Encyclopedia of Religion
and Society

William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor

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A philosophical/theological term, from contingentia , originally introduced by Greek philosophers, which designates that which is actual or accidental in contrast to that which is logically necessary and in accordance with law.

Scholastic scholars revived the term when Aristotelian categories were appropriated for the development of medieval theological systems. The Nature philosophers of the Renaissance, followed by pure Rationalists such as Spinoza, attempted to eliminate the notion of contingency, but the Empiricists Locke and Hume, along with the later Leibniz and Kant, insisted on the fact of contingency. Social scientists and comparative religionists rarely use the term today, preferring instead to refer to individuality, freedom , and the emergence of anomalies in relation to analytical systems. The relationship between law and necessity, on the one hand, and freedom and anomaly, on the other, is an issue that no theorists or comparative religion scholars can ignore.

William R. Garrett


E. Troeltsch, "Contingency," in Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics Vol. 4, ed. J. Hastings (Edinburgh: Clark, 1911): 87-89.

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