, Les langues du Paradis, Paris, 1993.
Segal, Robert A. (éd.), The Blackwell Companion to the Study of Religion, Malden, 2006.
Smith, Jonathan Z., Relating Religion, Chicago, 2004.
Strenski, Ivan, Thinking about Religion. A Historical Introduction to Theories of Religion, Malden, 2006.
Taylor, Mark C., Critical Terms for Religious Studies, Chicago, 1998.
Teaching materials
  • Cornu, Philippe, Introduction à l'Histoire des religions, Louvain-la-Neuve, 2017
Faculty or entity

Programmes / formations proposant cette unité d'enseignement (UE)

Title of the programme
Bachelor in Sociology and Anthropology

Bachelor in religious studies

Bachelor in Ancient Languages and Literatures: Oriental Studies

Minor in Culture and Creation