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Touchstone 1: Reflecting on Major Approaches to Studying Religions

In this unit, you learned some of the reasons for studying religion. You also learned that religion is universally recognizable, yet difficult to define. A narrow definition of religion that ties it to a belief in and worship of a higher, supernatural power, can exclude religions like Buddhism. On the other hand, definitions of religion that eliminate mention of the otherworldly or divine by equating it simply with “faith” or “belief” yield an understanding that is overly-broad.

Due to the challenges of studying religion, various methodologies have arisen including: phenomenology, theology, historical approaches, comparison, philosophy, and sociology. This Touchstone gives you an opportunity to reflect on these major approaches to studying religion

In an essay, you will explain the difficulties involved in defining religion. Then you will select one method for studying religion that you believe to be most thought-provoking, and explain its strengths and weaknesses.

DIRECTIONS: Explain, in your own words, two reasons why religion is difficult to define. Review the lessons in Unit 1 as you consider your response. Then, select one method for studying religion that you believe to be most thought-provoking and explain what you believe to be its strengths and weaknesses.

Your short essay should include four parts:

Explain, in your own words, two reasons why religion is difficult to define.

Select one method for studying religion that you believe to be most thought-provoking and summarize the approach in your own words.

Explain a strength of this approach to studying religion.

Explain a weakness of this approach to studying religion.

Unit 1 Tutorials: Major Approaches to
Studying Religion
INSIDE UNIT 1
Purposes for Studying Religion
Reasons for Studying Religion
Role of Religion in Modern Life
The Religious Impulse
Religion and the Individual
Religion and Origins
Religion and the Family
Religion and Society
Religion and Economics
Religion and Food
Defining Religion
What is Religion?
“Origins” of Religion
Religion as Myth
Religion as Culture & Social Convention
The Sacred and the Profane
A “Definition” of Religion
Overview of the Religions
Categorizing Religions
Primal Religions
Judaism
Christianity
Islam
Hinduism
Confucianism
Buddhism
Other Eastern Religions
Methods of Studying Religion
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Phenomenology
Theology
Historical Approaches
Comparative Religion
Philosophy of Religion
Sociology of Religion
Reasons for Studying Religion
by Sophia Tutorial
WHAT’S COVERED

Why study religion? Where to begin? In addition to being incredibly inspiring and rich and full of
mystery, religion can often be an overwhelming subject. It can be confusing, frustrating, weird, scary,
isolating, or just boring. In this lesson you will get an idea of how religion is threaded through
individual human experience and humanity as a whole, historically, psychologically, scientifically,
socially. You will also look briefly at the question and the idea of transcendence beyond this human
realm. Thirdly, you will be able to think about and articulate the practical and ethical importance of
recognizing different cultures and religious traditions. You will cover:
1. Religion in History
2. Transcendence
3. Global Community
1. Religion in History
There’s some reason why you’ve chosen to study religion. You may or may not come from a religious
background. You may have rejected religion and are returning to it now with some new curiosity and interest.
Maybe you want to understand yourself and your neighbor better.
There are personal, individual reasons for studying religion, and there are many approaches to doing so. The
academic study of religion is a relatively recent thing when you look at how far back the ideas associated with
religion can be traced. Neolithic humanity, as they adjusted to life in settlements and transitioned from a
hunter-gatherer lifestyle, lived with the belief in an earthly material order that reflected a transcendent order.
This idea was used to help establish sensible order in society, such as having a central government.

TERM TO KNOW
Transcendent
That which is beyond the ordinary.
Similarly, the civilizations of ancient Egypt saw the use of geometry and science as practical extensions of a
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higher law and order. Therefore, they imparted the material earthly world of experience with great religious
and spiritual significance.
Practices regarding the body were often considered spiritual. Things such as healing the human body were
performed by individuals who were believed to be directly in contact with the transcendent realm. Another
good example is mummification. This was a way of ensuring the safe transition, or the safe passage, of the
soul from the earthly realm to the afterlife.
2. Transcendent
Moving now to industrialization, there emerged the social sciences such as sociology, anthropology, branches
of modern psychology, et cetera. In sync with modern science, these sciences also restrict their ground of
inquiry to the observable world. If there are valid questions, there are thought to be valid explanations and
answers.
However, in many of these fields, some of these questions can be more open-ended. Those open-ended
questions can be addressed by fields such as philosophy and psychology. In this diagram is a representation
of some of the approaches to religion and some of the fields that interact with religion and study it.
The arrows that do not extend out beyond the circle are modern science and social sciences. This represents
the restricted realm of the known and the observable world. These that extend out are moving into the realm
of the transcendent. These are religions and disciplines exploring and interacting with the transcendent, such
as ancient Egypt, Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, et cetera.
Psychology goes through this perforated area. At times it restricts itself to the known and observable world,
but it has questions. Psychology does address some of the questions and leaves them more open-ended.
Of course, all of these things, both religious and nonreligious, are obliged to interact and intersect with the
question and struggle of individual and collective humanity. The red arrows represent these interactions.
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There are modern science interacting with social sciences and all the religions interacting with each other in
one way or another. There are religious customs and traditions that maintain that relationship, such as
customs of marriage, religious ceremonies, and law.

TERM TO KNOW
Humanity
A term used to refer to all human beings collectively.

BIG IDEA
The strongest point to be made here is that modern science and the social sciences do restrict
themselves to these questions that are thought to be answerable. The unanswerable questions are
addressed more by the main primary religions that we’ll be discussing and by certain disciplines, such as
philosophy and psychology.
This is what makes it very interesting, rich, confusing, and scary. All of the questions, traditions, and methods
of inquiry collide while somehow having originated from the same place. Generally, religion addresses
questions about human life, individual and collective, and its relationship to that which is beyond.
3. Global Community
Living in a global society, interaction with a hodgepodge of cultures, practices, and peoples is inevitable.
People who might have some of the same questions about life that you do might approach them from a
different angle.
Being able to respond to these differences thoughtfully and compassionately will make it easier to interact
with others in a global community. Having the necessary background knowledge to support genuine
engagement with the world will help you even beyond a religious context. This is the goal of a global citizen.
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
SUMMARY
This lesson began by acknowledging that there might be personal reasons for studying religion and
that they could, in fact, overlap with humanity’s ancient preoccupation with the transcended realm.
You looked at several examples of this, from Neolithic humanity to ancient Egypt to modern times, as
we uphold certain customs and conventions that can be traced back through religion in history. The
inherited questions of religion and religious life seem to center around the idea, the hope, and the
belief in the transcendent. Some approaches of study are more naturally inclined in this way. You also
covered the diversity of religious belief and the variety of possible approaches to religion. The
questions that inspire and surround it require sensitivity to live effectively in a global community.
Source: This work is adapted from Sophia author Ted Fairchild.

TERMS TO KNOW
Humanity
A term used to refer to all human beings collectively.
Transcendent
That which is beyond the ordinary.
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Role of Religion in Modern Life
by Sophia Tutorial
WHAT’S COVERED

In this tutorial, you are going to see that religion is something that is alive and present in the modern
world. You are also going to understand that religion unifies in ways that political institutions often
can’t. This unity, in addition to being used for peaceful and beneficial ends, is often used for
destruction and violence. It’s therefore very important in the study of religions to understand
objectively, without judgement, what a religion is all about. This lesson covers:
1. Religion Today
2. Bringing Unity
3. Objectivity
1. Religion Today
Religion is something that is alive and present in the modern world. You are likely to see and hear evidence of
religion all around you: religious music or symbols, such as the Christian cross, a Buddhist or Hindu mandala,
an Islamic prayer rug, or the Jewish Star of David. These are not mere relics of religion or things left over from
another time. They are more than artifacts to be studied from a historical or anthropological-sociological
perspective.

TERMS TO KNOW
Relic
A leftover belief or object from past times.
Anthropological-Sociological
Relating to the combination and interaction of the disciplines of anthropology (the observational study
of humankind) and sociology (the scientific study of humankind).
These disciplines that study the behavior and customs of society are beneficial and helpful in understanding
religion in people’s lives both yesterday and today. These traditions and practices that have carried forward
are alive and providing meaning in people’s lives and influencing their behavior.
2 Bringing Unity
Religion unifies in ways that nationalism and secular politics often can’t. This unity, in addition to being used
for peaceful and beneficial ends, is often used for destruction and violence.

TERM TO KNOW
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Nationalism
The belief that either a particular nation merits a higher position than other nations or that citizens’
lives should be structured around the needs of the state or society.
In the modern world, religion plays a big role in shaping our global society and the way people think about it.
This impact goes beyond structure of beliefs, but also influences geopolitical and socioeconomic structure. It
impacts the way cultures communicate across the globe.
IN CONTEXT
The Israeli-Palestine/Arab-Israeli Conflict
You are probably familiar with certain aspects of this historical struggle. It dominates the news either
directly or indirectly, and it has great significance geopolitically in the world today.
The Arab-Israeli conflict is largely related to the religious struggle between Muslims and Jews and
the dispute of claims to territories in and around Jerusalem and Israel. This area has many names,
such as Canaan, the Promised Land, Palestine, and the Holy Land. The roots of this conflict reach
back through history to biblical times and the words from history that are interpreted in conflicting
ways.
A central point of conflict between Jews and Muslims, if not the actual origin, revolves around the
genealogy of Abraham, the patriarch, and his two sons Ishmael and Isaac. As descendants of Isaac,
Jews claim the rights to the land promised to the heirs of Isaac as interpreted in their texts. As
descended from Ishmael, Abraham’s firstborn son, many Arabs stake claim to the Holy Land and the
surrounding territories.
3. Objectivity
So what is the role, then, of objectivity in understanding this? It is possible that you are bombarded through
media about the destruction caused in the name of religion, and hear less about the positive aspects of
different beliefs. It’s therefore very important in the study of religions to understand objectively, without
judgement, what a religion is all about.

THINK ABOUT IT
How do you remain neutral when thinking about and interacting with different religions? How do you
avoid judging the different parties and the different religions?
Consider the principle of charity, which might act as a guide: withholding judgment and attempting to
step into the shoes of the religion being studied and the beliefs and experiences of its proponents.
You will be looking at this concept a little more closely in a definition of religion, but this is a place to start to
develop objectivity.

SUMMARY
Religion today has a real place in people’s lives in the modern world, and people refer to it for
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meaning. It brings unity to people in a way that many other institutions can’t. Sometimes this is in a
productive and constructive way, and sometimes religion is used in a destructive way. Objectivity has
a big role to play in understanding and studying religions, and the principle of charity might provide a
useful angle for studying the religion itself. .
Source: This work is adapted from Sophia author Ted Fairchild.

TERMS TO KNOW
Anthropological-sociological
Relating to the combination and interaction of the disciplines of anthropology (the observational study of
humankind) and sociology (the scientific study of humankind).
Nationalism
The belief that either a particular nation merits a higher position than other nations or that citizens’ lives
should be structured around the needs of the state or society.
Relic
A leftover belief or object from past times.
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The Religious Impulse
by Sophia Tutorial
WHAT’S COVERED

In this lesson you are going to learn that in nearly every religious belief system, some kind of impulse
is present. We’ll see that it’s difficult to describe exactly what this is, but that it’s at the heart of
religious life and practice, that it’s linked with individual and collective drive toward and interactions
with the mystery of the unknown. To help contextualize this, you will look briefly at the insight of
several philosopher theologian sociologists. You will cover:
1. What is the Impulse?
2. Friedrich Schleiermacher
3. Rudolf Otto
4. Gerardus van der Leeuw
5. Emile Durkheim
6. Paul Tillich
1. What is the Impulse?
Start by thinking of impulse as a non-rational drive or desire. In religious life, it’s a motivation toward
something, and it tends to involve the object of motivation as much as it does the actual movement. Words
you could associate this concept with are desire and urge, or even need. It is the interplay between what is
desired and the process of seeking that.

TERM TO KNOW
Impulse
A non-rational drive or desire.

DID YOU KNOW
While this lesson will be focusing on the ideas that drive impulse, it should be noted that modern
neuroscience is helping people understand this drive on an individual cognitive level. This is a great
complement to the sociological and phenomenological approach to the study of religion.
This impulse is often triggered when a person begins to ask the ultimate questions of life: Who am I? Why am I
here? What is the nature of the world around me? Is there a god or gods? What is my purpose? Do I even
have a purpose? What is death? What happens after I die?
These kinds of preoccupations have plagued humanity for eons. They are not easy questions to grapple with,
but almost everyone in every society confronts them in some conscious or unconscious way.
Religion, then, is an individual and collective response to these questions and the motivations and impulses
behind them. The approach to the unknown often involves the unknown in one form or another.
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2. Friedrich Schleiermacher
In future lessons, you will look at the German Enlightenment, but for now it is important to know it was a fertile
time for actively engaging with these questions. Friedrich Schleiermacher was a very influential German
theologian philosopher and protestant theologian during that time. He explored this interaction between
subjective and objective knowledge.
Schleiermacher approached it from a theological and philosophical perspective. He determined that the union
with the object of search in answer to the questions was not possible by human will alone. Something else
was necessary. He describes this feeling of engagement with necessity as “utter dependence” or complete
and absolute dependence.

TERM TO KNOW
“Utter Dependence”
A concept in the religious scholarship of Schleiermacher.
3. Rudolf Otto
In the late 19th century in Germany, Rudolf Otto described this experience with the Latin term “numinous.”
This was to mean the power and the presence of divinity. He also used the terms “mysterium,” “tremendum,”
and “fascinans” to describe the subjective experience of the holy, the terror of the sacred, and “the terror
before the sacred”. He extended it to the societies and cultures that gave meaning and context to the
questions of life.

TERM TO KNOW
“Terror before the Sacred”
A concept in Otto’s religious scholarship.
4. Emile Durkheim
In the realm of sociology, these phenomena might be considered as ways of uniting people and maintaining
cohesion. This is according to the famous French sociologist Emile Durkheim, and he called it solidarity. The
disparate and separate elements of experience needed some container for exchange and understanding; this
container was society. He called it the “Social Glue Theory.”

TERM TO KNOW
“Social Glue Theory”
A key component in the religious scholarship of Durkheim.
5. Gerardus van der Leeuw
In Holland at the same time, the religious philosopher Gerardus van der Leeuw was describing the same thing
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in terms of “power.” He put forth the idea that the sacred was compelling because it could be found
everywhere. It represented power. The experience of otherness meant power. Things that were unfamiliar in
the world are objects to be confronted. They manifest some relationship of power, some relationship with
power, to power.

TERM TO KNOW
“Power”
A key concept in the religious scholarship of van der Leeuw.
6. Paul Tillich
A brilliant and poetic German American theologian philosopher named Paul Tillich wrote and spoke about this.
He said that this process, this impulse, requires faith as an “ultimate concern.”

TERM TO KNOW
“Ultimate Concern”
A key component of Tillich’s religious scholarship.
He describes the relationship between the questions of the philosopher, who must analyze the subjective
elements of experience, and the answers of the theologian, who might offer structure, meaning, and guidance
for the impulse that we’re talking about.

SUMMARY
What the impulse is behind religion might be difficult to describe, but nearly all religious belief
systems express this impulse in individual and collective ways. It relates to a desire to understand the
big questions of life. Covered were five key figures with ideas related to this impulse. Friedrich
Schleiermacher gave his idea of utter dependence. Rudolf Otto developed an idea of the terror
before the sacred and the mysterium tremendum. Emile Durkheim’s Social Glue Theory described the
impulse as providing a means of solidarity in society. Gerardus van der Leeuw noted that power is a
curious but sacred force behind this impulse. Finally, Paul Tillich’s idea of the ultimate concern
expresses the nuances of faith as well as the relationship between subjective and objective
acknowledgement.
A quote for you as we close out this tutorial…
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Source: This work is adapted from Sophia author Ted Fairchild.

TERMS TO KNOW
“Social Glue Theory”
A key component in the religious scholarship of Durkheim.
“Terror before the Sacred”
A concept in Otto’s religious scholarship.
“Ultimate Concern”
A key component of Tillich’s religious scholarship.
“Utter Dependence”
A concept in the religious scholarship of Schleiermacher.
Impulse
A non-rational drive or desire.
“Power”
A key concept in the religious scholarship of van der Leeuw.
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Religion and the Individual
by Sophia Tutorial
WHAT’S COVERED

In this tutorial, you are going to see how religion involves the life of the individual, and there is a rich
history as to how religions have supported the individual’s relationship to the questions and the
predicaments that life seems to present. You will look at:
1. Religion on a Personal Level
2. Thrown-ness
3. Daily Life from Different Views
1. Religion on a Person Level
Religion involves the beliefs and practices of groups and individuals, and it reaches far back into history.
However, religion also involves the life of the individual. There is a rich history as to how religions have
supported the individual’s relationship to the questions and the predicaments that life seems to present.
Every individual is confronted with these questions on some level, to some degree. Religion supports the
individual search for meaning and for understanding.
The problem is that these things are not so easily explainable. God,The Divine, the transcendent are terms
and methods that are used to try to understand this mystery. It is a way to present it, so to speak, to a person’s
understanding. Aspects of religion, such as the sacred texts, the traditions, holidays and customs, et cetera,
function to link the world as it appears with the belief that the unseen is somehow real and, therefore, also a
vital part of human experience.

TERM TO KNOW
The Divine
That which is other than, superior to, and prior in existence to humanity.
So whether an individual chooses to follow a religious path when asking these questions or not, the questions
are still there for everyone in some way with some degree of urgency and importance.
 EXAMPLE The question of death: What happens? Where do we go? Why? These questions may
not be as important or urgent to someone young and in good health, but, to someone who is facing
death, they may be of the utmost importance.
Perhaps when we’re a bit more quiet and receptive is the best time to ask these kinds of questions.
2. Thrown-ness
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Martin Heidegger is a 20th-century German philosopher who studied theology for a good portion of the early
part of his career. He had a term to describe the existential moment in an individual’s questioning life. To the
extent that a person desires to understand their place in the world, they have to come to define the concepts
with which they are struggling. One of those concepts is the “I am thrown passively into the world, but it’s a
world that sincerely matters to me.” Heidegger contrasted this with the idea of freedom to act.
Whether one chooses to explore the concept of thrown-ness from a theistic, non-theistic, or even atheistic
approach, the questions are still there. Question marks like stop signs pop up at different intersections along
the way of life.

TERMS TO KNOW
Non-theistic
Rejecting the doctrine and philosophy of theism.
Atheistic
Rejecting belief in the existence of god.
The freedom to act would be to choose one of those three ways or some other path of engaging with the
questions. Again, one’s decision to choose a path is going to depend upon the level of urgency and
importance one gives to these questions.
3. Daily Life from Different Views
Knowing what and how to act is a question that everyone has to face. Some find religion to be a path toward
understanding, and others find a route without reference to God or gods. The world as it appears might be
explainable, but built into our human sensibility there is also this itching suspicion that the unseen is also there
somehow.
The difference between a theistic and a non-theistic or an atheistic approach has to do with how important
these ultimate questions are to the individual. For example, whether they’re answerable in any way, whether
they’re worth pursuing, and if so, how much?
So individually, the holidays that are celebrated, customs, and the daily routines—in other words individual
daily life—are often very different for practitioners of different faiths or for a non-practitioner, such as an
atheist.
IN CONTEXT
A weekly day of rest is a good example of a custom practiced differently for different beliefs.
Generally, it’s a day without work. This is a social custom that is inherited from religious tradition.
However, even an atheist or a non-theistic person is affected by religion with regards to this,
possibly without even noticing it.
For observant Jews, this day without work is called the Sabbath, and it extends from sundown Friday
to sundown Saturday. It is a traditional day of worship and rest. A strictly observant Jewish individual
will not even use electricity because of the prohibition in the Torah against lighting a fire and thus
generating heat and light.
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For Christians, Sunday is this Sabbath day of worship, when one generally rests and refrains from
work. The third Abrahamic faith that also follows this weekly full day of pause from productivity and
worldly affairs is Islam. For Muslims, Friday is the holy day of worship.

SUMMARY
Religion on a personal level is a way someone can grasp and understand the ultimate questions life
presents. Martin Heidegger described the concept of thrown-ness. This is the contrast between the
idea of being passively thrown into the world and confronted with the questions and the freedom to
act. Ultimately, a person can choose to approach these concepts and questions through a theistic,
non-theistic, or even atheistic approach. Individuals may see daily life from different views depending
on their beliefs. While many peoples and cultures have similar customs , they may experience them
differently because of their beliefs.
Source: This work is adapted from Sophia author Ted Fairchild.

TERMS TO KNOW
Atheistic
Rejecting belief in the existence of god.
Non-theistic
Rejecting the doctrine and philosophy of theism.
The Divine
That which is other than, superior to, and prior in existence to humanity.
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Religion and Origins
by Sophia Tutorial
WHAT’S COVERED

One of the major mysteries of life is the origin of life itself. Science can chart the development of life
and the histories of the species, but what about questions of ultimate origins of life? For this, religion
steps in with stories, poems, prayers, ritual demonstration, and celebration to guide human souls
through the maze of life’s questions and queries. This lesson shows how religion offers stories about
human origins, purpose, and destination by covering:
1. Origin
2. The Here and Now
1. Origin
Religion, as an organized, collective search for meaning and purpose, offers a response to the plaguing
question that hits almost everybody at some point in their life. Where did I come from? Because humans are
social creatures, constructing identity according to the groups of which they are a part, a broader question
emerges: Where did WE come from?
Nearly all religions are rich with narratives and even legends that help us grasp the question of origin.
 EXAMPLE Paradise is one place from which humanity emerged, according to the Jewish and
Christian tradition.

TERM TO KNOW
Narrative
A story; an approach that uses storytelling to make larger points.
They also provide stories that mark the history of the religion itself. In Christianity, the teachings of Jesus of
Nazareth were often in the form of short, simple stories often referring to everyday life but also referring to
some kind of religious truth. These stories are called parables. There was an important moral lesson and
religious truth within each story, many of them pointing to God as the origin and the final resting place.
Similarly, in Islam, the Hadith offers short sayings and actions. These are stories of the prophet Muhammad’s
life that have the effect of transmitting the truth of Allah and the tradition of Islam. This originated with the
prophet Muhammad and the revelation of the Qur’an. Sacred texts carry with them rich imagery, analogy,
poetry, and metaphor. They contain all manner of narrative that is fiery, sweet, and full of love and deceit.
2. The Here and Now
To give another perspective, Buddhism gives a different answer when looking at origin. There is a story that
Buddha told that goes something like this: A man was shot with a poisoned arrow, but the foolish man would
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not allow anyone to pull out the arrow until it was revealed who shot the arrow. He wanted to know the man’s
name, what village he was from, and his social caste. This poisoned man wanted to know everything. The
Buddha pointed out that the man would be dead by the time he knew all that.
The lesson is: stop wasting time on unanswerable questions and get on with the work of enlightenment in the
here and now. From a modern voice, the English analytic philosopher Bertrand Russell gives a similar
message. He is quoted as having said, “There is no reason to suppose that the world had the beginning at all.
The idea that things must have a beginning is really due to the poverty of our thoughts.”
Religions and schools of philosophy also lay out a purposeful path. In addition to the origin narratives, myths,
or the parables, it lays out a path of purpose for life. Many religions carry a strong message of love. In
Christianity, in particular, it’s through the stories of the life, teachings, death, and the resurrection of Jesus
Christ. In Judaism, one of the stories lays out purpose in terms of returning to and inhabiting the promised
land, or Canaan. Purpose also lies in fulfilling the covenants and agreements with God, therefore solidifying
this bond.

TERM TO KNOW
Canaan
An ancient land in the eastern Mediterranean, roughly corresponding to present-day Israel and
Palestine; the land promised by God to Abraham in the Hebrew Scriptures.
These stores are clearly filled with real-life significance and repercussions for many people. The Promised
Land has historically been the site of a lot of confusion and dispute and violence. Today, the story is much the
same. Maybe it’s like Russell said, it has something to do with the poverty of our thoughts.

SUMMARY
Many religions have origin stories, narratives, parables, myths, and legends that tell the story of where
humans may have come from as a species, where we might be going, and intertwined with these
origin stories are messages, morals, and ways and codes of behavior for the here and now.
Source: This work is adapted from Sophia author Ted Fairchild.

TERMS TO KNOW
Canaan
An ancient land in the eastern Mediterranean, roughly corresponding to present-day Israel and
Palestine; the land promised by God to Abraham in the Hebrew Scriptures.
Narrative
A story; an approach that uses storytelling to make larger points.
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Religion and the Family
by Sophia Tutorial

WHAT’S COVERED
This lesson is going to look at religion and the family to try to identify the source and structure of the
values, morality, and ethics that serve to bring them into closer relationship. You’ll see that the roles
within families, society, and religion often mirror each other and can therefore be mutually supportive
to varying degrees. The character and strength of this relationship depends on how these values are
perceived and applied in the broader realm of society and culture. You will look at:
1. Aristotle
2. Confucianism
3. The Symbiotic Relationship
1. Aristotle
There are several roots of the modern notions of family. One is the biological family unit or the natural
structure of relations. Aristotle, the ancient Greek philosopher, saw the “oikos,” or the family, as the ground for
many other human structures, endeavors, and projects.
The first commitment that stems from this state of nature is the “philia,” the affection and love between
husband and wife. It is the spousal friendship. The deep moral, ethical, and loving foundation of this
relationship allows this unit to hold together and prosper. The key part of this is what Aristotle called
“philautia,” or self-love. This is the principle of being able to experience the pleasure of one’s own virtuous life.
By doing so, a person is able to discover true virtue, present and active, in another person’s life.
There are some interpretations of Aristotle that understand the natural inequality of the genders to be
overcome by the filial force, along with certain rational virtues, which are shared and held in common. For
Aristotle, this forms the basic support of the family unit, which then reveals a structure of authority that can be
confidently moved and extended into other foundational parts of society, such as towns, cities, larger political
systems, et cetera.
2. Confucianism
This understanding of family and society, in relation to virtuous ethics, was also an important element of
Confucianism around 500 BCE. Confucius believed that filial piety, or respect and love for parents and their
authority, was a key virtue. It was therefore the strongest model to be followed for the structure of civil,
political, and social life. An orderly structure for society depended on this parallelism between family order
and political hierarchy.
Both Confucianism and the Aristotelian model philosophy, as ethical, political, and, in a certain sense, spiritual
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ordering systems, depended upon individual commitments to these values. These philosophies have
historically had a big influence on many religions of the world. Both of these philosophies have impacted how
many envision the structure of family roles in society.
The traditional normative structure of marriage in these philosophies generally promotes monogamy and
specific gender roles within a family. This value is still prominent in many modern religions. It is important to
note that different religious traditions have historically supported other family structures of marriage, such as
polygamy or inter-familial marriages among cousins.
2. The Symbiotic Relationship
Family is the reference system of values that supports a child’s movement into society and the available
structures for growth, learning, and education. This includes all the scales of political life and religious
involvement.
Often a particular religion is part of a family ethic. This provides mutual support for both institutions. Religion
reinforces the family values, and the family itself reinforces the religious structure by providing members and
practitioners of the religion. This is an example of a symbiotic relationship.

TERM TO KNOW
Symbiotic Relationship
In biology, a relationship in which two organisms simultaneously serve each other’s physical needs;
any relationship in which two parties benefit from their interactions over a period of time.
Religion maintains family stability by espousing these values and norms, and by laying out roles and duties
with respect to husband, wife, children, and elders that are represented in a family.

SUMMARY
Aristotle stated that the process of love and virtue extending out into society begins with the “oikos,”
or the family. This exchange of love and virtue is modeled on the idea and the reality of spousal love
and friendship. Confucianism also saw the structure of family as a building block for society, because
it embodied the fundamental virtues of love, respect, order, and authority. There is a symbiotic
relationship between the family and religion. Spiritual and religious institutions support family values
by offering roles and functions that give life to these values. Family virtues and values give life to
certain religious principles.
Source: This work is adapted from Sophia author Ted Fairchild.

TERMS TO KNOW
Symbiotic Relationship
In Biology, a relationship in which two organisms simultaneously serve each other’s physical needs; any
relationship in which two parties benefit from their interactions over a period of time.
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Religion and Society
by Sophia Tutorial
WHAT’S COVERED

What is religion without society? What is society without religion? These are the questions you are
going to look at in this lesson. You will cover:
1. Society’s Role in Religion
2. Religion’s Role in Society
1. Society’s Role in Religion
Religion without society would be the realm of pure god or gods. How can you know that? You know this
because religion needs people to say such things. It needs people to believe there is a god or gods in the first
place. It needs them to say that there is some other realm that’s somehow important and relevant beyond the
human realm.
It needs this because religion, in this sense, can’t exist without societies to consider it. Religion needs people
to present and represent it to themselves, the world, other generations, other cultures, different societies, et
cetera.
2. Religion’s Role in Society
In societies past and present there has always been a range of different religious beliefs and practices.
Among them there has always been some portion of non-believers, or atheists, and those who are unsure of
the beliefs held by the religious—these are called agnostics.

TERMS TO KNOW
Atheist
An adherent of atheism; one who believes that god does not exist.
Agnostic
An adherent of agnosticism; one who either has not decided whether or not god exists or who
believes that the existence or non-existence of god can never be known.

DID YOU KNOW
According to the 2005 Eurobarometer Poll, 33% of the population of France has no belief in a spirit, god,
or other life force. However, 34% reported having some belief in god. Wherever you look, you’ll find some
percentage of religious belief among a population, even if it’s as little as 19%, as in the Czech Republic.
In societies that are traditionally stable or expansive, religion often works as a binding force with shared
values, beliefs, and practices. In every case, religion and the often complex structure of belief and practice are
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what give rise to societies in the first place, like with the civilizations of ancient Egypt.
Built into the religious paradigm is a social fabric that has the history, the words, and the customs of tradition
that are imprinted and worked through its fibers to form societies.
In any moderately religious society, both old and new, whether it has a national religion or is secular (or even
officially atheistic, like China), religion provides guidance, direction, and support to the individual. Life’s
transitions are full of surprises, and many find solace in the beliefs and the practices of religion as they
navigate their solo journey.
3. Crisis Management
Religion can also help to support the family. A family may sit more unified at the table with a moment of grace
or prayer before the meal. However, meal time is not without its own tensions sometimes. Given the rich
variety of individual wills and desires and tensions and goals, there’s always an available recipe for dispute,
conflict of interest, et cetera.
As a trusted societal institution and resource, though, religion has traditionally stepped in to mediate such
conflicts. For many followers of Judaism it’s not uncommon to solicit the support and aid of the community
rabbi when a family dispute erupts. The Christian good shepherd or Good Samaritan organizations provide a
variety of social services, such as conflict resolution, prison reform, counseling, et cetera.

THINK ABOUT IT
Why would religion step in to resolve crisis?
Although religion and its associated values and practices might be shared among members of a society, it
doesn’t guarantee a smooth ride. However, it might have the advantage of having structures in place to
mediate and help resolve conflict. The absence of an ideological common ground of shared belief, on the
other hand, exposes a situation to more variables, such as aimless violence that can be religiously
motivated or not.
Many religions have international wings that help with political refugee crises, natural disaster assistance, and
things like that. In this sense religion plays a strong role in binding communities and forming new relationships
between individuals and groups.

SUMMARY
Society’s role in religion is to give it life by believing in it and sharing it. This is important because of
religion’s role in society. In any society, you’re going to find religious adherents, and you’re going to
find non-believers. The interrelationship between religion and society is very complex, and often
societies are born out of this religious impulse. Religion serves to support not just an individual search
within a religious paradigm but to support relationships, such as the family. Religion can play a role in
crisis management. Conflicts can evolve on a family or societal level, and religion has traditionally
played the role of stepping in to help mediate conflicts. In a society where there’s an absence of
shared beliefs, there can often be conflict and violence that is either religiously motivated or not.
Source: This work is adapted from Sophia author Ted Fairchild.
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
TERMS TO KNOW
Agnostic
An adherent of agnosticism; one who either has not decided whether or not god exists, or who believes
that the existence or non-existence of god can never be known.
Atheist
An adherent of atheism; one who believes that god does not exist.
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Religion and Economics
by Sophia Tutorial
WHAT’S COVERED

This lesson looks at religion and the concept of economics. Its practical implications and the
interaction of religion and economics go back a long way in the history of religions. You will cover:
1. Abrahamic Traditions and Giving
2. Lending
3. Hinduism
4. Buddhist Economics
5. Just Exchange
1. Abrahamic Traditions and Giving
Among the Abrahamic traditions there are many commonalities. One thing that is shared among them is the
practice of giving a portion of one’s income to the needy. For Jews this is laid out in the Torah, or the Hebrew
Bible. It’s called the ma’aser kesafim, or tithing. This means giving away 10 percent of one’s income to charity.
In Christianity there’s the custom of supporting the church with financial contributions on an annual basis
and/or on a weekly basis in the context of church-going and the passing of the plate, which is a literal and a
symbolic offering of support.

THINK ABOUT IT
Ethics, the world of responsible action and exchange, are naturally tied into economics as well.
Economics is, after all, based on the idea of exchange. Perhaps this physical, apparently mundane,
activity is meant to symbolize exchange of some other sort on a higher level.
In Islam the Qur’an and the Sunnah, which is the model of the prophet Muhammad’s life and includes his
sayings and practices, are believed to express the will of Allah. One of the pillars of Islam is the zakat. It states
that one must give away a portion of one’s income.

TERM TO KNOW
Zakat
The Islamic practice of giving part of one’s wealth away to those in need; considered one of the Five
Pillars of Islam.
One must use one’s financial resources to contribute to the lessening of inequality in the world and in the
community around one. It’s believed and interpreted from the text that divine intention includes equality.
Economic interactions are one practical way of moving in this direction.
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2. Lending
Throughout history the value of equality has been recognized but maybe not realized. Within Christianity in
the Middle Ages in Europe, there was an inherited climate that forbade and even detested the idea of
charging excessive and unfair interest on loans, a practice called usury. This is the idea of the suggestion of
implications of personal gain in a material sense, which was believed to work directly against God’s will.

TERM TO KNOW
Usury
The practice of loaning money for interest-based profit.
Muslims in the Middle Ages, as Islam emerged and spread, and even today have strong prohibitions against
lending money. Instead, some sort of joint activity is to be pursued, thereby reinforcing the values of
community and equality.
The restrictions on lending money with or without interest can be traced back to the sacred texts of Islam and
Christianity. Even further back are the sacred texts of the East, such as in Hinduism, that have such
restrictions.
In Judaism, as expressed in the Torah, there is no prohibition against charging interest on loans to non-Jews.
However, one mustn’t charge interest to one’s fellow Jews. For this reason the money changers who helped
keep the economy moving during the Middle Ages were predominantly Jewish.

BIG IDEA
For Jews and Christians, lending money is generally considered a worthy endeavor, while among
Muslims it is, for the most part, considered against Sharia, or Islamic, law. If you look at some modern
day practices among the three Abrahamic religions, you’ll see that these traditions still hold.
3. Hinduism
It was mentioned earlier that usury had been prohibited during the Middle Ages, and that its roots stretch
back into the Eastern religions as well. In the ancient Vedic texts of Hinduism, for example, a usurer, or a
kusidin, is described as someone who charges interest beyond the legal rate. This is an unethical use of
power or control. It is an unfair exchange. So from approximately 2000 Before the Common Era, the meaning
of usury has remained essentially unchanged.
Nevertheless, aside from the issue of unjust interest rates, some Hindus do believe that any lending of money
at all tends to bring about bad karma, and it is therefore prohibited or to be avoided.
4. Buddhist Economics
The Buddha, on the other hand, had no problem with lending money as long as certain principles and
doctrines were recognized and adhered to. In relation to Buddhism, there is an official term called Buddhist
Economics. It’s a way of engaging with economics from a holistic, all-inclusive perspective. No part or detail is
left out of the equation. The processes of intention, production, sale, consumption, waste, et cetera are all
considered.
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
DID YOU KNOW
Doctrine of Dependent Origination is a Buddhist doctrine that states that everything is somehow
dependent upon something else for its existence and identity. This doctrine influences Buddhist
Economics.
From this the notion of anata, or “no-self,” emerges. When considering economics, which is based on the idea
of exchange, one has to ask, what is the nature, the structure, and the identities involved in this exchange?
Buddhist Economics is an approach to this form of exchange that emphasizes spiritual principles, which come
down to the level of psychology.
The first two noble truths of Buddhism state that life is suffering and that suffering is caused by desires and
cravings of an unclear and ignorant mind. The idea is that economic activity, like other things in life, is
motivated by the psychological mechanisms of anxiety, fear, and desire—all the emotions that grab hold of us,
causing us to respond in one way or another.
The hope with Buddhist Economics is to come to some understanding of balance, a middle way, between
harm on the one hand and excess on the other. Along this path, one might see what “beneficial” really means
in terms of an economic exchange.
5. Just Exchange
While Buddhist Economics might seem to be a unique perspective, perhaps it isn’t so different from the
others. What links them is the hope of a fruitful, fair, and just exchange. An exchange with the higher
principles of devotion, respect, honesty, charity, justice, and equality. Certain material expressions of these
principles might be seen as a binding influence that maybe even draws the religions together at times.
All of these religions have economic practices ingrained in them. For example, purchasing and exchanging of
gifts during the holidays of Christmas and Hanukkah. The festival of Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim breaking of the
Ramadan fast and paying the zakat. All of this economic activity might function to bring communities together
in a positive recognition of what it could really mean to exchange.

SUMMARY
There is a relationship between the Abrahamic traditions and giving. The Jewish tradition calls for
believers to tithe for charity. In Christianity, there is a custom of giving to support the church. In the
Islamic faith, one of the pillars is the zakat. These faiths have traditions regarding lending as well.
Christianity supported lending but was against usury. The Jewish people can lend at interest but not
to other Jews. For Muslims, lending is considered against Islamic law. In Hinduism, usury is
considered unethical, and lending tends to bring bad karma. The Buddha did not see anything wrong
with lending so long as certain principals were adhered to. Buddhist Economics is a way of engaging
with economics from a holistic perspective. These religions all have principles that attempt to lead to
just exchange.
Source: This work is adapted from Sophia author Ted Fairchild.
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
TERMS TO KNOW
Usury
The practice of loaning money for interest-based profit.
Zakat
The Islamic practice of giving part of one’s wealth away to those in need. Considered one of the Five
Pillars of Islam.
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Religion and Food
by Sophia Tutorial
WHAT’S COVERED

When you look at different religious traditions, particularly the festivals and holidays that are
associated with them, you’ll find that each tradition has a special food or some special approach to
food. In this tutorial, you’ll look at some of the major religions and their relationships with food. To do
this, you’ll cover:
1. Kosher
2. Halal
3. Ramadan and Passover
4. Lent
5. Eastern Religions
1. Kosher
In any community, religious or not, one thing that brings people together is food. It forms a central aspect of a
culture’s identity, and is a universal custom. It’s hard to say that gathering around food has a specifically
religious origin, but it is possible to talk about certain traditions that honor some aspect of their religion with
customs related to food. These are elements of religious cultural identity.
In Judaism, the term kosher, or kashrut, refers to food that is fit for consumption. It generally means that a
particular food is suitable and even advantageous. Those that are not kosher are considered unclean and
therefore forbidden. Unclean animals are considered non-kosher according to Halakhah, or Jewish law.
About one in six American Jews practice the kosher diet. The Torah, mostly in the books of Leviticus and
Deuteronomy, lays out the prescriptions and the prohibitions on certain foods.

TERM TO KNOW
Kosher
The observance of religiously based dietary restrictions in Judaism.
The rationale, however, is usually a matter of oral tradition and oral law, and these interpretations and the
details surrounding fit versus unfit for consumption were eventually written down in the Talmud. One of the
most honored prescriptions or prohibited foods for many Jews is pork.
For an animal to be considered kosher or ritually clean, it must ruminate or chew its cud, and it must have
cloven hooves. So while a pig does have cloven hooves, it does not ruminate, and it is therefore considered
unclean and not kosher. A cow, on the other hand, does have cloven hooves and it does ruminate, and is
therefore fit for consumption. However, only certain parts of the cow are considered kosher.
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In the Talmud, it also states that dairy products and meat cannot be cooked together. The reason behind this
is that an animal cannot be cooked in its mother’s milk. There are many different approaches and
explanations and ways of understanding these laws. Some Jewish theologians don’t think it’s the job of
humans necessarily to understand and explain these laws so much as to simply follow them, trusting God’s
intentions and direction.
Others, such as the medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides, on the other hand, believed that we could use
reason to uncover these intentions and understand these laws. Still many believe that there’s vice and virtue
at stake when one consumes kosher and non-kosher foods. In other words, various animals and other foods
carry symbolic significance that must be honored if one is to receive spiritual benefit.
In the Jewish tradition of Chassidism, it’s often believed that sparks of holiness can be effectively drawn into
the world by actions that have religious intention behind them. Kashrut, or kosher food, is one important way
of connecting with divinity.
2. Halal
The structure of this belief and holy action related to food is not unique to Judaism. In Islam, Sharia law
originating in the Qur’an, indicates what is permissible or non-permissible in all aspects of life. The term is
halal, and its opposite is haram. For food, there are specific indications about what is considered lawful and
unlawful to eat. With regard to animals, it also concerns and indicates the manner in which the animal is
slaughtered, or killed.

TERMS TO KNOW
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Halal
An Arabic term meaning permissible, often used to refer to foods that are not considered acceptable
to consume in Islam.
Haram
An Arabic term meaning forbidden, often used to refer to foods that are not considered permissible to
consume in Islam.
Pork is prohibited and consuming any animal carcass or carrion is also forbidden. Any animal that has been
beaten or died as a result of a fall is also considered haram. For a particular meat to be considered halal, the
animal must not have been unconscious before death and must have been slaughtered in a particular manner
with Allah’s name being invoked at the time.
Furthermore, the animal must have enjoyed a diet that was free of additives and unnatural ingredients.
However, there are some exceptions to these rules or laws, as stated in the Qur’an. If there’s absolutely no
other food available, a Muslim may consume non-halal food.
3. Ramadan and Passover
For special celebrations, feasts, and commemorations, the various religions have their own laws and
prescriptions. In Judaism, during Passover, or Pesach, it’s forbidden to eat leavened bread, or hametz. The
idea is to remember the Exodus from Egypt when Moses led the Israelites out from captivity, and it was the
unleavened bread that sustained them on their journey back to the Promised Land.
In Islam, during the holy month of Ramadan, many Muslims honor the tradition of fasting, abstaining from food
and drink, during the hours between dawn and sundown. This practice is often accompanied by increased
prayer and reflection. It’s a time to consider and commemorate the divine revelation received by the prophet
Muhammad. The month of Ramadan concludes with the feast of Eid al-Fitr, usually indicated by the sighting of
the new crescent moon, the beginning of a new lunar cycle.
4. Lent
For Christians, both orthodox and Catholic, though usually less often for Protestants, many take the time
before Easter to fast in recognition of the time Jesus retreated to the desert before his public ministry and his
death on the cross.
According to the Gospels, Jesus encountered the devil and was presented with many challenges and
temptations during this time in the desert. So for Christians, denying oneself food and bodily pleasures
represents resisting temptation. Fasting is believed to help bring the practitioner closer to Jesus, God, and the
Holy Spirit.
This period, called lent, is a time of reflection, prayer, and fasting. In the Middle Ages fasting included
abstaining from eating meat, dairy, alcohol, and other dietary pleasures. Consuming these were thought to
lead a person to greater and more dangerous lusts. Today many Christians still recognize similar guidelines,
although they vary from one denomination to another. Generally, most denominations recognize Fridays
during lent as a time to abstain from meat and poultry.
5. Eastern Religions
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In some of the Eastern religions, it is strongly encouraged to avoid eating meat altogether, and in some cases
it is forbidden. In Buddhism, there is something called the five precepts. The first precept states “I undertake
the precept to refrain from destroying living creatures.” Most Buddhist monks and nuns, as well as many lay
practitioners, practice vegetarianism then in honor and respect of all living, sentient beings.
In Hinduism, there are many people that practice vegetarianism, and they refer to the sacred texts in support
of this practice. In the Mahabharata, it says that nonviolence is the highest duty and the highest teaching.
Another Hindu sect that follows this principle of non-violence that is translated into vegetarianism is the
Swaminarayan Movement. It consists of a diet that forbids the consumption of meat, eggs, and seafood.
Followers of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness and followers of Vaishnavism too, in addition
to not eating meat, fish, and foul, even abstain from eating certain vegetables, such as garlic and onions, and
mushrooms (fungus). These are believed to contain negative properties that hinder higher consciousness,
and are thought to contain a lesser grade of goodness. This, therefore, affects one’s consciousness
negatively when consumed. Many Hindus focus their attention of foods that inhabit the higher realms of
natural goodness and act as an aid to spiritual development.

SUMMARY
Many of the different religious traditions have things in common with regard to food. There are laws
and prescriptions or prohibitions, and there’s a structure for identifying what is lawful and in line with
God’s will. In Judaism, you looked at the terms kosher and non-kosher. You also looked at the
equivalent in Islam, with halal and haram. Passover and Ramadan are celebrations in these two
religions where food plays a special role. There is a prohibition against eating leavened bread during
Passover, and Ramadan is a month of fasting. In Christianity, there is a practice of fasting during lent
and abstaining from certain foods as a way of identifying with the challenges and suffering of Christ.
You also learned about relationships between food and Eastern religions. You looked briefly at
Buddhism and Hinduism and the common practice of vegetarianism, which reflects the principle of
non-violence that is present in those traditions.
Source: This work is adapted from Sophia author Ted Fairchild.

TERMS TO KNOW
Halal
An Arabic term meaning permissible, often used to refer to foods that are not considered acceptable to
consume in Islam.
Haram
An Arabic term meaning forbidden, often used to refer to foods that are not considered permissible to
consume in Islam.
Kosher
The observance of religiously based dietary restrictions in Judaism.
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What is Religion?
by Sophia Tutorial
WHAT’S COVERED

This lesson covers the different ways someone can attempt to define religion. It looks at:
1. Problems with Defining Religion
2. The Phenomenological Approach
1. Problems with Defining Religion
What is the definition of religion? The answer, unfortunately, is that there really isn’t a good one.
Many people would agree that a good definition of religion would have to include the belief in asupernatural
being, a deity, some kind of deity or supernatural force beyond the human realm. That works for traditions
such as Judaism and Christianity and Islam, but it wouldn’t work for Buddhism, which doesn’t necessarily
believe in a supernatural being in that way.

TERMS TO KNOW
Supernatural
That which is above and beyond the natural or ordinary.
Buddhism
A wide-ranging group of religious philosophies inspired by Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha).
What if there was a definition of religion that didn’t include the supernatural? It would just be too broad and
much more difficult to put a finger on.
One thing that can be done to help give some definition is to look at some of the things that are in common
among many religions. A key commonality is the idea of faith and belief. Most would agree that most religions
have those two elements. However, the French sociologist Emile Durkheim noticed that society and
individuals that make up society have many different beliefs. Many of them are not religious beliefs.

TERMS TO KNOW
Faith
Acceptance of the truth or existence of any thing, person, or idea, even in the absence of
substantiating evidence.
Belief
Acceptance of the truth or existence of any thing, person, or idea, even where contrary opinions may
be rationally accepted.
Religion is also inherently a very social thing, and yet religion is something more than just the social. So if the
definition is limited to just belief and faith, then it is too restricted with regards to the social aspect.
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2. The Phenomenological Approach
So what can be done? There is always the phenomenological approach to looking at religion.
Phenomenology of Religion is a kind of approach that doesn’t necessarily concern itself with the truth and
falsity of religious belief. It is not an empirical approach; it is more of an experiential approach. This might be
much more useful in understanding religion and religious experience.

TERM TO KNOW
Phenomenology of Religion
An academic discipline that studies religion as an individual and collective phenomenon to be studied
without reference to the truth or falsity of any underlying beliefs.
The phenomenological approach looks at the individual and collective nature of experience and not so much
the content of experience.

SUMMARY
There are many problems with defining religion. You cannot contain religion to belief in a
supernatural being, because some religions do not have this. It cannot be contained to just faith and
belief, either. People within society often have beliefs that have nothing to do with religion, and this
neglects the social aspect of religion as well. The phenomenological approach helps give an answer
to what religion is. It does not look at religion empirically. It looks at it through a more experiential
approach.
Source: This work is adapted from Sophia author Ted Fairchild.

TERMS TO KNOW
Belief
Acceptance of the truth or existence of any thing, person, or idea, even where contrary opinions may be
rationally accepted.
Buddhism
A wide-ranging group of religious philosophies inspired by Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha).
Faith
Acceptance of the truth or existence of any thing, person, or idea, even in the absence of substantiating
evidence.
Phenomenology of Religion
An academic discipline that studies religion as an individual and collective phenomenon, to be studied
without reference to the truth or falsity of any underlying beliefs.
Supernatural
That which is above and beyond the natural or ordinary.
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“Origins” of Religion
by Sophia Tutorial
WHAT’S COVERED

This lesson addresses the often-confusing idea of religion itself. You will look at the roots of the word
to get even more tangled and confused. No matter how complicated it gets, you can be sure that
religion, as its most likely understood today in modern global culture, is very different from how it was
understood in the past.
1. Study of Religion
2. A Way of Life
1. Study of Religion
The field of religious studies as an academic discipline really began in the 19th century. It’s an approach to
studying religions that usually places itself outside of the traditions for the purpose of objective comparative
study.
One way to study religion is through etymology. This is the study of where words come from and develop
through time and culture. It traces a word’s roots, and can give you the feeling that you’re getting closer to
something.

TERM TO KNOW
Etymology
The study of word origins.
Friedrich Max Mueller, a philologist and one of the well-known founders of comparative religion, traced the
word “religion” back to the Latin “religio,” meaning piety or reverence toward the gods. The English word
“religion” can also be traced to the Latin verb “ligare,” which means to bind and bring together. There are also
links to the French “religion” and the Anglo-Saxon “religium,” both of which referred to the religious
community.
Using etymology to trace the roots of religion and see how it may have been used and understood in the past
is a great way to shed light on the potentially confusing terrain of religion and religious studies. It means
reverence for the supernatural, It serves to bind, and it means community.
2. A Way of Life
There is a difference between religion as it is studied through etymology or comparative religion and how it
was lived and experienced in history.
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
DID YOU KNOW
In Hebrew language, there is no word for religion that is comparable to our English word. It was, and still is
for many, fully integrated into all aspects of the lives of Jewish people.
In many ancient cultures, societal institutions, such as law, were manifestations of a religious sensibility,
perspective, and world view. Religion could not be isolated and separated from life. Some good examples are
the cultures of ancient Egypt, Greece, and the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia. Mesopotamia is an area
along the ancient Tigris and Euphrates rivers roughly including modern Iraq and parts of Iran, Syria, and
Turkey. It is often referred to as the Fertile Crescent.

TERM TO KNOW
Mesopotamia
An ancient region encompassing the areas served by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, including
modern Iraq as well as parts of Iran, Syria, and Turkey.
IN CONTEXT
This is different from what is experienced today in many cultures, so take a look at a real-life
example. In ancient Greece in 400 BCE, the trial of Socrates occurred in a society that was
governed by the Greek world view and reverence for the gods. Socrates was accused of offending
the gods and corrupting the education of the youth by encouraging a new form of thought and
inquiry. The law of the gods was taken into the hands of society, and after the trial, poisoning by
hemlock was the sentence.
It can be challenging to navigate this apparent divide between religion as it used to be and our modern,
perhaps more compartmentalized, understanding of religion.
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
SUMMARY
Religion is indeed hard to define. The study of religion is the field of religious studies as an academic
discipline, which began in the 19th century. Etymology can help trace the roots of words to bring
better understanding. The philologist and comparative religion scholar Max Mueller traced it to the
Latin word “religio,” meaning piety or reverence toward the gods.
But it can also be linked to the Latin verb “ligare”: to bind, to bring together. In history and some
religious communities today, such as the culture of Judaism, religion wasn’t and isn’t something
separate from the life and the structures of society, like law. Religion is a way of life.
Source: This work is adapted from Sophia author Ted Fairchild.

TERMS TO KNOW
Etymology
The study of word origins.
Mesopotamia
An ancient region encompassing the areas served by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, including modern
Iraq as well as parts of Iran, Syria, and Turkey.
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Religion as Myth
by Sophia Tutorial
WHAT’S COVERED

In this tutorial, you will look at the idea of myth and what role it plays in religion and religious life. You
will also examine how myth might inform the understanding of religious and/or secular life today. You
will cover:
1. The Value of Myth
2. Archetypes
3. Extra-Rational Truth
1. The Value of Myth
You may have heard the term myth used to refer to something that’s just not true or is fantastical. The phrase
“it’s just a myth” is synonymous with “it’s not true.”

TERM TO KNOW
Myth
A claim or narrative that is psychologically, anthropologically, or sociologically “true” despite the
absence of empirical data or other rational support for it.
Consider Groundhog Day as an example of folklore as myth. If the groundhog emerges from his hole and sees
his shadow, he heads back in. This predicts six more weeks of winter. This is a commonly held tradition that
has little empirical data to support it. It is not rational, but still has importance in some cultures.

TERM TO KNOW
Rational
Based in logical cognition and reason; calculating.
Likewise, there are many beliefs that are a part of the spiritual and religious realm that are not provable in the
usual empirical scientific sense and could be considered irrational. They have more to do with collective
knowledge and collective wisdom based on traditions and stories. Non-rational or even extra-rational beliefs
of this sort often form the ground and the justification for engaging with myth.

TERMS TO KNOW
Non-rational
Making little to no use of logic, cognition, or reason.
Irrational
Violating known and accepted rules and standards of logic, cognition, or reason.
Extra-rational
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Beyond the limits of human logic, cognition, or reason—typical of the divine.
So how are these justified then? The short answer is by tradition. They gain acceptance as more than just
myth by common agreements among cultures and religious groups and by the experience of their value in the
lives of these groups and their individuals.
IN CONTEXT
Take the example of one of the teachings of the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, to illustrate this point.
There’s a story among Zen Buddhists that is attributed as the origin of Zen Buddhism itself. It’s called
the Flower Sermon. The story goes that, having gathered everyone silently together and sitting for a
short time in silence, the Buddha simply held up a white flower. A disciple, named Mahakasyapa,
gazed at the flower and simply smiled. No one else except for Mahakasyapa understood the
message of this deep wisdom, or prajna, something that was directly communicated without words.
From that day forward Zen Buddhism carried with it this story, or myth. It is a powerful story because
it links each sentient human being to the possibility and potentiality of inhabiting wisdom.
Science cannot prove the wisdom that was present and transmitted in the exchange between the
Buddha, the flower, and the disciple. Wisdom functions in a collective human consciousness as an
archetype, as a conscious and unconscious image of something essential. It is something universally
true, present, and given value.
2. Archetypes
Carl Jung, the famous Swiss psychoanalyst, identified scores of archetypes that are active in the unconscious
realms of individuals and societies, such as death, power, motherhood, the sun, and rings. These archetypes
exist as pure forms to be filled or inhabited with stories and experiences. This gives them life. In a way you
could say that this is the project of religion: to link the conscious realm of experience and sensation with the
deep forms of these essential truths.
Many of these archetypes, when they are linked together, become myths. They are foundational stories with
metaphorical references all guiding the religious adherent through the maze of conscious and unconscious
truths. While these truths are not provable, they are nevertheless true from an anthropological, sociological,
and psychological perspective.
3. Extra-Rational Truth
Many commonly held beliefs, things considered to be rational without much question or doubt, could be said
to have originated from certain myths of religion and religious belief systems. One of the most obvious ones is
time. Religious traditions have accounts, stories, and myths about the beginning of time. Many also have
myths and explanations about how to be in time, present, with responsibility and obedience.
Some traditions have myths involving the end of time. The myth of time then, as an archetype, is an extrarational truth that functions to link it essentially to the divine and transcendent realm. People then adapt it to
their conscious experience and use of time. Religions do this through things such as holidays, feasts, rituals,
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and sacred objects.

SUMMARY
Many people use the term myth to refer to the idea that something is untrue. However the value of
myth can be seen in the context of religion. These stories do hold some truths. The justification for
this can be seen in the example the flower sermon demonstrates, that there are certain archetypes in
our unconscious. These become manifest through stories, and then become an extra-rational truth
that is accepted and has validation among certain academic disciplines, such as anthropology,
sociology, and psychology.
Source: This work is adapted from Sophia author Ted Fairchild.

TERMS TO KNOW
Extra-rational
Beyond the limits of human logic, cognition, or reason—typical of the divine.
Irrational
Violating known and accepted rules and standards of logic, cognition, or reason.
Myth
A claim or narrative that is psychologically, anthropologically, or sociologically ‘true’ despite the absence
of empirical data or other rational support for it.
Non-rational
Making little to no use of logic, cognition, or reason.
Rational
Based in logical cognition and reason; calculating.
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Religion as Culture & Social Convention
by Sophia Tutorial
WHAT’S COVERED

In this tutorial, you will see a few of the ways in which religion works as an essential element of culture
and how it forms the basis of many of society’s conventions. This lesson looks at:
1. Holidays and Festivals
2. Societal Customs
1. Holidays and Festivals
One of the most important celebrations in Judaism is Passover, a remembrance of the Hebrew Exodus from
Egypt. The practical and spiritual significance of this historical event is commemorated every year at the same
time. It, therefore, has relevance for Jews today. It has become a social convention. It is deeply rooted in
religious tradition and history.

TERMS TO KNOW
Passover
The Jewish celebration and commemoration of the Hebrew Exodus from Egypt and, more specifically,
of God’s having “passed over” and spared the firstborn children of Israel while slaying the firstborn
children of Egypt.
Social Convention
A societal or group custom, belief, or tradition that is widely accepted and/or practiced.
In Christianity, Easter is a celebration commemorating the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is very closely linked
with Passover in both the timing of the celebration and its spiritual significance. Easter has become a social
custom that generally commemorates the event of the Last Supper, the preparation for Christ’s sacrificial
death, and Resurrection three days later.

TERM TO KNOW
Easter
The Christian celebration and commemoration of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
In this sense, Christ is the pasha of the Passover lamb. Interestingly, the etymology of the words for both
Easter and Passover are closely linked. They are Pesach in Hebrew and Pascha in Greek and Latin.
In Islam there’s the holy month of Ramadan, in which Muslims commemorate the reception of the Qur’an by
the Prophet Muhammad. This religious social custom is marked by fasting, prayer, and a variety of forms of
giving and generosity.

TERM TO KNOW
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Ramadan
The Muslim observance of fasting during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, considered one of
the Five Pillars of Islam.
All of these religions have holidays and customs that have become intertwined with the societies in which
these religions are practiced. On the practical level, they are marked on calendars, and businesses close
because of these events. This is in addition to the metaphorical and symbolic importance of these traditions.
In Buddhism, the Buddha’s birthday is a big event that is celebrated in all Buddhist societies. In Hinduism,
there are thousands of holidays that commemorate different events in the lives of the gods.
 EXAMPLE The birthday of Lord Krishna, for example, usually takes place in July or August.
2. Societal Customs
In addition to festivals and commemorative events, religion also has an impact on cultural and societal
customs. This can be seen in the rules for how the genders are to interact.
Islam often has very clear boundaries of acceptable interaction between men and women. Judaism has
mechitza, the physical barrier that separates the genders during certain services.
Korea has historically been greatly influenced by Confucianism. This has had an impact on the roles of men
and women in contemporary Korean culture as well. The interactions between unmarried men and women
were very strictly regulated. Visiting each other in their homes without supervision was generally frowned
upon and not socially acceptable.

SUMMARY
Religion has impacted society in terms of conventions and traditions that reach back through history.
Many religions have holidays and festivals that have become part of the larger society in which a
religion is practiced. Societal customs are also influenced by religious values, such as a society’s
values with regards to the interaction of men and women.
Source: This work is adapted from Sophia author Ted Fairchild.

TERMS TO KNOW
Easter
The Christian celebration and commemoration of Jesus‘ resurrection from the dead.
Passover
The Jewish celebration and commemoration of the Hebrew Exodus from Egypt, and more specifically of
God’s having “passed over” and spared the firstborn children of Israel while slaying the firstborn children
of Egypt.
Ramadan
The Muslim observance of fasting during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, considered one of the
Five Pillars of Islam.
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Social Convention
A societal or group custom, belief, or tradition that is widely accepted and/or practiced.
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The Sacred and the Profane
by Sophia Tutorial
WHAT’S COVERED

This lesson discusses the concepts of the sacred and the profane. You will look at what that meant
historically for some religious societies as well as some of the contemporary uses. This lesson covers:
1. What is Profane
2. Tied to the Sacred
1. What is Profane?
The sacred and profane are contrasted from each other in the same way as words such as spiritual and
worldly. The English word “profane” comes from two Latin words, “pro” and “fanus” or “fanum,” meaning
outside the temple. A fanum was a sacred space, usually a plot of land where a temple would be constructed.

TERMS TO KNOW
Sacred
That which is set apart from the ordinary, the worldly, and the mundane.
Profane
Anything that is “pro fanus” (outside the temple), not spiritual, worldly.
In classical Roman times, anything that was outside the temple or the sacred space where one would
commune and worship the gods was considered profanus. It had to do with the more mundane and everyday
aspects of life. The temple space was the first reference point for understanding the sacred and the realm of
the sacred itself. It was also a reference point for the worldly and every day.
2. Tied to the Sacred
Scholars of religion, philologists, historians, sociologists, and theologians have all studied the idea of the
sacred and the idea of the profane. They are concepts that live in the heart of almost every religious society,
and exist in close proximity.
During much of the 20th century, Mircea Eliade, the Romanian philosopher and religious historian, began to
identify the broad universality of these concepts in primitive, archaic societies. He was able to identify a
universal drive toward the sacred. There is such a natural engagement with it that the mundane, or profane,
aspects of everyday life, such as hunting, cooking, and courtship, were all infused with the sacred, and
considered to be manifestations of the sacred itself.
This separation between sacred and profane is really a characteristic of modern times and modern thinking.
The word profanity is used now to mean cursing or to refer to something vulgar, gross, or impolite. In former
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times, however, profanity retained its strong association with the sacred.

THINK ABOUT IT
How could the profane and sacred be closely tied together?
Use cursing for an example. It was always understood with reference to its opposite, a blessing. A curse
meant a request to god or gods for some kind of ill will or harm to be settled upon someone or
something.

SUMMARY
What is profane is usually identified in relation to what is scared. The profane refers to the mundane
and worldly aspects of life. In modern times, the word profane has come to mean something vulgar or
gross, but historically it was closely tied to the sacred.
Source: This work is adapted from Sophia author Ted Fairchild.

TERMS TO KNOW
Profane
Anything that is “pro fanus” (outside the temple), not spiritual, worldly.
Sacred
That which is set apart from the ordinary, the worldly, and the mundane.
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A “Definition” of Religion
by Sophia Tutorial
WHAT’S COVERED

This lesson attempts to define religion by looking at:
1. Commonalities
2. Family Resemblance
1. Commonalities
It can be challenging to understand just one religion and even more challenging to understand the many
different religions. So where do we begin?
One way you can begin to define religion is by looking at the many associations that you might have with
religion. This may include things such as music, silence, prayer, clothing that’s worn during services and
ceremonies, or rules that guide behavior.
There are also aspects such as the preoccupation and concern with the ultimate questions, the nature of
existence, the nature of God and whether God exists, beauty, truth, and death. At the crux of religion is this
desire to reconcile the apparently separate worlds of the human and the non-human or the worlds of matter
and spirit.
2. Family Resemblance
It seems there are many terms that appear to compete with each other when looking at the definition of
religion. This is due to the nature of language itself and the way people engage with it.
The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein went on at great length about this in a book calledPhilosophical
Investigations, which was published after he died. He explored the nature of language and how we interact
with it. He had a very active and functional view of language. He believed that any given word uses a
complicated network of similarities, overlapping and crisscrossing. He therefore applies the term family
resemblance to help mediate the tension that seems so present in language and in our human fixation with
definitions and their accuracy.

TERM TO KNOW
Family Resemblance
A theory discussed in Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations whereby seemingly unrelated
concepts may be connected to each other via intermediate concepts.
So even though religion is hard to define, it doesn’t mean that it can’t be understood. Maybe the most
practical approach is to look for family resemblances. If Wittgenstein is followed, a more fluid definition of
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Page 45
religion might be useful. If there are two seemingly unrelated concepts, and thus two complete, competing, or
conflicting approaches to an issue, these original terms might find some commonality through another,
intermediate term or terms.
He called it the sense language game of interpretation, and it might be useful to see how religion functions
across the borders of a fixed definition.

SUMMARY
To attempt to define religion, one can examine the commonalities that exist between many religions,
such as music, prayer, or ceremonial clothing. Many religions also have a preoccupation with the
ultimate questions of life, as well as a desire to reconcile the difference between opposing things,
such as matter and spirit. Ludwig Wittgenstein’s idea of family resemblance offers a more fluid
definition.
Source: This work is adapted from Sophia author Ted Fairchild.

TERMS TO KNOW
Family Resemblance
A theory discussed in Wittgenstein’s “Philosophical Investigations” whereby seemingly unrelated
concepts may be connected to each other via intermediate concepts.
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Categorizing Religions
by Sophia Tutorial
WHAT’S COVERED

In this lesson, we’ll discuss some ways that the world’s religions can be categorized based on
personal or academic interest and perspective. We’ll also look at some of the key features of several
main world religions.
The specific areas of focus include:
1. Eastern Religions
a. Hinduism
b. Jainism
c. Buddhism
d. Confucianism
e. Shintoism
2. Western Religions
a. Judaism
b. Christianity
c. Islam
3. Classical Religions
4. Primal Religions
1. Eastern Religions
One of the first ways of categorizing religions is in terms of geography: Eastern religions and Western
religions.
From a historical perspective, the Eastern religions predate the Western religions. For now, we’ll look at the
key features of some of the major Eastern religions, all of which will be discussed in greater detail later in the
course.

TERM TO KNOW
Eastern Religion
Any religion originating on or east of the Indian subcontinent.
1a. Hinduism
Hinduism is often considered the world’s oldest living religion, as it dates back thousands of years. You can
trace the word Hindu back to the Sanskrit word “Shindu,” which is a reference to the river system in northwest
India.
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Page 47
Sanskrit is the ancient language of Hindu that is no longer spoken, but the Hindu sacred texts were written in
Sanskrit. There are four of these texts, collectively called the Veda. The Veda helps guide one along the way
of the Dharma, which is a term that refers to the natural law and order that sustains being. As a way of being
in the world, Dharma means duty, morality, and virtue.
Another essential element in Hinduism is the belief in the law of karma, or action, which governs the process
and cycle of birth, life, and death. This cycle is called samsara. The hope is to break free of this cycle of
perpetual reincarnation. Therefore, one must follow the Dharma, always being attentive to the laws of karma.
No transcendent god is worshiped in Hinduism. Instead, a supreme transcendent power is identified as
Brahman. There are many manifestations of this universal force, such as more personal gods that have very
specific personalities and purposes in Hindu life and practice.
1b. Jainism
Another ancient religion from India that is still practiced today is called Jainism. Jainism emphasizes spiritual
independence, universal equality among all life forms, nonviolence, and self-control.
Nonviolence and self-control are the principal means of liberation from the endless cycle of reincarnation.
1c. Buddhism
The other principal religion that also originated in India is Buddhism. Historically, Hinduism precedes
Buddhism, but they overlap philosophically in many ways.
Unlike Hinduism, however, Buddhism has a known founder. His name is the Buddha, meaning enlightened
one, or awakened. In history, he was called Siddhartha Gautama. Followers along the way of the Buddha are
called Buddhists.
The Buddha taught that enlightenment was possible to attain in this life; he taught this through his actions,
words, silence, and presence.
The principal commitments of a Buddhist are known as the Three Jewels:
The Buddha
The Dharma
The Sangha

HINT
All of these are Sanskrit words, with “Sangha” meaning community.
Along the Buddhist way, one continually reflects on the teachings of the Four Noble Truths:
Life is suffering.
Suffering is caused by cravings and attachments (which are caused and guided by ignorance).
Release from suffering is possible.
The truth is the way out of suffering.
Ultimate release from suffering is known as “Moksha.” This is a state and a way of being that is called nirvana.
1d. Confucianism
Moving over to fifth-century China, we’ll take a brief look at Confucianism. The founder of Confucianism was a
man who emphasized the extreme importance of moral responsibility in the community. Confucius taught that
a responsible life in the family and the community takes priority over some of the more unanswerable
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Page 48
questions of existence. Nevertheless, human life and ethical duty did clearly reflect a higher order and
structure that are not to be denied or ignored.
One of the central texts of Confucianism that explores this is called the I-Ching, or the Book of Changes.
1e. Shintoism
Most of the religions we’ve mentioned so far have spread to Japan and other parts of the globe to a greater or
lesser extent, but we’ll now start focusing on indigenous traditions in various regions.
In Japan, the ancient religion is called Shinto or Shintoism. The main feature of Shinto is to offer a way of
maintaining a link with the past. The word “Shinto” means way of the gods, and one of its core beliefs is that
everything has a spiritual essence or “kami.”
In Japan, many people recognize both Shinto and Buddhism. Buddhism is practiced for things more directly
related to this life, and Shinto is practiced more for things related to the other life, death, and the
remembrance of things past or beyond.
Eastern Religions
Religion
Holy
God/Founder
Beliefs
Book
Hinduism
Jainism
The Veda No one God; instead

One must follow the Dharma. By paying attention to
believes in Brahma that
the laws of karma, one can escape the cycle of
manifests in many ways
reincarnation.

Emphasizes spiritual independence, nonviolence, selfcontrol; nonviolence and self-control break the cycle of
reincarnation.
Buddhism

Founder is Buddha
The principle commitments are the Three Jewels.
Continually reflect on the Four Noble Truths. Nirvana is
the release from suffering
Confucianism I-Ching or Founder is Confucius
Book of
Moral responsibility in the community is more
important than unanswerable questions.
Changes
Shinto


Everything has a spiritual essence called kami;
practiced in conjunction with Buddhism, but related to
life, death, and remembrance of the past.
2. Western Religions
Now that we’ve briefly covered the East, we can take a look at some of the main religions in the West. As
mentioned earlier in this lesson, Western religions historically follow Eastern religions in terms of when they
were developed.

TERM TO KNOW
Western Religion
Any religion originating in the present-day Middle East, Europe, or the Americas.
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Page 49
2a. Judaism
Judaism originated in Israel, and is considered the first of the monotheistic religions. Monotheistic religions
are those that adhere to the belief that there is only one god.
People who follow the beliefs of Judaism are called Jews or Hebrews, and they believe they are descended
from Abraham. They also believe that they have been chosen by God for some purpose, and this purpose is
laid out in their sacred texts, the Talmud and the Torah, which is the Hebrew Bible.
2b. Christianity
Arising out of Judaism is Christianity, also a monotheistic religion from the land of Israel. Christianity’s central
figure is Jesus Christ, believed to have been the son of God born to the Virgin Mary.
The story of Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, as well as his teachings and actions in the world, make
up the Christian Bible, which is called the New Testament. If there is a central teaching and principle
associated with Christianity and the life of Christ, it could universally be called love.
2c. Islam
Following the historical line of the monotheistic traditions is Islam, which emerged during the seventh century.
Islam refers to the life and teachings of the figure Muhammad, believed to have been a prophet inspired and
informed directly by God through the angel Gabriel. The sacred text of this exchange is called the Qur’an.
Like many of the other religions, there are different branches of the faith; however, all Muslims, or followers of
Islam, generally agree that while the word of God has been revealed before to Moses, Jesus of Nazareth, and
other prophets, the Qur’an is God’s final and complete revelation.
Muslims also generally agree on the Five Pillars of Islam:
Creed
Daily prayer
Almsgiving
Fasting during Ramadan
Pilgrimage to Mecca (the birthplace of Muhammad and site of his revelation)
Western Religions
Religion
Holy Book
Judaism
The Torah and
One God, descendants They believe that they are God’s chosen people for
the Talmud
of Abraham
the purposes laid out in sacred texts.
One God; Jesus Christ
They believe in the life, death, and resurrection of
Testament
is primary figure
Jesus Christ. Love is the primary value.
Qur’an (Koran)
One God; The Prophet Qur’an (Koran) is the final revelation. They believe in
Christianity The New
Islam
God/Founder
Muhammad
Beliefs
the Five Pillars.
3. Classical Religions
Now that you have a general idea of how to organize and categorize religions according to East and West,
another way to think about religions is in terms of whether or not they’re still practiced.
All the religions mentioned so far are still practiced today, and are thus called living religions. Those that
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aren’t practiced are considered classical. Classical religions include the Pantheons or pantheistic religions of
ancient Greece and Rome.

TERM TO KNOW
Pantheon
A group of gods or deities.
In spite of their antiquity, or perhaps because of it, they were very influential in the development of the living
traditions, particularly the monotheistic traditions.
4. Primal Religions
The final category is the primal religions. This refers to indigenous and tribal practices and beliefs which, for
the most part, were transmitted orally.
It’s hard to categorize these religions in terms of Eastern or Western, and it’s also hard to categorize them in
terms of classical or living, because some are still practiced but many aren’t.
Nevertheless, these religions are the source of many myths, legends, and practices that have found their way
into the living traditions we’ve mentioned so far.
The primal religions have found their way into modern life as well.
 EXAMPLE The primal religions share a deep spiritual connection to and with nature and animals. This
intuitive response to an interaction with nature might then be linked to contemporary environmental
concerns.

SUMMARY
In this lesson, you learned that one way of categorizing religions is by geography: Eastern religions
and Western religions. The primary religions from the East are Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism,
Confucianism, and Shintoism. The primary monotheistic religions that originated in the West are
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
Religions can also be categorized according to whether or not they’re still practiced. In this case, we
refer to them as either living religions or classical religions. Primal religions come from indigenous
and/or tribal cultures, and may or may not still be practiced.
Source: Adapted from Sophia tutorial by Ted Fairchild.
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TERMS TO KNOW
Eastern Religion
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Any religion originating on or east of the Indian subcontinent.
Pantheon
A group of gods or deities.
Western Religion
Any religion originating in the present-day Middle East, Europe, or the Americas.
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Primal Religions
by Sophia Tutorial
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WHAT’S COVERED
The general objective of this lesson is for you to understand exactly what are primal religions. You will
look at certain core beliefs that are found in primal religions and are, at times, universal and transcend
culture and geography. You will also want to pay close attention to how they might be related to other
religions and religious belief structures. You will examine:
1. What Are Primal Religions?
2. Connections with Modern Religions
1. What Are Primal Religions?
When scholars use the term primal religions, they often are referring to the broad category of religious
practices that includes primitive and prehistoric societies. Primal religions have decentralized structures of
belief and practices that are usually associated with the time prior to, or in some cases concurrent with, t…
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