Taxonomy of Religions by mifei


									Taxonomy of Religions

  Flow Charts to Believe In!

Taxonomy =
the science or technique of

To perform taxonomy, one must
develop a variety of categories,
which function as vectors of
        Vectors of Religious
• Distance between Sacred and Human
• Number of Deities
• Philosophic Cosmology
• Scope of Membership and Recruitment
• Social Organization (Basic Types)
• Social Identities and Locations (class, race,
  status, gender, education, etc.)
• Types of Practices and Modes of Knowledge
  (literate/oral, legal/mystic, ritual/philosophy)
   Micro- and Macro-Levels
• Religion functions at the level of
  organizing daily existence (micro),
  through such mechanisms as
  formulating codes of behavior, marking
  life-cycle events with rituals, and
  dictating community norms.
• Religion also functions at a larger
  ideological level by providing a
  framework for meaning, determining
  what is significant and what is
• The word „significance‟ is related to „sign‟
• Religious world-views recognize life-cycle
  events as significant (birth, death, war, illness,
  coming-of-age, etc.)
• Each religious world-view also accords unique
  significance to persons/events/places that
  would not be immediately understood as
  significant - these instances of created
  significance form incommensurate differences
  between religions
• Examples: who Jesus is to Christians, what
  Mecca means to Muslims, what Mt. Tamalpais
  means to Coast Miwok, etc.
• Word derived from
  hieros = sacred,
  phanos = to see, know
• Means any
  manifestation of the
• Grand hierophany
  defies our perceived
  rules of nature (i.e. a
• Intimate hierophany is
  a deeply-felt
  experience with
Hierophanies reveal the
    • In religious studies terms, all religions are
C     socially-constructed cosmologies. A
o     cosmology interprets the universe by
      providing organizing principles. These
s     principles distinguish between what is
      significant and what is considered
m     unimportant, accidental, or
    • Astronomers, physicists, and philosophers
l     also use cosmology, but do so in a less
      socially-constructed and behavior-
o     motivating manner than religions. The use
      of the term in these fields is more
g     descriptive than prescriptive. In religion,
y     cosmologies often lead to normative
              •   Afterlife
              •   Justice, Balance
              •   Hierarchy
              •   Stasis and Motion (Being and
 Examples     •   God/desses, Supernatural
     of       •   Distance between Humans
Cosmologic        and Gods
              •   Status of Animals and Nature
     al       •   Conflict or Harmony (War and
Organizing        Peace)
 Principles   •   Gender, Sex, Sexuality
 Four Basic Types of Human
    Social Organization
• TYPE                 • SOCIAL EFFECTS
• Gathering/Hunting    • Relative equality
                         and little job
• Nomadic Raiding        specialization
                       • Preference to
• Small-scale            young, male,
  Agricultural           physically able
  (Villages)           • Relative equality
• Urban (Large-scale     and little job
  Agricultural)          specialization
                       • Hierarchic,
  Religious Cosmologies and
      Social Organization
• Religion makes cosmologies real when it
  builds institutions, articulates codes of
  behavior, and sets social expectations.
• Religion thus establishes authority.
• Authority and social institutions seek to
  maintain the existing social order, rather than
  change it; they are inherently conservative,
  meaning both that they conserve what exists
  and that they have a political bias toward
  maintaining traditional ways.
  Religious Cosmologies and
      Social Organization
• "Religion legitimates so effectively
  because it relates the precarious reality
  constructions of empirical societies with
  ultimate reality" - Peter Berger in The
  Sacred Canopy
• Meaning: religion assures us that our
  form of social organization has divine
  sanction. But, the moment one begins
  to reflect comparatively, this assurance
  is under assault!
• Word literally means government by
  those who are closer to, or have access
  to, the sacred.
• The religious basis for authority of all
  kinds (political, military, familial, etc.) is
  deeply rooted - watch for examples in
  our current politics, despite the USA
  being an officially secular nation.
 Centralized Authority
• While all religions have authoritative figures and
  stories/writings, some religions have a tendency
  to centralize that authority, usually in a pyramidal
• The Catholic Church, with a strict hierarchy of
  officials culminating in the Pope, is an example
  of centralized religious authority.
• Ancient city-states, from Egypt to Mexico to
  Mesopotamia, literally organized their societies
  around such centralized authority, both religious
  and political.
       Pyramidal Hierarchic
    Catholic Church as Example





With each ascending layer, there are fewer people in the category
• Hinduism has multiple centers and sources of
  authority. As a result, it cannot, and does not,
  impose universal agreement in its
  communities, or in its belief system.
• Hinduism is, thus, polycentric, which means
  having many centers. This matches its
• Catholicism, by contrast, is monocentric,
  which means it has one center. This
  corresponds to that faith‟s monotheism,
    Religion and Community
• Because religion marks many life-cycle
  moments (birth, death, illness, etc.),
  religion functions as a major way of
  experiencing community.
• Exclusive religions insist that you can
  only belong to one religion at a time; the
  monotheistic religions are insistent on
  this point.
• Inclusive religions allow for participation
  in multiple systems.
  Inclusive Religion in Asia
• Religious communities in extensive areas
  of Asia, including India, China, and Japan,
  have most often allowed, and even
  encouraged, inclusive religious practices
  and the participation of people in more
  than one religious system.
• For instance, in Japan, it is common for
  people to go to Shinto shrines for New
  Year‟s Day celebrations, to Buddhist
  temples to ask forgiveness for their
  failings on New Year‟s Eve, and to a
  Christian Church for a wedding.
  Politics and Religion
• If politics concerns the organization of society,
  then its alliance with religion is a natural one.
• Because religions are cohesive, organized
  interpretations of the meaning, significance,
  and structure of the universe, politics can be
  seen (and has been seen in many traditional
  societies) as a subset of religion, a micro-level
  of human organization which should reflect the
  macro-level of divine/sacred cosmology.
• Religious hierarchies and political hierarchies,
  while often separate, have also often been
  mutually reinforcing.
• Religious and political leaders can often
  enhance, or add luster to, each other’s
Five Heuristic Relationships
Between the Sacred and the
• Transcendent: the sacred is much more powerful than we are, it is
  separate from us, and it is, at best, apathetic toward us
• Interventionary: the sacred is much more powerful than we are, it
  is separate from us, and it is deeply concerned with us. This
  concern leads to its intervention on our behalf in the form of
  revelation or direct contact
• Overlapping: the sacred realm and the human realm overlap in
  some places/people, in other ways the sacred extends beyond our
  knowing, and there are also areas in the human realm which are
  dangerously void of sacrality
• Immanent/Pantheism: the sacred realm and the human realm are
  co-terminous with each other: everything is sacred
• Panentheism: the sacred realm entirely contains the human realm,
  but the sacred realm is much larger than the human realm.
Five Heuristic Relationships
Between the Sacred and the
• Transcendent:

• Interventionary:

• Overlapping:

• Immanent/Pantheism:

• Panentheism:
Number of       Monotheism - a religious system which postulates that
                there is a single deity. Normally it is understood that this
                deity is a universal deity, whose acts and judgments affect

 Deities    •
                the entire world, not just those who worship this deity.
                Polytheism - a religious system which has a multitude of
                deities, related to one another in a pantheon. These
                deities can be understood as universal or local, depending
                on the philosophic outlook of the religious system.
            •   Kathenotheism - a special case of polytheism, loosely
                translated as "one-god-at-a-time-ism." Here the deities'
                heirarchic relation to each other is fluid, as the god or
                goddess who is being invoked or prayed to at a given
                moment is given precedence and supremacy over all
                others at that time. Also called Henotheism.
            •   Pantheism - means "all-is-god:" a religious system which
                postulates a one-to-one unity between sacred
                being/deity/deities and the universe.
            •   Panentheism - the understanding that the universe is a
                partial manifestation in unity with the sacred
                being/deity/deities. The name loosely means "all-is-god-
            •   Transtheism - a system which includes deities, but
                maintains that they are not ultimate. For example, in
                Jainism and Mahayana Buddhism the existence of deities
                is acknowledged, but human beings can transcend these
                deities by reaching various forms of enlightenment.
            •   atheism - no deity (atheism ≠ no religion; there are forms
                of Buddhism and Ethical Culture which are religions without
 Philosophic Categories of
How Many Things Are There
      in the Universe?
       Possible Answers Are
    1 = Monism, > 2 = Pluralism
2 that oppose each other = Dualism
      2 Ends of a Continuum =
Philosophic Categories of
            Cosmology is a fundamental
• Monism - belief/theory that there
  unity to the substance, energy, and/or structure of
  the universe. Synonyms include "singularism"
  and "henism" ("hen" is a Greek root meaning 'one'
  - it is also present in the words "kathenotheism"
  and "panenhenic")
• Pluralism - belief/theory that there is a thorough-
  going diversity of substances, energies, and/or
  structures in the universe
• Dualism - belief/theory that there are two
  fundamentally irreconcilable, polarized
  oppositional structures in the universe
• Complimentarity - belief/theory which understands
  seeming opposites in a unified way, as two sides
  of the same coin, as equally necessary and
  characteristic of the nature of reality. Also called
Continuum and Oppositional
  • Complimentarity is also sometimes called
    “duality.” Complimentary systems
    understand the coexistence of life/death as
    paradoxical, as part of a continuum, and/or
    as transformative.
  • Nirguna/Saguna operate in a
    complimentary manner.
  • Dualism and Complimentarity take
    oppositional and continuum approaches to
    reality, respectively. Dualism is best known
    as a „good v. evil‟ cosmology. No
    reconciliation is possible; one must defeat
    the other. Complimentarity looks for
    reconciliation and dialectic relation, as in
    the relation between light and dark.
     Dualism and Duality
 A playful way of illustrating it!

• Dualism assumes a        Duality assumes
Battle - it’s Hot vs.    Relation; hot and
Cold, and only one can    are relative
             Monism &
• Monism and monotheism are not
  identical. This is because monism is
  about underlying unity more than it is
  about singularity.
• from Eck, page 20: “Hindu thought is
  most distinctive for its refusal to make
  the one and the many into opposites.
  For most, the manyness of the divine is
  not superseded by oneness. Rather the
  two are held simultaneously and are
• The divine/sacred cannot be
  accurately described, and therefore
  all qualities (because they are
  qualifications), must be avoided, or
• The term literally means “formless.”
• Another Sanskrit term, “neti, neti,”
  meaning “not this, not that,” is also
  frequently used in philosophic
  descriptions of nirguna.
• Describing the divine/sacred is an
  additive process: all that is, must be
  expanded exponentially to even begin
  to adequately describe the divine
• Flowery epithets, multiple names,
  grandiose titles, attributes and other
  highly positive qualifications are
  approaches to describing the divine
  through saguna
Holding Opposites Together
• Continuum Logic is well-suited to
  resolving opposites
• Nirguna and Saguna co-exist in
  almost all Hindu philosophies
• What Eck refers to as the “cultural
  genius” of India is the ability to
  embrace “diversity, so that diversity
  unites, rather than divides” (page 18)
• a.k.a. Dancing Siva,
  Siva as Lord of the
• Siva holds creation
  (the drum enables
  time to commence)
  and destruction (fire)
  in his hands; he
  moves vigorously yet
  maintains meditative
• Siva unites opposite
  and disparate

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