World Religions (RLGA02)
Chapter 1: About Religion
Looking Back From Stonehenge
Stonehenge: A group of standing stones on Salisbury Plain in southern England. Dating to c.
2000-1800 B.C., the megaliths are enclosed by a circular ditch and embankment that may date
to c. 2800. The arrangement of the stones suggests that Stonehenge was used as a religious
center and also as an astronomical observatory.
-Few concepts, shared by all human cultures to what we call religion: powerful gods, sacred
places, a life of some kind after death (after life), presence in this world of spirits that interact
-Historically, it seems that humans around the globe have imagined the world to consist of
three levels; sky, earth and underworld.
1) Sky: (uppermost level) has been considered the home of the greatest
gods/goddesses. We don’t know how this developed but we can guess that the
power of storms was one factor. Another was the movement of the sun, stars and
the planets across the sky.
2) Underworld: Under the earth lived the spirits of serpents and monsters. (Associated
with dark and hidden places). Evil!
3) Earth: between the sky and underworld lay the earth, the level where humans live.
-Humans around the world tend to feel they are in the presence of some unusual
energy/power. Among these sacred places include mountains and hilltops (places closest to the
-Another common human movement has been to attribute spirits to animals. The animals they
kill for food are treated with respect. Body parts from lions, eagles, bulls have often been used
as “power objects” to help make contact with the spirits of these animals.
- In many cultures, people have given magical properties to objects (bear claws or eagle
feathers) by wearing them or hanging them in the doorways of their homes for protection from
-Throughout ancient time, humans have taken great care with the burial of their dead. Body
burial positions are not enough to prove a belief in the afterlife. Most graves have also
contained “grave goods” (items that belonged to the dead person, costly items, and stones).
The living were willing to sacrifice important resources to help the dead in the afterlife.
Why are Humans Religious?
-Religion seems to grow out of human experiences from them 1) fear of death to the hope for a
2) good afterlife. From the uncertainty surrounding natural events to the sense of control over
-Religion emerges through the experiences of good/bad powers that are sensed in dreams
(sacred spaces) and in certain humans and animals.
-Religion has many emotional dimensions including (fear, love and hate) and intellectual
dimensions including (curiosity and a sense of order).
-Religious belief and practice has changed through the centuries, religion has become a part of
Ten Waves of Religion
-Ex: An island is shaped by the waves that break on its shores. Every wave adds some sand and
takes some away so that the shape of the shoreline is constantly changing.
-Religious ideas may have been carried from their places of origin to other cultures while others
may have developed more or less independently.
-“wave” is an important metaphor to religion. Religion and traditions are fluid not static. Waves
hit each other; there is no origin of religion (waves).
1) Shamanism: this wave carried the ritual specialist, a kind of priest (shaman: witchdoctor-
person who acts as an intermediary between humans and the spirit world. Shamans are
still active in a number of cultures today.
2) Connecting to the Cosmos: Second wave is the one that inspired the building of structures
like Stonehenge. People went to extraordinary lengths to create areas by assembling
huge stones in strange patterns. Their motivations were political but mostly because of
religion. A place where rituals essential to the society could be performed.
3) Temple Religion: Third wave brought larger temples, more elaborate sacrificial rituals and the
development of a priestly class with unusual power, prestige and wealth. This wave
played a huge role in shaping many traditions including Judaism, Chinese religion and
“Indo-European”- is a term referring to a language family and cultural system that
stretched from India all the way through Europe. It has been one of the most important
in human history.
4) Prophetic Religion: The word `prophet` comes from Greek and has two meanings. One
referring to a person who speaks on behalf of God and the other referring to a person who
predicts the future. Prophets usually warn the people that if they don`t obey God`s will, disaster
will come. The threat of hell and the promise of heaven were powerful tools for any prophet
seeking to persuade people to behave as they believed the God demanded.
5) The Energy God: This wave is important; it carried many ideas one of which is the idea that
concerns the nature of the divine and where it is to be found. It says that the divine is neither a
`sky-father` nor an `earth-mother`, but a force an energy that is found by looking within. That is
not a God that issues commandments, answers prayers or interacts with humans. In fact, it may
have more in common with the principles of modern physics that with traditional gods of most
6) Purity and Monasticism: New religion formed in India, their ethic was one of non-violence
towards all creatures and their goal was to perfect the human potential for purity of mind. It’s
been said that Jainism and Buddhism were rooted from this the Ganges region. Their followers
rejected the killing of animals for food.
7) Mystery Religion: Refers to a wave of Greek and Roman traditions in which the center
teachings and rituals were kept secret from outsiders and revealed only to those prepared to
undergo initiation in the hope of securing blessing during this life and a great paradise in the
afterlife. Such religions become so popular during the Roman period that they presented a
threat to the power and influence of the official Roman priesthood.
8) God on Earth: `the avatar` term for the coming down of a God to earth, the avatar is a god in
a truly human form. But the ancient gods came down to earth as gods. The avatar god is a
saviour figure in two ways: not only does he save the world from some evil power (satan) but
he saves those who put their faith in him from hell and ensures that they have a place in
heaven. (ex: Christians believe that Jesus is an avatar god).