What is Religion and How Should We Study It

Therefore people turn to the one thing that can give

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Therefore, people turn to the one thing that can give them some level of comfort, which is religion. In this way, religion can be partially defined as a means by which people gain security and spiritual confidence in an existence full of uncertainties. Although not all religions will offer the same resolution- whether it is entrance into heaven, reincarnation into a better form, or achieving a state of nirvana, the end result is that people gain a sense of reassurance and direction in their lives. In this way, religion brings order to religious individuals and organizations, and that is another essential basis for the definition of religion. The word religion has two distinctive roots, and according to Turner, a theologian, the meanings of those roots are “religious foundations of any social group that is gathered together” and “disciplines… necessary for controlling human beings and creating a regulated mentality” (Turner 437). So religion in this context is defined in two ways: a gathering of religious members, and a way of regulating human mentality and conduct. Of the two, the latter definition has more relevance to the general practice of religion by the majority of religious practitioners. The former definition does pertain to many religions, but there are some that don’t necessarily place as much emphasis on the characteristic of assembly, such as in Buddhism or Hinduism (King 7699). By incorporating the concept of order and structure into the definition of religion,
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other aspects of religion are revealed. Order brought about by religion gives meaning and structure to an otherwise disordered and mysterious existence of the individual or group. As stated in the Encyclopedia of Religion, “…salvation in religion is a means of fulfilling needs and desires, even when the needs and desires are revealed from ‘above’”(King 7697). The needs and desires that are revealed from “above” may vary depending on the religion, but the significance is that they were orders given from a higher order, and therefore transcend any commands not from “above”. This transcendence from the human domain adds to the definition of religion in that religion comprises of superior constituents which put religious matters before material needs and earthly matters. Furthermore, religion requires a devotee to adhere to the rules, code of conduct, and moral obligations of the religion. This directive allows for the follower to exemplify their faith by unquestioningly observing the orders that they believe are coming from a divine presence. These observations become rituals in the life of the devotee, and therefore, with the establishment of order come the presence of faith and ritual as a defining part of religious life. To the proponents of the subjunctive views and supporters of the contrasting functional views of religion, it would seem that each believe that only one of the theories is best applied to the definition of religion. Ideally, it should be a combination of the two views which makes for the best approach in describing religion because ritual and faith fundamentally occur in response to each other.
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  • Spring '12
  • Lorish
  • word religion, Encyclopedia of Religion, agency causes religion

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