Before moving house, I throw away all the old brooms. But this is just an antiquated superstition.
Inscription in the Asclepion at Epidayuros in Greece, imploring the god of Health for healing
There is, at the outset of any serious pursuit of understanding religion and the history of religion, the need to isolate and redeploy the use of the term ‘superstition’ as routinely applied in contemporary English.
It was especially difficult to introduce Hinduism to the students of the World Religion class. The many religious traditions of India are intertwined throughout a long and complex history; and maybe we are wrong in our attempt to discern a single religion that we can call Hinduism.
Until the diverse traditions of Indian religion are properly separated by their history, practice, origin or language, we are left with the modern habit of introducing Hinduism as a single, multifaceted religion with dozens of important texts, and practices, spanning over three thousand years.
The following post presents an easy-to-follow orientation to studying Hinduism. Please feel free to comment.
The rediscovery in the late nineteenth century of the Assyrian Empire in the north of present-day Iraq and, soon after, the rediscovery of the Sumerian civilization in the south, all began with an archaeology intending to find the civilizations mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures.
Ethiopian Ge’ez Bible
Although archaeology has gone its own way, the science of archaeology began with biblical archaeology. The exegesis – the critical explanation or analysis – of ancient sacred texts began with the religious exegesis of scripture. Religious exegesis is the intense religious study of sacred scripture.
The original five children of Medjugorje in their vision state – communicating with Mary, mother of Jesus in 1983.
The study of miracles and supernatural manifestations will always be a subject of great interest for the student of religion, as many religious adherents will claim that their belief has been confirmed and often reinforced by these unexplainable events and miracles.
It’s hard to believe – it’s been thirty years. In 1984 I was invited to travel from Rome to Bosnia (then Yugoslavia) with a Franciscan priest who organized trips to visit the miraculous apparitions of Mary, the mother of Jesus, in the town of Medjugorje.
The Maya1 jungle, as far as the eye can see, has swallowed up the ancient Maya cities and along with them, their ancient religion.
Nohoch Mul Temple at Coba Mayan archeological site
We explored four Maya archaeological sites in two days! Not to mention, swimming with sea turtles, exploring underground lakes and burning up in the oppressive Mexican sun. When we got to the top of the highest of the Maya temples that have been cleared of trees, our guide, of Maya descent, could point out the vast 80 km2 territory that was once the enormous Maya stone city of Coba.
1 see comment by Finkus Bellum below
Maya Jungle from top of Nohoch Mul Temple, Coba archaeological site
Throughout the history of cinema, there have been a number of excellent films that offer insight into the many religions of the world.
Baraka, 1992, Ron Fricke
Aside from documentary films and ethnographic film on religion, the independent and mainstream cinema has known some very interesting movies through which we can get a glimpse of the religions that may be foreign to us.
One of the more popular topics of discussion in the World Religions class is the subject of angels and demons.
Most ideas about angels, devils and demons do not come from sacred writings but more often come from stories, traditions and the arts adjacent to an adherent’s religion. Continue reading
The objective of my categories is to orient the student once and for all into religion as a topic of study.
The seven categories are:
- Prehistoric Religion
- Indigenous Religion
- Ancient Religion
- The Hindi Religions
- Religions of China
- The Abrahamic (or Revealed Religions, if you like)
- Modern Religion
It is very important to note that, in my system of categories, I ignore the claims made by any one religion. Many of the modern religions, for example, consider themselves to be a continuation of – or, often, a singularly orthodox expression of – Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, or one of the ancient religions. Continue reading
I had often wished for an improved system of categories when I began my study of the world religions. The categories offered were frequently unhelpful due to oversimplification, or they were difficult to remember, or simply excluded some religions all together.
The obscure nature of sacred writing, or any ancient text for that matter, can be surprisingly discouraging for the student of religion. So much of religious scripture is ambiguous and often unintelligible.
Both the public inquiry into religion and the university classes devoted to an introduction to World Religions, are by now battered and obstructed by our traditionally apologetic and timid approach.
One source of this traditionally shy approach is religion’s own natural immunity to inquiry, and the over-protective public relations department found in all of our living religious traditions. Continue reading
It should be the goal of the student to excel in two areas of study. The first is to know the traditions as they are understood by the faithful, and the second is to explore the historical, critical approach to the study of these traditions.
Equal effort on the part of the student must be applied to the knowledge of the traditional narrative of a religion, and understanding the historical approach to religion. Continue reading
Whatever your opinion of it, religion has dominated human history and still seems to have a controlling interest in our vision of ourselves. In my view, the study and understanding of the religions of the world and an honest pursuit of religious literacy is the antidote to much of the needless conflict and suffering that plagues modern life. Throughout this blog the diligent reader will find my approach to the study of our religious nature and the religions of the world. Continue reading
In the Christian traditions, the founders of Christian monasticism are often referred to as the Desert Fathers.