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Unit 1:

Welcome To The World Of

Many Religions!

We Live In A World Of Many Religions

 Not uncommon for students to initially believe that by

studying religions different to their own, somehow
being unfaithful
 Soon fear is dispelled as learn to appreciate wealth of
religious views + practises produced by humankind
 Discovering in others, we discover ourselves.
 We all live in a world with many religions – will
definitely encounter people who belong to different

Deciding What We Mean By The Word “Religion”

 NB to have definition to word religion so we will know

exactly what we are talking about, and can
communicate clearly
 Even if have differences in opinion, at least thoughts
will be mutually understood

Kinds Of Answers To The Question

“What Is Religion?”

 If asked above question, answer would most likely

resemble 1 of 3 approaches:

A Listing Of Examples

 is possible to simply point to specific examples of

religions – e.g. Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, etc
 This approach doesn’t take us very far
 Soon run into uncertainties – Marxism, secularism
religious phenomena, Satanism?

o From outset, Satanism is NOT a religion
 Need some form of measuring device – but religion
isn’t a randomly scattered object, is an abstract
concept, + participants in this field stipulate what
religion is + when something is religions

Narrow Definitions

 When asked to stipulate when somebody or

something is religious, many people answer it is
when people believe in God, or when something
refers to God.
 Good answer, + many scholars of religion use it as a
 Advantage of being fairly precise instrument + simple
to apply
 This kind of definition is called narrow because
includes a very specific sort of view, + excludes a
very wide range of things that people believe or do.
 This kinds of definition often referred to as substantive
definition – since it states what religion is
 Disadvantage – excludes great deal of material that is
extremely interesting + applicable

Broad Definitions

 This kind of definition is interested in what various

systems do – what their functions or role is in
people’s lives or in society.
 If role is to give meaning to people’s lives, then
scholars adhering to this kind of definition would
count such systems as religious (whether they
believe in God or not)
 Clear that this kind of definition will be broad +

 Because is primarily interested in what religion does,
+ not what it is, such a definition is also known as a
functional definition
 In this book, see belief in God as 1 expression of
common human search for inclusive + transcending
meaning = are also other expressions, + they are
equally religious
 Great advantage of this kind of approach = leaves us
free to include a wide spectrum of human interest in
our field of study – even some facets of science + art
 Also includes great theistic systems of humankind
(systems that suggest the existence of a personal
God) but is not restricted to those systems (e.g.
Buddhism doesn’t believe in existence of a personal
God but is one of greatest religions in the world)
 Disadvantage of this kind of definition, may be too

Religion Provides “Roots”

 Throughout history, religion provided people with

security by assuring that in spite of everything, they
have a place in the world = religions provides people
with roots
 Humans have deep-seated need to experience
themselves + surroundings as coherent wholes
 Chaos, discord + alienation are experienced as
disturbing so in sense, experiences such as disease,
death, hostility, natural disasters, etc are as base of
 Religion is urge to attribute meaning to events or
 If people see some coherence in what happens, they
 Also enables them to accept great deal of hardship

 Religions are the great human answers which have
emerged in effort to tame confusing, threatening
aspects of life by seeing them in terms of coherent,
integrated pattern – chaos becomes a cosmos

 Integrating function of religion also relevant to

individual human being – person needs to know “who
am I?”
 Intense search for personal identity closely related to
search for identity of cosmos.
 Thus religion has objective pole (the cosmos) +
subjective pole (I) = together constitute religious
 Human longs for integrity (inner integratedness)
 One wants to know, feel + act in coherent way, not in
conflict with oneself, one’s fellows + one’s natural +
social environment.
 1 doesn’t want to think in confused way, feel
disorientated or act without direction – would mean
that 1 is lost + “rootless”

 to extent that religion helps people to experience all

things, + themselves in the midst of all things, it gives
 Religion reconciles a person to him/herself + the
 1 feels certain, has deep insight + acts correctly – so
1 believes
 all forms of suffering becomes tolerable if 1 is
liberated from torments of meaningless +
 Confidence generated in this way endows religious
individuals + groups with enormous strength.

 Role of religion may be = comprehensive integrating

Religion Provides “Wings”

 Throughout history, religion has enabled spirits of
people to rise to new heights = religion has given
people wings
 Humans seem to have need to escape everyday
realities of life
 Spirits constantly seek further, deeper, higher, beyond
limitations of suffering, deception, banality of
everyday life
 Humans have strong inclination towards mysterious
depths + outer horizons of their existence + immense
capacity for wonder, reverence + awe.
 Religion is form of boundary experience where
horizon is forever shifting farther away.
 Religion is an extension of normal experience of
every person
 Also an extension of science + art, through which we
search for true knowledge + beauty
 Religion is longing for absolute truth, absolute beauty
+ absolute goodness.
 Religion is art + science pushed to their limits +
 In other words, religion isn’t confined to temples,
initiation rites, holy books, etc
 It is experience of the boundary, may be experienced
in midst of everyday life.

 Another concept that could be used in conjunction

with comprehensive integrating to define religion is
radical transcending.
 “to transcend” = to exceed, or go beyond
 “radical” = going to the root

 the needs to “take root” + “to fly” – 2 movements of

comprehensive integrating + radical transcending –

taken together give good workable definition of


 may ask whether our concept of religion is too wide?

 Can there be anything that is not religious?
 What is stipulated as cut-off point between full religion
+ non-religion is something that can cause
differences of opinion.
 Certain phenomena may not be religious themselves,
but find extension in religion overlap with religion
o E.g. art of ancient Africa – where does art end +
religion begin?
o Or quantum physics? At some point, there is a
crossover between science + religion
 Other phenomena decidedly antireligious – they block
search for comprehensive integration + radical
 Ultimately, a great + good religion wants to be part of
an all-inclusive fellowship of being
 systems built on hatred + division can hardly be called
religions in full sense of word
 problem of Satanism – some people believe that if
they allow themselves to be interested in other
religions, floodgates will be opened + everything
(including Satanism) will have to be taught in schools.
o Satanism not generally regarded by society as
religion at all, + cannot be said to strive for an
all-inclusive community of compassion.