Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A Few Notes on Religion

While reading the Oxford University Press book Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction, by Daniel Keown, I came across a reference to the work of religious studies scholar Ninian Smart.
Smart came up with a scheme for studying religion that addressed the elements that he felt all religions shared, so that differing religions could be studied without trying to define precisely what religion itself was.

This is Smart's Seven Dimensions model of religion in brief:

  1. Doctrinal (The systematic formulation of religious teachings in an intellectually coherent form.)
  2. Mythological or Narrative (Stories that work on several levels. Sometimes narratives fit together into a fairly complete and systematic interpretation of the universe and humanity's place in it.)
  3. Ethical (Rules about proper and improper human behavior, often regarded as revelations from supernatural sources.)
  4. Ritual (Forms and orders of ceremonies, private and/or public)
  5. Experiential or Emotional (The sensations of dread, guilt, awe, mystery, devotion, liberation, ecstasy, inner peace, bliss associated by believers with their faith)
  6. Social and Institutional (The public, social means by which the belief system is shared and attitudes practiced by a group. Often includes rules for identifying community membership and participation.)
  7. Material (Ordinary objects or places that symbolize or manifest the sacred or supernatural.)
So, for example, the doctrinal aspect of Catholicism would include the catechism and papal bulls of the Church, the mythology would include the Bible and the lives of the various saints, the ethical aspect would include rules such as the Ten Commandments, the ritual would be the holy sacraments, the experiential would be sensations such as rapture and guilt, the institution would be the Church itself and the social dimension the public community of worshippers, and the material aspect would be the physical churches, cathedrals, crosses, candles, and the Eucharist itself.

As I’m thinking about the religions in my Illyria setting, I’m happy to have stumbled across this framework, which seems like an interesting way of organizing the material.

No comments: