Question 1.docx

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24 Apr 2012
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Q1. In your project paper in the course you discuss the views of people within one local religious community
on the subject of the meaning and the role of religion. The course book by Capps discusses the views of many
thinkers and ideas on the same two subjects. He sometimes uses parallel terms to refer to what your paper
calls the meaning and role of religion. The lectures and other readings also refer to thinkers and ideas on the
same subjects. With your focus on the subjects of the meaning and the role of religion, connect, compare,
and contrast what your interviewees, in the context of their community, say on these subjects, and what a
good selection of thinkers in the book, the lectures, and the readings say on these subjects
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During the sixth lecture of the course on Studying Hinduism, Buddhism and Chinese Popular
Religions, Professor McIntire discussed the ten large trends of studying religion. One such trend is the
movement from great thinkers to the thinking of ordinary people who experience and live religion. This
paper will compare and contrast the views of self-identified Catholics as discovered in my Project Paper with
chapter 4 of Capps on the topic of meaning and role of religion. Chapter 4 discusses the function of religion
and mentions many renowned thinkers but in this paper, I will refer to two main thinkers, namely, Durkheim
and Mannheim to compare and contrast the meaning and role of religion with their views and the views of
the self-identified Catholics.
Chapter 4 describes the functional approach of religion with the founding father of this orientation
being Emile Durkheim who understands the nature of religion as “something eminently social”. Social groups
form their respective patterns of conscious and articulable “we-feeling”. Such collective cohesiveness always
involves the articulation of ideas and symbols in terms of which the group understands its identity and gives
expression to its sense of shared destiny. He uses the term collective conscience” to denote a collective and
united action where the group functions as an aggregate and not simply as a collection of individuals. This
Durkheimian structure of thought was later affirmed by Mary Douglas further in chapter 4. In accordance
with Durkheim, my project paper revealed that the meaning and role of Catholicism for my self-identified
adherent was something that binds people together based on a standard moral code which helps the
believer to live a righteous and virtuous life. As a collective entity, the group shares the we-feeling when
they participate in mass together, proclaim the Apostles Creed or sing hymns collectively to praise and
glorify God. Moreover, Catholics abide by a standard moral code the Ten Commandments in living their
daily lives which guides the adherent towards the good.
Furthermore, Durkheim discusses that all religions employ a distinction between the sacred and the
profane as their distinctive trait of religious thought. Sacred things are always identified and protected in
mythic story and ritual behavior. Profane things on the contrary, are always kept at a safe distance. In
accordance with this line of thought, my interviewee claimed that the role of religion functions in a way to
help societies maintain social harmonies as well as aiding the authorities in social control by directing citizens
toward rightful behavior. Religion creates this belief that if you do something bad, “the higher powers will
punish you”, creating a deterring effect from those that are planning to commit wrongful acts. Thorough
religion, one strays away from profane things and thoughts and directs oneself towards the sacred. This
enhances the individual’s life for it guides the individual towards the right path and become a better person
and consequently, live a better life.
Karl Mannheim was a German theorist who concentrated on the study of ideology which was
defined during lecture seven as a system of thought or ideas. He understood that ideology provides a
perspective through which experience is placed, judged and interpreted in each age. Mannheim underscored
that religion plays both a formative and teleological role in the composition of both individual and collective
life as an ideology. However, in contrast to this argument, one of my interviewees argued that the meaning
of religion is in creating an intimate relationship with a higher being. It is not primarily a philosophy, system
of ethics or a religious ideology but more importantly has to do with building a relationship with the higher
being, for example, with Jesus Christ or with God. Someone stands at the center of religious concern and the
development of a personal relationship with higher being should be the touchstone of religion.
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