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Approaches to Religious Studies


... of Representativeness (e.g. Daniel Kahneman & Amos Tversky, 'Subjective ... Durkheim, Malinowski, Radcliffe-Brown, Evans-Pritchard. 1950-1980s. Study of meaning ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Approaches to Religious Studies

Approaches to Religious Studies
  • By Kwan Shui-man

Class Discussion
  • What is Religion?

Some definitions
  • Religion is the sigh of the hard-pressed
    creature, the heart of a heartless world, the
    soul of souless circumstances. It is the opium of
    the people. (Marx)
  • A religion is a unified system of beliefs and
    practices relative to sacred things - that is to
    say, things set apart and forbidden - beliefs and
    practices which unite into one single moral
    community all those who adhere to them.
  • A system of symbols which acts to establish
    powerful, pervasive and long-lasting moods and
    motivations in men by formulating conceptions of
    a general order of existence and clothing these
    conceptions with such an aura of factuality that
    the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic
  • Religion, therefore, as I now ask you arbitrarily
    to take it, shall mean for us the feelings, acts,
    and experiences of individual men in their
    solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to
    stand in relation to whatever they may consider
    the divine (William James)

  • "Religious ideas...are illusions, fulfillments of
    the oldest, strongest and most urgent wishes of
    mankind...(They are) born from mans need to make
    his helplessness tolerable and built up from the
    material of memories of the helplessness of his
    own childhood and the childhood of the human
    race." Religion is "the universal obsessional
    neurosis of humanity like the obsessional
    neurosis of children, it arose out of the Oedipus
    complex, out of the relation to the father."
  • Religion is the state of being grasped by an
    ultimate concern, a concern which qualifies all
    other concerns as preliminary and which itself
    contains the answer to the question of the
    meaning of our life. (Tillich)

  • Ninian Smarts 7 dimensions (The Worlds
  • Practical or Ritual Dimension
  • Experiential and Emotional Dimension
  • Narrative or Mythic Dimension
  • Doctrinal and Philosophical Dimension
  • Ethical and Legal Dimension
  • Social and Institutional Dimension
  • Material Dimension

Religious Studies as Polymethodical
  • Anthropological approaches
  • Feminist approaches
  • Phenomenological approaches
  • Philosophical approaches
  • Psychological approaches
  • Sociological approaches
  • Theological approaches

Practical or Ritual Dimension Experiential and Em
otional Dimension Narrative or Mythic Dimension
Doctrinal and Philosophical Dimension
Ethical and Legal Dimension Social and Institutio
nal Dimension Material Dimension
Psychological Approach
  • The hard end
  • Physiological psychology
  • Behaviourism
  • Cognitive psychology
  • Social psychology
  • The soft end
  • Psychodynamic schools
  • Humanistic psychologies
  • Existential psychologies
  • Transpersonal psychologies

  • The hard endconcerns
  • Religious attitudesreligious inclinations,
    religious values, social-religious-political
    attitudes, religious concerns
  • Religious orientationsmotivation (intrinsic vs
    extrinsic), proneness to religious beliefs
  • Religious developmentdepth of religious
    experience, faith development/maturity
  • Religious commitment and involvement
  • Religious/Moral values or personal
  • Religious coping and problem-solving
  • Spirituality and mysticism
  • God-Concept

Some Examples of Psychological Studies of Religion
  • Jay L. Wenger, Implicit Components of Religious
  • -the emergence of beliefs

Dual Process Theories
Experiment Subliminal Priming Procedure
Controlled process
Automatic process
Automatic activiation
explicit process
Implicit process
Spontaneous application
Slow and Conscious
Fast and nonConscious
Religious Beliefs
Some Examples of Psychological Studies of Religion
2. The Heuristic of Representativeness (e.g.
Daniel Kahneman Amos Tversky, Subjective
Probability A Judgment of Representativeness)
- the maintenance of beliefs
  • e.g.

Gods Act!
Among the 23, my birthday is your birthday!
Highly representative (like goes with like)
Not random
The probability of having a birthday23/365 1/16
343 days left without any birthday
Highly non-representative
Some Examples of Psychological Studies of Religion
  • 3. Self-Disclosure and Prayer (e.g. Larry
    VandeCreek et al., "Praying About Difficult
    Experiences as Self-Disclosure to God)
  • Expresssion of Insights
  • Expression of Negative Emotions
  • Expression of Positive Emotion
  • Causal Expressions

  • Some Theoretical Concerns
  • Origin of Religion (e.g. evolutionary theory
    hypnotizability and Shamanic Trance)
  • Why do people believe? (e.g. low cognitive
    ability, high stress leveletc.)
  • How are Beliefs sustained?
  • How are Beliefs discarded/changed?

Anthropological Approach
  • 3 stages of thematic and theoretical focus
  • General sequence of thematic focus
  • Origin Function Meaning ...
  • 1860s-1900
  • Study of origin
  • Evolutionism
  • Tylor, Robertson Smith, Frazer, Spencer,
  • 1900-1950
  • Study of function
  • Functionalism
  • Durkheim, Malinowski, Radcliffe-Brown,
  • 1950-1980s
  • Study of meaning
  • Interpretive anthropology, symbolist
    anthropology, (structuralism)
  • Evans-Pritchard, Geertz, Douglas, Leach,
    (Lévi-Strauss) etc

  • 1950s-1980s
  • Ethnographic focus
  • primitive religions
  • local forms of world religions (1950s)
  • Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism
  • Religious movements in the Third World
  • The context of culture contact
  • Millenarian movements
  • Revitalization movements
  • Eg. Ghost Dance, Peyote cult, cargo cults

Participant Observationa frequently used
Anthropological Method
  • What
  • It requires living with the community being
    studied, learning its language
  • and participating in its life without seeking to
    alter it.
  • As a participant, the scholar simply observes and
    tries to get as close as possible to seeing a
    religion from the inside
  • Thick Description
  • Describing multi-dimensionally and
    multi-contextually what a person is doing
  • And what the person thinks s/he is doing

Phenomenological Approach
  • AimStructure of Religiosity
  • Overall Taskimaginatively entering into the
    world of the religious person
  • Understand as the religious person does
  • See the world thru eyes of the religious person
  • Make the subject of study speak with its own
    authentic voice
  • Accurate description of what is seen and heard

  • Distancing fr researchers own position
  • Bracketingattitudes, value judgments,
  • Crossing the cultural distance (as researcher
    becomes the participant)
  • Empathy
  • Sympathetic imagination
  • Seeing the essentials in the materials and any
    situation being studied
  • Essence of a religious phenomenon is realised and
    understood in its manifestations

An examplemy previous research in Charismatic
  • The structure of charismatic experience
  • Separation Liminality reaggregation
  • Liminality and Sacrality