RS 170 Definitions
Religion: The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, esp. a personal God or
Religious Studies: the academic field of multi-disciplinary, secular study
of religious beliefs, behaviors, and institutions
Myths: The term mythology can refer either to a collection of myths (a mythos, e.g., Inca
mythology) or to the study of myths (e.g., comparative mythology)
Archetypal- original pattern, or model, from which other things—such as institutions, beliefs,
and behaviors—are patterned.
Theology- from the Greek words Theos (god) and logos (reason); the field of study and
analysis that addresses God, the nature and attributes of God, truth, and the moral life in
relation to the church.
Proselytize- the activity of persuading or converting a person from one religion or opinion to
another; a proselyte is one who has been converted from one religion (or no religion) to another.
Hermeneutics- (1) the art and science of interpreting and understanding a written text such as
the Bible or Quran; (2) in philosophical terms, the process of interpretation, whether a text, a
speech, a work of art, or action.
Cultus- from the Latin word meaning "to cultivate" or "to care; a cohesive social group devoted
to beliefs or practices; the basis of the word "cult," and is related to the word cultures. In popular
usage, "cult" has a positive connotation for groups of art, music, writing, fiction, and fashion
devotees, but a negative connotation for new religious movements (NRMs), extremist political
organizations, questionable therapeutic practices, and pyramid business groups.
Anomie- from the Greek anomia, meaning "lawlessness"; popularized in the study of religion by
Emile Durkheim, it has to do with a condition of the individual or society in which normal order is
dissolving or absent, bringing a state of disorientation, anxiety, and chaos.
Culture Industry- was coined by the critical theorists Theodor Adorno (1903–1969) and Max
Horkheimer (1895–1973), and was presented as critical vocabulary in the chapter “The Culture
Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception”, of the book Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944),
wherein they proposed that popular culture is akin to a factory producing standardized cultural
goods — films, radio programmes, magazines, etc. — that are used to manipulate mass
society into passivity.
Commodity- following Marx's social analysis, any good or service produced by human labor
and offered as a product for general sale on the market; in modern economics, anything for which there is demand, but which is supplied without qualitative differentiation across a market
(e.g., milk, gasoline, coffee, rice, sugar, beans, wheat, gold, etc.).
Popular Culture- is the entirety of ideas, perspectives, attitudes, memes, images, and
other phenomena that are within the mainstream of a given culture, especially Western
culture of the early to mid-20th century and the emerging global mainstream of the late 20th and
early 21st century. Heavily influenced by mass media, this collection of ideas permeates
the everyday lives of the society.
Mass Culture- the culture that is widely disseminated via the mass media
Agnosticism- literally, "without knowledge"; refers to the philosophical view that truth claims
based on transcendent, metaphysical foundations (e.g., God, ultimately reality, the afterlife) are
impossible to prove or disprove.
Atheism- the belief that there is no god
Theism- the belief in god
Civil Religion (American)- a sociological concept that explains how moral and spiritual
foundations for modern society remain intact; American civil religion refers to the thesis put by
Robert N. Bellah that Americans hold certain fundamental beliefs, values, holidays, and
rituals, parallel to or independent of their chosen religion.
Genesis- Greek term for "origins" or "birth"; the first book in the Bible.
Panopticon- originally, a type of prison building designed by English philosopher and social
theorist Jeremy Bentham in 1785. The concept of the design is to allow an observer to observe
(-opticon) all (pan-) prisoners without the prisoners being able to tell whether they are being
watched, thereby conveying what one architect has called the "sentiment of an invisible
omniscience." Later developed by the French philosopher Michel Foucault, panopticon refers to
the growing influence of surveillance structure in modern society, from the hospital to the military
to education. In popular culture, closed-circuit television (CCTV) and Internet monitoring have
been branded as panopticon for their ability to oversee human activity with a relative lack of
Hermeneutic Circle- the process used by theologians and ethicists to make moral arguments
using four foundational sources: text (e.g., Bible, Quran, Torah), tradition, reason, and
experience. In this case, the term "hermeneutic" means "interpretative" or "interpreting".
Plato's Cave- an allegory used by Plato to convey his understanding of reality and knowledge.
Epistemology-a branch of philosophy that concerns the nature and ways of knowing; a theory
of knowledge. Ritual- a set of repeated actions that formally expresses a prescribed meaning; examples
include communion rites, marriage ceremonies, hand-shakin