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Religious phenomena

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1. Compose your own definition of ‘religious’ phenomena.  What is the object of investigation for ‘religious studies’ professionals? Given the definition of religious phenomena, how can and should these phenomena be investigated?

I believe that religious phenomena are when you encounter a personal experience with your faith and/or God. It is what distinguishes your perspective on religious experience and the experience comparing to the real world. It is what helps you connect the significance one may have with your phenomena. This experience may happen psychologically, theoretically, physically, or emotionally.

Religious studies have taken place in may areas of education. Areas like anthropology, psychology, sociology, political science, literary criticism, and many more are used to reach the deeper meaning of religions.

The object of investigation for religious studies can lead to a variety of sections. Many try to study religion as “natural”, “social,” “political,” or “psychological.” True religious studies enthusiasts claim that history is the method and religion is the object of study. Professor Bruce Lincoln, a professor of the History of Religions at the University of Chicago’s Divinity School claims that

The investigation of these phenomena should be taken like it has been for many years. With the help of university research, religious traditions, and scientific freedom the knowledge of religious phenomena and studies can continue being a dominant tool. Many influential people have been notable to the addition of religious studies. Emile Durkheim, Sigmund Freud, Clifford Geertz, Levi Strauss, and many others have created theories which have specialized studies.

2. Contrast the positions taken by Demea and Philo in David Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion?

In Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, Hume questions whether religion and the beliefs shared with them can not only natural but also rational. He specifically asks if there is any evidence that we can gain through experience to suggest that there is a God and if this God is “good”. Hume is a believer that being rational is only sufficiently supported by experiential evidence. In this novel, Hume describes three very different characters which represent different issues throughout a shared dialogue. Two out of the three, Philo and Demea, defend their own positions regarding the rationality of religious beliefs.

Demea represents a fideism viewpoint on religion. He argues that you can’t know God and without knowing God there cannot be faith. Faith to him is the thing that connects you and God together and without it, he does not exist.  God’s nature is fundamentally beyond human comprehension. Demea’s argument that faith alone proves the existence of God would be appealing to a conceptual or an artistic mindset.  The concept of reason is viewed as counter argument to Demea’s faith based argument. That is why I believe that those thinkers who think conceptually or are artistic in nature might be drawn to Demea’s beliefs because these thinkers are more focused on ideas, than they are things.

Philo’s views are quite interesting and changes throughout the book. He has views on anthropomorphism and teleology; while not going as far as to deny the existence of God, Philo asserts that human reason is wholly inadequate to make any assumptions about the divine. This fact alone shows that despite Demea’s respective argument, we are filled with so many different variations, religions, and beliefs the ability to understand the supernatural existence of a God is close to impossible.

3.Compare and contrast specific examples of Durkheim and Weberian approaches to the study of religion.

Emile Durkheim defined religion according to The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life as a “unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden—beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community called a Church, all those who adhere to them.” To him, sacred meant extraordinary or something that inspired wonder and that seemed connected to the concept of “the divine.” You can relate it to a social construction by this I mean that religion hold a society together. Durkheim argued that “religion happens” in society when there is a separation between the profane (ordinary life) and the sacred. Durkheim found that people tend to separate religious symbols, objects, and rituals, which are sacred, from the daily symbols, objects, and routines of existence referred to as the profane. Sacred objects are often believed to have divine properties that separate them from profane objects. A rock, for example, isn’t sacred or profane as it exists. But if someone makes it into a headstone, or another person uses it for landscaping, it then changes the meaning to each interpretation.

Max Weber’s most famous work of the The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism relates his approach to the study of religion with the difference between the study of facts and the study of values. Weber relates his thinking to ideal interests and how they are more important but you shouldn’t overlook some materials. I believe that Weber pushes the importance of materials yet also the importance of knowledge and being able to think on your own. The two examples Professor Curtis Hutt included in our course, were the two distinct types of human reasoning Weber believes in. 1. Theoretical or scientific reasoning is concerned with establishing facts. The goal of this is to determine causal adequacy and material influences. 2. Practical or “value-oriented reasoning” is concerned with human valuation and subjective meanings – the interpretation of facts. The goal of this is to assess “ideal interests.”

Emile Durkheim and Max Weber are known to many as the founding tinkers of modern sociology. Although, both theorists believe in different approaches and models they can be compared well to each other. Both Durkheim and Weber preach that values and beliefs are what make each theory valued. Weber wants the world to open their eyes to the true value of knowledge and Durkheim wants us to know the meaning of true sacred objects and their true worth.

4. Explain the meaning of Clifford Geertz’ statement: “Anthropologists don’t study villages, they study in villages.”

Page 22 of The Interpretation of Cultures Clifford Geertz states, “Anthropologists don’t study villages (tribes, towns, neighborhoods . . . ); they study in villages.” I believe that Geertz means that the anthropologists obtain first hand knowledge. You cannot just simply observe but make the move from the outside observer to the inside and become observed yourself too. Geertz was an influential anthropologist who practiced symbolic anthropology. His quote naturally has a deeper meaning which correlates to his own theories.

The thick and thin description from Geertz relates to this quote. According to Geertz something so simple as a twitch or wink can almost identical yet also can be very different in meanings. “To wink is to try to signal to someone in particular, without the cognizance of others, a definite message according to an already understood code.” “A twitch is neither a failure nor a success, it has no intended recipient, it is not meant to be unwitnessed by anybody; it carries no message.” It is important to recognize the difference between these especially relating to culture because to Geertz it’s symbolic and allows observations to be connected with greater meaning. I agree to this. In The Interpretation Of Cultures Geertz explains different scenarios of three boys winking and how to interpret what they mean. By understanding the culture or customs or ways of acting in a certain area, you can understand if they are flirting, just making a type of gesture, or actually having a twitch which is a wink.

Basically without understanding some cultural depth, one can’t tell the difference between twitches and winks. Without studying in the village you won’t have full knowledge of the village as a whole. You need to submerge yourself you understand something’s full meaning. Cultural studies formulate symbols, different conceptions, and not only ideas but also feelings.

5. Discuss the implications of Wittgenstein’s early (Tractatus) philosophy of language on the study of religion.

Ludwig Wittgenstein is one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century. He is famously known for his philosophical book, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus in Latin means Treatise on Logic and Philosophy. Wittgenstein uses this book to show how logically we connect objects to each other and how that compares to connecting language and words to one another. Throughout his book he develops different positons of ethical, religious, and logical foundations.

Some of the implications of this book were made up of the misunderstandings of logic that is contained in our language. Some examples Wittgenstein describes that express these misunderstanding are; 5.6 ”The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.”, The world is my world: this is manifest in the fact that the limits of language (of that Language which alone I understand) mean the limits of my world.”, “If the good or bad exercise of the will does alter the world, it can alter only the limits of the world, not the facts–not what can be expressed by means of language.

These few excerpts express how the world only reaches as far as we want it to. If we simply cannot describe our own world, then how do we expect others to understand it? We must not limit our language. This also relates to religion. Religion can be transcendent to our understanding is past the limit of language. It is limited because our personally faith is stronger than words. The sacredness of religion sometimes is so strong of how it exists is difficult to articulate into words.

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