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Authors: by Roy C. Amore (Author), Amir Hussain (Author), Willard G. Oxtoby (Author)
A Concise Introduction to World Religions Based on the best-selling World Religions: Eastern Traditions and World Religions: Western Traditions, A Concise Introduction to World Religions, Fourth Edition, is ideal for single-semester courses. Renowned contributors trace the origins and evolution of the major traditions, explain their essential teachings, outline their practices, and examine their interactions with modern culture and society, while insightful introductory and concluding essays suggest countless avenues for further reflection and study.
What Is Religion?
A Concise Introduction to World Religions Many scholars trace the derivation of the word “religion” to the Latin verb religare, “to bind.” Others argue that the root is relegere, “to go over again.” From the beginning, then, there has been no universal definition of religion. We can describe religion as being concerned with the divine, but even that raises questions. Is there one god that is worshiped or many gods—or is there just a set of deep spiritual or moral practices? Most of us would probably not think of atheism as a religion, but what about Theravada Buddhism or Jainism, which are considered to be religions but do not promote belief in an Abrahamic-style god? The same problem arises with religious texts. Is there one text or a set of texts that is particularly authoritative for a particular tradition? Is that set a closed “canon,” or can new materials be added to it? What are the distinctions between established religions and newer ones (sometimes referred to pejoratively as “cults”)? We may accept, for example, the validity of a man (Moses) receiving revelations from God on Mount Sinai 3,200 years ago or another man (Muhammad) receiving similar revelations in Mecca 1,400 years ago but reject the idea of a third man (Joseph Smith) receiving revelations in upstate New York 200 years ago. There is some truth in the saying “Today’s cult, tomorrow’s religion.” Although this work focuses mainly on established traditions, some new religions will be introduced in the final chapter, along with a discussion of the terms “cult,” “sect,” and “new religious movement.”
Another way of looking at religion is in terms of its functions. For example, a simple functional definition might be that religion is one way of creating community. For some people, belonging to a religion has less to do with piety or worship than with a community that offers a sense of belonging and social activities. Many other understandings of religion have been put forward.
Karl Marx defined religion in terms of economics, Sigmund Freud, in terms of interior psychological states. Other scholars have approached the question from the perspective of sociology or anthropology, looking at religion as a social phenomenon or a cultural product. particular faith commitment. One of the key scholars in this area was Jonathan Z. Smith of the University of Chicago. His work on the history of religions has had a profound impact on scholarly understanding of key terms such as “myth” and “ritual,” as well as the way comparisons are made both within a single religious tradition and across different traditions.
• Why Study Religion?
A Concise Introduction to World Religions The first and most obvious reason to study religion is that it exists. Not all humans might lay claim to religious beliefs, but humans in general have been religious from time immemorial.
A closely related reason is that religion has played a crucially important role in human affairs. People organize their communities around religious identities, go to war over religious beliefs or identities, make great art in the service of religion, and seek to change social norms or prevent or encourage change out of religious conviction. In short, religion so pervades the human world that it demands our attention regardless of whether it plays a direct role in our own lives.
It is also common to study religion for more personal reasons. You may want to know more about the tradition you or someone close to you grew up in. You may want to study other religions in order to understand other people’s beliefs or to look at your own beliefs from a different perspective. You may also want to arm yourself with knowledge in order to bring others around to your
way of thinking or to defend your beliefs against the arguments of those who might try to convert you to theirs