History Of Religion HIS120 Instructor: Jonathan Ferrante
Really It Is History of Religions • We are not looking at just one religion, but many religions. • We will not only be examining what they have in ‘common’ but how their religious visions differ from each other. • We will examine the phenomena of religion as an historical process. • We will take a sympathetic approach in the hope that we will be able to better understand these various religions.
MethodologyThe Sword and The Flute by David R. Kinsley Any religious phenomenon is also a social, psychological, and historical fact as well…because every religious phenomenon is, in the final analysis, also a human phenomenon, and the human phenomenon reveals itself in social, psychic, and historic milieus…What is not as obvious perhaps, is that religious phenomena deserve to be interpreted in religious terms. They deserve to be interpreted for what they pretend to be – that is, manifestations (or revelations) of the sacred…To understand religious things one must acquaint oneself with their contexts, one must be sensitive to the cultural setting of a given phenomenon. But what is more important one must seek to discern the visionary aspects of a religious phenomenon…This means going beyond, or behind, the sometimes obvious social, psychic, or economic significance or function of a given phenomenon to grasp what the thing reveals to religious man, what the phenomenon reveals …about that “other” realm of the sacred.
What is Religion? Take a minute and partner up with the person next to you and create a definition for the word ‘religion’.
What is Religion? • “Religion is an individual’s or a society’s response to(search for) that which it/they think(s) (feel(s)) is ultimately real, truly true, articulated in myth, acted out in ritual, expressed in symbols, engendering (and being engendered by)powerful sentiments (an ethos) and usually embodied in institutions.” (From Dr. Charles Ryerson)
Don’t You Need a God To Have a Religion? • Part of our problem here in the West is that we have a very narrow definition of what qualifies as a religion. • Perhaps we need to get rid of definitions and do what one historian of religions, Dr. Ninian Smart, has done which is to put the emphasis not on definitions but on dimensions.
Seven Dimensions of Religion • Practical and Ritual • Experiential and Emotional • Narrative and Mythic • Doctrinal and Philosophical • Ethical and Legal • Social and Institutional • Material
Practical and Ritual • This would include rites and ceremonies – both public and private. • Puja in Hinduism, Baptism in Christianity, initiation into a monastery in Buddhism.
Experiential and Emotional • This is religion at the existential level. What people experience and feel when they practice their religion or contemplate their beliefs. • The experiential happens in various ways from meditation and yoga in Hinduism to chanting worship songs in Evangelical Christianity.
The Narrative and Mythic Dimension • Whether the stories in the various scriptures of the world religions actually occurred is irrelevant. • What the historian of religions is most concerned with is what impact these narratives and myths have had on the historical development of the religion and how it impacts the world view of a particular religious community.
The Doctrinal and Philosophical • The systematic formulation of religious teachings in an intellectually coherent form. (Damien Keown in Buddhism A Very Short Introduction) • Some of the better known doctrinal formulations would be the Upanishads in Hinduism. • Systematic Theologies written by Christian thinkers.
The Ethical and The Legal • This is the practical application of a religion’s beliefs and doctrines – the praxis. • Some better known examples would be Ahimsa in Hinduism. • The Talmud in Judaism. • The Beatitudes in Christianity. • The giving of alms in Islam.
The Social and Institutional • Religions are communal. They do have personal/private aspects but there is always the larger community one returns to after the private experience. • Religious believers feel that they are part of a community which validates the beliefs of the individual believers.
Some Examples of Religious Institutions • The Sangha in Buddhism • The Umma in Islam • The Church in Christianity • The Covenant in Judaism • Ashram in Hinduism
Sectarian Institutions • Many religious institutions are sectarian in nature. • They represent a particular school of thought within a religion that is some how different from the other communities found within the religion. • Mahayana Buddhism, Protestant Christianity, Shia Islam, etc.
The Material Dimension • Includes objects in which the ethos of the religion becomes incarnate. • Such as churches, temples, art, sacred sites, shrines and the like.