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Living Religion Fourth Edition

Galaxies are vast collections of stars that sometimes have many millions, and occasionally many billions, of members. Our own galaxy— the Milky Way with the constellation Southern Cross—is home to more than 100 billion stars. Such sights raise many questions, such as: ‘How did the universe begin?’ and ‘Where did human beings come from?’


In a religious context, myths are stories
that are passed on orally. Each myth
has a beginning, a middle and an end,
and narrates the deeds of superhuman
beings or gods, who can do things that
human beings cannot. Societies use
myths to explain the ‘truth’ about how
the world, social customs, rituals and
other realities came to be.

Although space exploration and science have brought the
world ‘out there’ closer and unravelled many questions
about how the universe began, people still ponder the
mysteries of human existence. They seek to find answers to
what lies beyond the realm of the ordinary. In an attempt
to answer the questions that people have asked—and
continue to ask—about the search for meaning and the
ultimate goal of human life, a number of quite distinctive
responses have emerged. For some, the answers come
through revealed texts and writings. For others, like
Australia’s Indigenous peoples, answers come through
ancestral myths, such as the stories of Dreaming that they
express through symbolism and art, and re-enact in their
Living Religion Fourth Edition explores the expression and
practice of the world’s various belief systems that have

arisen as people have sought answers to the ultimate
questions of human existence. Five of these belief systems
are called the major religious traditions—major because
of the number of their adherents—and they each have
their own distinctive response. But before looking at
these belief systems, we need to understand the nature of
religion and those characteristics we call ‘religious’.
The exploration of how people explain the ultimate
questions of human existence is not an easy task—it
requires the explorer to acknowledge that their
understanding of religion is modified by their own
experience of ‘religion’. How you were brought up, your
family’s religious experience and the many other factors
that have shaped you to this stage of your life affect your
attitude towards religion and how you define it. Is it
possible to ever arrive at a definition that can be explained in simple terms?
Religion, however one defines it, is complex. It can be a
cohesive force in society and, at the same time, a source
of division. But the investigation of these different aspects is exciting.

The five major religious traditions are Buddhism,
Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism.

Chapter 1: Nature of religion and beliefs

1 Maintain a list in your personal workbook where
you summarise the meanings of the key terms,
concepts and ideas discussed in this chapter.
2 Compare your first and subsequent definitions
of ‘religion’ that you make as you work through
this chapter with your definition of ‘religion’ at
the end of the chapter.
3 Create and maintain a media clippings file under
the following two headings:
a The nature of religion and beliefs
b Australian Aboriginal beliefs and
Where relevant, include names and descriptions
of websites on these topics. At the conclusion
of the chapter, you will analyse your file and
compare the media’s presentation of these topics
with what you have learnt.

Before one can talk about the ‘nature of religion’, it is necessary to come to some sort of definition of ‘religion’. This is not as simple as consulting the dictionary!
A belief in a supreme supernatural power or powers
thought to control the universe and all living things.
Macquarie Dictionary

Religion is constituted by a set of beliefs, actions and
emotions, both personal and corporate,...
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