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History of the Science of World Religions


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Title: History of the Science of World Religions

History of the Science of World Religions
  • A. Religionfrom Latin religio
  • 1. Originally seems to referred to as fear
    or reverence for the godslater to the rites
    offered to them
  • 2. Confusion as to where word originates
  • a. relegere--to gather things together or
    to pass over things repeatedly
  • b. religare--to bind things
    togetheremphasize communal aspectdraws people
    into religious rites, practice and belief

  • A. The study of religions seemingly originated
    with the Greeks
  • 1. Herodotusfather of historytook seriously
    the chronology of the past
  • 2. Epicurusa radical critic of religion and
    sought to catalog and explain the sense of the
  • 3. Stoicsbelieved there was a common
    denominator of sacred behind all religion

  • B. Romans studied religion
  • 1. Ciceroconcerned with the word religion and
    was first to use the term
  • 2. Seneca, Tacitus, and Julius Caesar all
    interested in the study
  • 3. After Christianity emerged study of different
    religions was neglected since the church was more
    concerned with its own mission and survival

  • C. Confrontation with Islam
  • 1. Islam rapid expansion
  • 2. Crusades

  • D. The Modern Mission Movement
  • With William Carey in 1792

  • E. The New Empiricism and Rationalism
  • 1. Deists and philosophers such as Hume,
    Rousseau, and Voltaire discussed the problem of
    natural religion
  • 2. Max Mueller wrote an essay on comparative
    mythologyhe found the origin of myths in natural

Criteria for the Study of World Religions
  • A. Objectivitystudents of religion must observe
    facts as objectively as possible
  • 1. One must consider sacred texts and historical
    manifestations of the faith
  • 2. It is important not to pre-judge another
    religious perspective

  • B. A Thorough Grounding
  • 1. Must have knowledge of history, psychology,
    philosophy, sociology, and theology in order to
    come to the essence of different religions
  • 2. Such facts are necessary for intelligent
    comparisons and discussions

  • C. Proper Criteria
  • One must have the responsibility to establish a
    criteria for judgment based on fact, not value

  • Distinguishing between fact and value
  • 1. A factual judgment asserts that is or is so
  • 2. A value judgment asserts that something ought
    to be

The Study of Religion
  • A. Animism
  • Edward Tylorfounder of modern anthropology
  • A type of consciousness in animate and inanimate

  • Fear
  • Rabbi Brown
  • Anicent humanity was insecure because of the
    forces of nature
  • Suggested Gen. 11 should have read
  • in the beginning was fear
  • Lucretius offered this as explanation of origin
    of religion
  • We fear what we do not know

  • TotemismDurkheim
  • Worship of ancestors
  • Religion arose out of fear for loved ones
  • Tribe was the family enlarged
  • Religion is identified with society

  • D. High God RevelationWilhelm Schmidt
  • Rooted against evolution view of religion
  • Believed most ancient people had a belief in a
    higher being

Definitions of Religion
  • A. Religion as a phenomenon looked on as
    universalEliades concept of the
  • sense of the sacred

  • B. Anti-Rationalistic Definitions
  • 1. Lucretiusan anti-rational, coercive force
  • 2. Reinancha sum of scruples which impede the
    free exercise of our faculties
  • 3. Marxa pathological manifestation of
    protective forces, deviation caused by ignorance
    of natural causes and their effects

  • C. Intellectual Definition
  • Max Mueller wrote that religion is a mental
    factor independent of sense and reason to
    apprehend the infinite in different names

  • D. Emotional Definitions
  • 1. Schleiermacher saw the essence of religion as
    an emotion and consists of feelings of absolute
  • 2. McTaggert said religion is best described as
    an emotion resting in conviction of harmony
    between ourselves and the universe at large

  • E. Religion as Morality
  • Immanuel Kant saw religion as the recognitions of
    our duties as divine commands, the driving force
    of the sacred is morality, e.g., tabu, holiness

  • F. Psychological Definition
  • William James said that religion comes from the
    feelings and experiences and individual people

  • G. Religion as Ultimate ValuationPaul Tillichs
    ultimate concern
  • 1. Ultimate concern has priority in the system
    of concerns which constitutes a personality or a
    cultureit gives meaning and purpose to human
  • 2. Ultimate concern is pervasivespread over the
    totality of existence
  • 3. Ultimate concern is concerned with the
    holyRudolph Otto saw holiness as a special and
    unique experience. He coined the phrase
    numinous, from Latin meaning divinity, god, or
    spiritrefers to a special feeling of aweness or
  • 4. Ultimate concern has to do with the
    expression and communication of religious
    experiencereligious experience takes place
    through symbolic words, objects, and actions
  • 5. Ultimate Concern is both lived and
    celebrated---celebrated through liturgy and
    mythologylived out in the religious expressions
    influencing all factors of life

Three Types of Religious Experience
  • A. Cosmic Religionone in which there is found a
    plurality of religious objects or gods it is
    polytheistic. The many gods are associated with
    nature and/or culture. Prehistoric and folk
    religions are examples of this type

  • B. Acosmic Religionone in which is found the
    religious object beyond the common secular world
    of nature and societyusually emphasizes the One.
  • Hinduism and transcendental monism are examples

  • C. Historical Religionone in which is found the
    religious object beyond and within the common
    worldsees history as linearexamples are
    Judaism, Christanity, and Islam

Religion of Pre-Historic Humanity
  • A. Concept of religion is believed to have
    began in the Old Stone Age (Palaeolithic) with
    the Neanderthals (100,000-25,000 years ago)
  • 1. Deliberate and meticulous care of burying
    dead, with ceremony
  • 2. The dead were buried in a fetal
    positiona return to the womb

  • 3. Example of burial in Monte Cicero (Italy)
  • a. Bones of deer, horse, hyena, elephant, and
    lion were on the floor and heaped up around the
    walls in piles
  • b. On the floor beneath the cranaium were two
    fractured metacarpals of an ox and of a deer
  • c. The skull showed signs of having received
    a fatal blow on the right side of the temple

  • d. At its base the portion connecting the
    braid with the spinal cord had been cut away
    after death, probably to extract the brain
  • e. The site appeared be a place in which the
    body was deposited ceremonially in a cave used
    for ritual purposes as a sacred ossuary

  • 4. Another example of a ritual burial is in
  • a. A nest of 27 human skulls were found in a
    group embedded in red ochre, the skulls looking
  • b. A few yards away was a second identical
    group of six skullssome of these the cervical
    vertebrae were still attached and from their
    condition the heads must have been severed from
    the body after death with flint knives


c. Those skulls in the center were tightly
packed together and crushedit seems that they
had been added one by one from time to time d.
Twenty of the skulls were of children ornamented
with snail shells nine were of women with
necklaces of deer teeth, and four were of adult
Cro-Magnons (25,000-10,000 years ago)more
developed1. First idols found were of female
deitiesshows interest in fertility the concept
of the mother goddess beginning to appear as a
fecundity motif

  • 2. From drawings, it appears the concept of
    symphatic magic was being conceived3.
    Throughout other burial sites, certain shells
    (cowrie) were shaped in the form of a portal
    through which a child enters the world4. During
    this time there was a widespread custom of
    placing ochreous powder on the body red was the
    color of life and placing the red ochre on the
    body suggests a belief in a life to come

  • 5. One anthropologist believes the painting of
    the body with the red ochre was the first
    mummification and an attempt to make the body
    servicable again
  • 6. Some burial spots could suggest that the
    living were making offerings to the dead out of a
    fear and awe of them

  • C. Mesolithic Period (Middle Stone Age,
    10,000-7,000 years ago
  • 1. This age was a transitional age which saw
    the vanishing of the ice sheet and a gradual
    shift from nomadic to village life
  • 2. In one grave site in Brittany were found a
    great ossuary with ten burial sites, including
    the remains of 23 individuals.
  • a. The bodies were crouched in shallow
    trench caves near the hearths accompanied by
    implements, perforated shell necklaces, and
  • b. The bodies were covered with red ochre
    and stone slabs
  • c. It appeared that the bodies were clothed
    where they were interred

  • 3. In Denmark there was a continuation of
    extended burial in earth graves defined by a
    small ring of small stones around the body and
    covered with a large earth mound known as
    dyssers or dolmans

  • D. The Neolithic (New Stone Age, 7000-3000
    years ago
  • 1. This age is characterized by several great
  • a. Early forms of agriculture, with active
    tilling of the soil
  • b. Domestication of animals and their
    gathering into flocks and herds
  • c. Advances in the arts of pottery, plaiting,
    weaving, and sewing
  • d. Establishment of settled communities with
    an accompanying growth of population
  • e. The invention of the wheeled card
  • f. The first surgery

  • 2. Religion also being radically transformed
  • a. The Mother Goddess or Great Goddess of
    earlier hunting culture became associated
    with creation and regeneration
  • b. Female divine power went beyond the
    animal models of birthing and nurture to the
    watering, tending, and protecting of the
    whole world of vegetation
  • c. Studies of Old Europe (Balkans) reveal a
    pantheon of mostly female deities
    subsequently obscured, but not fully
    displaced by later Indo-Aryan patriarchal and
    gender-polarized views.

Generalizations of Tribal Religions
  • A. Traditionalno written language exists
  • B. Naturalistic framework of referencebiologica
    l drives
  • C. Spontaneousresponse to stimuli, irrational

Broad Generalizations
  • A. Primitive religion is monisticno dualism
  • B. A sense of absolute interdependence of all
  • C. Interdependence maintained by infallible
    rigid authority
  • D. Religion serves to maintain social harmony
    and stability
  • E. No opposites among tribal peopleeverything
    and everybody complementary

Characteristics of Religion in Primal Cultures
  • A. Awe before the Sacred
  • 1. Rudolf Otto in The Ideal of the Holy, bases
    the experience of the holy upon an encounter
    with a mysterium tremendum et fascinosum, and
    found it in all religionsthe degree of the
    sense of the awe or holy various tremendously
    with each group
  • 2. In most primitive societies the sacred
    possesses a special significance and cannot be
    handled lightly
  • 3. Objects and persons can have this awe
    within them

  • B. Expressions of anxiety in ritual
  • 1. When there is a sense of the sacred,
    anxiety occurs and will cause action
  • 2. This action takes the form of special
    deeds and words
  • 3. Such anxiety is the basis of all religious

  • C. Ritual and Expectancy
  • 1. Some rituals are expectant in nature
  • 2. They presuppose a causal efficacy
  • 3. They are performed to bring health,
    offspring, productivity of the soil, fertility
    of cattle, et al
  • 4. Other rites occur at specific times for
    specific purposes
  • a. Rites of passageconnected with birth,
    name giving, initiation, betrothal, marriage,
    death, etc
  • b. The elevation to tribal leadership or

  • D. Myth and Ritual
  • 1. The making of myth is common in all human
  • 2. Myths help to answer questions as to the
    origin of actions or beliefs
  • 3. Cosmogonic or creation myths help to
    explain the origin of existence
  • 4. An etiological myth is one that explains
    how things have come to be as they are now
  • 5. The quasi-historical myth is the
    elaboration of an original happening, usually
    involving a hero or pioneer figure

  • E. Types of magic
  • 1. Magic may be loosely defined as an endeavor
    through utterance of set words, or the
    performance of set acts, or both, to control or
    bend the powers of the world to ones will
  • 2. Sympathetic magic (James Frazer) takes an
    imitative form based upon analogy
  • a. It assumes that look-alikes act alike, or,
    more significantly, that like influences or
    even produces like
  • b. Thus, if one imitates the looks and
    actions of a person or an animal (or even a
    thundercloud), one can induce a like and
    desired action in the imitated being or object

  • 3. Outcomes of magic are considered to be
  • a. ProductiveCro-Magnon hunting magic
    (painting) was a type of imitative magic
  • b. Aversiveone can use magic to hurt ones
    enemies by imitating a harmful act upon an
    image of a person
  • c. Contagiousthings conjoined and then
    separated still are connectedthus severed
    hair or fingernails retain a magical sympathy
    with the person to whom they belong

  • 4. Methods of control of magic
  • a. Fetishismrefers to any resort to a
    presumed power in inanimate objects includes
    objects which have power innate in them
  • b. Shamanismrefers to the conjuring of
    spirits into or out of human beings by one
    who is similarly spirit-possessed

  • F. Prayer
  • 1. Prayers in preliterate societies are
    generally formal and structured
  • 2. Where the gods are anthropormorphic, formal
    prayers generally include elements found in more
    literate societies namely, adoration,
    confession of wrongdoing, and promise of
    atonement, thanksgiving in grateful recognition
    of past favors, and supplication or petitions of
    a more or less specific kind

  • G. Divination
  • 1. A means to by-pass prayer
  • 2. It aims at immediate knowledge of the
    intentions or dispositions of the spiritual
  • 3. Usually there is a connection between
    divination and shamanism

  • H. Belief in Mana (Used by Codrington)
  • 1. Mana is a Melanesian term widely used to
    designate a widespread, although not universal,
    belief in occult force of indwelling
    supernatural power distinct from spirits
  • 2. The term refers to an experienced presence
    of a powerful but silent force

  • I. Animism
  • 1. An acceptance that all sorts of motionless
    objects as well as living and moving creatures
    have souls or spirits in them
  • 2. Identified with E. B. Tylor, who wrote that
    all nature is possessed, pervaded, crowded with
    spiritual beings

  • J. Veneration and worship of powers
  • 1. Worship can take three modes
  • a. Sometimes an object itself is worshipped
    as living and active, heavily charged with
  • b. Sometimes the object is nor worshipped
    for itself, but for the spirit or soul lodged
    in it
  • c. Sometimes the object is a symbol of the
    reality which is worshipped
  • 2. Veneration and awe are short of worship

  • K. Recognition of a Supreme Being
  • 1. Great debate as to whether primal peoples
    had a belief in a supreme being
  • 2. It is rather common to find a belief in a
    deity up in the sky or at a great distance from
    the earth
  • 3. Daily activities did not include such a
    high deity
  • 4. The great deity usually was the creator of
    the more popular deities

  • L. Taboo-Tabu
  • 1. Taboos are prohibitions applied to things,
    persons, and actions because they are considered
    sacred, dangerous, or socially forbidden
  • 2. Many taboos are due to fear based on mana
    others may reflect the dread of pollution

  • M. Purification rites
  • 1. Ceremonies of purification and cleansing
    are due to the belief of taboos or the impurity
    of a certain person or object
  • 2. In some cases, purification rites are used
    for the motive of purifying oneself for future
  • 3. Purification rites may take the form of
    fasting, abstention from sex, ablutions, et al

  • N. Sacrifices and gifts
  • 1. Sacrifice usually entails the giving up or
    destruction (e.g., burning) of something,
    animate or inanimate, human, animal, or
    vegetable in order to cause it to pass from
    human possession to that of the divine
  • 2. Original sacrifices seem to have involved
    animal and/or human sacrifices, because the
    spirits as well as humans need the vitality and
    strength present in life and blood
  • 3. Sacrifice may be performed to seek
    reconciliation with a divinity
  • 4. Sacrifice may be performed to placate the
    gods thus considered to be propitiatory

  • O. Attitudes toward the dead
  • 1. In many ancient societies, there developed
    a view that the dead may cause injury to the
  • 2. Thus, some kind of actions or words may be
    performed to prevent such interference

  • P. Totemism
  • 1. A very common characteristic of primal
    religions recognize the existence of a more or
    less intimate relationship between certain human
    groups or particular individuals and classes or
    species of animals, plant, or inanimate object
    in nature
  • 2. This recognition results in special social
    grouping and special rituals unique to that
    social grouping
  • 3. If an animal is the totem, the group is
    forbidden to eat the animal except in special
  • 4. By eating the animal, the group takes on
    the power of that particular animal

African Religion
  • I. No way to really discuss as one category
    since differences are so greatwe can look at a
    few recurring themes
  • A. Transcendence
  • 1. Names and expressions of divinities
    vary greatly
  • 2. But there does seem to be a general
    belief that there exists a kind of a supreme
    being who has control over the lesser spirits

  • 3. The first observations that African
    religion was simply forms of primitive
    polytheism does not seem to bear out
  • 4. The supreme being is described in
    various waysas a beneficent being, a father or
    mother, or as a holy god
  • 5. Popular religion seems to be
    polytheistic these beings seem to be
    representatives or servants of the higher god

  • 6. Like most religions, there are creation

  • B. Stages on Lifes wayones life is
    dominated by ritualsrites of passage
  • 1.Birthchildren are important naming
    ceremonies is important ceremony, accomplished
    in a variety of ways
  • 2. Initiationthe coming of age, assumption
    of responsibilities of adulthood

  • 3. Marriagevery important and intricate
  • 4. Deathserious and somewhat fearful
    experience there is general belief in a life
    after death reincarnation believed by some

C. Religious roles 1. Includes prophets,
shamans, sacred kings, traditional medicine
men 2. They have means of foreseeing
the future 3. Oracles are important 4. The
priest is important uses established ritual
forms which relate human life to transcendent
life 5. King is important feature

Native American Religion
  • A. Like African religions, there is great
  • 1. Differences between gatherers and farmers
  • 2. The latter celebrate the cycle of the
    agricultural year
  • 3. Many hunter-gatherers have stories of a
    transformer of trickster who set things in
  • 4. For farmers the creator is not a person,
    but a power in the sky

  • B. Recurring Themes
  • 1. Transcendence
  • a. There exists in all persons and objects
    a mystifying spiritcalled mana by Melanesians
  • b. Many do not have concept of a single
    high god

  • c. Paul Radin notes two aspects of this
    high god
  • (a) the supreme deity is just and rational
    but remote
  • (b) the transformer who is not always
    fair, but actively intervene in human life
    there also exists great number of other
    spiritsgood and bad

  • C. Stages on Lifes way
  • 1. Birthnaming ceremony is extremely
  • 2. Initiation
  • a. A vision quest for boys and sometimes
    for girls
  • b. Usually accomplished by sending them
    into wilderness, usually sees a
    supernatural visitor, that becomes major
    divinity of the person

  • 3. Marriageintricateno single patternmany
    see in women a mysterious power
  • 4. Deathusually takes on form of fear and
    avoidancecontact with corpse leads to
    separation or isolation

  • D. Religious rolesemphasis on shaman, medicine
    man and priestpriests lead in established
    rituals, no vision necessary
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