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Chapter 1

chapter 1 About religion.doc

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Department
Religion
Course
RLGA01H3
Professor
Henry Shiu
Semester
Fall

Description
Chapter 1: About Religion Looking Both Ways From Stonehenge: Basic Human Religion stonehenge is one of several ancient rock structures thought to have been constructed for • ritual purposes Looking Back from Stonehenge Three Worlds • humans imagine the world with 3 levels: sky, earth, and underworld • the sky was considered the home of the deities ➡ probably cause of the power of storms ➡ or by the movement of the sun, the stars, and the planets across the sky ➡ this could of made early humans think that the heavenly bodies were living entities animated by their own individual spirits- in effect, gods and goddesses • highest level, in the heavens, was thought to be the home of the highest deity ➡ Sky Father, Creator, or King of Heaven: male; forerunner of the god of the monotheistic religion • under earth lived the spirits of serpents or reptilian monsters; associated with dark and hidden places; imagined as evil ➡ naga is a mythical cobra living in the underworld, often associated with water and fertility in Indian religions • between the sky and the underworld lay the earth; where humans lived Sacred Places • mountains and hilltops • high places are sacred areas located on hill- or mountain tops; such places existed throughout the ancient Near East ➡ people offered them food, drink, praise, and prayer • great rivers and waterfalls are often regarded as sacred as well Animal Spirits • made sure the animals they kill are treated with proper respect • bulls, bears, lions, eagles have often been used as ‘power objects’. to help make contact with the spirit of these animals • bear claws or eagle feathers can be worm as amulets, or hung on their doors for protection from evil spirits Death and Burial body may be positioned with the head facing east, the ‘first direction’, where the sun rises, or • placed in the fetal position, meaning for a rebirth into a different realm • Obon is a Japanese festival honouring ancestors • Day of the Dead is a Mexican festival honouring the dead • All Saints Day is a Christian festival honouring all the departed saints; held in the West on 1 November • Hallowe’en is now a popular secular holiday; held on 31 October; originally Why are Humans Religious? religion emerges through the experience of good or bad powers that are sensed in dreams, in • sacred spaces, and in certain humans and animals • religion has many emotional dimensions, but also intellectual dimensions; including curiosity about what causes things to happen, a sense of order in the universe that suggests the presence of a creator, and the drive to make sense out of human experience Ten Waves of Religion • the big ten waves brought similar changes to several traditions around the world Wave 1: Shamanism • shaman is a type of priest, widespread among hunter-gatherer societies, who communicates with the spirit world on behalf of the people (“medicine man”, “soul doctor”, and “witchdoctor”) Hunting Rituals • religious behaviour is, at least in part, a way of coping with dangerous situations • early humans believed that the spirits of these animals they hunted had to be appeased ➡ thus a special ritual might be performed to mark the first goose kill of the season, in the hope of that other geese would not be frightened away from the hunting grounds Coping with Unfriendly Spirits • many cultures have believed wild, uninhabited areas to be guarded by resident spirits ➡ possibly in the form of mythical beasts; in others, of ‘little people’such as trolls • unfriendly spirits were of particular concern to those who ventured into the forest as hunters or gatherers, but they were not confined to the wilderness • pain and disease of all kinds- from toothache to appendicitis to mental illness- were also attributed to possession by malevolent spirits or demons ➡ e.g. in Sri Lanka, people who suffered from certain illnesses were told to have a shaman sacrifice a chicken as an offering to the ‘graveyard demon’, bribing him to go away; in such cases a second chicken, still alive, would be given to the shaman who performed the ritual ➡ another approach to scare the demon by threatening to invoke another, stronger spiritual power, such as the spirit guide of the shaman to drive him off, or by making threatening gestures or loud noises The Shaman • candidates for the role of shaman face long and rigorous apprenticeship that often includes a vision quest, in the course oh which they are likely to confront terrifying apparitions ➡ the questor could acquire a guiding spirit, sometimes the spirit of a particular animal (perhaps a bear or an eagle, whose claws or feathers the shaman may wear to draw strength from its special powers) and sometimes more human-like spirit (a god or goddess) ➡ this spirit then continues to serve as a guide and protector throughout the shaman’s life • to communicate with the spirit world, the shaman enters a trance state (by rhythmic chanting or drumming) • in Shamanism, contact is made by when the shaman’s soul leaves his body (which may appear lifeless) and travels to the realm where the spirits live; this way is described as ‘ecstatic’ (from a Greek root meaning to ‘stand outside’) ➡ and also by when the shaman calls the spirit into her own body and is possessed by it; in such cases the shaman may take on the voice and personality of the spirit, or mimic its way of moving Wave 2: Connecting to the Cosmos • people created huge stones mainly cause of religion- for instance, the need for a public space where the rituals essential to the society- weddings, puberty rites, funerals- could be performed Discerning the Cosmic Cycles one very important function of priests was to track the seasons and determine the best time for • seasonal activities such as planting • what we now call astrology developed as a way of understanding the cycle of the seasons and how humans fitted into it, collectively and individually Hilltop Tombs • favoured high places are where there are no hills, artificial ones were sometimes built, at least for the most important members of the society • the pyramids of Egypt and the stupas ofAsia are both examples of this practice • axis mundi (‘world axis’) is a link between the earth and sky Animals and Gods • another common feature of Neolithic religion was a tendency to associate certain animals with specific deities • Egyptians had a cat goddess named Bast who was revered as a symbol of both motherliness and hunting prowess • the fierce Hindu goddess Durga is usually depicted riding either a lion or tiger The Bull God • in Greek mythology, the great god Zeus took the form of a white bull when he abducted the Phoenician princess Europa in India, a bull named Nandi is the sacred mount of the great god Shiva • • the association of the bull with the creator god can never be seen in Judaism, which strictly forbade the use of any image to represent its invisible God Wave 3: Temple Religion • brought larger temples more elaborate sacrificial rituals, and, with the latter, the development of priestly class endowed with unusual power, prestige, and wealth Indo-European Priests • ‘Indo-European’is a modern term referring to a language family and cultural system that eventually stretched from India all the way through Europe; it does not designate any particular ethnic group • everywhere the IE warriors conquered, they set up a social system with four basic divisions, the top three of which consisted of priests, warriors, and middle-class commoners • in India these groups are known respectively as the brahmins, kshatriyas, and vaishyas ➡ the priests performed rituals, kept the calendar, taught the young, and advised the kings; within the warrior class, the top clans were the rulers; while the middle-class ‘commoners’ earned their living as merchants or farmers ➡ and all local people, no matter how wealthy or accomplished, were relegated to the servant (shudra) class • 4 level social system was given mythic status in the Rig Veda, according to which the world came into being through the sacrifice of a ‘cosmic person’(Purusha) ➡ out of his mouth came the brahmin priests, whose job was to chant the sacred hymns and syllables ➡ warriors came from his arms, the middle class from his thighs, and the servant from his feet Priests and Temples Elsewhere • the king, David, had a son named Solomon, who built the first temple in the mid-tenth century BCE • in the Jewish temples, those who served as assistants to the priests were required to be Levites (from the tribe of Levi), and priests themselves had to be not only Levites but direct descendants ofAaron, the brother of Moses who was original high priest • in some cultures, priests were hereditary class, and in others they were recruited • the role of priest was typically reserved for males, females being considered impure because of the menstrual cycle; the Vestal Virgins of ancient Rome, who tended the sacred fires and performed rituals, were among the very few exceptions to the general rule Wave 4: Prophetic Religion • ‘prophet’derives from greek and has two related meanings, one of referring to a person who speaks on behalf of a deity and one referring to a person who foresees or predicts the future Abrahamic Prophetic Traditions Christianity saw Jesus and certain events surrounding his life as the fulfillment of Hebrew • prophecies • Islam recognized the Hebrew prophets, beginning withAbraham and including Jesus, as the forerunners of the Prophet Muhammad, the last and greatest of all, the messenger (rasul) who received God’s final revelations Muslims understand Muhammad to have been the ‘seal of the prophets’: no other prophet will • follow him, since he has delivered the message of God in its entirety Zarathustra, Prophet of the Wise Lord • Zarathustra (or Zoroaster) was a prophet figure who lived more than 2,500 years ago, probably in the region of easter Iran orAfghanistan ➡ had a collection of poems devoted t
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