Dimensions of Religion
What is Religion?
Religion gives a person = identity and relationship.
Religion deals with answers to identity-forming questions:
Selfhood - "Who am I?" "Where did I come from?"
Meaning - "Why am I?" "Where will I go when I die?"
Purpose - "What do I do?" "What is the purpose
These deep searching identity questions are a pervasive part of
human experience and thought by some to be the source of the world's
great religions. Religions answer these questions for people in
psychological satisfying multidimensional ways.
Religion is relationship guiding or defining
How do we relate to the Other? Religions give people understandable
paradigms that guide our behavior in relationships towards others.
The Other can be many things:
· God or the ultimate
· other human beings
· other cultures
· death, suffering, change
· rites of passage
1. Religion is human involvement with what is considered to be
the realm of the sacred.
sacred space, sacred time, numinous experience, mystical experience.
2. It is expressed in thought (theoretical thinking and
speaking ), action (practical, acting and doing), and
social forms (fellowship, community).
THEORETICAL: narrative stories and theoretical statements about
reality in doctrines.
PRACTICAL: rituals, worships and ethics.
SOCIAL FORMS: Religious community carries on the tradition in
groups that give the believer identity.
3. It constitutes a total system of symbols with deep meaning.
The religious map of human existence is made up of symbols= words,
ideas, rituals, pictures, gestures, sounds, social groupings -
that evoke the deepest feelings and most important meaning in
The various symbols fit together in a circle, for they are all
related to each other in such a way as to present a comprehensive
and persuasive outlook on life.
4. It is a path of ultimate transformation.
The path is a way of life, a praxis designed to restore wholeness
and ultimate meaning to human existence by involvement with the
source of life, the sacred.
Humans are inherently sinful, fallen from the source of all being,
God. Their natural desires and instincts are not to be trusted.
The world is merely a testing chamber where, according to behavior,
a person is deemed fir or unfit for entrance into the realm of
true reality, Heaven. The world is also the domain of an evil
being, Satan, who may use the pleasures and joys of this world
to tempt humans and trick them into a bond with worldly delights
that will ultimately result in eternal punishment.
God made man in His image, over and above other parts of the creation,
and man was called upon to have dominion over nature, to control
nature. To use the land meant to live by a utilitarian standard.
Simple survival was not using the land. A human being was called
upon to force nature to bring forth excess. Your skill in manipulating
nature and accumulating wealth was a sign that you were chosen.
Planet Earth is reduced to just a convenient battleground or stage
for this divine conflict, there is not much of an impulse to respect
or preserve Mother Earth's treasures.
Negative: drive to build a divine kingdom worthy of the Creator
Dualism posits a cosmos or universe in which the Creator, God,
is separate and distinct from the creation. The in-world experience
is a threat or stumbling block to real experience - be it in Heaven
or some other transcendent realm - will thrust believers into
a pattern of using force to remake that world.
You don't petition these powerful spirits; you enter into balance
of harmony with them through the dimension of myth and ritual.
Animals may be sacrificed to assure that the group, tribe or clan
is ritually pure. A portion of the the harvest could be set aside
in honor of the spirits or fertility.
Statues of totem animals. - coyote, bear, lion, eagle - could
protect the home from marauding demons. In the world of primal
religion, everything is alive; everything has power.
Sacred power was diffused throughout the natural world.
The passing of the seasons demands rituals in honor of the divine
beings who personify Sun, Moon, Winter, Summer, Spring and Fall.
Earth, ai , fire and water need to be ritually recognized, as
do the four quadrants of space and time.
· God is everything
· God is the reality or principle behind nature
· Only god is reality, all else is illusion
All varieties see all reality as ONE, whole, not divided into
sacred realm and a profane or human or natural realm.
God is the ground of being and is the enlivening, creative, spark
behind all that exists.
The only divine charge for human beings is to live in a harmonious
relationship with the land, the plants, the animals and other
The magic of life is knowing that the divine is immanent in the
Earth which, indeed , is our mother.
Negative: relieved believers of the need to create, to do, to
In this class we examine the six dimensions of worldviews. These
dimensions are useful too to help us be able to "walk a mile
in another man's moccasins." Ninian Smart, the world renowned
expert in religious studies, came up with the six dimensions of
worldviews. This class is based on Smart's useful model for analyzing
a diversity of religions and worldviews and the analysis made
by John Simmons in the Belief and Believer series.
No particular religion is ever really ONLY one type of dimension,
but is rather a complex whole. Writers in a religious tradition
can and do express a preference for one dimension or another but
the world views that we will study express all six to some degree.
The EXPERIENTIAL (experience), MYTHIC (myth), RITUAL, DOCTRINAL
(doctrine = belief), ETHICAL (ethics = behavior), and SOCIAL (impact
of religious beliefs on society) dimensions will all be explored
in this class.
The Experiential Dimension(experience)
What does it mean to "feel the presence of God?" Or
to experience the Holy? Or to be "one with the universe?"
1. The sacred, whether expressed as God (Islam), Brahman (Hinduism),
emptiness (Mahayana Buddhism), or some other formulation, is felt
to be the universal foundation of all truth, reality, goodness,
2. Since the sacred dimension of reality is source of ultimate
value, the deepest need of human life is to have an ongoing relationship
with the sacred.
The Religious experience of the sacred, is difficult to describe
but, nonetheless, a powerful and important part of human experience.
It is a portal that allows us to move from the everyday, ordinary
experience into a new, extraordinary level of consciousness.
Pervasiveness of Religious Experience
· No matter how non-religious you might be, at some time
due to some event, you will experience the religious impulse whether
it be a need to find meaning in a tragic occurrence such as a
cataclysmic nature event, or a way to express thankfulness for
an extraordinary event such as the birth of a child or a way to
try to explain the often inexplicable challenges and changes of
everyday human existence.
· Religion traditionally has provided ways to help humans
make sense of their lives by providing answers to pro-found life
questions, guiding ethical behavior and offering solace and comfort
in the face of our shared mortality.
PERVASIVENESS OF RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE
1. Everyone Experiences Rites of Passage = major life events:
birth, death, suffering, adulthood, marriage, love, tragedy, etc.
= rites of passage generate boundary questions.
2. These Experiences Generate Boundary Questions = questions concerning
identity, relationship, meaning, purpose, etc.
3. Most people are forced to ask boundary questions, at least
during rites of passage.
4. Religions provide answers to boundary questions experienced
during rites of passage.
5. Since all human beings go through rites of passage, and find
answers to their identity questions, religious activity in pervasive
in human experience.
Types of Religious Experience
The numinous experience is an encounter with the Divine/God; awe-inspiring;
terrifying yet attractive; separation between Divine and human
identities. People experience awe and fear at the same time.
Example= Moses encounters God in the "burning bush"
In the mystical experience one experiences a loss of personal
identity; merging with the totality of Being (God, the Divine,
Mind, Consciousness, etc. )
These experiences can be grouped in three types:
· Nature mysticism - merging with all or part of the natural
· Monist mysticism - merging or being one with the mind/
force/ intelligence/ consciousness of the universe.
· Theist mysticism - merging with the divine or God.
Religious Experience: Mystical
You've been touched by natural/nature mysticism if you are overwhelmed
by feelings of interconnectedness or unity with the cosmos. Usually
the experience brings a sense of complete inner-peace, assurance
that all will be well. Many mystics point to a positive and complete
transformation of identity which leads to a more compassionate,
caring set of relationships.
MONIST MYSTICISM (merging with the divine mind/consciousness)
The monist mystic envisions the divine in everything. He/she also
makes an important connections between mystical experience and
Meditation means a rigorous discipline of mental, spiritual and
physical development that proceeds through a set of practices
leading to a higher level of concentration, compassion, wisdom,
mindfulness and, ultimately, enlightenment.
"Meditation is the very center and heart of spiritual life,
It matters not whether you are a follower of the path of karma,
or of devotion or knowledge, whether you are Christian or Buddhist
or a Hindu, sooner or later you have to practice meditation, you
have to become absorbed in divine contemplation; there is no other
THEIST MYSTICISM (merging with and manifestation of the
Theist mysticism begins as a numinous experience. In each case,
the believer becomes so in love with the manifestation of the
Divine, that the boundaries between perceiver and perceived blur
until the all-important experience of unity, oneness or interconnectedness
When you go deeper into yourself, spiritually, it is like a tree
extending its roots deep into the earth. Strong roots allow the
branches to reach out and intertwine with the branches of other
trees. An beneath the surface, the roots also embrace.
"If therefore we seek Jesus, the word, we must be able to
see Him in the created things around us - in the hills, the fields,
the flowers, the birds and animals that He created, in the sky
and the trees. We must be able to see Him in nature. Nature is
no obstacle to our contact with Him, if we know how to use it."
The Mythic Dimension (myth)
What is a myth? Most people would answer "a false story,
a fable, something fantastic, outside the bounds of reality.
In the field of religious studies, however, the term is used in
a very different - and correct - manner. Myths are profoundly
true stories within the worldview of a believer.
"Myths are the narrative stories which provide answers to
the questions of identity by making it possible to identify with
those events and beings that exemplify in a clear and powerful
way the relationship with the sacred that under girds human life."
They may not be provable through the scientific method, and they
may defy common sense or logic, but, nevertheless, they are real
in that they guide the behavior of believers.
Great religious leaders like the Buddha, Muhammad, or Jesus
ignited the sparks of religious experience in their followers.
Their followers, in turn, felt called upon to describe the life
and works of their teachers in powerful narratives that cross
the boundary between historical fact and faith.
Myths provide models that guide human behavior within a given
faith community - and, thus, are an important link between belief,
believer, and behavior. They answer the identity/boundary questions.
The Ritual Dimension
Ritual is what believers DO! Rituals provide believers with a
symbolic mode of communication designed to propel them out of
ordinary experience and into extraordinary realities.
· Rituals are often based on the myths contained in a given
worldview. Believers feel called upon to do what their great leaders
Thus, Christians celebrate the ritual of the Last Supper (the
Eucharist) just as Jesus did almost 2,000 years ago. And in participating
in this unique, myth-based ritual, a devout Christian is brought
back into authentic Christian experience
· Taken together, we might think of the Experiential, Mythic
and Ritual dimensions as an inward turning force in religions.
Profound life questions arise and call for answers in the experiential
dimension. A charismatic leader provides answers to those questions
expressed in great deeds and inspired teachings. In the mythic
dimension, those words and deeds are described, usually in sacred
texts but sometime in oral tradition. For believers, the key event
in the mythic dimension are acted out in rituals which, in turn,
transform ordinary experience into uniquely extraordinary experience
(see diagram above).
Through the ritual practices a person experiences kenosis (emptying
out); and the plerosis (filling up).
PRINCIPAL FEATURES OF RITUALS
Sign - something that is regularly or causally connected in
experience with something else.
Disease . . . Symptoms
Dark clouds. . . Rain
Representational symbols - ties things together that are distinct
or different from each other: words, traffic light, cross, stop
Ritual is a symbolic mode of communication.
· Ritual is a mode of religious expression that unites
words and gestures to form a sacred drama.
· Rituals transform the ordinary into the extraordinary.
· Ritual implies action or doing on the part of the believers.
Sacramental - ordinary transformed into extraordinary. Uses symbols
to point to a spiritual reality.
Performative - doing something
Repetitive - ritual activities are repeated
Social - ritual provide social cohesion (act or state of sticking
together); people do rituals together.
The Doctrinal Dimension(doctrine = belief)
The doctrinal dimension is what most religious studies courses
and books are about. The doctrinal dimension is what people believe.
In fact, when the question "What is your religion?"
arises, people are usually asking, ''What do you believe, what
are the set of answers you have accepted to life's profound questions?"
While religion is more than just a set of answers, religious doctrines
have a profound effect on the behavior of believers within a given
religious community. Religious doctrines give focus and order
to the symbolic and the mythical. They offer believers authoritative
and sometimes systematic proof that their religious reality and
everyday reality are one and the same.
Doctrines are logical descriptions of reality for the believer.
When two very different descriptions of reality collide, world
history tells us that the doctrinal dimension can stir believers
to commit the most bloody atrocities in the name of their belief.
We only have to look in the Middle East or our own Native American
collision with Christianity in the 18th & 19th Century to
see the tension created by opposing worldview doctrines.
Definition: Death, suffering, and change are problems
that cannot be resolved in terms of common sense or scientific
knowledge. Doctrines are belief systems; they provide specific
answers to boundary/identity questions.They give the institutionalized
answers to the unexplainable (boundary questions).
Faith is a religious way of knowing the truth based on
the authority of the church, a cared book, or a religious leader.
FUNCTIONS OF DOCTRINES
· Bring order to focus to myth and ritual
· Provide the institutionalization of answers to the unexplainable
(death, suffering, change).
· Control the boundaries of religious expression
· Determine what is inclusive and exclusive in a given
The Ethical Dimension(ethics = behavior)
As people believe, so they will behave. Doctrines are foundational
to Ethics. Doctrine is to ethics as belief is to behavior. The
ethical dimension, religious or secular, provides human beings
with guidelines for proper patterns of action. The ethical dimension
is relational. That means that ethics inform our relationships
including those with an unseen "Other."Whether expressed
as laws, moral commandments, custom, or a system of values, it
is the ethical dimension that guides us towards proper relationships
with God (or Being), each other, nature, and culture.
Ethics provide a sense of obligation, responsibility and provide
mechanisms for bringing harmony from dissonance when there is
a breakdown in ideal relational patterns. The Ten Commandments
in Hebrew scripture, the Beatitudes in Christian scripture or
the Eight-Fold Path in Buddhism are classic examples of the ethical
dimension. Ethical standards for right behavior, of course, are
based on doctrine and therefore may differ greatly. Many of the
great debates of the day such as abortion, suicide, sexual orientation,
etc. are furiously defended or protested by factions who approach
these issues from different religious or secular worldviews.
Ethics are the key to values/behavior in any worldview. They provide
the link between beliefs and right action.
"Religious ethics is that aspect of religion concerned with
proper patterns of action in the situation and circumstances of
the human life cycle and social relations." John Simmons
Ethical behavior is guided by laws, customs and morals. Religious
doctrines inform or guide laws, customs and morals.
PATTERNS IN THE ETHICAL PROCESS
1. Obligation: rules, customs and values sets standard for proper
action.: In society the ethical process is governed by laws. For
example, you have an obligation to operate a vehicle safely on
public roads. In religious traditions set out patterns of action
you are obliged to keep such as the Ten Commandments, or the Eight-Fold
2. Responsibility to follow those guidelines: Given this obligation
you have the responsibility not to drink too much before driving
your car. If you are a responsible religious person, you keep
3. Dissonance: If you behave unethically such as getting drunk
and driving your car you are in dissonance with the laws of society
and if you are caught you will be sited or charged. In religion,
straying too far cuts you off from the religious community and
is a source of shame, guilt, distress and tension.
4. Harmony: Some redemptive mechanism allows you to return to
proper patterns of action. After you pay your citation or go to
court you have paid your debt to society. Most religions have
a reconciliation mechanism such as confession in the Roman Catholic
· Religious traditions (the Ten Commandments or Eight-Fold
Given that obligation, it is your responsibility to not drink
· Believers are obliged to respond to life according to
If you drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs you
are in dissonance of the laws of society
· Straying from the ethical path cuts one off from the
religious community and thus, is a source of shame, guilt, distress
If you are caught or cause an accident, you must "pay your
debt to society."
· Religions, then, provide mechanisms for re-alignment
such as confession in Roman Catholicism.
The Social Dimension(impact of religious beliefs on society)
The raw power of belief and behavior comes alive in the Social
dimension. Without the Social dimension, religious studies would
be diminished to just intellectual curiosity. The power of religious
belief is manifest whenever groups of people have chosen to gather
together in communities and protect and propagate their religious
Just as the experiential, mythic, and ritual dimensions can be
seen as inward turning forces in religion, the doctrinal and ethical
dimensions turn outward, ultimately impacting on the social dimension
in many, many ways. We live in a society with an enormous variety
of worldviews. When we study the social dimension, we investigate
how those worldviews are institutionalized in society. How do
we distinguish a sect from a denomination? Do we belong to a conventional
or non-conventional religion? How do these worldviews affect our
Social Dimension: Religious Organizations
A church is a dominant religious organization in a given society.
A denomination is one of many religious organizations in a diverse
social environment; voluntary attendance.
A sect is a splinter group that forms to renew the true faith.
It breaks away from an "established species" but maintains
the same symbol system
Example: Branch Dravidians are a sect of the Christian Adventist
A cult is a splinter group that is innovative; a new religious
movement that shares little symbolic connection to the "established
species" of religion.
Example: Ramtha or Cindy Jones' Diana's Grove.
Social Dimension: Conventionality
These guidelines can be applied not only to religion but to politics,
fashion, economics, or education.
1. Longevity: anything, including a religious organization,
seems more conventional if it has been around a given cultural
2. Tradition: because they have been around longer,
conventional religions tend to share and reflect the cultural
ambience or have played an important part in shaping cultural
3. Reflection of prevailing values: conventional religions,
especially in the ethical dimension, express and support the values
and mores that most citizens embrace.
4. Numbers: conventional religions have more members
and, consequently, influence society's perception of what is correct
religious behavior in our B+B=B equation.
5. Tension: having met all of the above criteria, conventional
religions blend in well with other institutions in the cultural
landscape; they are in harmony with other institutions
and social structures.
EXPERIENCE, MYTH, RITUAL
· Religious experience is the state in which human beings
seek answers to boundary questions:
Meaning, purpose, order, identity, relationship, etc.
· These questions are answered in the MYTHS, or paradigmatic
narratives, found in sacred texts or in sacred oral traditions
in all religions.
· Myths contain stories of original RITUAL practices; Myths
guide ritual activity for future believers. Ideally, ritual activity
answers boundary questions; believers enter into a state of religious
Myth and ritual make use of symbolic or sacramental thinking:
1. Uses symbols to point to a spiritual reality.
2. Uses nature as representative of a larger human meaning.
3. Nature is viewed as a sacred gift from the gods or mother goddess.
4. By promising good treatment of nature and its living creatures
- power and benefits from the deity are hoped for.
SYSTEM AND CENTER THE WORLD prevalent in traditional
1. BREAK = REVELATION, OPPOSITION: When the sacred
manifests itself in any hierophany (eruption of power higher than
human) there is not only (b) a break in the homogeneity of space;
there is also (c) a revelation of an absolute reality, (d) opposed
to the nonreality of the vast surrounding expanse.
2. The OPENING For COMMUNICATION reveals a FIXED POINT:
Sacred space is the volume area where the sacred manifests itself and
communicates through an opening point. That opening allows for
passage from one cosmic region to another. Sacred space is the
real-lee real space because the divine acts in it. This opening
reveals the fixed point, the central axis for all future orientation.
3. COMMUNICATION IS EXPRESSED BY AN IMAGE(S): all of which
refer to the Axis Mundi: pillar, ladder, mountain, tree, vine,
etc, or orientation to the four cardinal directions with a center
4. AROUND THIS COSMIC AXIS LIES THE WORLD (=OUR SACRED WORLD).
hence the axis is located "in the middle," at the
"navel of the earth". It is the Center of the World.
(orientation in the chaos)
Sacred Time Characteristics
For the religious person, time too, like space, is neither homogeneous
nor continuous. On the one hand there are intervals of sacred
time, the time of festivals; on the other there is profane time,
ordinary temporal duration, in which acts without religious meaning
have their their setting.
By means of rites religious persons can pass without danger from
ordinary temporal duration to sacred time.
1. RETRIEVABLE & REVERSIBLE: By its very nature sacred
time is retrievable because it is a primordial mythical time made
present. By creating the various realities that today constitute
the world, the gods also founded sacred time, for the time contemporary
with a creation was necessarily sanctified by the presence and
activity of the gods.
2. REENACTABLE: Every religious festival, any liturgical
time, represents reactualization of a sacred event that took place
in a mythical past, "in the beginning."
Religious participation in a festival implies emerging from ordinary
temporal duration and reintegration of the mythical time reactualized
by the festival itself.
The participants meet in a reconstructed first appearance o f
sacred time, as it appeared in illo tempore (in that time).
3. REPEATABLE: Sacred time is therefore recoverable and
4. INEXHAUSTIBLE: Sacred time neither changes nor is it
In pre-Christian religions sacred time is a mythical time, a primordial
time not to be found in the historical past, in the sense that
it was not preceded by another time, because no time could exist
before the appearance of the reality narrated in the myth.
Illo temporé (adverb) during the beginning, or in
Illud tempus (noun) time of origins
ab origine= in the beginning
Meaning of Myth - quote - Campbell
The following excerpt is from Joseph Campbell's Creative Mythology
"The rise and fall of civilizations in the long, broad course
of history can be seen to have been largely a function of the
integrity and cogency of their supporting canons of myth; Not
authority but aspiration is the motivator, builder, and transformer
of civilization. Myth is an organization of symbols by which the
energies of aspiration are evoked and gathered toward a focus.
The message leaps from heart to heart by way of the brain, and
where the brain is unpersuaded the message cannot pass."
·ASPIRATION refers to whom or what a person or
group of persons love, want, hope for, dream about, desire. It
is the mind of the heart and the language of the heart that gets
expressed in myth.
· This passage suggests that myth has its own form and
that its meaning and truth depend on recognizing that form.
·If the form is not history or historical narrative, but
the language of the heart, dream, or fairy tale, then aspiration
is the key to understanding and evaluating the meaning and truth
Monomyth - The Hero's Adventure - Campbell
1. Separation- The hero is singled out and separated from
ordinary people by being called, thrust, or enticed into a quest.
2. Threshold- The hero comes to the point of no return
where the real journey begins.
3. Trials- The hero must undergo trials that test his character
with the purpose of transformation of consciousness.
4. Mentor or Guide- Hero meets a helper who guides and
gives the hero psychological commitment.
5. Final confrontation- The hero must overcome the most
daunting obstacle before he/she can be internally transformed.
6. Victory-The hero always wins and gains new knowledge
7. Return- The hero always shares the knowledge by returning
his/her origins or place of new beginning.
1. ONTOLOGICAL CHANGE
In archaic stages of culture, initiation plays a leading role
in the religious formation of man, and more especially that in
essence it consists in a complete change in the novice's ontological
These initiations show us that humans do not consider themselves
"finished" as they find themselves "given"
on the natural level of existence. To become man/woman in the
proper sense he/she must die to this first (natural) life and
be reborn to a higher life, which is at once religious and cultural.
2. SECOND BIRTH
One does not become complete until one has passed beyond, and
in some sense abolished, "natural" humanity, for initiation
is reducible to a paradoxical, supernatural experience of death
and resurrection or of second birth.
3. INSTITUTED BY GODS
Initiation rites entailing ordeals and symbolic death and resurrection,
were instituted by gods, culture heroes, or mythical ancestors;
hence these rites have a superhuman origin, and by performing
them the novice imitates a superhuman, divine action.
4. MAKES SELF IN ACCORDANCE WITH IDEAL IMAGE
The religious person wants to be other than she/he finds herself/himself
on a "natural" level and undertakes to make herself/himself
in accordance with the ideal image revealed to her/him by myths.