During the past one hundred and fifty years of its existence, the study of religions has gone through several upheavals that deeply transformed its academic nature. From the originally historical and philological discipline, which focused on discoveries of yet unknown features of historical religions, their classification and historical systematization, true science has developed whose research contributes to the creation of a complex image of the world. Contemporary study of religions is a highly specialized field of science in which historical, sociological, psychological, political science, anthropological, esthetic, gender, culturological and philosophical knowledge of a set of specific human activities meet and are denominated under a general concept of “religions”. Although the discipline has an enormous volume of practical information on religions at its disposal, and as evidenced by events of 11 September 2001, is able to predict a possible course of responses of religions to global political, social and economic situations, it finds itself to be rather neglected by the general public in the same way as it was one hundred years ago.

Several times, the academic study of religions attempted to break through its isolation. During the last fifty years, we can point out at least two situations when radical changes occurred. The first one happened after the IX Congress of IAHR in Marburg in 1960, when a number of leading figures of the study of religions made a proposal to untie this discipline from its dependence on the phenomenology of religion and on theology. The other one occurred when, after 1990, religious studies organizations from Central and Eastern Europe became involved in institutions and development strategies of the study of religions with their progressive initiative and input.

In this period, the main focus of religious studies changed. While previously, the question of definition or the nature of religions was prevalent, in the past decades the attention of scholars has shifted to scientific self-identification, self-understanding and public self-presentation of the study of religions. In spite of several serious attempts to answer these queries, such as the understanding of the study of religions as a cultural science or the shift of its interest to cognitive processes, the situation of the study of religions is referred to most frequently as crisis of its scientific “identity”.

No matter what exactly the expression “crisis of identity” means, it certainly reflects the material insufficiency of theoretical and methodological foundations of the study of religions. The reason for contemporary methodological disintegration is that the study of religions has depended upon its alleged interdisciplinarity for too long and after the proposition of interdisciplinarity failed, it began to rely on the so-called transdisciplinarity. The result is the inherent present-day heterogeneity of the study of religions, which verifiably also reflects particular ideological interests. While it is not possible to eliminate this heterogeneity, and limiting it can only be done through analyzing the antagonism between various differently institutionalized and competing fields of the study of religions, what can be eliminated is the crisis of theoretical and methodological foundations of the discipline. One of the main aims of the EASR conference Time of Decline, Time of Hope: Scientific, Cultural and Political Engagement of the Study of Religions is to attain a pragmatic direction for solving these highly controversial, difficult to solve, however inevitable concerns for study of religions. The following points may serve as a guideline and framework for their resolution:

  1. What are the principles and basic hypotheses for the knowledge attained through the academic study of religions?
  2. Under what conditions may these initial hypotheses become axioms for the methodology of the study of religions?
  3. How are the concepts and descriptive language of the discipline created?
  4. What scientific rules may be considered apodictically valid while creating the learning and knowledge of the study of religions?

The academic study of religions is a highly dynamic discipline with an enormous ability to absorb and utilize new theoretical and methodological procedures. This undoubtedly gives it hope to overcome the present state and to once again assume full scientific and social responsibility for its own development. The EASR conference to be held in Brno in September 2008 strives to assist this development.