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Chapter 1

Chapter 1 - About Religion RLG100.docx

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University of Toronto St. George
David Perley

Notes Chapter 1 - About Religion Looking Both Ways From Stonehenge: Basic Human Religion  Stonehenge: It is believed that the centre stone originally stood upright, marking spot where observer would stand to watch movements of the sun and starts o What remains of a structure erected 3500-4000 years ago. Site has already been used as a burial ground before that. o Believed to be for ceremonial purposes, orientation (towards point where sun rises at summer solstice) is what led to think it may have been a kind of astronomical observatory o Romans celebrated day as marking annual 'rebirth' of sun high point of festival Saturnalia. Christians also celebrated birth of risen lord - Christmas was to combine 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  Few concepts shared by virtually all human cultures that are fundamental to what we call religion: powerful gods, sacred places, life after death, presence in the physical world of spirits that interact with humans in various ways. These concepts are too old/widespread to describe where/when they first emerged.  Three Worlds o humans imagine wold consists of 3 levels; sky, earth, + underworld  Sky: home of the greatest deities - Sky Father, Creator, King of Heavens. (concept developed likely from awesome storms, movement of sun/stars/planets) invariably male, was forerunner of god of monotheistic religions.  Underworld: spirits of serpents (nagas in Indian religions) or reptilian monsters (dragon lore) lived, usually evil because associated with dark/hidden places  Earth: intermediate level where humans lived  Sacred Places o Where humans tend to feel in the presence of unusual energy/power o Set apart; sacred from everyday world, treated with respect. Gather to win favor of deities by offering food, drink, praise + prayer o Middle East - religious centres called high places. Jordan - alter area on cliff above ancient city of Petra o Great rivers/waterfalls; In Japan every feature of natural landscape was believed to be animated by its own God or spirit (kami)  Animal Spirits o Individually or as members of a family wit a collective guardian spirit o Treated with respect. Body parts from most impressive animals (bulls bears, lions, eagles) often used as 'power objects' to help make contact with the spirits. Attributed magical properties to bear claws/eagle feathers etc. and wear them as amulets or hung in doorways to protect from evil spirits  Death and Burial o Bodies placed in fetal position or head facing east, suggesting a hope of rebirth into a different realm. 'Grave goods' also included. o Belief that dead ancestors can play a role in guiding living members of family is widespread. o Japanese Obon, the Mexican Day of the Dead, and the Christian All-Saints Day and Hallowe'en reflect belief that souls of the dead return to earth once a year to share a ritual meal with the living Why are Humans Religious?  Religion seems to grow out of human experiences: from fear of death to the hope for a good afterlife, from uncertainty surrounding natural events to the sense of control over nature provided by a priest who predicts the change of season and movement of planets.  It emerges through experience of good or bad powers sensed in dreams, sacred spaces, certain humans/animals  It has many emotional dimensions and intellectual dimensions.  It is such an ancient aspect of human experience it has become human nature. 'Homo religiosus' Ten Waves of Religion  Wilfred Cantwell Smith 'religion in the singular' - history of human religiosity in the broadest sense.  Some religious ideas may have been carried from place of origin to other cultures, some developed more or less independently by changing economic/social/environmental conditions Wave 1: Shamanism  The Shaman o from central Asian culture, but now generic; person who acts as an intermediary between humans and the spirit world o ritual specialist, a kind of priest, 'medicine man', 'soul doctor', 'witch doctor' o Most important resource - similar ways they operate suggest the way of shaman is very ancient o Most often shaman is 'called' to role by his/her psychic abilities manifested in some extraordinary vision/revelation or near-death experience  Candidates face long/rigorous apprenticeship often including vision quest. Quester will acquire a guiding spirit (either animal or human) o To communicate with spirit world shaman enters trance state (often induced by drumming/chanting)  Contact made in 1/2 ways:  First: shaman's soul leaves body + travels to realm where spirits live. "ecstatic" - 'stand outside'  Second: shaman calls spirit into body + is possessed by it (may take on voice/personality/movements)  Announces what he's learned of problem + how to fix (usually anger of spirit)  Hunting Rituals o Cave drawings: shaman performing ritual to ensure successful hunt or to appease spirits of hunted species o More dangerous the endeavour, more likely to be surrounded with rituals; Bronislaw Malinowski "Magic Science and Religion" - Trobriand Islanders performed no ceremonies before fishing in lagoon, but always did before setting out to fish in open ocean.  Religious behavior is a way of coping with dangerous situations o Reflect concern over future food supply, and reveal nature of human belief in spirits.  Coping with Unfriendly Spirits o Wild uninhabited areas believed to be guarded by resident spirits - take form of monsters/mythical beasts, "little people" like trolls o Pain/diseases attributed to possession by malevolent spirits/demons  Sri Lanka - those with certain illnesses advised to have shaman sacrifice a chicken as offering to 'graveyard demon'; bribing him to go away  Frighten demon away by threatening to invoke another stronger spiritual power (ie. Spirit guide of shaman) or o drive off with threaten gestures/loud noises (ie. Firecrackers in East Asia) Wave 2: Connecting to the Cosmos People in Neolithic "new rock" era went great lengths to create sacred areas by placing large stones in patterns  Discerning the Cosmic Cycles o Ritual centres associated with religion but also scientific/technical o Astrology - developed as way of understanding cycle of seasons and how humans fitted into it (collectively/individual) o No important decisions made without consulting astrologist  Hilltop Tombs o High places favored as burial sites o Pyramids connected dead with cosmos. o Buddhist stupas connect earth with heavens (axis mundi - world axis) with wooden pole  Animals and Gods o Certain animals associated with specific deities  Egypt = cat goddess named Bast; symbol of motherliness + hunting prowess  Hindu goddess Durga depicted riding on lion/tiger  The Bull God o Powerful male deities associated with strength/virility of bull Wave 3: Temple Religion Plays enormous role in shaping many traditions  Indo-European Priests o 'Indo-European' (IE); refers to a language family and cultural system that eventually stretched from India all the way through Europe  One of the most important cultural system  Set up social systems with 4 basic divisions; top 3: priests, warriors, middle-class commoners+ servants  Priests and Temples Elsewhere o Jewish priesthood was hereditary o First temple was only site where sacrificial rituals could be performed Wave 4: Prophetic Religion Prophet: one who speaks on behalf of deity or one who foresees/predicts the future o Gr
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