In Biblical criticism: the circumstances or social context in which a text, teaching, tradition, etc., was created or preserved; the doctrine of studying this as a critical method.
The term was originally used in German by H. Gunkel (1862–1932) and is associated with form criticism.
1930s; earliest use found in Journal of Biblical Literature. From German Sitz im Leben, lit. ‘place in life’ from Sitz + im in + Leben.