But I‘m not religious!!• Studying about religion is not thesame as religious instruction.• Religions construct comprehensiveworldviews and teach their memberswhat to believe and how to behave.Religious knowledge comes by faithand/or revelation rather thanreason.• In a secular university, studentsstudy about religion(s)—how andwhy they work (or don‘t), and aboutthe beliefs and behaviors ofreligious people. The goal is tounderstand but also to explainintellectually, using reason ratherthan faith or revelation.
But I‘m religious!!• Studying religion(s) does not meangiving up your personal faith orbeliefs. It requires setting themaside temporarily to become animpartial, objective observer.• Just as a non-religious person mustbracket out his/her skepticism, areligious person must also forgojudgment and suspend dis/belief forthe sake of the study.• This suspension of dis/belief iscalled ―epoché‖.
• Stands outside the religious traditionand looks in• Committed to understanding and/orexplaining religion as a researcher• Creates knowledge based on methodsand standards of his/her academicdiscipline• May participate in a religiouscommunity for the purposes of his/herstudy• Member of a religious tradition• Committed to the teachings andpractices of his/her religion• Promotes the interests of his/herreligious organization• Believes and/or practices religion forpersonal reasons• Speaks from within the religiouscommunityINSIDE / OUTSIDEFIRST-ORDER/SECOND-ORDERInsider‘s Viewpoint Outsider‘s Viewpoint
WHAT IT TAKES TO STUDY RELIGION• Openness. Open-minded people recognize they may be wrong; their beliefs are fallible.• Honesty. Laying aside prejudices (pre-judging) and being self-reflective. Why do I think as I doabout religion(s)? Where and how did I learn what I ―know‖ about it/them?• Critical Intelligence. Critical thinking—striving to see things clearly—and drawing conclusionsbased on evidence allows you to overcome prejudice and make fair judgments.• Analysis requires breaking down a complex object into simpler elements and looking atthem closely; seeing how they relate to one another and how they relate to similarelements in other objects—how they are the same and how they are different?• Synthesis requires putting the object back together, having learned something new aboutour objects from the work we have done.• Integrity. Do careful research and be methodical in your work.• Critical Tolerance. Respecting freedom of religion does not mean that a student of religion mustgive a blanket sanction to any and all religious beliefs and practices.
What is Religion??In one sense, religion is a fabrication ofour academic imaginations. That is, asan object of study, we have to definewhat counts as religion and what doesnot.Religions have always been comparedto one another as part of academicstudy. Categories of comparison had tobe constructed and ―religions‖ wereclassified according to kind.In the end, it is the job of the scholar tolimit a field of study—to say what isgoing to be in and what is out.• RELIGIONS … what counted when• Christianity, Judaism, Mohammedanism andIdolatry; polytheists, monotheists, pantheists.(until early 19th century).• Nature religions, magical religions, andethical religions—nationalist anduniversalistic or World Religions (C. P. Tiele,―Religions‖ in Encyclopedia Britannica,1884).• Twelve great ―living‖ religions: Primitivism,Taoism, Confucianism, Shinto, Hinduism,Jainism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Sikhism,Judaism, Islam and Christianity (J. C. Archer,Faiths Men Live By, 1934).
What is Religion??Are Communism, Atheism, Christianity,football and Confucianism all membersof the same class of ‗things‘?What could we learn by comparingelements of one to another?Do people generally think of all these―things‖ as religions? There are differentkinds of definitions. A dictionarydefinition (lexical), for example, providesyou with the common usage of a word; astipulative definition tells your readerhow YOU will use a word in a specificcontext. This is a common kind ofdefinition in academic discourse.
DEFINING ―RELIGION‖ IN RELIGIOUS STUDIES• Stipulative definitions – a definition that specifies how a term will be used in a particularcontext. When I write a paper, I may tell the reader up front that I will be using the word―religion‖ to mean belief in spiritual beings. I will stipulate that this is my workingdefinition, recognizing that this does not capture everything that the word ―religion‖ couldpossibly mean.• Lexical definitions – This is a dictionary definition that records common usage. It has littlevalue in an academic study of religion except as evidence of how the word is used at anygiven time in any given place.• Essential definitions – Religion(s) are sometimes defined in terms of their core, oressential characteristics; what makes religion(s) unique. Sometimes called insider‘sdefinitions or first-order definitions, they are not often used in secular religious studiestoday. Modern religions are extremely diverse internally they share similar characteristicswith each other externally. Essential characteristics are usually combined with functionalcharacteristics (what religions ―do‖) to create cluster definitions of religion(s) today.
A CLUSTER DEFINITION OF RELIGION• Defining religion in terms of both content and function is preferable to using essentialist (onlycontent) or reductionist (only function) definitions.• Rituals, Symbols, Myths• Belief in or apprehension of God/s or a transcendent reality• Sacred texts (canons)• Creates sacred time and sacred space.• Answers existential questions about the meaning of life and death• Defines good and evil, and creates a moral universe• Creates a moral community or social group bound together by its beliefs and practices.A religion may have all or most of these characteristics. It will necessarily share many of theseelements with other religions while it will share only a few with non-religious systems.
DISCIPLINARY LENSES FOR STUDYINGRELIGION• History• Historical development of religious tradition. The goal was originally to prove that allreligions at their essential core were the same. Either awareness of this core was lost overtime or human beings were gradually progressing toward this awareness through time.• Comparative study of religious systems. World Religions courses are paradigmatic.• Social scientific study of religion(s)• Anthropology. Concerned with the way humans create meaning and use symbols tocommunicate.• Sociology. Focused on religion as the product of social forces.• Psychology of Religion. Concentrates on religion as a function of the mind.• Philosophy and Theology• Both are concerned with questions of truth. Philosophy wants to know if religion propoundsthe truth, while theology claims to be able to study truth as it has been revealed.
GOALS AND METHODSIN STUDYING ABOUT RELIGION―Theology is the scholarly language of religion, and religious studies are the scholarlylanguage about religion‖-Gary Kessler, Studying Religion, p. 28
Goals and MethodsDescribing involves classifying.To do this requires categories for religiousphenomena. Muslims believe in one God(p). Belief in God is a category of religiousphenomena called ―theism‖ (x). Belief in asingle God is a subcategory of theismcalled ―monotheism‖.A note of caution: Analyzing or reducing awhole to its parts is only part one; failing tosynthesize or to put the whole inperspective again can make a religionseem more like the blind men‘s elephantthan a dynamic system.
GOALS AND METHODS - CONTINUED• Prototypes• These are ―ideal‖ types that serve as a base for comparison. The ―prototype‖ for theismhas historically been Christian beliefs about GOD because religious studies is a WesternEuropean discipline.• A prototype should not be seen as better or worse than any other example, it should bethe most easily recognized example of your category. Prototypes are culturally relative notabsolute examples. In a Buddhist culture, the prototype for theism might be atheism.• If you are interested, you can listen to a cogent philosophical explanation of the conceptof ―god/GOD/God‖ on You Tube. It is about 25 minutes long, but worth the time. This is notrequired, but recommended. http://youtu.be/eFzObFaF2b0
GOALS AND METHODS - CONTINUED• Typologies• These are classification schemes. Here is one possible typological scheme for theconcept of GOD/god/God, or ―THEISM‖• Monotheism – belief in one god• Polytheism – belief in more than one god• Pantheism – belief that everything is god• Henotheism – the belief that multiple gods exist, but only one (at a time) should beworshiped• Ditheism – there are two gods, and both are equal• Deism – belief that god(s) exist/s but they or s/he does not intervene in humanexperience
GOALS AND METHODS - CONTINUED• Comparison is a method of analysis that looks for similarities and differences amongphenomena in the same class. You can compare one kind of ritual with another kind ofritual, but you can‘t compare myths to rituals. This sounds obvious, but is morecomplicated when you try to compare complex religious systems to one another.• Understanding is what most humanistic scholars strive to achieve by their study ofreligious phenomena. First we will want to know what ―x‖ means to a religious person.Second, we will ask what the phenomena we are describing, along with their attachedmeanings, add to our knowledge about religion and about being human. Kessler refers tothis process as ―interpretation‖.• Explanation is what we attempt to do when we apply disciplinary theories to our data. Wemay understand that a Pentecostal snake handler believes s/he is handling under thepower of the Holy Ghost, but we might explain the dissociative trance state that handlersachieve in order to perform their rituals using psychological models. In the secular studyof religion, explanations are given in terms of natural not supernatural causes.
SITE VISITS: OBSERVER AS A PARTICIPANT• ―There is no substitute for talking to people who practice religion and observing what they do‖(Kessler, p. 33).• Preparation involves doing preliminary research on your community and setting up yourvisit.• Observation means paying attention to details, taking copious notes or recordings, andwriting up your observations as soon after the visit as possible.• Participation means taking part in the religious activities when it is possible and proper todo so. Most communities welcome outside participation, although there can be somerestrictions that apply. Research and prior contact are critical here so you know what youcan expect.• Interviews. Plan to speak with people and to ask questions that will help you understandwhat is happening.• Documentation – the who, what, where, when and why of your site visit• Writing the Report.