Thursday, March 20, 2008

The task of defining the "Humanities" in understanding "Religion"


I have been working hard to update the site. The current design may not, ultimately, become the lasting one. I have been using this site as a “canvas” in which to practice my image editing and coding skills. So, consider the current design of Educated Soldier, a work in progress.


Moving on:


I have a professor whom I have a great amount of admiration. This semester, I am taking a class of his that deals with theory and method within the discipline of religious studies. I can not tell you how fascinated I am with this particular aspect of my religious studies major. As much I enjoy historically reflecting on religious text (and, I do), I find theory and method to be my more passionate calling.

This professor requires his students to write papers reflecting on the class’s assigned readings. Each paper is required to be one normally aligned page in length – no shorter or longer. The object of the paper is to produce an argument related to the reading and then defend that argument logically. The assignments are exercises in being concise (difficult for me), affirmations that we have completed the readings, and reflections upon our own rhetorical ability.


I produced something today that I am quite proud of and I want to share it. Before reading, I would like my audience to understand the following: This paper deals with “religion”; not religious traditions, but the mysterious concept that we recognize as common amongst all these traditions. One should also understand these terms in their religious studies context: reductionism and functionalism. And, for some simply interesting reading, one should also dive into the life of Emile Durkheim whose functionalist theories supposed on religion are ones that I find greatly profound.


Finally, you should also note that all accounts of page numbers and quotations in the following are made in reference to William E. Paden’s Religious Worlds (2005 edition, published by Beacon Press). Please enjoy. I look forward to your response:




Paden’s basic definition of religion (or, at least religious behavior) is those actions influenced by the sacred. This definition is different than those presented by other scholars. I have come to believe that the key to defining religion in a way that is universal can only be realized should scholars find a way of defining “humanities,” the genus under which “religion” is often grouped.

On page 48, Paden argues that religion, “like the arts,” is not reducible to sociology. I do not totally agree. The arts are only “the arts” to societies that recognize them as such. In an example, the painting of a woman with a deceptive smile could be simply understood as a portrait useful to the individuals whom produced it and whom it was produced for. To another society, this same painting is the Mona Lisa, an artistic masterpiece. However, this thought process and the environment in which it occurred ultimately led me to what I consider a more useful supposition.

I was listening to classical music while reading this chapter. It occurred to me that not much about classical music is common with the rock music that I at other times listen. Other than being at their core a system of sounds, there seems to be little reducible (common) traits to which one could break down music. This seems to be true of all sub-categories within the humanities. Again, consider art: the Mona Lisa has little in common with a Jackson Pollock exhibit, yet they are understood as intrinsically related. Likewise, we gather wholly different traditions under the penumbra of religion.

The key is to realize that none of these disciplines individually, including religion, are reducible. Perhaps if the religious scholar could distinguish the essence of the greater category, the humanities, of which religion seems to fall below, he or she may be able to better, and in a more universally accepted manner, define “religion,” itself.




1 comment:

BrianFH said...

Couple of suggestions:
"Art is quality of communication."

And check out Eric Gans, and his "Originary Hypothesis", which posits the sociology of religion as originally being a means of taming intra-group violence by sanctified sacrifice of a chosen member/leader.