History Of Religion

History Of Religion
Instructor: Jonathan Ferrante
Really It Is History of Religions
• We are not looking at just one religion, but many
• We will not only be examining what they have in
‘common’ but how their religious visions differ
from each other.
• We will examine the phenomena of religion as an
historical process.
• We will take a sympathetic approach in the hope
that we will be able to better understand these
various religions.
The Sword and The Flute by David R. Kinsley
Any religious phenomenon is also a social, psychological, and
historical fact as well…because every religious phenomenon is, in
the final analysis, also a human phenomenon, and the human
phenomenon reveals itself in social, psychic, and historic
milieus…What is not as obvious perhaps, is that religious
phenomena deserve to be interpreted in religious terms. They
deserve to be interpreted for what they pretend to be – that is,
manifestations (or revelations) of the sacred…To understand
religious things one must acquaint oneself with their contexts, one
must be sensitive to the cultural setting of a given phenomenon.
But what is more important one must seek to discern the visionary
aspects of a religious phenomenon…This means going beyond, or
behind, the sometimes obvious social, psychic, or economic
significance or function of a given phenomenon to grasp what the
thing reveals to religious man, what the phenomenon reveals
…about that “other” realm of the sacred.
What is Religion?
Take a minute and partner up with the person
next to you and create a definition for the
word ‘religion’.
What is Religion?
• “Religion is an individual’s or a society’s
response to(search for) that which it/they
think(s) (feel(s)) is ultimately real, truly true,
articulated in myth, acted out in ritual,
expressed in symbols, engendering (and being
engendered by)powerful sentiments (an
ethos) and usually embodied in institutions.”
(From Dr. Charles Ryerson)
Don’t You Need a God To Have a
• Part of our problem here in the West is that we have
a very narrow definition of what qualifies as a
• Perhaps we need to get rid of definitions and do
what one historian of religions, Dr. Ninian Smart, has
done which is to put the emphasis not on definitions
but on dimensions.
Seven Dimensions of Religion
Practical and Ritual
Experiential and Emotional
Narrative and Mythic
Doctrinal and Philosophical
Ethical and Legal
Social and Institutional
Practical and Ritual
• This would include rites and ceremonies –
both public and private.
• Puja in Hinduism, Baptism in Christianity,
initiation into a monastery in Buddhism.
Experiential and Emotional
• This is religion at the existential level. What
people experience and feel when they
practice their religion or contemplate their
• The experiential happens in various ways from
meditation and yoga in Hinduism to chanting
worship songs in Evangelical Christianity.
The Narrative and Mythic Dimension
• Whether the stories in the various scriptures
of the world religions actually occurred is
• What the historian of religions is most
concerned with is what impact these
narratives and myths have had on the
historical development of the religion and
how it impacts the world view of a particular
religious community.
The Doctrinal and Philosophical
• The systematic formulation of religious
teachings in an intellectually coherent form.
(Damien Keown in Buddhism A Very Short Introduction)
• Some of the better known doctrinal
formulations would be the Upanishads in
• Systematic Theologies written by Christian
The Ethical and The Legal
• This is the practical application of a religion’s
beliefs and doctrines – the praxis.
• Some better known examples would be
Ahimsa in Hinduism.
• The Talmud in Judaism.
• The Beatitudes in Christianity.
• The giving of alms in Islam.
The Social and Institutional
• Religions are communal. They do have
personal/private aspects but there is always
the larger community one returns to after the
private experience.
• Religious believers feel that they are part of a
community which validates the beliefs of the
individual believers.
Some Examples of Religious
The Sangha in Buddhism
The Umma in Islam
The Church in Christianity
The Covenant in Judaism
Ashram in Hinduism
Sectarian Institutions
• Many religious institutions are sectarian in
• They represent a particular school of thought
within a religion that is some how different
from the other communities found within the
• Mahayana Buddhism, Protestant Christianity,
Shia Islam, etc.
The Material Dimension
• Includes objects in which the ethos of the
religion becomes incarnate.
• Such as churches, temples, art, sacred sites,
shrines and the like.