Monday, September 13, 2010

Definitions of Religion

The Apostle James [1]: “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”

Friedrich Schleiermacher [1799]: “True religion is sense and taste for the Infinite.”

Karl Marx [1844]: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”

E.B. Tylor [1871]: "It seems best. . .simply to claim, as a minimum definition of Religion, the belief in Spiritual Beings."

James Frazer [1890]: “By religion . . . I understand a propitiation or conciliation of powers superior to man which are believed to direct and control the course of natural and of human life. Thus defined, religion consists of two elements, a theoretical and a practical, namely, a belief in powers higher than man and an attempt to propitiate or please them.”

William James [1902]: “Religion . . . shall mean for us means the feelings, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine. . . it consists of the belief that there is an unseen order, and that our supreme good lies in harmoniously adjusting ourselves thereto.”

Emile Durkheim [1912]: “Religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and surrounded by prohibitions—beliefs and practices that unite its adherents in a single moral community called a church.”

Max Weber [1922]: Religious behavior arises with the rise “on the one hand of the idea of the ‘soul,’ and on the other of ideas of ‘gods,’ ‘demons,’ and ‘supernatural powers,’ the ordering of whose relations to men constitutes the realm of religious behavior. . . . Magic is transformed from a direct manipulation of forces into a symbolic activity” directed at a “transcendental being which normally is accessible only through the mediation of symbols and significances, and which consequently is represented as shadowy and even unreal.”

Rudolf Otto [1923]: The core of religion is the numinous, the ineffable, “the emotion of a creature, submerged and overwhelmed by its own nothingness in contrast to that which is supreme above all creatures,” our experience with the “mysterium tremendum,” the awful mystery, the “wholly other . . quite beyond the sphere of the usual, the intelligible, and familiar,” which experience leads to the “shudder”—a form [of psychical reaction] ennobled beyond measure where the soul, held speechless, trembles inwardly to the farthest fibre of its being.”

Sigmund Freud [1927]: “Religion would thus be the universal obsessional neurosis of humanity; like the obsessional neurosis of children, it arose out of the Oedipus complex, out of the relation to the father.”

Paul Tillich [1948]: “The state of being grasped by an ultimate concern, a concern which qualifies all other concerns as preliminary and which itself contains the answer to the question of meaning and of our life.”

Mircea Eliade [1957]: “The first possible definition of the sacred is that it is the opposite of the profane.” The sacred is “the manifestation of something of a wholly different, a reality that does not belong to our world, in objects that are an integral part of our natural ‘profane’ world.”

Peter Berger [1967]: “Religion is the human enterprise by which a sacred cosmos is established. Put differently, religion is cosmization in a sacred mode. By sacred is meant here a quality of mysterious and awesome power, other than man and yet related to him, which is believed to reside in certain objects of experience. . . . Religious legitimation purports to relate the humanly defined reality to ultimate, universal and sacred reality.”

Clifford Geertz [1973]: “Religion is (1) a system of symbols which acts to (2) establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by (3) formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and (4) clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that (5) the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic.”

Rodney Stark and William Bainbridge [1987]: “Religion refers to systems of general compensators based on supernatural assumptions.”

Stephen L. Carter [1993]: “When I refer to religion, I will have in mind a tradition of group worship (as against individual metaphysic) that presupposes the existence of a sentience beyond the human and capable of acting outside of the observed principles and limits of natural science, and further, a tradition that makes demands of some kind on its adherents.”

Dalai Lama [September 11, 2001]: “My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.”

Thomas A. Tweed [2006]: “Religions are confluences of organic-cultural flows that intensify joy and confront suffering by drawing on human and suprahuman forces to make homes and cross boundaries.”

Charles Taylor [2007]: “‘Religion’ for our purposes can be defined in terms of ‘transcendence’ . . . the sense that there is some good higher than, beyond human flourishing. . . . a possibility of transformation is offered, which takes us beyond merely human perfection. But of course, this notion of a higher good as attainable by us could only make sense in the context of belief in a higher power, the transcendent God of faith.”

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