The Invention of Tradition

Tradition - A Critical Primer - Steven Engler

Steven Engler [+-]
Mount Royal University
Steven Engler is professor of Religious Studies at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Canada. He teaches a variety of courses and research popular Catholicism, Umbanda, Kardecist Spiritism and related spirit-incorporation religions in Brazil, as well as theories and methodology in the study of religions.


This chapter will review the concept of ‘the invention of tradition,’ drawing on the critical literature and on a wide range of examples from various religions in three edited collections that constitute the relevant literature in our field (van Henten/Houtepen 2001; Engler/Grieve 2005; Hammer/Lewis 2007). It illustrates a core methodological tension: between investigating whether tradition is true to its origins/transmission (real as opposed to invented) and investigating how tradition is portrayed and received as true (making the invented ‘real’). The key claim is that (just as with religious beliefs more generally) what matters about tradition is not its actual but its perceived authenticity. The goal is to make a case that the latter approach is more valuable because it takes into account issues of power and ideology. (The main examples here will be from indigenous traditions, especially in the South Pacific.)

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Engler, Steven. The Invention of Tradition. Tradition - A Critical Primer. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. Oct 2024. ISBN 9781781799086. Date accessed: 08 Dec 2023 doi: 10.1558/equinox.38403. Oct 2024

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