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Religious Studies

98 Terms



a ceremonial washing of the body or of objects

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Academic Sources (or Peer Reviewed Sources)

These sources can include books, academic journal articles, and published expert reports. Whatever the exact form, academic sources all have in common the fact that they are peer-reviewed. Peer reviewed sources are written by an expert in the field and have passed review by other experts who judged the source for quality and accuracy. If a source is peer-reviewed, you know it's a good choice for high-quality, accurate information about your topic.

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(lit., “not” + “knower”)

-In common usage, synonym for SKEPTIC

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A representation of gods in human form or with human characteristics.

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Matters related to the cataclysmic (natural) end of the world and final judgment.

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A defender of or advocate for a particular view.

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The rejection of a faith that one once held.

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One who rejects ordinary social life for exceptional religious discipline that often involves poverty, celibacy, and seclusion.

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A nontheist who believes that gods and the spiritual world do not exist.

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Favorable or conducive (as a time or condition) to successful outcomes from religious actions.

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A contemptuous or irreverent act or word concerning a deity or something sacred.

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The sacred and authoritative scriptures (writings) of a religious group. (has to meet a specific standard). Scripture seen as canon e.g. Ten Commandments in Exodus because it is authoritative

<p>The sacred and authoritative scriptures (writings) of a religious group. (has to meet a specific standard). Scripture seen as canon e.g. Ten Commandments in Exodus because it is authoritative</p>
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A rejection of the sexual aspects of life in the interest of focused religious devotion.

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A reform movement growing out of Judaism in the first century CE\; became the religion of the Roman Empire in the 300s expanded globally, particularly from the 1500s.

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-applied to a smaller group or a following with a distinctive focus.

-major deviation

Thus one is more likely to speak of the Cult of Krishna, or the Cult of the Virgin Mary

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From Latin anno Domini meaning ”in the year of our Lord” developed in 500s CE. It dates all events from the birth of Jesus of Nazareth ad is paired with BC.

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Abbreviation for “after Hijra” or “in the year of the Hijra”. Used in the Muslim calendar which dates events from the year of Muhammad’s flight or emigration from Mecca to Medina (hijra)

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Abbreviation of the phrase “before Christ”. Paired with AD. First used in the 1600s CE. Dates years prior to the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.

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Abbreviation of the phrase “before common era”.  Paired with CE. Used by modern RELS scholars and other academic disciplines

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Abbreviation of the phrase “common era” Paired with BCE Used by modern RELS scholars and other academic disciplines

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Belief in 2 primary and competing cosmic powers, one good and one evil.

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Eastern Religion

Imprecise division; generally religions of Asia, through Islam is usually treated as Western

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(study of last things)

A term for concepts related to the end of the world and of the human order

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A ritual to drive out evil forces (demons) from places or people.

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Worship of 1 god while not denying the existence of other gods.

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The opposite of orthodoxy; beliefs or practices that are rejected as destructive to the essence of a religious tradition

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Someone opposed to the use of religious images.

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A reform movement in the Arabian Peninsula in the 600s CE; within a hundred years became the dominant power from Spain and the North African coast to the Indian Ocean.

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Based on the religion of the ancient Hebrews and reflecting major reforms after the destruction of the first Jewish temple in the 500s BCE and other reforms after the destruction of the second temple in 70 CE (rabbinic Judaism)

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The adherents of a religion who are not part of the clergy or the priestly class.

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The form of public, group worship.

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One who dies, usually voluntarily, for a cause.

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The practice of asceticism (severe self-discipline and avoidance of all forms of indulgence) and poverty in order to devote life to constant religious service; often communal.

ex. monk or nun

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Belief in one divine being or God.

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The quest for deeper religious truth, bringing about a sense of union with the divine.

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Stories that reflect the great deeds of the gods and are foundational for religious traditions.

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Non-Academic Sources

not related to academic areas or fields of research. Reading articles from non-academic sources can help to introduce you to a topic and introduce you to how that topic is being discussed in society.

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(correct belief)

The opposite of heresy; the essential beliefs and practices by which a religious community defines itself; the determination of essential beliefs and practices generally made by the majority tradition.

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A pejorative term, once commonly used by Western religions, for adherents of polytheistic religions.

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The view that the universe as a whole is God or is a manifestation of God.

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The full assembly of gods and goddesses in a religion.

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Journey to a sacred place, done as a religious act.

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Belief in a divine world of many gods and spiritual forces.

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Prayer Beads (or Rosary)

Strings of beads or knots that aid an individual in performing a cycle of prayers (sometimes called a rosary in Christianity)

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A religious official; a range of offices may be found in evolved priesthoods.

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Primary Sources

a document, first-hand account, or other source that constitutes direct evidence of an object of study:

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The opposite of sacred; the everyday; the ordinary; more negatively: to violate the sacred state of things

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A convert from another religion

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A state in which a person or object will not cause the sacred domain to be polluted.

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Rebirth of the person (soul) into one or more successive lives; largely as Eastern Concept

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Religious Authority

  • Tends to rest in ancient texts and /or in contemporary priesthood

  • Test is often considered to be the voice of God or an expression of the will of God/ Gods

  • Insights offer guides to navigating life’s big questions

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Knowledge gained by divine disclosure of truth to humans, often through a text or inspired speech. Also, the act or event of divine disclosure itself.

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Rites of Passage

Rituals that mark a change in status of a person within a community, e.g. birth, puberty, marriage, death

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a religious or solemn ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order

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The opposite of profane, the quality of things (places, objects, times, events, etc.)

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Sacred Space and/or Sacred Time

Sacred Space: assigning a quality of holiness or religious significance to a location

Sacred time: follows an annual calendar with specific days observed as holy; often this time is demarcated by rituals that create boundaries for sacred time to exist

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Any intentional violation of sacred.

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One who has displayed a heightened degree of devotion or religious accomplishment.

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Sacred space, such as a temple or a church.

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The sacred writings of a religion, usually having primary authoritative status. (not always, and doesn’t have to meet the same standards as canon) e.g. Scripture not seen as Canon:  Aporypha (texts about holy things that were once accepted and prized, but then rejected later) such as the of Wisdom of Solomon

<p>The sacred writings of a religion, usually having primary authoritative status. (not always, and doesn’t have to meet the same standards as canon) e.g. Scripture not seen as Canon:  Aporypha (texts about holy things that were once accepted and prized, but then rejected later) such as the of Wisdom of Solomon</p>
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Secondary Sources

(in academic research) a book, article, or other source that provides information about an object of study but does not constitute direct, first-hand evidence

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often applies to members of branches within major religions, to their sibling traditions, or to offshoots which they regard as inauthentic. Also called a school, branch, or subsect

-one foot in and one foot out

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A prohibition of a behavior or a restriction on the use of a particular object.

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tertiary sources

also called a reference work, is a source that gives an overview of information gathered from primary and secondary sources but does not provide original interpretations or analysis. Examples include:

  • Dictionaries

  • Encyclopedias

  • Databases

  • Bibliographies

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An effort to explain the presence of evil in a world created by god who is good.

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Western Religion

religions that have roots in perspective of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). Primary religions are typically Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Sometimes called the Abrahamic religions.

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World Religion

  • 4 Religions accounts for the overwhelming majority of religious adherents: over 75% of the world population; over 90% of the world's religious population. They are Hinduism and Buddhism (Eastern Religion), Christianity and Islam (Western Religion)

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What is Religion?

  • Difficult to define as there are not many common features to apply to everything we count as religion

  • Peter Berger: "A definition [for religion] is not more or less true, only more or less useful"

  • Many scholars trace the world root back to the Latin verb religare ("to bind") or to relegere ("to go over again")

  • More helpful to look at religion in terms of function. Religion as a way of creating  community and of thinking of something other than physical, material world.

-Bruce Lincoln a religion theorist: 4 domains

  • Ninian Smart 7 Dimensions of Religion - what we will use in this class to approach our study

  • Human practice vs. Religion

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Why do we Study Religion?

  • Religion plays an important role in human affairs

  • To understand how people organize in communities and society more broadly

  • To understand political tensions

  • To understand art and history

  • Understanding Personal and Group Identity

  • To gain different perspectives

  • To understand our neighbors, in an increasingly interconnected world

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Academic Study of Religion

secular, undertaken without a particular faith commitment. Known as religious studies, the study of religion, comparative religion, history of religion. Based on an approach to knowledge that is empirical in nature, uses qualitative or quantitative methods to try and answer questions, and often does not try to tackle questions about the supernatural.

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Theological Study of Religion

study of religion within the religious tradition itself.

-A faith based approach that responds to the spiritual and religious needs of students.

- Promotes a particular religious perspective and considers the nature of the divine and other supernatural elements, as well as the meaning behind religious practices within their own faith.-

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Confessional Approach

-approaching religion and the study of religion from the assumption of one particular religion, thereby favoring the traditions, values, practices etc. of that religion over others.

-Many religious studies scholars try to avoid confessional approaches as it creates an uneven playing field for other religious traditions

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Non-Confessional Approach

-approaching religion and the study of religion without a particular religion in mind.

-Looking at religion from an outsider perspective so as to observer a religious tradition.

-Avoids saying a certain practice, narrative, belief etc. is true or false, right or wrong, but rather studies how religion is impactful for participants and society etc.

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Insider Point of View

-View of a religion as someone who participates in that religion

-Subjective point of view

-Generally compares religions through a more biased lens

-May advocate for one religion over another

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Outsider Point of View

-View of a religion as an observer of that religion

-Objective point of view

-Generally recognized to examine each tradition on its own merits as a system that provides meaning to adherents

-Does not advocate for one religious tradition over another

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Studying Religion vs. Religious

  • Treating each religion as a separate study and in a self-contained system rather than generalizing religions into abstract generalizations

  • Observe the complex and distinctive features that have come together to create a religion and how it creates meaning and significance for it’s adherents, it’s community, and the world as a whole

  • How each religion is approached across different disciplines

  • Can take separate studies and then cross reference to find commonalities, differences, in comparative studies

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Bruce Lincoln’s 4 domains of religion

Discourse, Practice, Community, Institution

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where a discourse whose concerns transcend the human, temporal, and contingent \n and that claims for itself a similarly transcendent status i.e. deals with other worldly ideas, non- \n material ideas, ideas outside of time and space

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a set of practices whose purpose is to produce a proper world and/or proper human \n subjects as defined by the religious discourse to which these practices are connected

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a community whose members construct their identity with reference to a religious \n discourse and its attendant practices

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An institution that regulates religious discourse practices and community, \n reproducing them over time and modifying them as necessary while asserting their eternal \n validity and transcendent value

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Ninian Smart’s 7 dimensions of religion

Ritual and Practical; Experiential and \n Emotional; Mythological and Narrative; Doctrinal and Philosophical; Ethical and \n Legal; Institutional and Social; Material

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Ritual and Practical

Covers all aspects of performed religion. This includes formal ritual (activities with rules that surround the performance of these activities), as well as more informal everyday practices. These are often repeated practices. So Christian Baptism where there are certain actions such as placing water on a babies head, or fully submerging a \n member of the congregation depending on your particular Christian affiliation, or it could be \n praying five times a day as a Muslim

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Experiential and Emotional

relates to personal experiences felt by the individual where these experiences are in relation to a religious experience. It can also encompass the quality of experience of entering a mosque, embarking on a pilgrimage etc. Examples can also \n include things from the history of religion like encounters with spirits, or deities, or spirits, which \n indicate some sort of contact with an unseen encounter. Quite simply these are just religious \n experiences that we, as humans, have. As Smart states “Ritual without feeling is cold, doctrines \n without awe or compassion are dry, myth which do not move hearers are feeble. So it is important in understanding a tradition to try to enter into the feelings which it generates... One of the main reasons music is so potent in religion is that it has mysterious powers to express and \n engender emotions.

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Mythological and Narrative Dimension

Think stories. This describes the storytelling aspect of religion whether the stories are believed true, fictitious, historical, or mythological. Religions are \n sustained through the practice of repeating narratives that help to explain why the world exists \n and what our place is in it. They can store information in symbols without stating the underlying meaning outright and can help to communicate across generations important ideas about what it means to be human. These can be pictorial, oral, written, etc. We have stories about great leaders and founders like Moses, Muhammad, Buddha, we have stories about the creation of the world, we have myths about the actions of the gods.

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Doctrinal and Philosophical Dimension

This is Beliefs + Meanings. This is the way that religions tend to formalize ideas about the world and create logical systems of meaning. There are vast and complex philosophical traditions associated with religions from around the World. For Religious Systems to make sense of the world they have to make sense through a process of \n logic and structure. An example here would be in the Christian tradition, the story of Jesus’ life \n and the ritual of the communion service led to attempts to provide an analysis of the nature of \n the Divine Being which would preserve the idea of Incarnation (so Jesus as God) and the belief in \n one God. The result was the doctrine of the Trinity which sees God as three persons with one \n substance

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Ethical and Legal Dimension

Think Rules + Guidelines. The way religions tend to provide guidance on how to live one’s life to achieve happiness in either this life, or in the afterlife/ next life. Promotion of a happy and peaceful life can be found across the world, and religions weave this into a larger context placing human action in a universal system of right and wrong or good and evil. If we look at Islam, we see that Muslim’s are often governed by the Law (sharia) that shapes a society on a moral and religious and political level. The Five Pillars of Islam require that Muslims pray daily, give alms to the poor and so on. In Judaism we see the Ten Commandments that state that Jews should honor their mother and father, should not kill, should not steal or commit adultery etc

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Institutional and Social Dimension

Think People + Roles. Represents the way that religious adherents as they group together will tend to form organized bodies that behave collectively. They might develop a hierarchy of powerful persons and they might provide some social structure for a wider society. Decisions about what the religion is and where it’s going might be made in a top-down fashion, or it could be distributed in a more egalitarian way. Smart states: Every religious movement is embodied in a group of people, and that is very often rather \n formally organized as a Church (Christian gathering), or an umma (community of Muslims).. etc. To understand faith we need to see how it works among the people.”

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Material Dimension

Think Items + Places. Describes how religions lead to the creation of material artefacts from sculptures and artwork to buildings and cities and how this provides evidence to historians and other disciplines about religion. It also enriches the lives of contemporary religious adherents as their beliefs and traditions find life in the world through \n physical media. For example Orthodox Christianity has it’s ikons of saints and of Jesus and they regard these as windows of heaven.

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Anthropology of Religion

  • Early studies of anthropology of religion: focus on the “other”, looked at cultures researchers considered “primitive” as their forms of religion were considered the “purist form”; looked at “exotic” religions (those outside the religions that the researchers were familiar with); folk religions

  • Themes in early studies centered around shamanism, rituals, magic, altered states, origins of religion, stages of development of human thought as it relates to religion ( informed by evolutionary biology), believed that religious ideas preceded scientific thought

  • Today influenced by Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Emile Durkheim, and Max Weber

  • Consider religion in relation to social institutions and compare religious beliefs across cultures

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Set of Shared Principles in Anthropology

  1. Diversity among religions

  1. Diversity within religions

3.Integration with religion and surrounding cultures

  1. Modularity of Religion ( religion is not a single thing but a composite of many elements)

  2. Relativity of language is important in cross-cultural studies (terms are not universal)

6. The nature of religion is lived and practiced

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Sociology of Religion

  • Study how religion shapes societal conditions and how in turn societal factors shape religion

  • Same ”modern” founding scholars as anthropologist (i.e. Karl Marx, Max Weber etc.)

  • Look at religious groups as societal phenomena and the religious dynamic in larger society

  • Debate whether quantitative (large scale statistical analysis) or qualitative (closer observation and individualized discussion with a few adherents) approaches are the best

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Difference between Sociology and Anthropology

Anthropology is behavior at a more individual level, or is interested in group behavior as it relates to human development and social order- this can be sociocultural in nature, or linguistic, biological, even archeological in some sense; sociology on the other hand is interested in the development of social structures, social interactions, and the social behaviors of human society during a specific time

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Sociological Assumption

  1. Religious beliefs and practices are born from the separation of social systems from their natural surroundings

  1. Societies use religious symbols and beliefs to imagine their relationships to the natural and social environment

3. Societies use religion to manage their relationship with the unknown

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History of Religion

  • Study of History: study/ research about the past ( there are no facts in history, just almost facts)

  • Understand the development and transformation of religion as part of the historical process

  • Understand how religion is shaped by, or shapes, other forces in the historical environment

  • Different avenues of research: Religion and Military History; Religion and Gender History; Religion and Political History; Religion and Social History

  • How religions came into being, how they were integrated into other forms, or how they disappeared

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Historical Method on their Study of Religion

  1. Begin with preliminary research on the past (broad historical survey of a particular time)

  1. Read important texts from other scholars about their chosen period/ topic (secondary sources); also read important texts from the time they are studying (primary sources)

  1. Formulate a hypothesis (what are the factors that led this event to happen? Why did this event occur? Why did people behave in this way?)

  1. Research evidence to see if their hypothesis is supported or rejected by historical evidence

  1. Formulate a thesis statement

  1. Write a revised historical account and what led to their conclusion

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Philosophy of Religion

  • Philosophy: Study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, truth, reality, and existence in the world we live

  • Religion makes claims about the nature of truth, whether that’s with ethics, moral order, nature of evil and good, questions about the afterlife. Philosophy therefore provides a framework to look at the nature of these questions in relation to reason and revelation. Examines concepts on the rational basis of religious truth claims, focusing on the nature of religious language

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3 Basic Characteristics of Philosophy of Religion (Study of the meaning and nature of religion)

  1. The existence of God and reality

  2. The nature of God

  3. The knowledge of God

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