• Matias
    42
    Is it at all appropriate to speak of "the" religion or "the religions"?
    I'd like to plead for a modular conception of religions, not as homogeneous "things", but as a bundle of elements that are and were composed differently in different cultures and at different times.

    These (core) elements/modules include (the list is not exhaustive):

    1- Dealing/exchange with supernatural actors or entities (ancestors, spirits, gods, karma, dharma)
    2- Myth (proto-scientific narrations that give explanations of the world)
    3- rituals
    4- magic
    5- taboos
    6- emotionally charged symbols
    7- Music and dance
    8- Changed states of consciousness
    9- notions of the hereafter
    10- moral rules
    11- sacrifices
    12- Dichotomy sacred/profan
    13- Dichotomy pure/impure

    The following is important:

    (a.) Not all of these modules occur in every religion.
    (b.) Each of these modules can also be found in non-religious contexts, they can "migrate" to the realms of politics or art, so that the impression can arise that fascism or the cult around a star is "quasi-religious". The litmus test would be whether one ascribes supernatural abilities to the leader or the idolised star. Only if this is the case it could be called a genuinely religious phenomenon.
  • Wallows
    8.2k
    A universal feature of most religions is an appeal to authority. You left that all important fact out from your analysis.
  • I like sushi
    1.1k
    Depends how you define ‘religion’.

    ALL institutes rely on authority. I’ve always had a hard time delineating between religious institutes and religious people - in the broader sense of ‘religious’ where belief in a deity is not necessary and/or symbolic in nature.
  • Shamshir
    425
    The basis for religion is the basis for science.
    The incentives are identical, though the paths may differ.

    You may cross the street by using the crosswalk, underpass or bridge; nonetheless you will be crossing the street, but you won't be crossing two of the three paths.

    So, to answer the query, there is religion, and it is not instigated by the provided list - but the list provides a sieve; one that may used for any activity.

    Much as how the distinction between technology and magic may be washed away, so the one 'tween religion and science, even if that science happens to be 'slicing bread'.
  • Wallows
    8.2k


    Well, the comment was slightly facetious. Christianity seemingly divorced itself from Catholicism wrt. to appeals to authority, Lutheranism, etc.

    But, even in Christianity, there's a fundamental appeal towards the final word of Christ on most matters.
  • Terrapin Station
    9.7k
    I'm confused at you asking if there's such a thing as religion and then proceeding to explain a cluster property characterization of religions, where you seem to have no question that there are some.
  • Pattern-chaser
    1.3k
    I'd like to plead for a modular conception of religions...Matias

    Are you sure that's a good idea? :wink: A modular conception? Hmm.

    ...not as homogeneous "things", but as a bundle of elements that are and were composed differently in different cultures and at different times.Matias

    Ah, that sounds a little more like it! :smile: :up:
  • Future Roman Empire II
    6
    Scientology loves a bit of authority. Religion is a great political tool, if one was to be under authority of a religion, is it their place? Is it only natural for some people to follow others? But what is natural? Why do people yield to authority? These religious tools that threaten us with the unknown surely restrains opportunity for power.
  • Pattern-chaser
    1.3k
    These religious tools that threaten us with the unknown...Future Roman Empire II

    [My underlining.]

    From a perspective opposed to religion, this is a common view, and it does hold some truth, especially when we consider human religious organisations, as opposed to religious teachings. But religion also helps us come to terms with the unknown, in a way that helps us to lead our lives. When we had little in the way of philosophy (or similar stuff), simple animism helped us come to terms with a very scary world that we just couldn't understand. Not that much has changed, has it? :wink:
  • Future Roman Empire II
    6
    Nicely evaluated, yes I agree, so the unknown is just another use and also lets us know more about it? (Being dumb is great)
  • Future Roman Empire II
    6
    Is the song "the spirits carries on" inspired by religion? (Dream theater song)
  • Shamshir
    425
    But what is natural? Why do people yield to authority?Future Roman Empire II
    donkey-and-his-carrot-vector-3866509.jpg
    Does this provide any insight?
  • I like sushi
    1.1k
    It will likely take you a serious amount of time to decide which of those components (and how many) are needed to make some ‘religion’. Straight off we can see some on their own are pretty much ‘religious’ whereas others are more a matter of human expression.

    Take a look at Poetics thread. This is an area that has intrigued me for a long time. Ritual is an interesting element of ‘religion’. Looking at how rituals play a part in the lives of religious people is, in my view, more revealing than looking at the common laws and views held by religious groups.
  • Matias
    42
    Appeal to authority is not a common feature of religions of small-scale societies (hunter-gatherers). Even a shaman is not an authoritarian figure in the sense that he/she can boss around other members of the group or tell them what they have to do or think.
  • Wallows
    8.2k
    Even a shaman is not an authoritarian figure in the sense that he/she can boss around other members of the group or tell them what they have to do or think.Matias

    No; but, he was the go-to-guy when things turned sour...
  • I like sushi
    1.1k
    And strictly speaking a ‘shaman’ isn’t necessarily ‘religious’ - although in the outline you give they tick off certain criteria.
  • Matias
    42
    A shaman is always religious because she or he is by definition a mediator between 'this world' and the entities (spirits or forces...) of the supernatural or superhuman world.
  • I like sushi
    1.1k
    For the sake of the discussion I am not going to argue this point - it’s more about semantics. If you’re really interested though refer to ‘Shamanism: Archaic techniques of ecstasy’ (Mircea Eliade).

    Like I said, in your outline a shaman is ‘religious’ - in most cases too. I emphasis this because many people tend to refer to “shamanism” as a religion (it isn’t!)

    I do believe that shamanic techniques kick started ‘religion’.

    If you can suggest any material to read in this area I’d be interested? (Religion in general and/or shamanism specufically)
  • Shamshir
    425
    A shaman is always religious because she or he is by definition a mediator between 'this world' and the entitiesMatias
    Is a mailman religious?
  • Hanover
    4.6k
    A universal feature of most religions is an appeal to authority. You left that all important fact out from your analysis.Wallows

    I'd argue that there are no essences to anything, including everything from cups to religion. For example, we can construct a religion of pure spirituality, where there is no authority figure, just sort of where we all live in harmony with nature or some such shit.
  • Hanover
    4.6k
    Is a mailman religious?Shamshir

    Mr. McFeely never really revealed his religious affiliation that I'm aware of.
  • Matias
    42
    I do not know your mailman, but my mailman is not an mediator between my daily word and the world beyond, the superhuman world of spirits and supernatural forces.
  • Shamshir
    425
    Your mailman is however a mediator between you and those you don't physically contact, which is no different.
  • Wayfarer
    7.6k
    First, it's not a bad list, but it lacks an entry for 'encountering the numinous'; although 'changed states of consciousness' comes close, it doesn't connote anything specifically religious or 'soteriological' (concerned with release or salvation.) After all, one can experience altered states of consciousness through intoxicants with no relationship to anything religious at all.

    The term 'numinous' came to prominence in the writing of Rudolf Otto, whose book The Idea of the Holy is a standard text in comparative religion. Granted, Otto himself was a Christian, but the book is magnanimous in its treatment of religions other than his own, and attempts to identify a common core of experience or insight which manifests in different cultural traditions and is depicted in archetypal symbols.

    There's another thing which might be mentioned, which is the customary identification of two possible sources for the word 'religion':

    The first is the most straightforward, derived from the Latin 'religio' meaning 'attitude of awe/reverence to the Gods or holy beings' - no surprises there.

    The second, however, is a derivation from 'religare' which is an archaic word related to 'binding' (same root as ligature or ligament.) This is etymologically suggestive of the Indian idea of 'yoga' as 'yolking or joining' - the idea of 're-binding or re-joining to the sacred'.

    This hints at the fact that one of the ancient, but often forgotten, cultural roots of religion was shamanism and its medicinal/meditative practices aimed at divination, healing, attaining trance-states, and so on (amply documented by scholars including Mircea Eliade 1 and Georg Feuerstein 2 ). However these elements remain more visible in Oriental and other non-Western spiritual traditions, such as Tibetan Buddhism, Hinduism and other folk-religious traditions (even Santiara and other African religious movements). However, when you study the vast diversity of belief and practice across these traditions, the question does come up as to whether mainstream Christian religion and Tibetan Buddhism, for instance, are really even two instances of the same phenomenon, or whether they're 'alike like bats and birds', so to speak.

    But, overall, I am in agreement with the approach, it does draw attention to what a complex and multifaceted aspect of culture and society religion is.
  • StreetlightX
    3.7k
    I quite like Giorgio Agamben's approach to the etymology of religion, of which he writes in relation to the profane:

    "The term religio does not derive, as an insipid and incorrect etymology would have it, from religare (that which binds and unites the human and the divine). It comes instead from relegere, which indicates the stance of scrupulousness and attention that must be adopted in relations with the gods, the uneasy hesitation (the “rereading (rileggere)") before forms — and formulae — that must be observed in order to respect the separation between the sacred and the profane. Religio is not what unites men and gods but what ensures they remain distinct. It is not disbelief and indifference toward the divine, therefore, that stand in opposition to religion, but “negligence," that is, a behavior that is free and “distracted” (that is to say, released from the religio of norms) before things and their use, before forms of separation and their meaning. To profane means to open the possibility of a special form of negligence, which ignores separation or, rather, puts it to a particular use". (Agamben, In Praise of Profanation).
  • I like sushi
    1.1k
    There are several different ways of inducing altered states of consciousness (they don’t require intoxication). Substances like DMT offer quite blatant insights regardless of anyone’s romantic notions of what is or isn’t a religious experience. I wouldn’t be surprised if DMT turns out to occur naturally in the human brain and lies at the heart of such experienced induced without being artificially applied (need to try this first-hand one-day to compare).

    If we consider that well known means of inducing altered states of consciousness are fasting, sensory deprivation, trance dancing, hyperventilation, isolation, etc., it doesn’t take a genius to see the common features relating to any prophet you dare to mention.

    When it comes to the common religious institutes today they have inevitably been politicized, thus covering up the more subtle techniques for inducing such experiences - prayer, mediation and ritual all play into such things (not to mention the practice of fasting and pilgrimage).
  • Coben
    82
    Why do people yield to authority?Future Roman Empire II
    It depends on what you mean by 'authority' but we all pretty much have to, certainly for the first 18 years in purely legal terms. But even after that: we can certainly pick and choose what authority we wish to critique and analyze, but there is only so much time in the say. Most people will accept a lot of other people's already arrived at conclusions. Imagine questioning everything. Often people do take the step, on some issues, of choosing new authorities - finding an expert alternative to the one their parents would have consulted or followed, say. If you have the luxury of time (which generally means money or the equivalent) you can challenge, in your own research and exploration, many authorities. But you will still likely be accepting authority on all sorts of issues while doing this.
  • Wayfarer
    7.6k
    There are several different ways of inducing altered states of consciousness (they don’t require intoxication)I like sushi

    Well sure. I took acid when it was still legal to so, and experienced the clear light. Had a big impact. I read The Politics of Ecstasy when it came out; ‘ecstasy’ meant something else then (as did ‘straight’ :-) .)

    But I think a distinction that can be drawn is between the idea of ‘illumination’ and ‘religious belief’. Not that they’re utterly distinct, but I equate the former with the gnostic element in religion, and the latter with the ecclesiastical element - which is what most people understand religion to mean. There are many reasons for that, but among them is the suppression of Gnosticism in the formation of the early Church. And you can see the rationale for that - ‘orthodoxy’ (which means ‘right belief’) is a much easier thing to manage than knowledge/gnosis. (Hence the ‘centrifugal’ model of Catholicism, with all power devolving from a central source, as opposed to the ‘centripedal’ model of Buddhism comprising loosely-related lineages of initiation.)

    The model of the gnostic religions, of which some forms of Mahāyāna Buddhism are paradigmatic, is one of empowerment through the imparting of insight; whereas the model for ecclesiastical faith is obedience to rules and adherence to ‘doxa’. Again, they’re not totally distinct, as Buddhism also has monastic rules; but their starting point is ‘right view’, which is subtly different to ‘correct belief’. Which converges with what you say about the politicisation of religion in Western culture. The gnostic element in Western religion has generally been underground, alternative or counter-cultural; hence the connection between hallucinogens and counter—cultural spirituality.

    //apropos of which, I have recently discovered the excellent work of a current US scholar of religion, namely Arthur Versluis.//
  • Jacob-B
    29

    Two more elements of most religion are:
    Monopoly on truth, and by implication, contempt or hostility towards other religion and alternative world views.
  • Matias
    42
    Monopoly on truth, and contempt or hostility towards other religions is specific to monotheistic religions, not to religions in general. Adherents to Hinduism or Shinto are not hostile towards Christians or any other religions, neither are members of religions of small-scale societies, like hunter-gatherers. Just on the contrary: from the point of view of a tribe it would be absurd to impose its own religion on the tribe next door, given that their religions are linked to a certain territory and to their own ancestors.
  • Wayfarer
    7.6k
    Differentiation of 'religion' and 'dharma' -

    The word religion as used in the standard form carries three connotations as reflected in the Abrahamic religions:

    * That a religion is conclusive, that is to say it is the one and only true religion;
    * That a religion is exclusionary, that is to say, those who don't follow it are excluded from salvation and
    * That a religion is separative, that is to say, in order to belong to it one must not belong to another.

    These three notions of religion are not a universal idea and by and large do not express the reality of what are called Eastern religions. For instance, the conclusive and separative notion of religion implies that one can only be a member of one religion or another. In both Eastern and many indigenous societies, this does not hold true. In each of these three ways the notion of "dharma", which is the original Indian concept, is very different from the notion of "religion".

    These three notions of religion – conclusive, exclusionary and separative, give Abrahamic religions a hard-edged identity. In Abrahamic religions there has been a strong emphasis on the separation of “believer” and “non-believer” and a religious imperative to move as many people from the latter category to the former. Truth has been conclusively and unquestionably revealed and captured in a book, and those that follow it are the only ones that are on the right path. Quite literally, this means that you are “with us or against us” – that the believers are right and represent the good who are “with God”; and all the others are misguided and are part of the darkness and deprived of any direct access to what is the ultimate good.

    The worldview of the dharmic traditions is that while scriptures can be very helpful, Truth cannot be found by scripture alone but by a path of experiential realization and Self-discovery – and in that sense religion is not conclusive. It is also not separative and exclusive in the sense of dividing the world into believers and non-believers. The dharmic worldview is that there are many tribes throughout the world, and many teachers and teachings. Each tribe has good and bad people in a continuum; people that have a greater degree of access to truth and “goodness” are worthy of respect; and others less so. Since there is a continuum of “goodness” among individuals of each tribe, the need for converting other tribes to a particular conception of God as a religious imperative is not really there. A teacher can share his or her understanding of the truth; and means and ways for others to access this; but there is no underlying belief that only one such way exists.

    http://veda.wikidot.com/dharma-and-religion
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