Handout 1 "What is Religion"
RN 103 - Religions of the World: East
Week 1: What is Religion?
A Dictionary Definition of Religion
1. The service and adoration of God or a god as expressed in forms of worship.
2. One of the systems of faith and worship. 3. The profession or practice of
religious beliefs. 4. Devotion or fidelity; conscientiousness. 5. An awareness or
conviction of the existence of a supreme being, arousing reverence, love,
gratitude, the will to obey and serve, and the like.
(Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, 1959)
1) Religion as an Encounter with the Sacred
Excerpt from Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion.
New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1959.
Man becomes aware of the sacred because it manifests itself, shows itself, as
something wholly different from the profane. To designate the act of
manifestation of the sacred, we have proposed the term hierophany. It is a fitting
term, because it does not imply anything further; it expresses no more than is
implicit in its etymological content, i.e., that something sacred shows itself to us.
It could be said that the history of religions--from the most primitive to the most
highly developed--is constituted by a great number of hierophanies, by
manifestations of sacred realities. From the most elementary hierophany--e.g.,
manifestation of the sacred in some ordinary object, a stone or a tree--to the
supreme hierophany (which, for a Christian, is the incarnation of God in Jesus
Christ) there is no solution of continuity. In each case we are confronted by the
same mysterious act--the manifestation of something of a wholly different order,
a reality that does not belong to our world, in objects that are an integral part of
our natural "profane" world. . . .
The man of the archaic societies tends to live as much as possible in the sacred
or in close proximity to consecrated objects. The tendency is perfectly
understandable, because, for primitives as for the man of all pre-modern
societies, the sacred is equivalent to a power, and, in the last analysis, to reality.
The sacred is saturated with being. Sacred power means reality and at the same