Theory And Method In The Study Of Religion

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Final Reflection – Theory and Method in the Study of Religion Religion has been ever present in human history as one of the most influential and powerful forces in society. In many cases it has guided moral judgment, informed ethical dilemmas, aroused feelings essential to human well-being and happiness, organized masses, oriented entire countries toward a common goal, and shaped the scope of human experience. And yet with this indispensable role in society it is an incredibly difficult task to try and define something so immense, it still stands as an open-ended concept. If we trace the meaning of the word “religion” we will find that the Latin root speaks of “reconnection”; re meaning “again” and lig meaning “join” or “connect” (Molloy 6). Hence if we start at the root we find that religion must lead a person to reconnect with that which is sacred around them. Biologist Julian Huxley actually stated that “Religion is a way of life founded upon the apprehension of sacredness in existence.” Under this idea then, what is it that characterizes religion as this way of life? What distinguished this way of life from another? What makes a person religious? Or are we ultimately all religious? These are all questions which as a scholar of religion one encounters. I will attempt in the following pages to give a (very) brief disciplined explanation of what I understand to be religion and how it manifests itself in my human experience. I will later evaluate that understanding of religion as it stands in comparison with theories of religion expressed by pioneers such as Rudolf Otto, William James, Emile Durkheim and Pascal Boyer. After these two examinations I will finally give a brief explanation of why religion matters? In my study of religion and in my human experience I have come to a definition of religion that tries to encompass the purpose of religion and the necessity of it as I understand it. Religion is that which directs a person’s thoughts, actions, beliefs, ethics, relationships, and worldview to profound connection with other people’s thoughts, actions, beliefs, ethics, relationships, and worldview; it is based on a transcendental reality, superhuman being, or idea that functions as the basis upon human interaction, connection, and understanding of the world which surrounds us and which we share. Furthermore it aids us in answering the questions which pertain to our lives, whose answers shed light upon our origins and our nature. This connection can be manifested in ritual, sacred scripture, community life, belief systems, myth, emotional expression, mystic experience or material expression (Molloy 7). Hence religion under this premise is that transcendental reality, human, or idea which directs us to come into unity with all that surrounds us; and we may come upon this unity through the eight characteristics I outlined. The definition I provided is one which I believe is relevant to the religious traditions I have seen, and my own as I have experienced it. Religion, as its root meaning presents, is supposed to reconnect us. This reconnection implies there was once unity, that is now lost and must be regained. In Islam this unity can be attributed to unity with our neighbors and with the One God, Allah. In Buddhism, this unity can be seen as unity with ourselves and with others as should be manifested in our compassionate deeds toward them. In Christianity this unity can be attributed to the Trinitarian God and all of creation as reflecting the Creator. In Shinto it is manifested in the seeking of unity between Japan’s ancient past and its present day. In Santeria it can be ascribed to unity with the Orishas. And so it goes for different traditions around the world. At the root of religion is a reconnection with ourselves, with others, and with a higher reality, person, or idea. This reconnection can be expanded to be a connection with the creation that surrounds us on the basis of those things that are most...
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