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Chapter 1

Chapter One (About Religions).docx

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David Perley

RLGA02 CHAPTER ONE – ABOUT RELIGION LOOKING BOTH WAYS FROM STONEHENGE: BASIC HUMAN RELIGION o The Stonehenge structure itself is generally believed to have been used for ceremonial purposes, and its orientation is what has led many to think it might have been designed to serve as a kind of astronomical observatory LOOKING BACK FROM STONEHENGE Three Worlds o Historically, it seems that humans around the globe have imagined the world to consist of three levels – sky, earth and underworld. o The uppermost level (the sky) has typically been considered the home of the greatest deities (typically referred to by names such as Sky Father, Creator or King of Heaven) o Under the Earth lived the spirits of serpents (surviving as the cobras, or nagas, in the religions of India) or reptilian monsters, perhaps because they were associated with dark and hidden places, they were usually imagined as evil o In the middle of the underworld and the sky lay the earth, the intermediate level where humans lived Sacred Places o There are some types of places where humans tend to feel they are in the presence of some unusual energy or power, which include mountains and hilltops – the places closes to the sky-dwelling deities o In the ancient Middle East, worship was often conducted at ritual centres known as high places, and people would try to win the favour of the deities by offering food, drink, praise and prayer  Ex. The Altar area on the cliff above the ancient city of Petra in Jordan  In Japan, every feature of the natural landscape (mountains, waterfalls, etc) was believed to be animated by its own god or spirit (kami) Animal Spirits o A common human tendency has been to attribute spirits to animals, either individually or as members of a family with a kind of collective guardian spirit o Body parts from the most impressive animals (bulls, bears, lions and eagles) have been used as power objects to help make contact with the spirit of these animals  In many cultures, people attribute magical properties to objects making them amulets or hanging them at home for protection from evil spirits Death and Burial RLGA02 o The living were willing to sacrifice important resources to help the dead in the afterlife o Alongside the burial, most graves would also contain ‘grave goods’ of various kinds, in which some of the provisions for the afterlife likely belonged to the person in life o Traditions such as the Japanese Obon, the Mexican Day of the Dead, and the Christian All Saints Day and Halloween all reflect the belief that the souls of the dead return to earth once a year to share a ritual meal with the living Why Are Humans Religious? o Religion seems to grow out of human experiences from a) The fear of death to the hope for a good afterlife b) The uncertainty surrounding natural events to the sense of control over natural events to the sense of control over nature provided by a priest who could predict the change of season and the movement of the planet o Religion emerges through the experience of good or bad powers that are sensed in dreams, in sacred spaces, and in certain humans and animals o Religion has emotional and intellectual dimensions o Religion is such an ancient aspect of human experience that it has become part of human nature TEN WAVES OF RELIGION o Around 500 BC, new religious traditions began to form under the leadership of a great prophet or sage o Some religious ideas may have been carried from their places of origin to other cultures, while others may have developed more or less independently, in response to changing environmental – or social, or economic – conditions o Major ‘waves’ have introduced new religious concepts and practices to different human cultures WAVE 1: SHAMANISM o Shaman has other terms such as ‘soul doctor’ or ‘medicine man’, and it comes from a specific central Asian culture, but has become the generic term for a person who acts as an intermediary between humans and the spirit world Hunting Rituals o Drawings that depict hunting scenes show that the figure is a shaman performing a ritual either to ensure a successful hunt or to appease the spirits of a hunted species o Anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski studied that the Trobriand Islanders did not perform any special ceremonies before fishing in the lagoon, but they never failed to perform rituals before setting out to fish in the open ocean  Religious behaviour is a way of coping with dangerous situations Coping with Unfriendly Spirits RLGA02 o The spirits with natural phenomena have typically been believed to behave towards humans just as humans behave towards one another o Pain and disease of all kinds were attributed to possession by malevolent spirits or demons  In Sri Lanka, those suffering from certain illnesses were advised to have a shaman sacrifice a chicken as an offering to bribe the demon to go away  Another approach was to frighten the demon away by either threatening it or invoke a more stronger spiritual power The Shaman o Shamans are still active in a number of cultures today, but the way they operate varies o Sometimes the child of the shaman will follow in the parents footsteps, but more often a shaman will be ‘called’ to the role by his or her psychic abilities o Candidates for the role of shaman face a long and rigorous apprenticeship that often includes a vision quest o Typically, the questor will acquire a guiding spirit which continues to serve as a guide and protector throughout the shamans life o To communicate with the spirit world, the shaman enters a trance state, and then contact is made in one of two ways: 1. The shamans soul leaves his body and travels to the realm where the spirits live; this way is described as ‘ecstatic’ 2. The shaman calls the spirit into her own body and is possessed by it. In such cases, the shaman may only take on the voice and personality of the spirit o After regaining normal consciousness the shaman announces what he has learned about the problem at hand and what should be done about it  Typically, the problem is traced to the anger of a particular spirit; the shaman then explains the reason for that anger and what must be done to appease the spirit WAVE 2: CONNECTING TO THE COSMOS o The second wave is the one that inspired the building of structure like Stonehenge  People of the Neolithic (new rock) era went to extraordinary lengths to create sacred areas by assembling huge stones in complex patterns Discerning the Cosmic Cycles o One very important function of priests was to track the seasons and determine the best time for seasonal activities  The people of Neolithic era paid careful attention to the phases of the moon and the rising positions of certain constellation  The horizon was divided into segments named after the planet or constellation associated with that section Hilltop Tombs RLGA02 o Ancient cultures appear to have favoured high places as burial sites  Where there were no hills, artificial ones were sometimes built  Ex. Pyramids of Egypt and the stupas of Asia o In Buddhist stupas, a wooden pole – later, a vertical stone structure – extended above the burial mound to connect the earth with the heavens  Scholars refer to this kind of symbolic link between earth and sky as an axis mundi (world axis) Animals and Gods o In the city of Catalhoyuk (forked mound), where a small sculpture was found of a woman flanked by two large felines , she represented a mother goddess seated on a throne  The ancient Egyptians had a cat goddess named Bast who was revered as a symbol of both motherliness and hunting prowess The Bull God o The most powerful male deities is associated with the strength and virility of the bull o The Greek mythology, the god Zeus took the form of a white bull when he abducted the Phoenician princess Europa WAVE 3: TEMPLE RELIGION o A third wave brought larger temples, more elaborate sacrificial rituals, and development of a priestly class endowed with unusual power, prestige, and wealth  Began around 3000 years ago, and played a great role in shaping Judaism, Chinese religion and Hinduism Indo-European Priests o Indo-European (IE) is a modern term referring to a language family and cultural system that eventually stretched from India all the way through Europe  They hunted, practised metallurgy, rode horses, drove chariots, and waged war o Everywhere the IE warriors conquered, they set up a social system with four basic divisions, of the top three which consisted of priests, warriors and middle-class commoners  In India, these groups are known as the Brahmins, Kshatriyas, and vaishyas  In ancient times, each of these groups had a special clothing colour, this today in India varna (colour) is still the standard term for class o Within the warrior class, the top clans were the rulers, while the middle-class ‘commoners’ earned their living as merchants or farmers. All local people were relegated to the servant (shudra) class o Rig Veda  According to which the world came into being through the sacrifice of a ‘cosmic person’ (Purusha) RLGA02  Out of his mouth came the Brahmin priests, whose job was to chant the sacred hymns and syllables  The warriors came from his arms  The middle class from his thighs  The servants from his feet o The IE people did not invent the system of hereditary priesthood, but they contributed to its spread Priests and Temples Elsewhere o After David had been chosen as king of both the northern kingdom of Judah, he captured the Jebusite city now known as Jerusalem  His son Solomon built the first temple in mid 10 century WAVE 4: PRO
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