Original Research

Religion as memory: How has the continuity of tradition produced collective meanings? – Part one

Jakub Urbaniak
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 71, No 3 | a2815 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v71i3.2815 | © 2015 Jakub Urbaniak | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 01 September 2014 | Published: 05 June 2015

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Jakub Urbaniak, Department of Church History and Church Polity, Faculty of Theology, University of Pretoria, South Africa

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Danièle Hervieu-Léger gives an account of religion as a chain of memory, that is, a form of collective memory and imagination based on the sanctity of tradition. According to her theory, in the postmodern world the continuity of religious memory has been broken and all that remains are isolated fragments guarded by religious groups. This twofold study aims at showing, firstly, in what sense religion can be conceived of as memory which produces collective meanings (Part One) and, secondly, what may happen when individualised and absolutised memories alienate themselves from a continuity of tradition, thus beginning to function as a sort of private religion (Part Two). Being the first part of the study in question, this article is dedicated to a historical-theological analysis of religious memory as a source of collective meanings, as seen from a Christian perspective. Firstly, it situates Hervieu-Léger’s definition of religion against the background of the most topical religious contexts in which the notion of memory appears today. Secondly, the dialectics of individual and collective memory is discussed, notably through the lens of Ricoeur’s original proposal. This is followed by an overview of the traditional functions of memory in Christianity. Lastly, the interpretation of the way in which Christian tradition, in its premodern continuity, served as a source of collective cultural meanings, is recapitulated. What underlies this analysis is the conviction that to comprehend, and even more so to challenge mechanisms based on which the dominant purveyors of meaning (such as economic and information market) function in our day, one should have a clear understanding of what they attempt to substitute for. In brief, before exploring how memories become religion, one ought to be able to conceive of religion as memory.


Memory; religion; Christianity; collective memory; memories; remembrances; tradition; continuity; post-modernity; postmodern crisis; fragmented; fragmentation; pluralism; decomposition; channels of the sacred; de-institutionalisation; Hervieu-Léger; Ricoe


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