Religion is

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					                    Religion is…
 the service or worship of God or the
  supernatural - Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary
 a specific system of faith and worship
  – Oxford English Dictionary
a set of symbolic forms and acts which relate
  man to the ultimate condition of his existence
  – Robert Bellah
                  Religion is…
 Beliefs,attitudes, emotions, behavior, etc.,
  constituting man’s relationship with the
  powers and principles of the universe
  – Reader’s Digest Great Encyclopedic Dictionary
 Belief   in and/or worship of God or gods
  – World Book Dictionary
                Religion is…
 Belief in and reverence for a supernatural
  power or powers regarded as creator and
  governor of the universe; a personal or
  institutionalized system grounded in such
  belief and worship –
                  Religion is…
 [the  seeking] of divine truth, exploring who
  we are, why we’re here, and how we should
  live - Joel Beversluis, ed., Sourcebook of the world’s
 beliefthat there is an unseen order, and that
  our supreme good lies in harmoniously
  adjusting ourselves thereto – William James
          Who wants to know?
 The common folk (you and me)
 Philosophers
 Sociologists
 Theologians
 Anthropologists
 Psychologists
 Historians
 Critics
Everyone’s got an agenda and a limited perspective
  that will influence how they perceive religion
    Criteria for Defining Religion
 Avoid  a biased definition
 Avoid a definition that is too limited
 Avoid a definition that is too broad
 Have a definition that is fairly comprehensive
  of the multiple dimensions of religion
 Consider both the substance and function of
            Definitions can be…
Biased, revealing a positive or negative
judgment or perspective toward religion:
  “an infantile dependency, a neurosis” (Sigmund
  “the opium of the people” (Karl Marx)

Both of these statements are criticisms and
 judgments based on a negative perspective of
 the value of religion.
             Definitions can be…
Too narrow or limited (exclusive):
 “a specific system of belief in God, doctrines,
 etc. God’s relation to humanity and the
 universe” (Western/Christian bias)

 Religion  is a lot more than just belief
 There are many systems generally considered
  to be “religions” that do not fit with this
  definition (they do not believe in or relate to a god
  or gods) (use more generic language)
              Definitions can be…
Too broad or inclusive:
    “a system of beliefs and practices directed to the
    ultimate concern of society”

 Are economic or political systems “religions”?
 What kind of “ultimate concern”? What kind of
  beliefs? What kind of practices?
 Definitions that are too general (generic) may not be
  very useful
 Definitions should be sufficiently specific
             Cluster Definitions
 Definitions should be fairly comprehensive of
  the multiple dimensions of religion
 Identify several “familial” traits shared by many

             What comes to mind when
             you hear the word “religion”?
                    Pair & share
                   Group & share
              Religions share…
 Belief in a higher power (be it a person or principle)
 Surrender to the supreme power
 An ethic of reciprocity (the Golden Rule)
 Worship (prayer or other such practices)
 Belief in the human spirit (soul)
 Belief in other worlds (beyond life in this world,
  afterlife, reincarnation, etc.)
 Paths to God that can effect a positive change in
  human lives
  - Pope John Paul II Cultural Center “Gallery of Faith”
           Cluster Definitions
 Do  not insist that every religion must share
  every trait in common
 May include traits shared by non-religious
 Tend to suggest that the more traits a given
  system involves, the more likely we can
  consider it a “religion”; the fewer traits a
  given system shares the less likely we may be
  to consider it a “religion”
    Seven Dimensions of Religion
 Practical/Ritual (religious practice)
 Experiential/Emotional
 Narrative/Mythic (sacred stories)
 Doctrinal/Philosophical (beliefs, theology)
 Ethical/Legal (moral code)
 Social/Institutional
 Material (sacred objects, structures, places)

                                    - Ninian Smart
  Ways of Understanding Religion
Substantive or essentialist definitions
 characterize religion by some basic essence
 which is common to all religious systems, but
 not to any non-religious systems. They say
 what religion is (nouns):
 “Belief in invisible superhuman power
 together with feelings and practices that flow
 from such a belief “
  Ways of Understanding Religion
Functionalist definitions focus on the way
 religion operates or functions in human life.
 They say what religion does (verbs):

 “A set of beliefs and practices which serve to
 subordinate us to something superior or holy
 in order to justify the events that control our
                 Religion is…
Both Substantive and Functional:
 “a system of belief and worship which usually
 incorporates a code of ethics. Religion fulfills
 the human need for a relationship with the
 creative, spiritual force of the universe.”
 - Pope John Paul II Cultural Center “Gallery of Faith”
 A definition that incorporates several aspects of
 substance as well as function tends to be more
               Religion is…
 …the seeking of transcendent meaning that
 gives our lives value and puts us in touch with
 the deeper currents of existence... Religion
 helps people to cultivate an appreciation of
 the holiness of humanity and teaches us to
 respect the sacredness of life and the world.

    - Karen Armstrong, Battle for God, pp. 199-201
               The “Gray” Area
Is it or is it not a “religion”?
 The Nacirema?
 Secular Humanism?
 Confucianism?
 Communism?

How can we make a determination?
          Which Comes First?
 Deductive   reasoning: begin with a definition
  and see if the system fits
 Inductive reasoning: compare and contrast a
  variety of systems provisionally considered
  “religious” and “non-religious” and then draw
  some conclusions to arrive at a definition:

What do most (if not all) “religions” have in
 common? What is it that makes something a
 Bias (perspective/agenda)
 Narrow/biased
 Broad/vague
 Cluster/Multidimensional
 Substantive
 Functionalist
 Inductive
 Deductive
          A “working” definition
“Religion is a system of activities and beliefs directed
  toward that which is perceived to be of sacred value
  and transforming power”
Is this definition:
 Biased? (in what way?)
 Too limited? (why?)
 Too broad or vague? (why?)
 Comprehensive?
 Substantive? (where?)
 Functionalist? (where?)
     Another “Working” Definition
“Religion is a set of beliefs that spark the formation of
  communities of faith which act out those beliefs in
  order to heal themselves and our broken world”
Is this definition:
 Biased? (in what way?)
 Too limited? (why?)
 Too broad or vague? (why?)
 Comprehensive?
 Substantive? (where?)
 Functionalist? (where?)
              Defining Religion

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