Mid Term Midterm
Religious Studies 100
We have seen that in the academic world, as in the world in general, there is much controversy ove
Mid Term Midterm
Religious Studies 100
We have seen that in the academic world, as in the world in general, there is much controversy over the nature of religion. What is Religion? Develop your answer by specific reference to the course material, for example, Wach’s descriptive definition of religion, the basic categories of the phenomenology of religion, the psychology and sociology of religion, and the ideas of the scholars and social scientists presented in class, drawing from your assigned readings and the course lectures. (minimum of 5 pages, 250 words/page)
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Wach observed that all religions are characterized by three universal expressions: the theoretical, the sociological and the practical.
1. The THEORETICAL expression of religion: Religion always involves saying something about what is believed by religious followers; the verbal side of religion which explicates the belief system.
A. Myth: the primal theoretical expression in religion. Myth is a narrative, a story that iconically encapsulates a people’s vision of the world and their place
in it. The surface of myth may not be true, but in all cases, a living myth is at least psychologically true.
B. Doctrine: a later stage of theoretical development in religion which rationalizes inconsistencies in the myths of a religion and explores various religious
problems with more intellectual rigor than is possible in the dreamlike myth. It is more propositional than myth, and includes doctrine, dogma, theology and
2. The SOCIOLOGICAL expression of religion: Religion is always social; we always learn of religion in social contexts. Religion always involves a system of social relations and functions. Refer to the Sociological Forms of Religion class handout for a detailed presentation of the Church/Denomination/Sect/Cult typology — these are the sociological forms of religion most common in early modern and modern societies.
3. The PRACTICAL expression of religion: “Practical” here is from the Greek word praxis. Religion always involves doing something to get in touch with the sacred. Prayer, group and individual worship, meditation, pilgrimage, holy war, ritual sacrifice, etc.
Wach’s approach to religion is as nearly neutral as is possible. Simply describing what he sees, he leaves open the question of religious truth and the nature of the religious experiences out of which religions arise.
Four Psychological Factors in the Development of Religion
1. The influence of teaching and various other social pressures (the social psychological factor).
This would include such thing as religious indoctrination as a child and “suggestion,” which is making a statement in such a
way that it is accepted by a listener without rational grounds for believing it to be true. Children, for instance, uniformly
agree with their parents when the parents, believing that medical science is an afront to God, insist on praying for the
recovery of their child, even when she or he is gravely ill, rather than going to a hospital. And suggestion can shape us on
deep and even unconscious levels. Recall what I said of the preaching techniques of Jonathan Edwards and the forces of
collective suggestibility active in the camp meetngs on the American frontier in the 1820s.
2. Personal religious experience
Moral conflict: moral conflict is often very painful, and religion is a vehicle of moral decision-making to which people
often turn to resolve such conflicts.
Experiences of the beauty, harmony and goodness of the world: aesthetic experience can sometimes deepen until
the whole world seems to radiate a light that comes from beyond itself, and then, in the experience of those who claim this
at least, the world becomes too beautiful to contain its own beauty, and beauty points to something beyond the world, to
Religious emotional or mystical experience: naturally induced by ritual or meditative practices and spiritual disciplines
of all kinds. This is an immediate, direct vision or experience of the sacred.
3. Unmet needs
Religious attitudes can develop from our seeking to fulfill such universal needs as our need for safety, security,
companionship, love, and reassurance about death. Recall the the statistics given in class on the religious engagement
of never married, married and widowed people. And those on the depression rates of teens compared with those of
4. Intellectual experience
The intellect can drive the development of religious attitudes and beliefs. Thus Wach notes that “doctrine” develops in
every religion after “myth” lays the foundations of belief to rationalize, to make sense of myth. And recall what the Basuto
herdsman said in the 1740s to the French natural historian (“anthropologist” today) Ribot. We might not know his name,
but we know he thought very deeply about the roots of his own religious tradition and was changing it as he did.