Another 'theory of religion'

Reply Tue 28 Apr, 2009 09:51 pm
There have been a number of conversations on this thread about 'what religion means'. Here is a contribution based on a couple of standard definitions of the term 'religion'.

In academic religious studies, I was taught that the word 'religion' has two likely derivations with distinct, but overlapping, meanings.

This first is from the Latin 'religio' which means 'attitude of awe and respect to the Gods'.

This is really what most people understand by 'religion'. This derivation can be traced back to the various deity-cults, the Gods who were objects of supplication, sacrifice and prayer, from time immemorial, on the village, tribal or national level. Evidence of this kind of religious practise goes back at least to the earliest archelogical finds and indeed to Neanderthal relics and gravesites, and is preserved in many cultures in both written and aurally transmitted traditions.

With Christianity, the local, village, tribal and national deities were supplanted by the One True God, but many of the practises and underlying concepts of deity-worship remained the same. Evidence for this is found in the pagan origins of many Christian beliefs and practises, which are numerous, including, for example, the Christmas Tree, the Easter Egg, and the incorporation of the various pagan rituals such as Mid-Winter and Harvest Festival into the Christian calendar.

An alternative derivation of religion is from the Latin 're-ligare', the meaning of which is not so straightforward; it is usually translated as to 're-bind' (note similarity to words 'ligature' and 'ligament', both being 'things that join'.) Compare this to the meaning of the term 'yoga'. The derivation of 'yoga' is from the meaning 'to bind' or 'to yoke', as 'an oxen is yoked to a cart'. The underlying meaning of yoga is often understood to be the 'union of the soul with the supreme' which I think is very close to the meaning of 're-ligare' as discussed here.

My understanding is that this tradition is derived from different sources to that of 'religion as awe and respect for the Gods'. It is derived from such sources as the esoteric philosophical and spiritual traditions of ancient Greece (Pythagorism, Platonism), from the Vedic and Buddhist traditions of India, and from shamanism. Indeed many of these streams (such as early Buddhism and other schools of Indian philosophy) are explicitly non-theistic and not at all religious in the sense of 'religio'.

I think these two sources of 'religion' are actually quite distinct human cultural forms in terms of meaning, tradition, and psychology. Although they overlap and co-exist in many places - even inside the same religious institutions - there is often conflict between them, and they appeal to very different kinds of people. This is because they are actually different things. So before you launch into your 'theory of religion', it is helpful to understand this distinction.
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Reply Wed 29 Apr, 2009 03:42 am
Hello, Jeeprs. I don't know whether my remark is to the point but anyway. It seems to me that religion, belief, faith is a system of statements that do not need proofs. I may say: God exists and you may try to prove me wrong, I shall keep insist on it nevertheless. Thus it is in every religion. But these are our personal convictions and I suppose they are too narrow connected with our conditioning. To me religion is nothing but a thing that may explain things that cannot be understood through science (the Beginning of the Universe, e.g.) but I think we can quite happy live even without it, just as knowledge of quantum physics does not increase our happiness. Here religion is harmless. But when I start basing my attitude towards the world and me (ethics) on it, it becomes big trouble.
In religion, just as everywhere, we should first deprive ourselves from fear and only afterwards begin our investigation. But frankly speaking I doubt that were there no fear at all, people would start thinking on something "supreme".
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Reply Sat 9 May, 2009 01:23 pm
So the distinction is basically between worship vs. experiential practices?
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Reply Sat 9 May, 2009 04:41 pm
certainly that is part of it. In orthodox Christianity, you are told what to believe, and your view of the matter is completely immaterial (in fact to have an opinion about it is technically 'heretical'). In Theravada Buddhism there is a word 'ehipassiko' which basically means 'come and see': it invites you to test the teaching in your own experience.
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