According to Living Religions, “The word is probably derived from the Latin, meaning ‘to tie back,’ ‘to tie again.’ All of religion shares the goal of tying people back to something behind the surface of life — a greater reality, which lies beyond, or invisibly infuses, the world that we can perceive with our five senses.” (Living Religions, 2) A more complete definition is provided in the “Key terms” section at the end of the chapter:|
II. Why Are There Religions?
Perspectives on the Origin of Religion
“Cultural anthropologists, sociologists, philosophers, psychologists, and even biologists have peered at religion through their own particular lenses, trying to explain what religion is, [as well as] its function and purpose ... . [The following are three] of the major theories that have evolved. They are not mutually exclusive.” (Living Religions, 5)(i) The Faith Perspective
Religion is a Human Response to an Ultimate Reality
“From the point of view of religious faith, there truly is an underlying reality that cannot readily be perceived. ... The human mind does not function in the rational mode alone; there are other modes of consciousness. In his classic study The Varieties of Religious Experience, the philosopher William James (1842-1910) concluded:
There is no Ultimate Reality ~ Humans Invented Religion
“During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, scientific materialism gained considerable prominence as a theory to explain the fact that religion can be found in some form in every culture around the world. The materialistic point of view is that the supernatural is invented by humans; only the material world exists.” (Living Religions, 5)
(iii) The Functional Perspective
Humans Create Religions Because They Are Useful
“Another line of reasoning has emerged in the search for a theory explaining the universal existence of religions: They are found everywhere because they are useful, both for society and for individuals. Religions ‘do things’ for us, such as helping us to define ourselves and making the world and life comprehensible to us.” (Living Religions, 6) In short, religions provide insightful answers to fundamental human questions such as:
III. Why Should We Study Religion?
“Traditional cultures and religions naturally assumed their own points of view to be absolute. They did not understand their standpoints to be versions of the world alongside others. One’s own religious beliefs seemed so widely accepted and self-evidently true that they were taken not as one of several descriptions of reality, but simply as the description of reality itself.” (William E. Paden in Anthology of Living Religions (1st Edition), 2)
“As a descriptive enterprise, the comparative study of religion tries to proceed without the interpretive bias of any particular religious or antireligious position. Rather than looking at religion as something right or wrong, it looks at it as a type of experience, behavior, and symbol system. Religion is therefore seen as a phenomenon. ... The comparative attitude therefore calls for a dispassionate capacity to comprehend and explain other people’s experience of their worlds without interjecting one’s own preferences. One must ‘bracket off’ one’s own concepts of how the world ought to be organized in order to listen to how others configure it, and temporarily set aside what the world means to oneself in order to gain access to what the world means to others.” (William E. Paden in Anthology of Living Religions (1st Edition), 5)