History of the Science of World Religions

History of the Science of
World Religions
A. Religion—from Latin “religio”
1. Originally seems to referred to as “fear”
or reverence for the gods—later 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
together”—emphasize communal aspect—draws
people into religious rites, practice and belief
A. The study of religions seemingly
originated with the Greeks
1. Herodotus—father of history—took
seriously the chronology of the past
2. Epicurus—a radical critic of religion and
sought to catalog and explain the sense of the
3. Stoics—believed there was a common
denominator of sacred behind all religion
B. Romans studied religion
1. Cicero—concerned 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 mythology—he found the origin
of myths in natural phenomena
Criteria for the Study of World
A. Objectivity—students 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 judgments
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 Tylor—founder of modern
A type of consciousness in animate and
inanimate objects
Rabbi Brown
Anicent humanity was
insecure because of the
forces of nature
Suggested Gen. 1:1
should have read
“in the beginning was
Lucretius offered this as
explanation of origin of
“We fear what we do
not know”
Worship of ancestors
Religion arose out of fear for
loved ones
Tribe was the family enlarged
Religion is identified with society
D. High God Revelation—Wilhelm 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 universal—Eliade’s concept of the
 “sense of the sacred”
B. Anti-Rationalistic Definitions
1. Lucretius—an anti-rational, coercive force
2. Reinanch—a sum of scruples which
impede the free exercise of our faculties
3. Marx—a 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 dependence
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
G. Religion as Ultimate Valuation—Paul Tillich’s ultimate
 1. Ultimate concern has priority in the system of
concerns which constitutes a personality or a
culture—it gives meaning and purpose to human life
 2. Ultimate concern is pervasive—spread over the
totality of existence
 3. Ultimate concern is concerned with the holy—
Rudolph Otto saw holiness as a special and unique
experience. He coined the phrase numinous, from
Latin meaning divinity, god, or spirit—refers to a
special feeling of aweness or fear
 4. Ultimate concern has to do with the expression
and communication of religious experience—religious
experience takes place through symbolic words,
objects, and actions
 5. Ultimate Concern is both lived and celebrated--celebrated through liturgy and mythology—lived out
in the religious expressions influencing all factors of
Three Types of Religious
A. Cosmic Religion—one 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 Religion—one in which is
found the religious object beyond the
common secular world of nature and
society—usually emphasizes the One.
Hinduism and transcendental monism are
C. Historical Religion—one in which is
found the religious object beyond and
within the common world—sees history as
linear—examples are Judaism, Christanity,
and Islam
Religion of Pre-Historic
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”
position—a “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
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 Bavaria
a. A nest of 27 human skulls were found in a group
embedded in red ochre, the skulls looking westward
b. A few yards away was a second identical group
of six skulls—some 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 crushed—it 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
1. First “idols” found were of female deities—shows
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 conceived
3. Throughout other burial sites, certain
shells (cowrie) were shaped in the form of
a portal through which a child enters the
4. 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
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 braclets
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
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
A. Traditional—no written language exists
B. Naturalistic framework of reference—
biological drives
C. Spontaneous—response to stimuli, irrational
Broad Generalizations
A. Primitive religion is monistic—no dualism
B. A sense of absolute interdependence of all things
C. Interdependence maintained by infallible rigid
D. Religion serves to maintain social harmony and
E. No opposites among tribal people—everything 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 religions—the 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
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
3. Such anxiety is the basis of all religious ritual
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
a. Rites of passage—connected 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 one’s 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. Productive—Cro-Magnon hunting magic
(painting) was a type of imitative magic
b. Aversive—one can use magic to hurt one’s
enemies by imitating a harmful act upon an
image of a person
c. Contagious—things conjoined and then
separated still are connected—thus severed
hair or fingernails retain a magical sympathy
with the person to whom they belong
4. Methods of control of magic
a. Fetishism—refers to any resort to a
presumed power in inanimate objects—
includes objects which have power innate in
b. Shamanism—refers 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 powers
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 ritual
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 living
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 cases
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 great—
we 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 ways—as 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 stories
B. Stages on Life’s way—one’s life is
dominated by rituals—rites of passage
1.Birth—children are important—
naming ceremonies is important
ceremony, accomplished in a
variety of ways
2. Initiation—the coming of age,
assumption of responsibilities
of adulthood
3. Marriage—very important and
4. Death—serious 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
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
5. King is important feature
Native American
A. Like African religions, there is great
1. Differences between gatherers and
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 motion
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 spirit—called
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
spirits—good and bad
C. Stages on Life’s way
1. Birth—naming ceremony is
extremely important
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. Marriage—intricate—no single
pattern—many see in women a
mysterious power
4. Death—usually takes on form of
fear and avoidance—contact with
corpse leads to separation or isolation
D. Religious roles—emphasis on shaman,
medicine man and priest—priests lead in
established rituals, no vision necessary