World Religious Traditions 1
Hinduism (Sanatana Dharma)
Taoism (Daoism)
• Why is it important to be knowledgeable
about other peoples’ beliefs?
• Business relationships
• Cultural relationships
• Medical influences
• Spiritual / self-help trends
• Often become business trends
• Why is it important to understand other
peoples’ beliefs?
Two major trends
• Secularism
• The separation of religious belief from
everyday life and particularly from politics,
law, and education
• Materialism – the belief that only the
material world is real; also, the rampant
pursuit of material goods
• This is in conflict with many religions’ values
Paleolithic burial
c. < 20000 BCE
Cognitive Imperative:
… death was not the only existential worry
that early humans had to face.…
Why were we born only eventually to die?
What happens to us when we die?
What is our place in the universe?
Why is there suffering?
What sustains and animates the universe?
How was the universe made?
How long will the universe last?
Andrew Newberg MD, Eugene D’Aquili MD, Vince
Rause. Why God Won’t Go Away. p. 61
The Nature of Religion
• The word “religion” is derived from
Latin meaning “to tie back.”
• Possibly meaning to tie back people to
something behind the surface of life.
• A greater reality which lies beyond or
invisibly infuses the world we can
perceive with our five senses.
One of the major controversies between science
and religion is the conflict between religious
concepts of intentional divine creation and the
scientific concept of a universe that has evolved
mechanistically by processes such as genetic
mutations and random combinations of
Scientific research is continually revealing a
universe whose perfections are suggestive of
They have found, for instance, that stars could
never have formed if the force of gravity were ever
so slightly stronger or weaker.
Biologists find that the natural world is an intricate
harmony of beautifully elaborated, interrelated
Even to produce the miniature propeller that allows
a tiny bacterium to swim, some forty different
proteins are required.
Living Religions, Fifth Edition, Page 16
• Why is there Religion?
1. Materialistic view
• Invented by man
2. Functional view
• Exists because it serves a purpose
3. Faith view
• Exists because it reflects ultimate reality
Perspectives on Religion
1. Materialistic view : Invented by man
• Sigmund Freud, psychoanalyst
“Religion is a universal obsessional neurosis –
a cosmic projection and replaying of the
loving and fearful relationships that we had
(and have) with our parents. Religious belief
gives us an external God who is so powerful
that He or She can protect us from the terrors
of life; and will reward or punish us for
obedience or non-obedience to social norms.”
Freud cont.
Freud believed that religion is an illusion
springing from people’s infantile insecurity
and neurotic guilt:
as such it closely resembles mental illness.
Karl Marx
Marx believed that religion is a tool for
oppressing people and springs from a
society’s economic framework.
“Man makes religion; religion does not make
man… the religious world is but the reflex of
the real world… religion is the sigh of the
oppressed creature, the sentiment of a
heartless world, and the soul of soulless
conditions. It is the opium of the people.”
But, Religion can be Good
• All religions help to uncover meaning in
the midst of the mundane.
Religion can be good.
• Religion can give a purpose beyond our
• If we believe that there is nothing more,
fear of death may inhibit enjoyment of
life and make all human actions seem
Religion can be good
People long to gain strength for dealing
with personal problems such as
physical illness, privation, terror or grief.
Religion can be good
• There is the desire for perfection
beyond limited personal or communal
Religious practices offers insight into
Perfect Love, Justice and Eternal Truth
in vaster dimensions of time and space.
Religion can be good
• Some see religion as an appreciation
for this extraordinary creation.
Ray Fadden, an elder of the Mohawk
Nation, speaks of the native spiritual
traditions as the “thank you religion.”
Religion can be good
• Some people want a sense of relief
from anxieties, a secure feeling of
rootedness, meaning and orderliness in
the midst of rapid social change.
This can be found in a religion that
offers absolute faith.
Religion may be good
• Religions may also provide rules for
living, governing everything from diet to
personal relationships.
Religion may be good
• Isolation in the universe is a
discomforting thought to some. The
divine may be sought as a loving father
or mother or friend. Some religions
offer the way of self transcendence.
Through them, the sense of isolation is
lost in mystical merger with the One
Being, with reality itself.
2. Functional view:
Religion Exists because it serves a purpose
Religion is functional for society:
• Reaffirms the social bonds between people.
• Creates social cohesion and integration
through religious rituals.
• Binds individuals to society by establishing a
collective consciousness.
Six Defining Elements of Religion
1. Religion is institutionalized.
2. Religion is a feature of groups.
3. Religions are based on beliefs that are
considered sacred, as distinguished
from profane.
Six Defining Elements of Religion
4. Religion establishes norms for
5. Religion provides answers to questions
of ultimate meaning, as distinguished
from secular beliefs.
6. Religion establishes values and moral
proscriptions for behavior.
• It is the idea that the
world and everything in
it is filled with souls or
• These spirits can be
communicated with.
•Spirits “feel” and therefore, can be harmed, flattered,
and can also hurt or help.
• Magic is a way of
controlling the natural
• Magicians attempt to
control the elements
• for the benefit of their
society or for the
detriment of their
Nature is understood to be controlled by forces which can be manipulated.
There is also sympathetic magic or imitative magic.
Sympathetic magic
• A person attempts
to get nature to do
something by
performing the act
• Examples
• a voodoo doll
• temple prostitutes
• Predicting the
• A person, shaman
or priests, is
especially trained for
this function.
• It may examine the
entrails of a
sacrificed animal or
watching flights of
birds or “palm
• Tarot cards, Ouija
boards are also
examples of
• Taboos are best viewed
by those inside of the
tradition as ways of
protecting the individual
from harm. Certain
activities are avoided in
order not to offend the
The word taboo comes from the Polynesian word Tabu or tapu.
In early societies holy persons, objects and places are
considered off limits to ordinary folk.
Taboos (cont.)
• "Chieftains, priests, sacred places,
fetishes, and so on are to be avoided by
the unordained, except on special
occasions or when there is special
preparation." Taboos follow birth and
death rituals. Sometimes twins are
considered taboos as well as the body of
certain dead people. In some cultures
women who are mensing are considered
• Totems. The word
totem is from the
Ojibwa word ototeman.
It is an identification that
the tribe or clan or
nation has with a
certain animal, or
sometimes certain
plants or the moon or
the sun or the stars. In
many later societies
"mascots" take the
place of totems.
• Sacrifice is a common
practice in many religions.
"People have offered
sacrifices of nearly every
imaginable material to the
gods, spirits, demons, and
Most often, the sacrifices are animals, which are slaughtered
and then burned or cooked and eaten before the gods."
Sacrifice of other kinds of objects occurs as well.
Sacrifice (cont.)
Sacrificing has various meanings
which depend on the religion,
context, location, time of year,
the individual sacrificing etc.
In the sacrifice there is the sense of
communing between the one sacrificing and the
deity, gods, or spirits to whom the sacrifice is
• “Myth does not here mean a story that
is not true.
• Rather, myth means a story that
presents in the form of a narrative the
basic world view of a society.” (Ellwood)
… uncertainty causes anxiety, and anxiety must be resolved.
Sometimes resolutions are obvious and causes are easy to
spot. When they are not, the cognitive imperative compels
us to find plausible resolutions in the form of a story [– the
sound of rustling leaves is a leopard in the trees preparing to
These stories are especially important when the mind
confronts our existential fears. We suffer. We die. We feel
small and vulnerable in a dangerous and confusing world.
There is no simple way to resolve these enormous
In such situations, the explanatory stories that the mind
creates take the shape of religious myth.
Andrew Newberg MD, Eugene D’Aquili MD, Vince
Rause. Why God Won’t Go Away. p. 70
Critical Thinking:
In the Critical Thinking class, one topic we focus on is
Assumptions. When judging the soundness of a
conclusion, we must consider the unstated underlying
assumptions that set the framework in which the thinking
Myths are sets of assumptions so fundamental to our way of
thinking that we hold them uncritically with little or no
awareness that they are even there.
• Ritual. Every religion has
ritual. These are rites
and ceremonies which
could be simple or
complex and are best
interpreted in their
original setting or context.
•Sometimes these ritual reenact myths and stories. Priests
and lay people take part in them. They sometime involve
particular kind of attire, or a specific location. They could
be the reliving of an important event.
Rituals (cont.)
• “(E)veryday religious
activity and practice are
significant because their
primary purpose often
to place individuals,
families, and groups in
‘right relationships’ with
gods, ancestors, other
human beings, and
nature.” (Ellwood)
•Rituals are ways in which these relationships can be insured.
Rites of Passage
• Rites of passage are
aids in the journey in life
and are very important.
Important events such
birth, death, marriage,
passage into adulthood
are commemorated with
special ceremonies.
•They can be the enactment of myths or mirror the ideas
of the groups with regard to a particular phase in life.
Ancestor Veneration
• The elders have a high place
in these traditions and are
sometimes venerated.
Some believe that death is
just a transition to another
phase of life and therefore
the spirits of the ancestors
are still active.
• Sometimes these spirits are
feared and people take
action to prevent them from
returning from their graves.
•Other societies believe that deceased ancestors can benefit
the society and make offerings to them.
Many Hues
• Deism -- God has set it
all in motion (though not
particularly involved in
sustaining or intervening in
• Polytheism (many-godsism) -- There are many
personal gods . Each has
control on various aspects of
Theism – There is a personal God
• Atheism -- (not-Godism) There is no God
• Agnosticism -- God
cannot be known
Henotheism – There are
many gods but one restricts
one’s allegiance to one God
• Pantheism (God-is-all-ism) God is identical with nature
and the universe as a whole
• Panentheism (everything-inGod) -- Everything ultimately
exists in god
• (review)
Why is there Religion?
1.Materialistic view
• Religion is invented by man
• Freud – Religion is a projection
• Marx – Religion is the opium of the masses
2.Functional view
• Religion is useful
• Humans need a frame of reference
• Still sees religion as an invention
3. Faith View
• There really is another (ultimate) reality
• Not an invention
• Religion is a response
• A reflection of reality
General Religion Vocabulary
Monotheistic – single and only god
Agnostic – don’t know if I believe in a god
Atheist – know I don’t believe in a god
Immanent – present in the world
Transcendental – existing apart from this world
Incarnation – divine appearing in human form
Symbol – picture describing something else
Myth – story, presented in symbols, describing an
unknowable reality
Vocabulary - 2
• Orthodox – consistent with the historical form of
the religion
• Fundamental – expressing the historical
interpretation in light of conservative social
• Liberal – expressing the historical interpretation in
light of progressive social currents
• Heretic – expressing historical interpretation in
light of unacceptable statements and/or actions
• Mystic – expressing historical interpretation in
light of strong, overwhelming personal experience
Genesis 2:7 And the LORD God
formed man of the dust of the
ground, and breathed into his
nostrils the breath of life; and man
became a living soul.
Is God Separate from His Creation?
Sometimes we speak of God as
transcendent; sometimes as immanent.
What do these concepts mean?
Above and beyond; outside of
Within, part of, participating in
of us
is one might
of thebe
to but we
ocean with
Some Basic Differences
Between Religious Thoughts
of East and West
The world is Maya, illusion
The world is real and significant because it
is created by God
The self is illusory
Humans are significant because they are
created by God. The self (and personality) is
Life is transitory, part of a
constant process of birth and
rebirth: samsara
Life is transient; individuals “only live once”
Linear; significant
Goal of salvation is to escape
from the wheel of death and
rebirth into a state of eternal bliss
The world is God’s arena where each person
has one opportunity to hear God’s word and
achieve everlasting life
The notion of moral retribution is
reflected in the concept of karma.
Individuals will pay for their sins in the
hereafter unless they repent now
World Religious Traditions 1
Hinduism (Sanatana Dharma)
Taoism (Daoism)
3rd – 2nd millenniums
Height of Indus Valley Culture
Buddhism spreads out
Northern and Southern Buddhism
Circa 600 B.C.
Individual Exercise
• Quick thoughts paper (anonymous)
• What is the basic problem of the world?
• How does your belief system address that
• we’ll discuss after break

Introduction to Religion Studies