analysis of religion
1. One of the important contributions of Ernst Troeltsch to the analysis of religion is his typology of church, sect, and cult. Discuss what Troeltsch means by these categories and how can they be used to explain the social or communal aspects of religious phenomena. To be able to write an acceptable essay on this question the chapter on Weber in Pals and Chapter 7 of Liviginston, Anatomy of the Sacred, are indispensable.
2. When we study religion, we tend to focus on the founder almost exclusively: Buddha, Jesus, Muhammed, Moses, and the earliest generation of believers (apostles, companions, immediate disciples), and disregard the second and third generation of followers as insignificant. In my lectures I corrected this imbalance by emphasizing the importance of works produced at a later stage or phase of the religion that is is not distinguished by originality or the exceptional charisma of the original founders. Early Catholicism in Christianity and the Bhagavad Gita are two expressions and later developments of Christianity and Hinduism respectively. Explain, using Max Weber’s categories, how both Early Catholicism and the Gita are not insignificant developments in these religions, but represent a phase or stage all religions go through, if they are going to survive and perpetuate themselves, after the founder has died, and the next generation or two of believers has to figure out how to keep the faith going, as it were. Explain also how it is that these second or third generation of leaders of the religion in a way are the real preservers of the religion and are just as (and perhaps more) important and essential to its survival as the work founders themselves. Chapter 5 of Pals and parts of Chapter 7 of Livingston are essential readings for answering this question, as well as my lectures.
3. E. B. Tylor (in 1871) and to some degree James Frazer (1890-1915) articulated what we can call the first attempt to give an anthropological (in the modern sense of the term) account of religion. First, how do their accounts differ, for example, from the Enlightenment’s naturalistic explanation of and attitude toward religion? Secondly, do Tylor and Frazer agree that religion must in the end disappear and yield to modern science as a better explanation of reality; and if so, was religion ever an explanation of reality to them at all?)? And Thirdly, what was specifically Tylor’s way of understanding religion and how does Frazer’s understanding of religion go beyond Tylor’s (i.e. does Frazer contribute anything new)? (To answer this question you must carefully read the chapter on “Tylor and Frazer in Pals, and Livingston chapter 8.)
4. Myth and sacred scripture we have seen are essential aspects of all religions. Yet believers seem to be uncomfortable with the category of myth when scholars apply it to their particular religion. And this is especially true in the three Western religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Even Hindus are now upset that a Western scholar would consider one of their great epics, the Ramayana, “myth.” Christians never had a problem labeling the stories in other religions myth, while strongly defending the historicity of every story in the Genesis narratives, even to the minutest detail. Orthodox Jews and Muslims would be offended if anyone suggested there is myth in the Torah or the Qur’an. How do we deal with myth? Even is a myth is historically untrue, can it still be true in a more important sense? Discuss the different views of myth in Chapter 4 of Livingston, and state with which view do you agree the most and why?
5. As we have seen from the readings on Durkheim, Marx, Freud, and earlier key figures such as Feuerbach, the study of religion has emphasized the all-too-human nature of religious phenomena. Religion is seen as the creation of the human spirit or of society (or culture) in general, whether this is seen in a positive light (Durkheim and Geertz) or a very negative one (Marx and Freud). These sociological, psychological, or anthropological interpretations of religions can be seen as expressions of the ascendance of secularism and scientific naturalism (see Livingston, chapter 14) in the last two hundred years since the Enlightenment. Religion is being “explained away” as a human, natural phenomenon, with no basis in some transcendent, supernatural reality. Being pushed into the background are interpretations of religion, such as Schleiermacher’s, Hegel’s, Otto’s, and Eliade that saw religion as grounded in a transcendent reality, an object over-against-us (the Holy, the Sacred, God) and not reducible to merely human phenomenon. Question: In the light of these cultural developments, how can the rise of Fundamentalism be explained? Why is the world becoming more, not less, religious; and why is it that the belief that religion is not merely a human phenomenon but a reality grounded in some divine reality which is neither human nor man-made growing stronger instead of fading away into oblivion? Is Fundamentalism in the end a desperate attempt to preserve the old order by peoples, groups, or societies (in America and the Muslim world) that cannot accept the modern world and choose to live in discredited and obsolete worldview?\