• Welcome to the new Internet Infidels Discussion Board, formerly Talk Freethought.

So what IS religion in general? A Smart rubric

Politesse

Lux Aeterna
Joined
Feb 27, 2018
Messages
8,708
Location
Chochenyo Territory, US
Gender
nb; all pronouns fine
Basic Beliefs
Jedi Wayseeker
Smart, in the title, refers to Roderick Ninian Smart, a Scottish philosopher who offered up a model for thinking about religiosity beyond the so-called "Western definition" one tends to find in dictionaries and introductory textbooks published in the English-speaking world. The Western Definition heavily emphasizes doctrinal beliefs and "claims" about the universe, with a strong implication of exclusivism to only one tradition. The problem is that while this is a serviceable strategy for defining religion in Europe, where most people are either adherents to or renegades from Christianity, it doesn't really explain how people think or relate to religion in other cultural environments where creeds and orthodoxies are less emphasized by local traditions. It also fails to really describe the bulk of what religious adherents actually do or experience. If religion is a merely collection of certain beliefs, we should expect it to materially manifest as something like a philosophy club, or maybe a Christian science reading room. But religions are actually social communities, as much as if not more so than they are sources of philosophical claims, and indeed if you spend much time conversing with religious people, you quickly come to realize that as much as they might profess belief in certain claims if asked, they aren't born philosophers by interest, and the bulk of their time and energy is devoted to other the dimensions of religious experience.

In his own popular textbook, The World Religions (1989) Smart proposed that religion is actually composed along seven dimensions. All religions can be described in terms of at least most of these dimensions, and they often differ relative to one another as much by their emphasis on one over the next (ie, Buddhism as strongly experiential where Mormonism is heavily ethical and doctrinal in emphasis) and different dimensions might be more or less important depending on circumstance. The dimensions aren't in competition; they form a kind of ecosystem of faith that the religious inhabit through their personal or sociological contexts. I'm offering up Smart's dimensions for anyone who hasn't come across them before, in hopes that they will help you to think about religion more expansively and critically, and realize that when someone identifies as "religious", there are quite a lot of things they might mean by that beyond simply spouting doctrines or believing this or that about the book of Genesis.

They are (I've borrowed this particular list from a helpful flier I picked up at the Jedi temple in the City a while back, but I believe it was originally published by www.understandingreligion.org.uk as they seem to have the same list posted on their website, so that is what I've quoted):

The Ritual Dimension​

The ritual and practical dimension of religion covers all aspects of performed religion, this includes formal ritual (activities with rules surrounding the performance and motivation) as well as more informal, everyday practices (activities with a religious motivation or character).

Some examples of ritual are Christian baptism, Hindu yajna, and Zoroastrian navjote ceremonies. This dimension also encompasses other activities that may not be strictly regulated, but which nonetheless form a consistent practice - for instance yoga, prayer, and meditation.

Experiential Dimension​

The experiential (or emotional) dimension relates to personal experiences felt by the individual, for example joy, bliss, mystery, anger, despair, and so on, where these experiences are in relation to a religious experience.

It can also encompass more than just emotion, but the quality of experience of entering a mosque, embarking on a pilgrimage, or taking amrit (the Sikh initiation ceremony).

Equally, we can find examples throughout the history of religion of encounters with deities, spirits, demons, and other experiences which indicate some sort of contact with an unseen world, sources of inspiration, and moments of revelation.

Mythological Dimension​

The mythological (or narrative) dimension describes the storytelling aspect of religion, whether the stories are believed to be true, fictitious, historical or mythological.

Religions are often sustained through the practice of repeating narratives that help to explain why the world exists, and what our place is in it. Myths can also store information in symbols, without stating the underlying meaning outright; they can help to communicate across generations important ideas about what it means to be human.

The preservation of these myths and narratives can be oral, written, or pictorial.

Doctrinal Dimension​

The doctrinal (or philosophical) dimension refers to the way that religions tend to formalise ideas about the world, and create logical systems of meaning. There are vast and complex philosophical traditions associated with religions from around the world – in the West this might be found in the Catechisms of the Catholic Church, or the philosophical writings of Ibn Sina. In order for religious systems to make sense of the world, they have to make sense, and this naturally leads to a process of structure and logic.

Religious philosophy and doctrine can become highly complex; the philosophical schools of Hinduism range over a wide area, and often provide contrasting viewpoints on the nature of the soul (or atman), its relationship to god, and whether god is one or many, personal or impersonal. Hinduism is a very diverse tradition, but even seemingly unified religions can be filled with internal disputes and disagreements when it comes to these issues.

Ethical Dimension​

The ethical (or legal) dimension describes the way that religion tends to provide guidance on how to live one’s life, generally in order to achieve happiness in this life or the next. The promotion of a happy and harmonious life can be found across the globe, and religions weave this into a larger context, placing human action within a universal system of right and wrong, good and evil.

Institutional Dimension​

The institutional (or social) dimension represents the way that religious adherents, as they group together, will tend to form organised bodies that behave collectively. They might develop a hierarchy of powerful persons, and they might provide some social structure for the wider society. Decisions about what the religion is, and where it’s going, might be made in a top-down fashion, but equally (as in the case of the Quakers) might be made in a distributed, democratic way.

Material Dimension​

The material dimension describes how religions lead to the creation of material artefacts – from sculptures and artwork to buildings and cities. The material dimension of religion provide evidence for historians and archaeologists, but also enriches the lives of contemporary religious adherents as their beliefs and traditions find life in the world through physical media.

There are a couple of useful things to do with this rubric. It can be helpful to look and each criterion individually and look at how they are expressed in any particular tradition under study. It's also useful to study the interactions between them. For instance, thinking about how beliefs are expressed and reinforced through ritual life, or how institutional traditions have a way of manifesting in certain genres of speech and material production.

Some questions for consideration:

Have you ever thought about religion in terms of more dimensions than belief? How do you think our social conversations about religion might be different if traditions other than Christianity held more prominent positions in the anglophone world?
 

steve_bank

Diabetic retinopathy and poor eyesight. Typos ...
Joined
Nov 10, 2017
Messages
10,023
Location
seattle
Basic Beliefs
secular-skeptic
To me those rules apply in general to all human social groups in different forms. To me religion is one manifestation of a common human characteristic.

1. Natural formation of social groups.
2. Formation of hierarchical power structures.
3. A set of rules.
4. A code of behavior.
5. Methods of punishment and enforcement.
6. Written doctrine.
7. If old enough a mythology about the beginning and the founders.

Mythology does not have to be supernatural. I grew up with what were the American mythologies of Lincoln, Custer, and Washington's tale of the cherry tree.

'Honest Abe' Lincoln. He was no more honest than any other politician.
Custer as an American hero not genocidal butcher.
The George Washington myth of cutting down a tree and then oning up to it as a kid.
 

rousseau

Contributor
Joined
Jun 23, 2010
Messages
12,330
I found Durkheim's descriptor of religion as (paraphrasing) the original science an interesting one. In the pre-understanding era, religious thought was the result of our investigation into reality.

From that point on it developed in such a way that people would be enamored by, attracted to, and persuaded by it's elements. IOW, over time the appealing institutional practices survive, the unappealing ones don't, and the sect survives because it's rituals, beliefs, and practices are persuasive to incoming members.

From that point, I think your post does a good job of explaining various dimensions.
 

Politesse

Lux Aeterna
Joined
Feb 27, 2018
Messages
8,708
Location
Chochenyo Territory, US
Gender
nb; all pronouns fine
Basic Beliefs
Jedi Wayseeker
Mythology does not have to be supernatural. I grew up with what were the American mythologies of Lincoln, Custer, and Washington's tale of the cherry tree.
This was the basis for a much deeper and more rigorous theoretical approach to religion, that of sociologist Robert Bellah. He likewise observed that state and nationalistic projects frequently engaged in mythmaking and ritual expressions, though he believed it was a case of governments co-opting the pscyhological and sociogical weight of religion by "borrowing" its aesthetics.
 

Politesse

Lux Aeterna
Joined
Feb 27, 2018
Messages
8,708
Location
Chochenyo Territory, US
Gender
nb; all pronouns fine
Basic Beliefs
Jedi Wayseeker
I found Durkheim's descriptor of religion as (paraphrasing) the original science an interesting one. In the pre-understanding era, religious thought was the result of our investigation into reality.

From that point on it developed in such a way that people would be enamored by, attracted to, and persuaded by it's elements. IOW, over time the appealing institutional practices survive, the unappealing ones don't, and the sect survives because it's rituals, beliefs, and practices are persuasive to incoming members.

From that point, I think your post does a good job of explaining various dimensions.
Durhkheim's influence is enormous and not undeserved, but his theories fall apart exactly on those points where Smart would have predicted they would, a failure to understand the personal and experiential aspects of faith. For Durkheim, religion could only really be understood in its role of creating mass social cohesion and the various other social functions it could be said to perform. His ethnological work was shoddy, because he strongly desired to write the story of sociological theory into the mythology and traditions of the world, to be a pedagogue to the world's religions rather than a student of them.
 

rousseau

Contributor
Joined
Jun 23, 2010
Messages
12,330
To me those rules apply in general to all human social groups in different forms. To me religion is one manifestation of a common human characteristic.

1. Natural formation of social groups.
2. Formation of hierarchical power structures.
3. A set of rules.
4. A code of behavior.
5. Methods of punishment and enforcement.
6. Written doctrine.
7. If old enough a mythology about the beginning and the founders.

Mythology does not have to be supernatural. I grew up with what were the American mythologies of Lincoln, Custer, and Washington's tale of the cherry tree.

'Honest Abe' Lincoln. He was no more honest than any other politician.
Custer as an American hero not genocidal butcher.
The George Washington myth of cutting down a tree and then oning up to it as a kid.

The question then becomes - what is the difference between a political and religious institution? Why do they both exist?
 

rousseau

Contributor
Joined
Jun 23, 2010
Messages
12,330
I found Durkheim's descriptor of religion as (paraphrasing) the original science an interesting one. In the pre-understanding era, religious thought was the result of our investigation into reality.

From that point on it developed in such a way that people would be enamored by, attracted to, and persuaded by it's elements. IOW, over time the appealing institutional practices survive, the unappealing ones don't, and the sect survives because it's rituals, beliefs, and practices are persuasive to incoming members.

From that point, I think your post does a good job of explaining various dimensions.
Durhkheim's influence is enormous and not undeserved, but his theories fall apart exactly on those points where Smart would have predicted they would, a failure to understand the personal and experiential aspects of faith. For Durkheim, religion could only really be understood in its role of creating mass social cohesion and the various other social functions it could be said to perform. His ethnological work was shoddy, because he strongly desired to write the story of sociological theory into the mythology and traditions of the world, to be a pedagogue to the world's religions rather than a student of them.

I've only read him for a couple days, mainly via Anthony Giddens. So I don't understand his thought in it's entirety, but I did like some of his ideas. The big one for me was that religion and natural science are more of a continuum than dichotomy. And how religions persist.
 

Tharmas

Veteran Member
Joined
Apr 30, 2001
Messages
1,562
Location
Texas
Basic Beliefs
Pantheist
To me those rules apply in general to all human social groups in different forms. To me religion is one manifestation of a common human characteristic.

1. Natural formation of social groups.
2. Formation of hierarchical power structures.
3. A set of rules.
4. A code of behavior.
5. Methods of punishment and enforcement.
6. Written doctrine.
7. If old enough a mythology about the beginning and the founders.

Mythology does not have to be supernatural. I grew up with what were the American mythologies of Lincoln, Custer, and Washington's tale of the cherry tree.

'Honest Abe' Lincoln. He was no more honest than any other politician.
Custer as an American hero not genocidal butcher.
The George Washington myth of cutting down a tree and then oning up to it as a kid.

The question then becomes - what is the difference between a political and religious institution? Why do they both exist?
According to several historians I've read, in the ancient world there was no difference. I suppose it could be argued that that is still true of orthodox Jews and Muslims.
 

Politesse

Lux Aeterna
Joined
Feb 27, 2018
Messages
8,708
Location
Chochenyo Territory, US
Gender
nb; all pronouns fine
Basic Beliefs
Jedi Wayseeker
I found Durkheim's descriptor of religion as (paraphrasing) the original science an interesting one. In the pre-understanding era, religious thought was the result of our investigation into reality.

From that point on it developed in such a way that people would be enamored by, attracted to, and persuaded by it's elements. IOW, over time the appealing institutional practices survive, the unappealing ones don't, and the sect survives because it's rituals, beliefs, and practices are persuasive to incoming members.

From that point, I think your post does a good job of explaining various dimensions.
Durhkheim's influence is enormous and not undeserved, but his theories fall apart exactly on those points where Smart would have predicted they would, a failure to understand the personal and experiential aspects of faith. For Durkheim, religion could only really be understood in its role of creating mass social cohesion and the various other social functions it could be said to perform. His ethnological work was shoddy, because he strongly desired to write the story of sociological theory into the mythology and traditions of the world, to be a pedagogue to the world's religions rather than a student of them.

I've only read him for a couple days, mainly via Anthony Giddens. So I don't understand his thought in it's entirety, but I did like some of his ideas. The big one for me was that religion and natural science are more of a continuum than dichotomy. And how religions persist.
Despite my commentary on the limitations thereof, I would highly recommend read of Durkheim's Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, which is if nothing else a very foundational work within the fields of anthropology and sociology generally. A fascinating work. And I do agree that science and religion should probably be considered points on a continuum when it comes to epistemology. But science is not an analogue for religion in some of these other dimensions of human experience, nor does it claim to be.
 

steve_bank

Diabetic retinopathy and poor eyesight. Typos ...
Joined
Nov 10, 2017
Messages
10,023
Location
seattle
Basic Beliefs
secular-skeptic
To me those rules apply in general to all human social groups in different forms. To me religion is one manifestation of a common human characteristic.

1. Natural formation of social groups.
2. Formation of hierarchical power structures.
3. A set of rules.
4. A code of behavior.
5. Methods of punishment and enforcement.
6. Written doctrine.
7. If old enough a mythology about the beginning and the founders.

Mythology does not have to be supernatural. I grew up with what were the American mythologies of Lincoln, Custer, and Washington's tale of the cherry tree.

'Honest Abe' Lincoln. He was no more honest than any other politician.
Custer as an American hero not genocidal butcher.
The George Washington myth of cutting down a tree and then oning up to it as a kid.

The question then becomes - what is the difference between a political and religious institution? Why do they both exist?
Rome comioderd a state relgion with its rituals was an essential part of governece.

One way to look at Moses is the establishment o a state(tribal) religion and a priest class. The 10 Commandments said to come from god were about maintaing civil order and minimzing tribal conflct.

The western idea of separation of church and state with freedom of religion within a framework is new historically. Modern Israel was after debate established as a secular state.
 

bilby

Fair dinkum thinkum
Joined
Mar 7, 2007
Messages
27,751
Location
The Sunshine State: The one with Crocs, not Gators
Gender
He/Him
Basic Beliefs
Strong Atheist
To me those rules apply in general to all human social groups in different forms. To me religion is one manifestation of a common human characteristic.

1. Natural formation of social groups.
2. Formation of hierarchical power structures.
3. A set of rules.
4. A code of behavior.
5. Methods of punishment and enforcement.
6. Written doctrine.
7. If old enough a mythology about the beginning and the founders.

Mythology does not have to be supernatural. I grew up with what were the American mythologies of Lincoln, Custer, and Washington's tale of the cherry tree.

'Honest Abe' Lincoln. He was no more honest than any other politician.
Custer as an American hero not genocidal butcher.
The George Washington myth of cutting down a tree and then oning up to it as a kid.

The question then becomes - what is the difference between a political and religious institution? Why do they both exist?
Surely politics differs from religion only in that the former deals with things that exist outside the minds of the belivers, and the latter with things that do not.

Of course, the fact that a political belief is a belief about a real thing is not evidence that it's a true belief.

A religious belief might be "God wants me to drive through red lights"; A similar political belief would be "The Road Traffic Act says I must drive through red lights". Both beliefs are false, but the former is religious and the latter political because the Road Traffic Act exists outside the beliver's mind, and god doesn't.

Most political beliefs are not different from religious beliefs in any important way. But as they are founded on an external reality, they have the slight advantage that they could possibly be demonstrably true, through the application of observation, reason, and logic.

The disinclination of humans to observe or to apply rigour to their reasoning and logic is well documented, and renders this advantage very slight indeed.
 

steve_bank

Diabetic retinopathy and poor eyesight. Typos ...
Joined
Nov 10, 2017
Messages
10,023
Location
seattle
Basic Beliefs
secular-skeptic
To me those rules apply in general to all human social groups in different forms. To me religion is one manifestation of a common human characteristic.

1. Natural formation of social groups.
2. Formation of hierarchical power structures.
3. A set of rules.
4. A code of behavior.
5. Methods of punishment and enforcement.
6. Written doctrine.
7. If old enough a mythology about the beginning and the founders.

Mythology does not have to be supernatural. I grew up with what were the American mythologies of Lincoln, Custer, and Washington's tale of the cherry tree.

'Honest Abe' Lincoln. He was no more honest than any other politician.
Custer as an American hero not genocidal butcher.
The George Washington myth of cutting down a tree and then oning up to it as a kid.

The question then becomes - what is the difference between a political and religious institution? Why do they both exist?
According to several historians I've read, in the ancient world there was no difference. I suppose it could be argued that that is still true of orthodox Jews and Muslims.
The Koran to me is as much a state document as a religious text. It sets up legal procedures. From the OT the rules and punishments are distributed among different books. There are 613 rules that can be pulled out of the OT. They are online.

As an aside note there is a Jewish group in Israel that rejects the legitimacy of modern secular Israel.
 

steve_bank

Diabetic retinopathy and poor eyesight. Typos ...
Joined
Nov 10, 2017
Messages
10,023
Location
seattle
Basic Beliefs
secular-skeptic
Mythology does not have to be supernatural. I grew up with what were the American mythologies of Lincoln, Custer, and Washington's tale of the cherry tree.
This was the basis for a much deeper and more rigorous theoretical approach to religion, that of sociologist Robert Bellah. He likewise observed that state and nationalistic projects frequently engaged in mythmaking and ritual expressions, though he believed it was a case of governments co-opting the pscyhological and sociogical weight of religion by "borrowing" its aesthetics.
I go more by my real wold real life experience and observation supplemented by written analysis.

Human behavior falls into patterns, and in the light of modern science it all comes down to genetcs and how our brains are wired. Tat i unlees yiu want to invoke a mind body duality.

Ctats behave like cats, horses behave like horses, humans behave like humans.

Those analyzing from the outside looking in tend to make the obvious sound profound.

I learned early in my career that humans all fall into categorical patterns. Politicians s make use of it. The traditional alpha male. Yaweh is the absolute alpha male to Christians. Trump's power is very much that of an alpha male to a large number of white males. It goes deep into our genetic programing and culture.

In the 90s my company let me do a Junior Chamber Of Ciommerce program in a local high school on company time. Together with the techer we set up a comany to make a car. There were about 25 kids in the class. I did one class a week for 6 weeks. Before my eyes I watched a group evolution. A few leaders emerged, there was a middle group, and a bottom group who required detailed instructions and motivations.

The same with relgion.

It is not really all that profound. In a large companies myhts, language, and rituals can form.
 

rousseau

Contributor
Joined
Jun 23, 2010
Messages
12,330
To me those rules apply in general to all human social groups in different forms. To me religion is one manifestation of a common human characteristic.

1. Natural formation of social groups.
2. Formation of hierarchical power structures.
3. A set of rules.
4. A code of behavior.
5. Methods of punishment and enforcement.
6. Written doctrine.
7. If old enough a mythology about the beginning and the founders.

Mythology does not have to be supernatural. I grew up with what were the American mythologies of Lincoln, Custer, and Washington's tale of the cherry tree.

'Honest Abe' Lincoln. He was no more honest than any other politician.
Custer as an American hero not genocidal butcher.
The George Washington myth of cutting down a tree and then oning up to it as a kid.

The question then becomes - what is the difference between a political and religious institution? Why do they both exist?
According to several historians I've read, in the ancient world there was no difference. I suppose it could be argued that that is still true of orthodox Jews and Muslims.

To me those rules apply in general to all human social groups in different forms. To me religion is one manifestation of a common human characteristic.

1. Natural formation of social groups.
2. Formation of hierarchical power structures.
3. A set of rules.
4. A code of behavior.
5. Methods of punishment and enforcement.
6. Written doctrine.
7. If old enough a mythology about the beginning and the founders.

Mythology does not have to be supernatural. I grew up with what were the American mythologies of Lincoln, Custer, and Washington's tale of the cherry tree.

'Honest Abe' Lincoln. He was no more honest than any other politician.
Custer as an American hero not genocidal butcher.
The George Washington myth of cutting down a tree and then oning up to it as a kid.

The question then becomes - what is the difference between a political and religious institution? Why do they both exist?
Rome comioderd a state relgion with its rituals was an essential part of governece.

One way to look at Moses is the establishment o a state(tribal) religion and a priest class. The 10 Commandments said to come from god were about maintaing civil order and minimzing tribal conflct.

The western idea of separation of church and state with freedom of religion within a framework is new historically. Modern Israel was after debate established as a secular state.

Durkheim also argued that in more traditional societies (Ancient, Islam, Orthodox Jew etc) there were more rigid social rules. It was more imperative that people fall in line with the religion du jour, likely why politics/religion had such a tight coupling. As rights expand / society grows larger the rigidity subsides and freedom opens up for the separation of church and state.

I think you could still argue that even in Ancient times politics and religion weren't exactly identical, just with much more overlap.
 

bilby

Fair dinkum thinkum
Joined
Mar 7, 2007
Messages
27,751
Location
The Sunshine State: The one with Crocs, not Gators
Gender
He/Him
Basic Beliefs
Strong Atheist
Religion was an obligation, not a choice, for the vast majority of people in Medieval and Early Modern Europe.

The peasants adhered to the religion of their master, and if (as occurred frequently when aristocrats died or were replaced, and occasionally when they converted) that meant changing from Islam to Catholic, Catholic to Protestant, or the other way about, then that's what happened.

Politics and religion are, in such circumstances, indistinguishable, at least for the masses, and often for the lords too - whose choices were often diplomacy based. Being a Catholic because the Pope is a useful ally, or a Protestant because you have a political grudge against the Vatican, isn't really a religious choice.

Most powerful people, including senior clerics and not a few popes, seemed not to be overly concerned about whether a religious belief was true, but only with whether it was politically useful.

Faith, deep, unshakable and incorruptible, seems to have been a rare and unusual position for the vast majority of European history. European churches between the fall of Rome and the rise of democracy appear to have been predominantly political entities, with a thin veneer of religion.
 
Top Bottom