Au fond. The Phenomenology of Gerardus van der Leeuw

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This article explores Gerardus van der Leeuw’s view of phenomenology
of religion. The phenomenological method he defended is basically a hermeneutical
approach in which an observer relates personally and even existentially to
the “phenomena” (s)he studies in order to determine their essence (Wesensschau).
In his anthropology (that reflects on the basic structure of human beings)
a similar way of relating to the world is discussed: the “primitive mentality”
that is characterized by the “need to participate” (besoin de participation). Both
phenomenology and mentalité primitive imply a critique of modern scholarship.
This fundamental criticism of the prevailing (historical) approach in the humanities
including religious studies explains the growing distance between van der
Leeuw and the majority of scholars of religion in the decades after his death in
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51-68
Number of pages18
JournalJournal for the History of Modern Theology
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Phenomenology (of religion)
  • Gerardus van der Leeuw (1890-1950)
  • Psychology of religion
  • Primitive Mentality
  • Karl Jaspers

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