RLGA02H3 Chapter Notes - Chapter 1: Achaemenid Assyria, Lotus Sutra, Misgivings

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27 Jan 2013
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Chapter 1: About Religion
Looking Both Ways From Stonehenge: Basic Human Religion
Stonehenge one of several ancient rock structures thought to have been constructed
for ritual purposes
o Outer circle is a grouping of paired stones capped by lintels and arranged in
horseshoe pattern
o Centre of horseshoe lays a flat stone; once thought to have served as an altar
for sacrifices. Today believed that stone stood upright, marking spot to view
movement of sun and stars
Erected between 3500-4000 years ago
o Used as burial ground for centuries before this time
Researchers believe remains as many as 240 people, one single ruling family, interred
there
Structure itself believed to been used for ceremonial purposes and orientation (points
where sun rises at summer solstice) led many to think used for astronomical
observatory
Behind central stone note position of rising sun in relation to ―heel stone‖ on horizon
60m away
o Morning of summer solstice, sun rises in northeast (left of heel stone)
o Day longest of the year and only say where sun rises to the north of heel stone
Would be occasion for some ceremony in ancient times. Community would
gather at dawn to watch someone with authority (priest, local chief, ruler
etc.) confirm position of sun
After solstice, sun will rise behind heel stone; will continue journey south for 6 months
until winter solstice; sun will appear reverse and will travel northwards again
Romans would celebrate day as marking annual ―rebirth‖ of un
o Called saturnalia
Christians would celebrate day as birth of the risen lord
Christmas was to combine the unrestrained revelry of Roman midwinter festival marked
by feasting, gift-giving, and general merriment with celebration of the coming to earth
of a deity incarnate
Looking Back from Stonehenge
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Few concepts, shared by virtually all human cultures, seem fundamental to what we
call religion:
o Powerful gods
o Sacred places
o A type of life after death
o Presence of spirits in physical world that interact with humans
Three Worlds
Humans imagined world to consist of three levels : sky, earth, underworld
Sky considered the home of greatest deities
o Power of storms was contributing factor
o Movement of the sun, stars and planets another factor
Early humans believed heavenly bodies were living entities animated by own individual
spirits (gods and goddesses)
Highest level thought to be home of highest deity; referred to names such as Sky
Father, Creator, or King of Heaven
o Invariably male
o Forerunner of the god in monotheistic religions
Under earth lived the spirits of serpents (surviving as cobras or nagas, in religions in
India) or reptilian monsters (surviving in dragon lore) because associated with dark and
hidden places; imagined as evil
Between sky and underworld lay earth: intermediate level where humans lived
Sacred Places
Feel they are in the presence of unusual energy or power
In ancient Middle East, worship was often conducted at ritual centres known as ―high
places‖
o Offered food, drink, praise, and prayer to win favour of the deities
o Example: Altar area on cliff above ancient city of Petra IN Jordan
Great rivers and waterfalls regarded sacred as well
o In Japan, every feature of natural landscape was believed to be animated bu its
own god or spirit (Kami)
Animal Spirits
Traditional hunting socities typically sought to ensure animals they kill for food are
treated with proper respect
o Lest other species be frightened or refuse to let themselves be caught
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Body parts from most impressive animals Bulls, bears, lions, eagles- often been used
as ―power objects‖
o Make contact with spirits of these animals
Many cultures atiributed magical properties to objects such as bear claws or eagle
feathers, wearing them as amulets or hanging them in doorways for Body protection
from evil spirits
Death and Burial
Might face with head facing east, the ―first direction‖ where the sun rises, or places
in fetal position (suggesting type of rebirth into different realm)
Belief that deceased ancestors can play a role in guilding the living members of family
appears widespread
Traditions such as Japanese Odon, Mexican Day of the Dead, and chistian All Saints
Day and Halloween reflect belief that souls of the dead return to earth to share a
ritual meal with the living
Why are Humans Religious?
Fear of death, hope for a good afterlife, uncertainty surrounding natural events
Religion emerges through the experience of good and bad power that are senses in
dreams, sacred places, and in certain humans and animals
Religion has many emotional dimensions: fear, awe, love and hate. Also has an
intellectual dimension: curiosity about what wil happen, sense of order in universe that
suggests presence of a creator. Drive to make sense of human experience
Ten Waves of Religion
Around 500 BCE, several new religious traditions began to form under the leadership
of a great phosphet or sage
o By the first century of Common Era, concept of god born in human form was
taking root in many parts of world
To understand how religion has taken root in cultures, think it as an island. Waves
come in and out to shape the island taking bringing sand in and taking some away.
Shoreline is always changing.
Wave 1 : Shamanism
Is a type of priest, widespread among hunter-gatherer societies, who communicates
with the spirit world on behalf of people
Hunting Rituals
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