Defining Religion: What It Is vs. What It Does
In a perfect world, we have all the answers. No situation confuses or gives any real diversity when placed before us, so there is no room for us to wonder and experiment. But we do not live in a perfect world therefore we have views that may seem “far- off” to the next person who does not believe what we believe to be true. Essentialism and Functionalism in religion is a great example of that. The two perspectives go hand in hand, but they bump heads far more than they come together. Have you ever known of a woman who was down and out, but something got her life back on track? An essentialist would explain this situation through what they believe to be the divine essence of all reality. On the other hand, a functionalist would claim that substantial, visible, evidence can suffice for this women’s triumph. They are both intricate, and highly disputable. Yet, each giving their own, there is a common basis between the two and that is belief beyond measure.
Everything is essential or is derived from divine decent. At least, an essentialist would surely say so. Someone like Rudolph Otto, a German theologian, referred to religion as “numinous” and more famously, the “Wholly Other”. When a single mother loses her job, and then moves to a city to begin anew, finding her self on a “religious experience”, according to Otto that is the non-rational experience happening outside one’s self. Those moments she experiences her foot begin to tap to the hymns of a choir in a church she had never been to before, or when she kneels down to pray after feeling compelled to do so by the pastor’s sermon (and by the congregates’ reaction to it) are described as collective effervescence. Sui Generis (unique to itself) is what Eliade, a Romanian religion historian who is also categorized amongst other essentialist, used to describe the Holiness and Sacredness of it all. Emile Durkheim, a functionalist, does not believe that religion...
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