"And I will put this third into the fire, refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call on my name, and I will answer them..." Zechariah 13.9
Welcome to Insights: Please come in and look around. You will find my writings, art and photography.
I wanted to share some excerpts from the book Moral, Believing Animals: Human Personhood and Culture. By Dr. Christian Smith, Professor and Associate Chair of Sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
I will post another set of excerpts from this book next week.
What is religion? And why are so many people
in the world religious? These are old questions, in answer to which much ink
has been spilled in recent centuries. To some extent they are simply impossible
questions, incapable of being answered satisfactorily. For quite a while now,
many scholars have been weary of the “definition of religion” debate. And even
more scholars have simply jettisoned the “origins of religion” question. It is
all come to seem so antiquated, so futile.
religion is simply too fascinating a thing to let sit, to not continue to probe
fundamental questions about it. We pretty well know what people are up to, and
why, when they labor to produce goods and services for consumption. We know why
people engage in political life to make collective decisions. We know why they
built armies, form families, write laws, and educate youth.
why do people, very many people, engage in religion? Why do they take seriously
realities that are unseen? What induces people to give away time and money and
perhaps much more for intangible things “spiritual"? What are people doing
when they pray, and why are they doing it? What is it that gets people out of
bed every Sunday morning for their entire lives? Or to abstain from food and
sex during daylight hours for an entire month every year? Nobody is finally
making people do religion. It does not produce any obvious material benefits.
In much of the world, religion is entirely voluntary. In other parts of the world
it is actively suppressed. And yet billions of humans profess and practice
religion anyway. What an interesting phenomena. [...]
What is religion?
The definition-of-religion question has
frustrated many scholars because of the recurrent problems of categorizing and
of drawing boundaries around “religion” that it inevitably raises. Is
Confucianism a religion? Is nontheistic Buddhism a religion? Is Scientology a
religion? Is Marxism a religion? Is the Carolina-Duke basketball rivalry a
religion? Is religion defined by the substance of things supernatural or
divine? Or by the particular social functions it supposedly serves? [...]
It does appear that human communities have since their beginning engaged in
various practices that we now normally call religious, but that does not mean
that there is some standard social property, Religion, the social equivalent to
an element of chemistry's periodic table, that the investigator identifies and researches. [...]
it is helpful to remind ourselves that as inquirers we can never
investigate religion from a neutral and generic perspective, or even think and
talk about religion using neutral and generic “language.” Rather, we
necessarily approach things religious specifically as secularists, Roman
Catholics, Buddhists, and so on who have been socialized either in the United
States, India, or elsewhere and who think and speak not in “language” but in
English or some other particular native tongue. And all of those
particularities inevitably shape how we can and do think about religion, including
ways that it might be useful for us to define religion.
said that, I do not think it would be a constructive move for social
scientists to abandon the concept of “religion” altogether. For we do find what
appear to be certain common features across the kind of narratives, beliefs,
experiences, practices, and traditions that we commonly call “religious,” and
we can and do find it analytically useful to categorize them together under
this single concept. But what is it that religion share in common, or at least
that we commonly think of them as sharing in common? What in our thinking and
speech set the parts things religious from other social practices and
institutions? I think it most helpful to think about religions in this way: religions are sets of beliefs, symbols,
practices about the reality of superempirical orders that make claims to
organize and guide human life. Put more simply, if less precisely, what we
mean by religion is an ordinarily unseen reality that tells us what truly is
and how we therefore ought to live. (p 95-98)
C. Smith. Moral Believing Animals: Human Personhood and Culture. ( 2003, Oxford University Press)