Back to De Anza College Home Susan Cafarelli Burke
De Anza College | Faculty Directory
Instructor Info

Viewing and Downloading PDF Files

Help with vocabulary used by Eliade in The Sacred and Profane, go to:

HUMI 9-01 and 9-02
Intro to Religion Lecture Note Extras:
Humi 9

Humi 18-01

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 of life?"
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
· nature
· other human beings
· other cultures
· death, suffering, change
· rites of passage

Religion Defined
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 our lives.
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.

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.

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 on earth

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.

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.


· 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 human beings.

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 accomplish

Religious Dimensions
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, and value.
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.

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 world
· 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.
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 way."
THEIST MYSTICISM (merging with and manifestation of the divine)
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 is attained.
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." Thomas Merton

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 did.
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).

Ritual Characteristics
- 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 sign, etc.
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.

Religious Doctrines
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.

· 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 religion.

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.

Religious Ethics
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.
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 Path.
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 the laws.
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 Church.
Ethical Process
Drive safely
· Religious traditions (the Ten Commandments or Eight-Fold Path, etc.)

Given that obligation, it is your responsibility to not drink and drive
· Believers are obliged to respond to life according to these patterns.

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 and tension.

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 perspectives.
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 institutions?

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 groups.
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 environment longer.

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 traditions.

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.

Dimensional Triangle


· 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 experience.

Sacramental Thinking
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.


+ Believers
= Behavior

SYSTEM AND CENTER THE WORLD prevalent in traditional societies.
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 point.
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 infinitely repeatable.
4. INEXHAUSTIBLE: Sacred time neither changes nor is it exhausted.
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 that time
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 in myth.

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.


Initiations Meaning

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 (being) status.
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.
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.
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.
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.

 Updated Monday, September 27, 2004 at 9:39:07 AM by Susan Cafarelli Burke -
Login | Logout