3. Difficulty of Definition
What to include?
What to exclude?
Origins (etymology) of “Religion”
Religio - respect (for the gods)
Religare - to bind, to connect
Relegere - to re-read, read again
Albanese: Substantive, Functional, and Formal
4. Definitions of Religion
Emile Durkheim (Sociologist):
“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 community
called a church, all those who adhere to them.”
Religion is an institution (group).
5. Definitions of Religion
Clifford Geertz (Anthropologist):
“…religion is: (1) a system of symbols which acts to
(2) establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting
moods and motivations in men [sic] by (3)
formulating conceptions of a general order and (4)
clothing these conceptions with such an air of
factuality that (5) the moods and motivations seem
Religion is a symbolic cultural system.
6. Definitions of Religion
Karl Marx (philosopher):
“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed
creature, the heart of a heartless world, as it
is the spirit of spiritless conditions. It is the
opium of the people.”
Religion is false consciousness, mystification,
7. Definitions of Religion
Paul Tillich (theologian):
“Religion is the aspect of depth in the totality of the
human spirit…the religious aspect points to that
which is ultimate, infinite, unconditional in man’s
[sic] spiritual life. Religion, in the largest and
most basic sense of the word, is ultimate concern.”
Religion is depth dimension of human experience.
8. Definitions of Religion
Frederick Streng (Historian of Religion):
“Religion is a means to ultimate
Ultimacy and effective power; practice.
9. Religion as Means to Ultimate
Problem (state of sin, ignorance, etc)
Ideal state or goal (grace, heaven,
enlightenment, balance, etc)
Means or way to achieve goal
(meditation, piety, devotional practices, acceptance of
10. Why Study Religion?
To gain information, compare, understand
To examine religion in a cultural context
To broaden one’s own perspective
To gain a new religious or experiential self
Scale of inter-religious understanding
From Religious hatred to Religious engagement.
< ----------------------------------------------------------- >
Pluralism, Multi-culturalism, Post-pluralism
11. How to Study Religion?
(Problems, Hurdles, Difficulties)
Objectivity and subjectivity
Emic (insider) and etic (outsider) approaches
Primary data and texts vs. secondary
Purpose or goal of study?
Difference between culture and religion
12. Theories of Religion
1. Animistic Theories
2. Nature-Worship Theory
3. Original Monotheism Theory
4. Magic Theory
5. Human Needs Theory
13. What does a “theory” do?
Bart Simpson: knowing of…
Theoria: (Gr.) to see, what is seen, seeing
Explains events mechanistically
Allows us to predict and control
Tells us where to look, what questions to ask.
In Religious Studies…? Bias? Ethnocentrism?
14. Animistic Theory
Edward Tylor (1832-1917)
“Primitive” peoples develop sense of spirit or
other-world or soul from experiences of death and
“mana” is supernatural power experienced
Ancestor worship and polytheism
Animism - spirits could be helpful or harmmful
15. Nature-Worship Theory
Max Müller (1823-1900)
Humans develop religions from observing
the forces of nature - not just death and
Religion as personification of natural forces
Gods/goddesses tend to correspond to nature
Indo-European religions all seem to originate
from myths about the sun.
16. Original Monotheism
Wilhelm Schmidt (1868-1954)
Earliest religions not animistic or naturalistic, but
based on one High God.
Transcends time and world
Moral law-giver, returns at end of time.
Too difficult to sustain by “primitives”-corrupted
Advanced religions (I.e. Abrahamic) recovered
18. Human Needs Theories
Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872) - religion as
superlative human quality (most powerful, most
loving, best of…); projection of human ideals onto
distant heaven and therefore source of humanity’s
disrespect for itself.
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) - religion as
projection of parental care; Future of an Illusion;
unnecessary coping mechanism for guilt and life
Karl Marx (1818-1883) - religion as “opium of the
masses”; ideology of upper classes that oppresses
19. Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) - religion as
society’s image of itself; functionalism;
means by which societies regulate
Max Weber (1864-1920) - religion as source
of innovation; The Protestant Ethic and the
Spirit of Capitalism; priestly religion vs.
Paul Tillich (1886-1965) - religion as
“ultimate concern”; overly broad definition
20. Conclusion/Summary of Theories
Theory of Original Monotheism has had most
cultural influence in the West; appeals to people of
faith - especially conservatives.
Theory of Religion as Human Needs is
perspective of Religious Studies and of this class -
more objective, scholarly, less biased in favor of a
single religious/cultural tradition; less
Need for self-awareness, self-criticism necessary
for good scholarship.
21. Ways to think about religion in
Ecological Metaphor (Porterfield)
22. Church History
Written by theologians or ministers
Ex: H. Richard Niebuhr, The Kingdom of God in
Concerned with Christian Church, theology, how
Church teachings influence society, culture, etc.
Who is a Christian and who is not, Church,
church, sect, cult, denomination, etc.
23. Lived Religion
Religion “on the ground” - particular times and
Religious life of individuals and communities that
is sometimes in conflict with the institutional
structures of which those communities are a part.
Conflict and Consensus
Religion vs. spirituality?
Matters of definition
The question of power
Power over another
Power that works through culture and cultural systems
to keep them alive; to influence individuals.
24. Revitalization Movements
A deliberate, organized, conscious effort by
members of a society to construct a more
Change of “mazeways” for a culture
Mazeway is the mental image a person has about a
culture (Anthony Wallace applied this concept to explain the Iroquois
revitalization movement brought about by the Seneca prophet, Handsome Lake.)
25. Stages of Revitalization
Prophet - has a dream or vision for a new
The people are in a defective mazeway
Disciples - small group around the prophet
elaborate the vision, codify it, explain it to others
Communities - groups that live in the new
Whole society adopts the mazeway (or not)
26. Ecological Metaphor
Amanda Porterfield, Introduction
New Species survive, thrive, or die out
27. Summary and Critical Questions
Religious Studies is Interdisciplinary
Respect and Objectivity are difficult goals.
Many Religions in America (Pluralism)
E Pluribus Unum? Consensus or Conflict? History
of Religion(s) in America?
Or many separate independent stories?
Does religion bind us together as Americans or
Secularization? Church and State?