What is Religion and How Should We Study It

All theologians would agree that ritual and faith are

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All theologians would agree that ritual and faith are both very important aspects of religion, but more than that, they make religion what it is. Individuals have faith in the deity or figurehead that assures desirable results through the practice of rituals and by this process, religious devotion is developed. Through rituals, conviction and beliefs are exemplified, and through those same beliefs, rituals are constructed. According to Tillich, faith is the state of
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being ultimately concerned, and by that act of faith, the promise of ultimate fulfillment is accepted (Tillich 1-2). Faith is something that is, in the long run, for the individual and the individual alone. For that reason, it is sometimes difficult to base an explanation of religion on the underpinnings of faith alone. A congregation may share the same ideas about faith, but only the individual can know the exact nature of his or her faith and that is where faith and ritual begin to diverge. Ritual can be individualized, but it is typically a standardized procedure that is directed by a head of a religious assembly or mandated by society. In some primitive cultures, religion is integrated so thoroughly amongst the members and throughout society that they are nearly impossible to differentiate. This kind of society is most often found in primitive communities and also in areas which practice Eastern religions. To define religion in the context of Eastern religions, it is important to understand the culture in which the religion is coming from. In the case of Eastern religions, the culture is vastly different from the Western religions in that Asian culture’s overall homogeneity, and emphasis on conformity and the group mentality provide no real opportunity for individual religious decision (King 7700). This means that the cultural expectations could possibly override individual religious interests or convictions, as well as make the meaning of religion for the people of that culture substantially different from the meaning of religion to certain Western factions. The especially collectivistic nature of East Asian cultures in which values are placed more on maintaining harmony in social relationships than personal agency causes religion to be established in a different way across certain cultural contexts (Sasaki, and Kim 401-402). Sasaki and Kim further exemplify the difficulties in explaining the meaning of religion across cultures, especially when they are so vastly different from each other. The cultural differences are further
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revealed on the Western end of the spectrum in which the concept of independence and personal choice are more important according to the social standards. An exemplary model of the Western culture’s state of mind towards religion is the United States of America. America’s history has been infused with religion from the very beginning and yet at the same time maintains a secularity that contrasts the Eastern society’s more cultural immersion in religion. Even to this day, mainstream American values of individuality and personal choice have influenced the way a religion such as Christianity is practiced in the United States (Sasaki, and Kim 402).
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  • Spring '12
  • Lorish
  • word religion, Encyclopedia of Religion, agency causes religion

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