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World Religions And Philosophy. Over the next 10 weeks, we’ll be examining the “ BIG 5 ” of world religions:. Hinduism. Judaism. Buddhism. Christianity. Islam. What, if any, is the relationship between Philosophy and _____?. Religion Myth Science Ritual Anthropology Morality.

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World Religions

And Philosophy


Over the next 10 weeks, we’ll be examining

the “BIG 5” of world religions:






what if any is the relationship between philosophy and
What, if any, is the relationship between Philosophy and _____?
  • Religion
  • Myth
  • Science
  • Ritual
  • Anthropology
  • Morality
what is western religion and philosophy
What is Western Religionand Philosophy?
  • It may not be what it seems to be. While ‘Western’ generally means American and European, Spanish, Portuguese, and Russian are often excluded.
  • While Western Philosophy is grounded on Greek philosophers like Plato and Aristotle, it has been suggested that many of the primary sources for Greek ideas were first developed in the Middle East, Asia, Egypt, and perhaps parts of Africa.
what is non western religion and philosophy
What is Non-Western Religionand Philosophy?
  • Basically anything which does not fit neatly into the small American-European theatre, especially if it seems far away and unfamiliar.
  • China, Japan, India, Africa, Latin America, and Islamic Middle Eastern countries are typically considered Non-Western (despite Islam’s monotheism).
  • Generally, distinctions between Western and Non-Western philosophy are largely arbitrary and misleading (because even in Western, there is not a single coherent system of belief). But trying to find some dissimilarities provides us with a starting point.
what religions are asian eastern
What Religions are Asian/Eastern?

Western Religions are generally designated as the monotheistic “Big 3” – meaning Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (which arguably could be considered an “Eastern” religion as well).

Asian/Eastern/Non-Western Religions are typically defined as such because they are (a) polytheistic, or (b) have no identifiable “god,” or are more grounded in “intimacy” than “integrity” (i.e., more “relationship-oriented” than “individualistic”).

The last point (c) will be more fully developed in a little while.

some philosophical questions
Some Philosophical Questions
  • Did the world have a beginning? If it did, was the world created, and if so by whom and how?
  • Is the world and all the things of the world viewed as living beings?
  • Are there pervasive gods or God or spirits?
  • Is there a sharp division between the secular and the divine, between people and the God or gods?
  • What are the origins and sources of good and evil?
  • How important is the concept of social harmony?
  • Are some people in a privileged position to gain philosophical/religious knowledge or wisdom, or can anyone who puts his mind to it become wise?
  • To what degree are our philosophical and religio-theological positions culturally biased?
can the west think asian
Can the West think “Asian”?

A basic




‘If A, then B’


‘All A are B’



Are the differences in Western & Eastern Religions and Philosophies an indication that people in the West & East do not “think” the same way?

No -- The simple answer: thinking is thinking… despite “where,” “HOW” people think does not change from culture to culture; our brains are all wired the same

WHAT people think “about” and how they perceive what they think about may be culturally influenced (just as a person’s attention and emphasis on things perceived also may be influenced by race, gender, religion, economics, and a host of other things)

But the basic “how” is the same for all people; the focus on the “what” and interpretation of that “what” may be at the root of any significant differences

let s play a game to see if everyone in this classroom perceives and interprets the same
Let’s play a game to see if everyone in this classroom perceives and interprets the same

What is it? A rabbit or a bird?

thinking is the same
“Thinking” is the same

Study the stairs


Attentiveness, emphasis, and interpretation of perceptions are generally the reasons why people believe there are (cultural) differences in people’s thinking

But more realistically, there are no differences in thinking, just in attentiveness, emphasis, and interpretation

Since cultural philosophy is based on what a particular culture (or cultures) chooses to emphasize and explore, the differences between the West and East philosophically are a result of different focusing and interpreting – NOT a difference in thinking itself

See handout on “Integrity v Intimacy”

a working definition of religion
A working definition of Religion

 Belief in something sacred (e.g., gods or other supernatural beings).

 A distinction between sacred and profane objects.

 Ritual acts focused on sacred objects.

 A moral code believed to have a sacred or supernatural basis.

 Characteristically religious feelings (awe, sense of mystery, sense of guilt, adoration), which tend to be aroused in the presence of sacred objects and during the practice of ritual.

 Prayer and other forms of communication with the supernatural.

 A world-view or a general picture of the world as a whole and the place of the individual therein. This picture contains some specification of an over-all purpose or point of the world & an indication of how the individual fits into it.

 A more or less total organization of one's life based on a worldview.

 A social group bound together by the above.

a working definition of philosophy
A working definition of Philosophy
  • The philosopher Wilfrid Sellers defined philosophy as the study of how things in the most general sense hang together in the general sense.
  • Philosophers worry about the order of things – how our natural, social, and cultural worlds hang together.
  • When Eastern philosophers address the idea of how things hang together, they express a relational principle of ordering, which they label ‘aesthetic.’
  • The Western notion of ‘hanging’ is a more atomistic and hierarchical ‘logical’ ordering which is also more linear.
  • Because relationships are of primary concern for the Eastern, coordination is more important than rigid distinctions, and social roles are understood contextually.
western scientific v eastern aesthetic
In the West, a scientist and/or philosopher might think about discovering the natural laws which underlie and regulate the universe.

Aquinas, for example, believed that if a person could reason out these laws by looking at nature, he would be able to immediately comprehend (and be able to follow) the Natural Laws and then be able to distinguish moral and immoral behavior.

An Eastern philosopher would look for the aesthetic sense of order in the (ever-changing) universe in the same way that an artist might think about creating a pleasing composition.

The difference is between discovering an order already there, even if we don’t see it (the Western approach), and helping to invent one (the Eastern approach).

Western ‘Scientific’ v Eastern ‘Aesthetic’
west v east ontology being
The Western preference for ontological permanence over the flux and change of the phenomenal world means that the world of ordinary experience cannot be presumed finally real.

“Reality” refers to the “really-real” that grounds this world of appearances (which itself is not real), since appearances are misleading and/or illusory.

The phenomenal world (as things appear) of process and change is simply wanwu (“the ten thousand things”).

Adherents to Eastern Philosophy and Religions are less inclined to asked what makes something real or why things exist, and they are more interested in negotiating the complex relationships among the changing phenomena themselves.

West v East – Ontology (Being)
west v east being part 2
Being takes precedence over Becoming, and thus becoming is ultimately unreal.

Being itself is complete (and perfect, like Plato’s ‘forms’) and has no further need to change.

Becoming takes precedence over being. “Being” is interpreted as a transitory state marked by further transition. The yin-yang relationship typifies the always changing situation of existence and experience. Everything is in “process.”

West v East – Being (Part 2)
west v east the world cosmos
There is some permanent, perfect, objective, originative, determinative principle in the single-ordered (really-real) world (usually called God).

The realm of appearances (where we live) is characterized by ‘wholes’ and ‘parts’ – a world patterned by discreteness and permanence in which change is primarily the rearrangement of that which is unchanging (like the ‘atoms’ of Democritus).

Since everything is always in a transitory state, there is no final whole we call ‘Cosmos’ or ‘World.’ The world is an interactive field. It iswanwu– ‘the ten thousand things.’

There are no ‘parts’ or ‘objects’; the ‘things’ are simply states of becoming -- just happenings, processes, or events.

West v East – the World/Cosmos
west v east order
Regardless of how the world came about, there is the general assumption that there is a ‘given’ cosmic design which gives meaning and purpose to human life.

The universe began somewhere and is going somewhere, and this tradition is characterized by a predominance of linear, cause-and-effect explanations for why things are what they are and the way they are and will stay the way they are.

Order is simply the patterned regularity we find in the world as we discover it and as we add to it; it’s the way things happen and the way we make things happen (the Tao).

Order, then, is the unique graining in any piece of wood, the DNA genetic map in every cell, the veins in any blade of grass, and so forth.

Order is the Eternal Now, an always changing pattern of order that inheres in and is inseparable from the uncreated and unending world that is ordered.

West v East - Order
the west asks questions that the east generally does not ask
The West asks questions that the East generally does not ask

Design – by Robert Frost

I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,On a white heal-all, holding up a mothLike a white piece of rigid satin cloth--Assorted characters of death and blightMixed ready to begin the morning right,Like the ingredients of a witches' broth--A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,And dead wings carried like a paper kite.What had that flower to do with being white,The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?What brought the kindred spider to that height,Then steered the white moth thither in the night?What but design of darkness to appall?--If design govern in a thing so small.

eastern philosophers generally believe that
Eastern philosophers generally believe that

they live in spontaneously self-originating and self-ordering world which has no beginning or end and no independently assigned purpose.

Eastern Aestheticism means that shaping life is a process of education and refinement, comparable in many ways to learning to draw bamboo ink paintings or to writing well-formed characters in the art of calligraphy or to studying the flow of the water in a stream.

west v east power v creativity 1
Power relationships reduce creativity to modes of external causation, and the creative element (such as the Western notion of God) is completely in control of its ‘other.’ The created object itself is literally nothing.

Creativity is a notion that can only be characterized in terms of self-actualization for all involved.

Creativity can only make sense in a world with ontological parity. Either everything shares in creativity or the world is sharply divided into the creator and the created – the maker and the made.

There is an absence of linear causality or of singular determination.

West v East – Power v Creativity 1
west v east power v creativity 2
West v East – Power v Creativity 2

For example, in the East a poem is not an externally crafted product; rather, it is a creative process of spontaneous self-actualization through the realization of novelty.

Creativity is both self-creativity and co-creativity in a world of mutually actualized selves, each a focus of transactional realization in a realm of interdependent processes.

west v east language
In the West, logical and semantic clarity are among the most celebrated of the ideals of Reason. These ideas are associated with univocal definition guaranteeing unambiguous usage.

In this sense, the opposite of clarity is confusion – a state of unarticulated ideas or feelings.

In classical Eastern texts, allusive and connotatively rich language is more highly prized than clarity, precision, and argumentative rigor.

For the East, the opposite of clarity is not confusion, but something like ‘vagueness.’

We must attempt to avoid what A.N.Whitehead called ‘the Fallacy of the Perfect Dictionary.’

For example, besides ‘creativity,’in Chinesechengcarries the associations of ‘sincerity’ and ‘integrity.’ Can you figure out how all three definitions could work together?

West v East - Language
west v east death
Death is the end of life.

With death, a person can either cease to exist or expect some sort of judgment and then reward or punishment (which would last through eternity) based on the kind of life he lived while his spiritual self (i.e., his soul) was dwelling in a material body.

Death celebrates the uniqueness of each person by punctuating and consummating the ongoing process in such a way as to produce distinct intimate events defined in terms of our unique relations with someone else.

A person who lives forever is one who is remembered by those with whom he had relationships. A person who never developed relationships and is forgotten ceases to exist.

Or, in the case of Buddhism, it means that our useless human “strivings” are finally over; it is a “release” from this world.

West v East – Death

Pervasive in the Eastern tradition (not just Daoist or Confucian), the recognition that the form of one kind of thing gives way to the ceaseless adventure of becoming other things is grounded in a transformational perspective.

Confucius stood on a riverbank and mused about the flux and flow of life, saying, “Isn’t life’s passing just like this, never ceasing day or night!”

Such a recognition of continuity and intimacy presumably stimulates empathetic feelings for other creatures in a shared environment.


Life and death are not rivaling forces.

The Chinese focus is on the interdependence and complimentary of opposites – on the yin and yang, mind and body continuum where each can only be explained by reference to each other.

Indian (Hindu and Buddhist) cosmology is non-dualistic. Everything that is, is Brahman. The universe has to be grasped dynamically, as it moves, vibrates and dances. it moves and grows and changes continually. Brahman is the eternal Now, and in eternity there is no before or after, for everything is everywhere, always.

a way of summing it up
Western Thinking

is based on

Integrity (“one”-ness)

Eastern Thinking

is based on

Intimacy (relationships)

A Way of Summing it Up

Maybe the following charts will help


OK, you say. People in the East &

West don’t think differently but they

still have different notions about

things because their attentiveness

towards and perception of the

world leads them to reach

different conclusions about things.

OK. So what?

There is an easy (but



Different conclusions

become the foundations

for different religions.


Why should you care about all of

this (other than for a grade)?

One good reason is that you will know more about

the people you meet and work with who may have

religious beliefs which are different from yours.

Not everyone in the

United States is a

Protestant Christian

or an Atheist.

There are many

other religions

actively practiced

in the U.S.




Judaism 2.2%

Islam 21%

Buddhism 6%

Hinduism 14%

Christianity 33%

There are a lot of religions in

the world, and we are going

to be studying only 5 of them.


With the exceptions of

Islam (600 AD) and Hinduism

(c.a. 1500 BC), almost

all of the major world religions

(including Chinese Confucianism

& Daoism) began during the

period called



According to the German philosopher Karl Jaspers, the AXIAL AGE was the period from 800 BC to 200 BC during which the same intensity of thought appeared in three different regions: China, India and the Occidental Near East & West. After the Axial Age, the different regions of Earth never again showed such parallelism. Jaspers defined this period as that against which future generations measure the quality of their thinking but was unable to define any cause or connection for it. The word axial in the phrase Axial Age should be interpreted to mean pivotal. The name is derived from the German word Achse, which means both axis and pivot. However, in this case the word was mistranslated as axial, and the term has stuck. The phrase Axial Age is frequently seen in the writing of English-speaking theologians such as Karen Armstrong.


Characteristics of The AXIAL AGE

  • Man becomes aware of existence, himself, and his
    • limitations.
  • 2. People begin to move into urban areas, and the cities
  • grow larger and larger (e.g., Greek “city-states”).
  • 3. Instead of one butcher or baker or candlestick maker, in
  • the cities, there are many people who do the same
  • things. There is a major shift from bartering to a
  • “market economy” (with coinage) which includes
  • “competition.” In the competitive struggle, some
  • people fail and some are successful; economic class
  • stuggles begin to emerge.

4. City states and regions begin to vie for power (in order to

claim the wealth), and there is a marked growth of

violence as well as a stuggle for global empires (e.g.,

Alexander the Great). The battles and violence leads

to the dislocation of large numbers of people.

5. Man becomes less certain about his home, his economic

situation, and even about his existence itself. He

yearns for his salvation (i.e., ‘saved’ from these things).

6. He tries to gain salvation by reflection. For the first time in

history, philosophers appear in public. Philosophical

disputes ensue to convince the other party. This ends

in discussion, fractionalization, and ultimately chaos.

7. This chaos produces today’s thinking categories.

8. Man’s opinions, manners, and customs are hereby put to

the test, doubted, and done away with.


All these characteristics appeared under the same sociological circumstances: China, India, and the Occidental Near East & West were divided into small states engaged in a never-ending struggle against each other. The scholars roamed from city to city to exchange ideas. These scholars were the wise men of religion and philosophical systems; in China, Confucianism and Taoism; in India, Brahmanism (later called Hinduism) and Buddhism; in the Occident, the religion of Zarathustra; in Canaan, Judaism; and in Greece, sophism and philosophy.SOURCE: Karl Jaspers: Vom Ursprung und Ziel der Geschichte, Fischer Bücherei, Frankfurt/M – Hamburg, July 1955.


For This Course, Skills Needed Are:

- the ability to listen

- the ability to read

- the ability to do independent research

- the ability to do essay writing

-having an open and questioning mind

  • Some EssentialPoints To Remember:
  • - There are no certain answers (except for the tests)
  • The main idea is generally exploration, not
  • explanation
  • You should be prepared to abandon cherished
    • notions
  • - You’ll have more fun in this class if you develop an
  • interest in the abstract and have a curious mind

So, let’s



Let’s look at Chapter 1 and then come back for some questions.

1 people embrace religion
1. People embrace religion…

a. to gain strength to deal with personal problems.

b. because of the desire for life beyond death.

c. because of the desire for this life to have meaning.

d. all of these.

2. Genuine religious experiences have common elements (according to Wach, a comparative religions scholar). The pattern includes:
  • the experience involves the person’s whole being.
  • an experience with the Unseen or Sacred Reality.

c. the experience is the most intense of all human experiences.

d. all of these.


3.The experience of "connecting" with a divine, transcendent reality or “Unseen Reality” has been called by many names including __________.

a. God-realization.

b. Awakening.

c. Enlightenment.

d. Any of the above.

4 our two primary modes of understanding the reality around us are through and
4. Our two primary modes of understanding the reality around us are through _____________ and _______________.

a. non-emotional responses, direct knowledge

b. emotional responses, belief in a non-rational


c. intuition, emotional responses

d. rational thought, non-rational modes of knowing


5. Westerners sometimes embrace Eastern religions in an attempt to avoid life’s realities. Psychologist John Welwood’s calls this attempt _________ _________.

a. “spiritual escapism”

b. “world denial.”

c. “spiritual bypassing.”

d. “new-age pilgrimages.”

6.These elements, characteristic of religions everywhere, serve as aids to connect followers to the divine.

a. Spiritual practices

b. Sacraments

c. Rituals

d. any of these.

7.Religious myths help followers understand the divine and our relationship with the divine. A function of these myths is

a. to aid in personal inner exploration.

b. to explain the creation of the world.

c. to present a model for how people should behave.

d. any of these.

8.Joseph Campbell interpreted the myth of the hero's journey primarily as a representation of a __________ triumph.

a. psychological

b. sociological

c. moral

d. physical


9. Followers of any religion who resist contemporary influence while affirming historically traditional doctrines or practices should be called _______, a term more appropriate than “fundamentalists,” which is misleading in several ways.

a. heretics.

b. conservatives.

c. absolutists.

d. liberals.