TOOLS for analysis and comparison of world histories

TOOLS for analysis and comparison of world histories -...

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TOOLS FOR ANALYSIS AND COMPARISON OF THE HISTORIES OF RELIGIOUS TRADITIONS Copyright SSBartchy 2008 8 Introduction : Scholars have made many attempts to define that aspect of life found across the wide spectrum of human cultures that is regarded as A religious. @ The history of scholarship makes clear that it has not been easy to create a widely accepted definition. For example, some scholars emphasize the role of faith or the importance of theological doctrine, while others focus on rituals, other practices, stories about divine powers, belief systems, sacrifice, or moral behavior. The task is complicated further by the fact that religion, politics, economics, social structure, cultural values, and social codes have been very closely intertwined for most of human history. One indication of how deeply embedded A religion @ can be in all aspects of culture is the fact that there are even cultures in which there is no specific word for A religion. @ The separation of the institutions of Church and State that you are familiar with did not exist in any culture before eighteenth-century leaders in France and the new United States of America made A religion @ seem like it could be separated from politics, economics, and social structure. There are many cultures today in which such a separation is regarded as undesirable if not simply impossible. To be sure, the relative independence of religious institutions from the state is one of the great accomplishments of western culture because it has laid the foundation for people who practice different religious traditions to live with each other in mutual respect and relative peace. Freedom of religion is without question a critical factor for any society that includes a culturally diverse population. On the other hand, so-called freedom from religion as such turns out to be a fantasy, because throughout history we find in every culture ideas and practices that are related to a reality that transcends what can be known through our five senses = perceptions of the material world and that gives a special meaning to human existence. [Note: the attempt by the Marxist government in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics following the Russian Revolution of 1917 to expunge all forms of religion from the culture of the USSR proved to be an abject failure. Not only did the Russian form of Marxism have many features that were functionally religious, but also the Russian Orthodox Church, the Russian Baptist Churches, and Pentecostal Church continued to have serious influence, even when driven underground. And the famous A Solidarity @ anti-communist movement Poland in 1980 was led in part by persons whose energy and vision was rooted in their Christian religious convictions. Likewise Christians,
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predominantly Lutherans, played a significant role in the downfall of Communist East Germany and the destruction of the infamous A Berlin Wall @ in 1989. Clearly, seventy
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