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Introduction to Religion

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Matt Gough

on 10 January 2017

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Transcript of Introduction to Religion

Introduction to Religion
The Role of Religion
Religions have had a powerful effect on human societies but have also done some damage.
Religion and Conflict
It's easy to look at the world today and think of religion in terms of conflict

Think of the conflicts in the world in recent times, and usually religious difference lies at the center of the problem.
What is Religion?
Last chapter, we talked about the importance of language in creating identity and culture.

Religion plays a similar role.
Defining Religion
Some define religion as a system of beliefs and practices that attempts to order life in terms of culturally perceived ultimate priorities.

The idea of "perceived ultimate priorities" is often expressed in terms of "should"

From eating habits to dress codes, religions set standards for how adherents should behave.


In Northern Ireland, about three decades of violence occurred between Catholics and Protestants (The Troubles).

The war in Bosnia-Herzegovina was between Muslims, Roman Catholics, and Serbian Orthodox.
The civil war in Sudan was between Muslims, Christians, and Animists.

The war in Afghanistan was between radical Islamists and non-Muslims.

The list can go on and on:
http://www.religioustolerance.org/curr_war.htm
The questions for this chapter are:

1. What is religion, and what role does it play in culture?
2. Where did the world's major religions originate, and how do religions diffuse?
3. How is religion seen in the cultural landscape?
4. What role does religion play in political conflicts?
Religions diffuse through contagious and hierarchical diffusion - and by relocation diffusion.

This diffusion can occur through migration, missionary efforts, and conquest

chronas.org/history
Religion can be seen in the cultural landscape - churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques. Also cemeteries, shrines, statues, and symbols.
A Hindu temple
Hikawa Shrine in Japan (a Shinto shrine)
Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro
Hurva Synagogue in Jerusalem
But, there are also subtle markers of religion on the landscape.

For instance, the presence or absence of stores selling alcohol.

Some Protestant denominations (including Baptists) in the US believe that drinking alcohol is in opposition to God's wants.

So, many Southern states have dry counties.
Blue - wet counties
Red - dry counties
Yellow - mixed
Religion is also proclaimed in modes of dress (veils, turbans) and personal habits (beards, ritual scars).
A Sikh man wearing a dastar
A Muslim woman wearing the hijab
You're beardyful - The length of a beard is often a sign of Jewish devotion.
Members of a tribe in Papua New Guinea with ritual scarring. Done as initiation into manhood to honor human's evolution from crocodiles.
Outward display of religious beliefs often reveal the inward structure of a religion.
In Pakistan in 1991, the government proclaimed that possessing a beard would be a condition for the appointment of judges.

The beard was an outward display of religion but also showed the inward structure of Islam in Pakistan - women have not been in judicial power
Another example is the burkha.
Women wear the burkha when out in public.

In many Muslim nations, women are not allowed to be seen by males who are not family members.

This practice reinforces the patriarchy of Islamic cultures.
The idea is that a "good" life has rewards and that "bad" behavior risks punishment.

These ideas have enormous influences on cultures, on how people behave, and on how people perceive and evaluate the behavior of others.
You can also do a spatial analysis of pork consumption.
Across all religions, some practices such as ritual and prayer are common.

Rituals may mark important event's in people's lives:
-Birth and death
-Attainment of adulthood
-Marriage
A common ritual is prayer, whether at mealtime, at sunrise and sundown, at night before sleeping, or in the morning when waking.
A Muslim man praying in New York
Call to prayer in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

The adhan is done 5x per day.
In some places, religion has become less significant in the eyes of people.

Secularism is the indifference to or rejection of formal religion.
The most secular countries in the world today are in Europe.

A 2009 Pew survey asked people in 56 countries how important religion is in their lives.

Among wealthiest countries surveyed, the US had the highest percentage of adults who said that religion was very important in their lives (55%).
Only 13% of people surveyed in France, 19% in Great Britain, and 7% in the Czech Republic said that religion was very important.

Results were different outside of Europe:
-98% in Senegal
-97% in Bangladesh
-95% in Indonesia
-78% in Brazil
But, because Europe had a strong history of Christianity, much of the region's art, architecture history, customs, and cultural norms derive from Christian beliefs.
Religions have:
-combated social ills
-sustained the poor
-promoted the arts
-educated the deprived
-advanced medical knowledge
But, religions have:
-blocked scientific study
-encouraged the oppression of dissidents
-supported colonialism and exploitation
-condemned women to an inferior status
The Blue Mosque in Istanbul
Another way you can see religion through the cultural landscape is through the depiction of the human form.
If you go to Italy, you'll see massive cathedrals and lots of religious artwork depicting the life of Jesus and the saints.
St. Peter's in Rome -
The Vatican
La Pieta by Michelangelo - the dying Jesus on Mary's lap
But, in the Muslim world, things are different.

It is religiously forbidden to depict the human form.

So, Muslims do not have statues/paintings of Mohammed.
The interior of the Blue Mosque
Full transcript