Meaning of RELIGION, STUDY OF in English

attempt to understand the various aspects of religion, especially through the use of other intellectual disciplines. The history of mankind has shown the pervasive influences of religion, and thus the study of religion, involving the attempt to understand its significance, its origins, and its myriad forms, has become increasingly important in modern times. Broadly speaking, the study of religion comprehends two aspects: assembling information and interpreting systematically the material gathered in order to elicit its meaning. The first aspect involves the psychological and historical study of religious life and must be supplemented by such auxiliary disciplines as archaeology, ethnology, philology, literary history, and other similar disciplines. The facts of religious history and insight into the development of the historical religious communities are the foundation of all else in the study of religion. Beyond the historical basis lies the task of seeing the entirety of human religious experience from a unified or systematic point of view. The student of religions attempts not only to know the variety of beliefs and practices of homo religiosus (religious man), but also to understand the structure, nature, and dynamics of religious experience. The student of religion attempts to discover principles that operate throughout religious lifeon the analogy of a sociologist seeking the laws of human social behaviourto find out whether there are also laws that operate in the religious sphere. Only with the attempt to discern the system and structure binding together the differentiated historical richness of religion does a true science of religion, or Religionswissenschaft, begin. The 19th century saw the rise of the study of religion in the modern sense, in which the techniques of historical enquiry, the philological sciences, literary criticism, psychology, anthropology, sociology, and other disciplines were brought to bear on the task of estimating the history, origins, and functions of religion. Rarely, however, has there been unanimity among scholars about the nature of the subject, partly because assumptions about the revealed nature of the Christian (or other) religion or assumptions about the falsity of religion become entangled with questions concerning the historical and other facts of religion. Thus, the subject has, throughout its history, contained elements of controversy. Additional reading Jan de Vries, The Study of Religion (1967), a fairly useful and brief historical survey of the development of the subject; H. Pinard de la Boullaye, L'tude compare des religions, 2 vol. (192225), a thorough and excellent account; J. Milton Yinger, The Scientific Study of Religion (1970), an attempt to indicate the multidisciplinary approach to the study of religion; J. Hastings (ed.), Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, 13 vol. (190826), dated in many respects but still enormously important; Paul Edwards (ed.), Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 8 vol. (1967), many entries on world religions, doctrines, and religious thinkers; John Macquarrie, Twentieth Century Religious Thought (1963), a survey, despite its title, of both 19th- and 20th-century thinkers, including many important in the history and phenomenology of religion (also a good general guide to issues in modern Western theology); G. van der Leeuw, Phnomenologie der Religion (1933; Eng. trans., Religion in Essence and Manifestation, 1938), the most wide-ranging and ambitious attempt at a systematic and classificatory phenomenology of religion; Rudolf Otto, Das Heilige (1917; Eng. trans., The Idea of the Holy, 2nd ed., 1950), a highly influential classic; J. Wach, The Comparative Study of Religion (1958), and Sociology of Religion (1962), still useful compendiums; J. Hinnells (ed.), The Comparative Study of Religion in Education (1970); Michael Banton (ed.), Anthropological Approaches to Religion (1966); E. Evans-Pritchard, Theories of Primitive Religion (1965), which, with Banton, indicates the main issues about the genesis and function of religion debated by anthropologists; Thomas O'Dea, The Sociology of Religion (1966), a useful survey; and Max Weber, Religionssoziologie (1922; Eng. trans., The Sociology of Religion, ed. by Talcott Parsons, 1963), a good introduction to the thought of Weber. Peter Berger, The Sacred Canopy (also published as The Social Reality of Religion, 1969), more speculative but a stimulating example of modern sociological theorizing about religion; V. Lanternari, The Religions of the Oppressed (1963), an example of comparative sociology of religion; and J. Hick, The Philosophy of Religion (1963), a useful survey of issues in the philosophy of religion. Mircea Eliade wrote widely from a standpoint that combines elements drawn from depth psychology, phenomenology, and the history of religions: his Sacred and the Profane (1961) and The Quest (1969) give an insight into his general approach. Ninian Smart Basic aims and methods The growth of various disciplines in the 19th century, notably psychology and sociology, stimulated a more analytic approach to religions, while at the same time theology became more sophisticated and, in a sense, scientific as it began to be affected by and thus to make use of historical and other methods. The interrelations of the various disciplines in relation to religion as an area of study can be described as follows. Religions, being complex, have different aspects or dimensions. Thus, the major world religions typically possess doctrines, myths, ethical and social teachings, rituals, social institutions, and inner experiences and sentiments. These dimensions lie behind the creation of buildings, art, music, and other such extensions of basic beliefs and attitudes. But not all religions are like Christianity and Buddhism, for example, in possessing institutions such as the church and the sangha (Buddhist monastic order), which exist across national and cultural boundaries. In opposition to such institutionalized religions, tribal religion, for example, is not usually separately institutionalized but in effect is the religious side of communal life and is not treated as distinct from other things that go on in the community. The various dimensions of religion noted above represent a cross section of a tradition; but to see the latter in a well-balanced perspective it is necessary to view it as historicalas a religion having a past and the capacity for development in the future (dead religions, obviously enough, being the exception). Thus, there are various disciplines that may examine a religion cross-sectionally to find its basic patterns or structures. Psychology views religious experience and feelings and to some extent the myths and symbols that express experience; sociology and social anthropology view the institutions of religious tradition and their relationship to its beliefs and values; and literary and other studies seek to elicit the meanings of myths and other items. These structural enquiries sometimes benefit from being comparativeas when recurrent motifs in the doctrines of different religions are noticed. On the other hand, the aforementioned disciplines need to be supplemented by history, archaeology, philology, and other such disciplines, which have their own various methods of elucidating the past. Philosophy generally has attempted wide-ranging accounts of the nature of religion and of religious concepts, but it is not always easy to disentangle these enquiries from issues raised by normative theology. Historical, archaeological, and literary studies Historical and literary studies The expansion of European empires in the early 19th century and the growth of scientific methods in history and philology combined to place Oriental and other non-European studies on a new basis. Another stimulus to the new approach to history and philology was Napoleon's expedition to Egypt, which was accompanied by scholars and scientists; it was a notable attempt to gather knowledge of a culture systematically. The discovery and editing of sacred and other texts from other cultures also had profound effects upon European thinking. A notable publishing venture was the series Sacred Books of the East, edited under the leadership of the German Orientalist and philologist Max Mller (18231900), which placed at the disposal of Westerners translations of the major literary sources of the non-Christian world. Earlier, Mller had published translations of the more important Vedic texts (Hindu sacred works), of which the Rgveda was given a complete scholarly edition in 186177. Interest in these ancient Indian texts was intense among Europeans and Americans in that earlier reports had suggested that these represented a world outlook from the dawn of humanity and that the origin of polytheism lay in nature worship. The Vedas, however, turned out to be of a very different character. The length of human history and prehistory, as implied by evolutionary theory and the growing archaeological discoveries, precluded looking upon the Vedic hymns as anything but late; though the contents showed them to be highly artificial and complex compilations for use in a priest-dominated ritual context, they were not at that time seen as spontaneous outpourings of the human spirit. Mller himself reacted rather sharply by adopting a different theory, which expressed his philological slantnamely, that polytheism was the result of a disease of language, in which the terms for natural phenomena came to be treated as having independent and personal reality: nomina (names) became numina (spirits). The theory was in vogue for a time but was later replaced by more realistic insights drawn from anthropology. Furthermore, study of the greater part of the corpus of Indian sacred writings, including those in vernacular languages (especially Tamil), gradually modified the preoccupation with the earliest textsthe Vedic hymns and the Upanisads (philosophical treatises). Throughout the development of the study of non-European languages there was a supposition that a non-Christian equivalent of the Bible could be found, a sacred writing that would thus provide the authoritative key to the beliefs, practices, and institutions of the religion under consideration. Gradually, however, it became apparent that sacred scriptures play very different roles in different religious cultures. Somewhat later in developing were studies of the Buddhist canon in Pali (an ancient Indian language), which, through the work of such scholars as the English Orientalist T.W. Rhys Davids (18431922) and of the Pali Text Society, which he founded, had a remarkable impact in revealing to the West the full range of Theravadin (southern Buddhist) religious literature; it tended to make Western scholars look upon the Theravada as the earlier, purer form of Buddhism; but the editing of early Mahayana (Greater Vehicle, or northern Buddhist) texts and the recognition of the different strata in the Pali canon have modified this view. Buddhist studies were enhanced by the growth of Tibetan, Chinese, and Japanese studies. Some of the more important modern scholars of Zen Buddhism (a Mahayana sect) have been Japanese, notably the philosopher D.T. Suzuki (18701966), sometimes called the apostle of Zen Buddhism to America, whose editions and interpretations have been widely influential. The productivity of the study of religious literature of the late 19th century was immense, for it was not confined to the foregoing literary and archaeological activities but to the investigation of the Chinese Classics and the roots of Chinese civilization as well. Thus, by the early 20th century, Western scholars were in a position to study the main range of non-Western literary cultures. The wave of interest in these texts and the freeing of their dissemination from some of their traditional constraints (e.g., the restriction of Vedic revelation to the upper classes of the Indian caste system) contributed to the revival of other religious culturesnotably Hinduism and Buddhism, under the stimulus of the Western challenge. Modern scholarship thus provided the basis for a new self-understanding among such religious traditions. Meanwhile, the texts of Zoroastrianism, an Iranian religion originating in the 6th century BC, were being discovered and edited (from 1850 onward). The disentangling of different layers of varying antiquity indicated the complex ways in which the religion of Zoroaster had developed. During the latter part of the 19th and early part of the 20th century, there was a remarkable flowering of ancient Middle Eastern studies. Archaeology contributed to the unravelling of non-Jewish and Jewish religious history. The discovery of the Epic of Gilgamesh, a major work of Mesopotamian religious literature, and other materials brought a whole new perspective to the development of ideas in Mesopotamia; and in Egypt archaeological and papyrological studies brought to light the famous and revealing Egyptian funerary text, the Book of the Dead. These various ancient Middle Eastern discoveries have thrown light on the evolution of Judaism, and Semitic studies have likewise illuminated the origins and background of Islam. Furthermore, classical and European studies assembled data about the pre-Christian religions of the West so that scholars might gain a more detailed and scientific understanding of them. Compilations such as the Corpus Inscriptionum Graecorum and the Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum, assembled in the 19th century, and the publication of Germanic, Celtic, and Scandinavian texts provided the tools for a reappraisal of these older traditions. Throughout the period intense researches into the composition and milieu of the Old and New Testaments reflected a new and scientific spirit of enquirywhich was, however, not without its controversial elements, sometimes because of the intimate tie between religious positions and evaluations of the Bible and sometimes because of the application of speculative patterns in the history of (non-Christian) religions to the New Testament. Meanwhile, the assemblage of materials extended forward into Christian history through the application of classical philological methods to patristic texts (the writing of the early Church Fathers) and to the corpus of Reformation writings. History of the study of religion No single history of the study of religion exists since the major cultural traditions (Europe, the Middle East, India, China) have been mutually independent over long periods. The primary impulse that prompts many to study religion, however, happens to be the Western one, especially because other cultural traditions utilized categories other than that denoted in the Western concept of religion. On the whole, in the ancient world and in the Middle Ages the various approaches to religion grew out of attempts to criticize or defend particular systems and to interpret religion in harmony with changes in knowledge. The same is true of part of the modern period, but increasingly the idea of the nonnormative (descriptive-explanatory) study of religions, and at the same time the attempt to understand the genesis and function of religion, has become established. Viewed thus, the 19th century is the formative period for the modern study of religion. The ensuing accounts here of the history of the subject take it up to the modern period and then consider the various disciplines connected with religion in detaili.e., in relation to their development since the 19th century. The Greco-Roman period Early attempts to study religion One of the earliest attempts to systematize the seemingly conflicting Greek myths and thereby bring order into this rather chaotic Greek tradition was the Theogony of the Greek poet Hesiod (flourished c. 800 BC), who rather laboriously put together the genealogies of the gods. His work remains an important source book of ancient myth. The rise of speculative philosophy among the Ionian philosophers (e.g., Thales, Heracleitus, and Anaximander) led to a more critical and, to some extent, rationalistic treatment of the gods. Thus, Thales (6th century BC) and Heracleitus (flourished c. 500 BC) considered water and fire, respectively, to be the first substance, out of which everything else is made, though Aristotle reported mysteriously in the 4th century BC that Thales believed that everything was filled with the gods. Anaximander (6th century BC) called the primary substance the infinite (apeiron). In these various schemes of religious belief, there is a unitary something that transcends the many clashing forces in the world, transcending even the gods. Heracleitus refers to the controlling principle as logos, or reason, though the philosopher, poet, and religious reformer Xenophanes (6th5th centuries BC) directly assailed the traditional mythology as immoral, out of his concern to express a monotheistic religion. This theme of criticism of the myths was taken over and elaborated in the 4th century BC by the philosopher Plato. More conservatively, the poet Theagenes (6th century BC) allegorized the gods, treating them as standing for natural and psychological forces. To some extent, this line was pursued in the works of the Greek tragedians and by the philosophers Parmenides and Empedocles (5th century BC). Criticism of the ancient Greek tradition was reinforced by the reports of travellers as Greek culture penetrated widely into various other cultures. The Greek historian Herodotus (5th century BC) attempted to solve the problem of the plurality of cults by identifying foreign deities with Greek deities (e.g., those of the Egyptian Amon with Zeus). This kind of syncretism was widely employed in the merging of Greek and Roman culture in the Roman Empire (e.g., Zeus as the Roman god Jupiter). The plurality of cults and gods also induced skepticism, as with the Sophist Protagoras (c. 481411 BC), who was driven from Athens because of his impiety in questioning the existence of the gods. Prodicus of Ceos (5th century BC) gave a rationalistic explanation of the origin of deities that foreshadowed Euhemerism (see below Later attempts to study religion), and another Sophist, Critias (5th century BC), considered that religion was invented to frighten men into adhering to morality and justice. Plato was not averse to providing new myths to perform this alleged functionas is seen in his conception of the noble lie (i.e., the invention of myths to promote morality and order) in the Republic. He was strongly critical, however, of the older poets' (e.g., Homer's) accounts of the gods and substituted a form of belief in a single creator, the Demiurge or supreme craftsman. This line of thought was developed in a stronger way by Aristotle, in his conception of a supreme intelligence that is the unmoved mover. Aristotle combined elements of earlier thinking in his account of the genesis of the gods (coming from the observation of cosmic order and stellar beauty and from dreams).

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