What this handout is about.
This handout explains several common writing assignments in religious studies and discusses what is unique about writing in this discipline.
Religious studies is an interdisciplinary field
Before starting on your writing assignment, you should know that religious studies is an interdisciplinary field, a fact which will shape how you approach your coursework. The interdisciplinary nature of religious studies is part of what makes the study of religion so interesting. However, it also makes writing in religious studies challenging because your instructors will expect you to use diverse theories and methods. At the same time that religious studies uses many of the same theories and methods as other fields, it is still its own discipline with unique conventions for writing.
What’s the difference between “religion” and “religious studies”?
Writing for religious studies takes place within a secular, academic environment, rather than a faith-oriented community. Religious studies papers, therefore, should not try to demonstrate or refute provocative religious concepts, such as the existence of God or the idea of reincarnation. Such issues are supernatural and/or metaphysical; as such, they cannot be proven with evidence that is available to everyone. Religious studies, in contrast, aims to understand religion from a perspective that can be shared by all.
You may be wondering, “How do I go about investigating religious material without employing a religious perspective?” Remember—religious studies is interdisciplinary, so there are multiple modes of investigation, including literary, historical, cultural, sociological, and anthropological. These approaches tend to contextualize religious phenomena, such as beliefs and rituals. You might, therefore, investigate how Nietzsche questioned the existence of God or a particular Buddhist’s conception of reincarnation. In other words, your reader will likely be more interested in what a particular historical figure, community, or text reveals about these beliefs than in what you actually believe. Every religion arises within a particular context, which affects the development of that religion. When you explore a religion’s context, seemingly mystifying aspects of the tradition can become more comprehensible.
This distinction is especially important when analyzing evidence and making arguments. Don’t let your personal beliefs predetermine your conclusions. Always begin with a fresh evaluation of the evidence. While personal bias is unavoidable, it is critical to be alert to your own preconceptions. If you base your argument on personal beliefs rather than reasoned evidence, then it will not convince readers who do not share your assumptions. Thus, neither faith nor received tradition (such as the lessons you may have been taught in a religious institution) constitutes a valid basis for an argument in academic writing. If you do your best to set aside personal convictions, your final product should be a reasoned argument that gives no indication of your own religious beliefs.
Common writing assignments in religious studies
The interdisciplinary nature of religious studies is reflected in the diversity of writing assignments. If you are not sure about the nature of your assignment, you can consult our handout on understanding assignments or speak with your instructor—you might be working on a project that is not discussed here. Here are some common assignments:
Comparative essays require that you discuss similarities and differences between the topics you compare, and that your discussion relates to particular theory. In other words, your comparative essay must be more than a list of similarities and differences. Your comparisons should support a theoretical point or issue that is broader than the items under examination. See our handout on comparing/contrasting for more on this type of argument.
For example, if you decide to compare Chinese folk rituals for honoring ancestors and Hindu rituals for honoring deities, you could explain that each ritual is similar in that they usually involve food and candles or lamps. Chinese rituals, however, usually occur without an altar, while Hindu rituals require one. In addition to describing these similarities and differences, you should also discuss what your comparison reveals about food and altars relative to a particular theory of ritual. The theoretical issues of food, altars, and rituals can form the analytical core of your paper.
A thesis sentence for the example above might read:
“Even though Chinese rituals for honoring ancestors and Hindu rituals for honoring deities both involve food offerings, the differences between these rituals regarding their need for an altar demonstrate that Rupert Hemingway’s theory of ritual sacrifice cannot account for cross-cultural variations in ritual practices.”
In sum, a good comparative essay should:
- Describe each thing that you compare in terms of the social, historical, and cultural environment to which it belongs.
- Explain the larger theoretical point or issue that forms the analytical core of your essay.
- Compare each thing with the others at the descriptive level to identify their similarities and differences, and individually compare each thing with your paper’s larger theoretical issue.
- Conclude your paper by explaining what your comparisons at both the descriptive and theoretical levels reveal about the broader theoretical point.
Critical readings of religious texts
Writing for religious studies may also involve critical analyses of sacred and/or traditionally authoritative texts. While a critical reading of a sacred text might seem irreverent, the point is not to “criticize” the text, but to respectfully “discern” the different aspects of its meaning. The concept of divine inspiration, although often associated with sacred texts, belongs in a faith-oriented environment and, therefore, is not suitable evidence in academic writing. An alternative approach involves treating the texts as literary sources. Literary texts are best understood by assessing the situation surrounding their origin. You can employ methods of literary analysis by evaluating the genre of a particular text to explain how it has been interpreted. Issues related to authorship, source material, and historical context can also be important. You can explore common themes and motifs or undertake a character analysis. A comparative study, utilizing multiple texts, is yet another possibility.
The opening chapters of the biblical book of Genesis, for instance, provide various possibilities for literary analysis. The text actually depicts not one, but two creation accounts. Setting aside the question of whether or not they are reconcilable, you can explore the distinctive features of each. Different authors composed them during different historical periods, and, consequently, they reflect unique interests. The historical context of one account can help you understand its unique themes. Comparing them is another option. You could also investigate the manner in which the two accounts were eventually placed side by side.
The study of religion does not rely exclusively on sacred texts. Your evidence can include non-sacred religious and secular literature, including fiction. Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, for instance, reveals aspects of popular medieval Christianity, while Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory depicts the political repression of Catholicism in modern Mexico through the tale of an alcoholic priest.
For more suggestions on treating religious sources as literary texts, refer to our handout on writing about literature and our handout on poetry explications .
Ethnography is a research method that involves observing religious actions and interviewing participants. Ethnography is useful when you want to know how contemporary religious actors and communities behave and think. Ethnographic writing is challenging for three reasons:
- Ethnographic writing actually includes different kinds of writing, including fieldnotes, interview notes, scene notes, and the final paper itself.
- The primary sources for ethnographic writing come from your own experiences, observations, and interviews with subjects in a fieldwork setting.
- Ethnographic writing demands your ethical commitment to protect the well-being of the people you are studying.
See our handout on anthropology for more information on ethnographic studies.
History is a common component of religious studies, particularly at UNC. Similar theories and methods can be applied, for instance, to the study of American religious history and American political history. The historical study of religion may be further divided into specific sub-fields. You can, for instance, examine the social history of early Christianity or the literary history of Persian religious poetry. Primary sources, which include both documentary texts and material remains, are essential to historical analysis. See our handout on writing in history .
Certain aspects of religious traditions, by their very nature, are not susceptible to historical inquiry. For instance, miracles are by definition inexplicable and thus not open to historical investigation. If you undertake an historical study of Jesus, the question of whether or not Jesus experienced a bodily resurrection (a miracle), though significant from a theological perspective, requires an alternative approach. While the mystery of the miracle remains, the literary evidence reporting the resurrection possesses value for historians. An historian could investigate the manner in which early Christian writers depicted the event and make an historical claim related to the development of early Christian theology. A fruitful historical inquiry could consider how early Christians interpreted the resurrection; such an argument constitutes an historical claim.
You can use academic journal entries to analyze your own thinking as a student by raising questions about course materials and experimenting with potential answers. Journal entries are less formal than a fully developed research paper. They give you the opportunity to sharpen your critical thinking skills by cutting to the core of issues quickly and succinctly. Journal entries don’t need to be finished products; rather, they should reflect your current thinking, even (and especially) when you are still puzzling through questions and possible solutions.
Here are examples of questions that can form the basis of your journal entries: Questions about individual source materials
- What are the main issues raised by your sources? Are these issues handled adequately by your sources, or are there shortcomings? If so, what are these shortcomings, and what strategies could you use to remedy them? What are the strengths and weaknesses of your remedies?
Comparative questions about your sources
- How do course materials compare with each other? What are the major points of agreement and disagreement? Why do they agree or disagree? Is there a difference or similarity in theory, method, topic, data, or approach? How would you evaluate the relative strengths and weaknesses of each source’s point of view, and which criteria are you using to evaluate them? How would you use the sources to construct an argument? What are the strengths and weaknesses of your point of view?
Questions about your own thinking
- What are your reactions to the course materials? Why do you find some sources interesting? What do you agree or disagree with? Can you find support for your views, or are your reactions driven primarily by factors beyond the course materials? If the origins of your reactions come from other sources, how will you manage them relative to the core issues raised in your course? Can they be an asset to you as you think through your coursework?
Terminology in Religious Studies
Writing effectively in religious studies depends on vocabulary. To use key terms appropriately, make sure that you thoroughly understand the specialized vocabulary in your course readings. In addition, you may want to use more general religious terms in your writing. For the definitions of terms such as belief, deity, faith, holy books, ritual, and tradition, you should consult either the Oxford English Dictionary or the Harper Collins Dictionary of Religion.
We consulted these works while writing this handout. This is not a comprehensive list of resources on the handout’s topic, and we encourage you to do your own research to find additional publications. Please do not use this list as a model for the format of your own reference list, as it may not match the citation style you are using. For guidance on formatting citations, please see the UNC Libraries citation tutorial . We revise these tips periodically and welcome feedback.
Smith, Johnathan Z., and William Scott Green. 1995. The HarperCollins Dictionary of Religion . San Francisco: Harper.
Tucker, Dennis C. 2000. Research Techniques for Scholars and Students in Religion and Theology . Medford, NJ: Information Today.
Vyhmeister, Nancy Jean. 2014. Quality Research Papers for Students of Religion and Theology , 3rd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
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Format of Paper
I . content and organization.
A. Your papers should be 7,500 – 9,000 words, inclusive of footnotes, but exclusive of bibliography. Footnotes ( not endnotes ) and bibliography must follow the guidelines contained in the Chicago Manual of Style , which may be found in book form in the department lounge, or online, in summary form . If you utilize the latter, be sure to follow the patterns for N and B, not T and R.
B. Be sure to include a clearly demarcated introduction and conclusion. The introduction should articulate the problem or issue you intend to study, and include a statement of the methods you intend to employ in studying it. Use subheadings to highlight the various sections of your paper. The conclusion should return to the problem or issue with which the essay began, and try to assess what we have learned, and what problems or issues (if any) still remain to be resolved. Material may need to be cut or compressed in order to expand the conclusion. The arrangement of material should convey an overall sense of balance and coherence.
II. Form and Presentation
A. Papers must be double-spaced; left margin 1-1/4″ and top, bottom, and right side margins 1″.
B. Include a title page with the title in 18-point type centered on the top half of the page, and your name, “Senior Integrative Exercise,” and the date of submission on separate lines flush right on the bottom half of the page.
C. Write an abstract of no more than 300 words (Cf. Booth 197-198). Type it single-spaced and put it below the title and your name on an unnumbered page preceding page one (see sample abstracts below).
D. Number all pages except page one. The title and abstract pages are not counted in numbering .
E. Work for an interesting and effective prose style, one marked by clarity, well-chosen words, variety in sentence structure, etc.
F. Work for egalitarian language. Increasingly, editors of religious and secular publications are rejecting sexist forms of language, including the generic use of the masculine. The trick is to develop a style that accommodates this moral concern without awkwardness.
G. Quotations need to be introduced and integrated into one’s own argument. This differs from weaving or pasting quotations together to make points. It is important always to identify the source of a quotation.
- NOT: Both Marxism and Christianity seek to create “… a more just, more mature society.”
- BUT: According to Miguez Bonino, both Marxism and Christianity seek to create “… a more just, more human society.”
Long quotations (sometimes called block quotations): Indent ½ inch (1 inch for first line of a new paragraph within the quotation) and single space quotations that are longer than 4 lines. Do not use a different font size and do not add “ ” marks unless there is a quote-within-a-quote.
Brackets [ ], not parentheses ( ), should be used for changes in or additions to quoted material.
Avoid automatically starting a new paragraph after using a block quote, since these usually require further comment or explication. When a paragraph or subsection ends with a quotation, a writer loses an opportunity to make a smooth transition to the next idea.
Unlike parenthetical citation, note numbers go outside all sentence punctuation, “as follows.”
H. If you wish to cite the work of one author (original source) as found in that of another (secondary source), your reference must indicate the work in which you found the material as well as the original source.
III. Criteria for Distinction in Comps
- Methodologically sophisticated and self-conscious
- Thoroughly researched, with clear mastery of material
- Subtle and nuanced in argument
- Exceptionally well-written, in polished and graceful prose
- Highly integrative, effectively synthesizing work in the major
- Creative: intellectually adventurous or risky
- Polished, effective oral presentation
- Has met all deadlines and been conscientious about fulfilling all requirements of the process.
Three Sample Abstracts
I. klass, 1996 (298 words).
This paper explores how the position and status of women changes doctrinally from the orthodox tradition of Brahmanical Hinduism to the heterodox faiths of Buddhism and Jainism that formed during the mid- first millennium B.C.E. in northern India. Starting with the early Vedic tradition and the coming of the Indo-Aryan peoples to the subcontinent, I examine shifts in religious doctrine and corresponding shifts in the social and spiritual status of women in light of socio-political changes taking place during this period. Taking as the basis for my theoretical framework the observation that in general women were associated with the body, sexuality, and the mundane world, while men were associated with the mind, the spiritual, and the transcendent world, I attempt to examine how this gender-based dichotomy plays itself out in each tradition. I conclude that women were associated with the mundane world and men with the spiritual world from the time of the Vedas, but that these spheres overlapped somewhat in the early period. The increasing complexity of religious ideology and the growing tension between the mundane and transcendent worlds, as evidenced by the rise of asceticism, resulted in the polarization of this gendered duality. Consequently, by the time of India’s Axial Age women were seen as the antithesis of the ascetic path and the embodiment of all that is to be transcended. The Axial philosophies of the Upanishads, Buddhism, and Jainism supported this construction of the feminine. The heterodox sects of Buddhism and Jainism, while advocating the spiritual equality of men and women, did not advocate social equality, thereby keeping intact the gendered world-view and the corresponding hierarchy of male over female. The paper ends with some reflections on why the Buddha and Mahavira might have supported the patriarchal construction of the female as embodying samsaric existence.
J. Riske, 2002 (253 words)
This paper examines Kierkegaard’s contention that “truth is subjectivity” in light of several of his pseudonymous works. Following the progression in his works through the aesthetic, ethical, and finally the religious methods of finding truth, I trace the development of Kierkegaard’s conception of truth. By doing so, I show that many treatments of Kierkegaard’s theory of truth—as entailing becoming more fully human through the apprehension of “livable” truths—fail to go “further” than the overtly philosophical works, Philosophical Fragments and The Concluding Unscientific Postscript to the Philosophical Fragments , and therefore fail to apprehend either the full scope of the development of his theory or the final, fundamental importance of God in that theory. I take Robert L. Perkins and Peter J. Mehls as representative of the more philosophically inclined commentators on Kierkegaard, who are quick to applaud Kierkegaard for his unique characterization of truth, but who are in the end reluctant to spell out the overtly religious message enmeshed in his theory. By employing a method of reading Kierkegaard that pays attention to his many literary devices while staying true to the philosophical import of his work, I show that “truth as subjectivity” is an idea that is developed in, and best understood in light of, other pseudonymous writings, and is presented in its fullest form in Kierkegaard’s most religious work, The Sickness Unto Death . It is in this book that the reader comes across the most explicit understanding of the role of Christianity in elevating the human to his or her full potential.
J. Chen, 2007 (207 words)
This paper examines the role of food in Hui Chinese and African-American Muslim minority communities. Testing Katherine Ulrich’s elaboration of Mary Douglas’ theory that physical boundaries of the body are analogous to social boundaries with evidence from the Chinese and African-American Muslim minority communities reveals that physical food taboos do indeed demarcate social boundaries. In the two communities examined, the Islamic proscription against pork emerges as the strongest example of how food taboo serves as a vital tool in maintaining distinct identity and group solidarity. Drawing primarily from research by Barbara Pillsbury and Maris Boyd Gillette, the Hui Chinese case study argues that the pork taboo serves community needs to distinguish pure from impure and to erect a barrier against the non-Muslim Han. In the African-American case study, Edward Curtis’ argument for the black body as a symbol for black fate is combined with Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad’s dietary teachings to exemplify how African-Americans use the pork taboo to purify and reclaim control of their bodies. For both the Chinese and African-American communities, food taboos are central in preserving community integrity through providing a way for individuals to physically and socially create boundaries separating pure, taboo-observing Muslims from impure, non-taboo observing outsiders.
Checklist for Comps
________ Title Page, unnumbered
________ Abstract Page, unnumbered
________ Page 1 unnumbered, but other pages numbered
________ Notes (footnotes rather than endnotes) follow Chicago Manual of Style format.
________ Bibliography (beginning on separate page) of all items used in the preparation of the paper.
________ Annotations supplied for at least five (5) entries on the bibliography.
________ Submit a Word document of your REVISED COMPS ESSAY to Moodle.
________ Email a POSTER IMAGE to Kristen Askeland. This is an image to be used in your poster to publicize your comps presentation. The image has to be either something you created and own, or a “public domain image,” whose copyright has expired or never existed in the first place. If you don’t know how to find such an image, please consult the chair.
Note: Papers that lack an essential element (e.g., abstract, bibliography) or that fail to meet basic standards for academic work (e.g., full of sentence fragments, spelling, punctuation, or typographical errors) will be returned.
Religion Research Paper
This sample religion research paper features: 6700 words (approx. 22 pages), an outline, and a bibliography with 36 sources. Browse other research paper examples for more inspiration. If you need a thorough research paper written according to all the academic standards, you can always turn to our experienced writers for help. This is how your paper can get an A! Feel free to contact our writing service for professional assistance. We offer high-quality assignments for reasonable rates.
Development of religion and belief, early explanations for religion and belief, eastern and western traditions, christianity, religious objects, symbols, and rituals, religion, manuscripts, and teachings, future directions.
Religion and belief are of great importance for anthropological research on the development of humankind and its history, as they represent the human reaction to an extrahuman, holy, transcendent, or divine object. Almost no other terms of the mental and intellectual human life seem to have such a big and colorful variety as “belief ” or “religion.”
More Religion Research Paper Examples:
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- Protestantism Research Paper
At first, a look into the past: The term religion has its etymologic and historical roots in the ancient Roman world. A different context can be found for the terms personal belief or universal faith; they have their semantic origin in the Greek word pístis, which Saint Paul used in his letters, or in the Latin fides. Whereas religion gives the framework, belief fills this framework with individual religious activities. Faith means the universal religious activity of a group of people of the same religion. The Latin noun religio stems from the verb re-legere, which has the meaning “to do something diligently, to do something again, to re-read something,” according to Marcus T. Cicero (106–43 BCE). The prefix re- could even be translated as “to do something diligently again and again.” The careful execution of rituals was prescribed by rules, which were only valid through their exact observance. Therefore in the ancient Roman culture, the Latin noun religio expresses the right observance of cults and, as a consequence, the respect for the gods. The verb re-legere is the opposite of the verb neg-legere (to neglect).
The derivation of the noun religio from religare (to connect, to reconnect) is in general problematic, because this reconnection can be seen in a feeling of an inner attachment to something transcendent, which was not common to classical beliefs. In its character, religio is in Roman antiquity rather a virtue than a kind of feeling. Central in the diligent performance of rituals was a kind of “pious awe,” which was not so intensive that the acting person in religious affairs was moved inside. This is one of the reasons why ancient Roman religio is basically incomprehensible to us. Nowadays, the adjective religiosus means “pious.” In a later development, homo religiosus means “member of an order,” a person who lives according to the three evangelical counsels: poverty, chastity, and obedience. This person wants to be, in his religious life, a good example to others. It was this meaning of the word pious (religiosus) that brought the noun religion into the Christian-shaped, Western culture, and less the Latin noun religio, in the ancient Roman sense.
To exhaust the full meaning of religion or belief, it is not sufficient to speak only of devoutness or “expression of devoutness.” Religion and belief also cover the sentence fides quaerens intellectum (faith or belief that searches for insight). Therefore, it has also to do with rationality and the search for reasonable causes. Saint Augustine (354–430 CE), as an exponent of Christian antiquity, and Saint Thomas Aquinas (ca. 1224/5–1274 CE), as a philosopher of high scholasticism, shaped the concept of religio as identical with Christianity. Other, non-Christian religions or beliefs could only be classified as lex, secta, or fides.
The meaning of the term lex is universal, according to our expression “denomination” or “total structure of life.” There is also a lex Christianorum, which means “doctrine and law of the Christian faith.” By no means is the forming of the concepts “religion” and “belief ” steady or logical. Within the historical development, beginning with classical antiquity up to the advent of Protestantism in the 16th century, it is not possible to find a strictly continuous development to the modern term religion . So, religio cannot be translated by or equated with religion or belief in today’s meaning.
If the Christian context of the word religion is left aside, then religion and also belief can be defined as the relationship of a human to a personal or impersonal transcendent, in whatever shape of “the Real”: a divine persona or impersona. The meaning of the Western terms religion or belief , influenced by Christian thoughts, changes in other European and non-European languages from “something that is owed to the transcendence” to “law/doctrine” and “eternal, never-ending structure.”
As a result, the term religion is more objective than the rather subjective term belief . Also, the concepts of belief— characterized as individual, personal belief, or conviction— and faith—characterized as universal belief—can be differentiated. Religion is in general the system of faith that people of the same conviction have in common. Belief is the personal activity, the “personal” faith, within the framework of religion. Belief system is very near to religion, but it emphasizes the personal religious activity more than universal faith.
After this etymological study, the paradigmatic development of the modern terms religion and belief will now be described in order to give a contemporary view on them. A religion that prescribes a belief in a deity of imaginable terms is marked as rational, according to the Lutheran theologian and historian of comparative religion Rudolf Otto. In his classic work, The Idea of the Holy (1917/1925), Otto also asked for the objectivity of religion or belief, and emphasized the “contrast between Rationalism and profounder religion.” One cannot do justice to religion or belief only by rational terms. The two opposite characterizations of religion are, as Otto pointed out, the tremendum, or the “awefulness,” and simultaneously the fascinans, or the “fascinating.” The tremendum shakes people in awe in sight of the mysterious, completely different being, God. This form of fear is by far different than the “natural,” or ordinary fear of a human, and applies more to the general “world-fear.” The tremendum derives from a “numinous dread” that terrifies and fascinates people at the same time.
The Romanian historian of religion Mircea Eliade, who worked at the University of Chicago, addressed Rudolf Otto’s reflections at the beginning of his book The Sacred and the Profane (1957/1959). Eliade focused on the nature of religion or belief, describing the manifestations of religion and the religious in a world that dissociates itself more and more from religious dimensions. But even in a secular world, there is something sacred that is characterized by humans as the opposite of the profane. The process is always the same: the “completely different” is a reality that is not of our world and manifests itself on things that are components of our natural, profane world.
Eliade repeatedly spoke of homo religious, and he wanted to make clear that religion and belief belong to the human nature. Therefore, people live as long as possible in the sacred universe. By the word sacred, the dimension of the religious is described. This dimension surrounds, carries, and holds the human as a religious being. On the other side, a secular person, who is able to live without any religious feeling, has a completely different, secular experience of the universe. She lives in a desacralized world. The religious feeling has to find its way by another, maybe hidden means. The secular person lives totally differently from the homo religious.
Almost 150 years earlier than Eliade, Friedrich D. E. Schleiermacher, a German Lutheran theologian and philosopher, classified religion and belief as a “feeling,” as the French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau did before him. Schleiermacher called religion a “feeling of infinity” in his second speech, “On the Nature of Religion,” of his five speeches appearing in On Religion (1799/1996).
The German philosopher of the Age of Enlightenment, Immanuel Kant, stood in strong contrast to the definition of religion or belief as “feeling.” In his work Religion Within the Boundaries of Mere Reason (1793/1998), Kant proved that there was no way to conclude the certain feature of direct divine influence by a feeling. Hence, according to Kant, religion must be based on reason alone in order to be universal. For Kant, religion had to be a “pure religion of reason.” Although these two characterizations of religion as a “feeling” (Schleiermacher) or as a “pure religion of reason” (Kant) are opposing, these two definitions of religion may be coincident in the fact that religion or belief is something according to human nature. Therefore, around the year 1800, a concept of internal religion developed, which remains effective today.
Statements on religion or belief by the Protestant theologians Ernst Troeltsch (1912/1981) and Paul Tillich (1955, 1961/1988) underlined this fact. In another way, Tillich’s works can be regarded as examples of the effective power of the concept of religion or belief. In a different approach to Immanuel Kant, he distanced himself to consider “feeling” as the basic determination of religion. If religion could be connected to the pure subjectivity of emotion, then it would decline, because religion would loose its seriousness, its truth, and its highest sense. Without a highest content, religion would stay empty. In his essay “Religion as a Function of the Human Mind?” (1955/1988), Tillich defined religion as “something that concerns us immediately,” in the deepest sense of the universe. That which “concerns us immediately” referred to all creative functions of the human mind. However, this did not mean that religion and belief are fictions of the mind, created by human beings.
According to Tillich, the human mind is able to be creative in relation to both itself and to the world. But this creativeness is limited by the relationship to God. Religions and beliefs contain all areas of the human life and of the mind, as they build the substance, the basis, and the depth of the human intellectual life. Therefore religion or belief is not based on a function of the mind at all. Religion is universal; belief is individual. They are consequently the unconditioned components in every situation of human life. Being moved by religion is always related to a religious object. In this context, Tillich emphasized two points: (1) Religion and belief are always related to a content, which cannot be explained in the end; and (2) religion has always a social dimension, too. Nobody is alone in being religiously moved or in feeling any kind of religious emotion. Therefore, the objectivity of religion is founded by its social dimension, according to Tillich. As a consequence, religion and belief are situated in the human being, who is touched by a “revealed unconditioned being,” by a religious object. This can generally be applied to everyone. “Religious reality,” however, goes along with a secret consciousness: tua res agitur, “your situation is concerned.”
Two definitions of the concept of religion can be found in Tillich’s work. Both differ crucially from the traditional one—religion or belief as the human answers to the transcendent. (1) Tillich spoke of an “autonomous religion” that does not know a representational God, nor, consequently, any form of prayer. But in contradiction to that, religion is not impious or lacking a God. It just does not know any kind of ecclesiastical objectification of God. With mysticism, it is different again, because mysticism elevates itself beyond the objectification of God. (2) In his later essay, “Christianity and the Encounter of the World Religions” (1961/1988), Tillich mentioned quasireligions, which are similar to religions and have some features in common with religions. But quasireligions are only related to secular objects and consequently to secular institutions. Tillich differentiates between quasireligions and pseudoreligions. Both pretend intentionally to be similar to religions. The expansion of the concepts of religion or of belief as inward phenomena, which have been developed since the beginning of the 19th century, became clear in Tillich’s considerations.
The two concepts of quasireligions and pseudoreligions must be strictly distinguished from traditional, historical religions. Similar to quasireligions is what Eric Voegelin (1938/1999) and Raymond Aron (1965/1968) spoke of as political religion. An explosive nature is exhibited in the relationship between religion and politics, as it is demonstrated in the concept of political religion, and later on in the concepts of state religion or civil religion. The term political religion has its roots in religio politica, going back to the early 17th century. Since the 1930s, it served to classify the politicaltotalitarian mass movements of this time in a critical attitude toward ideology. This modern “political religion,” however, must be clearly distinguished from the “political religion” of classical antiquity and the later concepts of state religion and civil religion, which tried to institutionalize the relationship between religion and politics, not always in a fruitful way.
Generally speaking, it is possible to identify religion or belief as being situated in a person. Religion or belief must be further defined as a relationship and interchange between a human being and transcendent reality, which is relevant for humans. But the relationship to transcendence is not the only decisive criterion for a religion or a belief. Religions and beliefs are rather connected by a kind of “family resemblance,” as defined by Ludwig Wittgenstein (1953/2001). They are determined by overlapping qualities, including holiness, prayers, and services. Religions and beliefs also show similarities that connect them. These similarities, however, must not necessarily be alike in every religion or belief. Regarding those similarities, the reference to transcendence plays, of course, an important role. John Hick (2005) pointed out that another fundamental “family resemblance” of religions and beliefs, in addition to their reference to the transcendence, is their soteriological content, which describes the ability of a religion or belief to redeem human souls and allow salvation. However different their contents and traditions may be, this soteriological quality is a feature that all religions and beliefs have in common in various manners. Also, the validity of religious traditions was of great importance for Hick.
Religion and belief in the modern ideology can carefully be defined as generic terms, or concepts, which slowly have grown in importance in our modern age. These concepts are very different from the ancient meaning of the word religio, which first described all imaginations, attitudes, and actions of a person concerning the ultimate reality. Humans accept the ultimate reality as powers or a power, spirits or demons, gods or God, the “Sacred” or the “Absolute,” or just “Transcendence.” In ancient times, religio was not used as a collective name for each belief or as a universal term, in which various beliefs were summed up. The term religio, representing the past view on religion or belief, was used in a very narrow sense from antiquity up to the 16th century. At first, religio referred to the exercising of the rituals prescribed by law, but only later with regard to the Christian denomination. In general, it took a long time before religio and later “religion” had achieved their meaning, which led to the modern understanding of “religion.” Religion is more than the mere name of a personal belief. It expresses that humans are concerned about something beyond them. Also, death obtains a different meaning within a religious worldview. Romano Guardini (1940/1998), the Catholic priest, theologian, and philosopher of religion, considered death as the gate to the other side of human life, which remains secret to those who still live in this world. For religious people, death is no longer the end of life but, instead, is the turning point to a different reality.
Summing up, the terms religion and belief can be characterized by the following three points:
- There are no universal terms for all religions or beliefsystems of humankind in each epoch.
- There is no term that includes all aspects of what ismeant by religion or belief today. Even all these terms together cannot cover every aspect now meant by religion or belief.
- Earlier terms of religio or religion stand in contrast to themodern meaning of religion. They emphasize the external practice of religion, the observance of ritual instructions and regulations, and the obedience to religious laws.
These three points, however, cannot unambiguously classify religions or beliefs and they do not ultimately define them. But they do outline the broad frame of the modern concept of religion and belief.
Since ancient times, as many sources teach, people have had various religious or pseudoreligious systems. In the past, religions and beliefs were the result of natural phenomena, which led people to fear and to require that these natural phenomena be explained. Also, social facts and mechanisms had to be explained through religious patterns. Ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman religions show this function of early religions or belief systems. These religions and beliefs were polytheistic (i.e., there were many different gods, who had different things to take care of). In many cases, one god is honored as supreme among the others (e.g., Zeus in ancient Greek religion or Jupiter/Jove in ancient Roman religion). The holy or the deity was often linked with nature. Humans found in nature the powerful influence of God: Therefore trees or fountains or mountains (esp. the peak, like Mount Fuji in Japan) were adored as holy, or as the place where the deity lives. Also in totems, things of everyday life or symbols or even animals, the spirit of a deity is believed to be effective. Therefore, it is forbidden, it is a taboo, to kill an animal in which a deity is believed to be present. These original religious aspects can be found within African religions and beliefs, or within the religions of the Pacific islands.
In the Egyptian and Roman traditions, the emperor was adored as a god and found his place in the Pantheon after his death. Archaeological proofs of these ancient religions and belief systems can be found in the pyramids in Egypt, as well as in the ancient Roman temples around the Mediterranean Sea. From the onset of European culture, politics, religion, and society were interconnected within the ancient state, the Greek pólis or the Roman civitas. So religions and politics were interlinked in ancient European societies. Later on, these three aspects differentiated more and more. Today, politics, religions, and societies are almost separated, but one should be aware that humans are oriented toward religious belief, as civilians within a political state and a civil society. So it is useful to respect religion and belief even within a political point of view.
At the beginning of ancient Greek culture, the explanations for the reasons why the universe came to exist, and why it exists the way it does, were given in the myths of the writers Homer (ca. 8th century BCE) and Hesiod (ca. 8th century BCE). Next, there was a shift from mythos (myths) to lógos (reason). This shift can be found in the quotations and fragments of the pre-Socratic philosophers, who turned their interests toward nature and the reasons for natural phenomena. Thales of Miletus (ca. 624–546 BCE), for example, a philosopher of nature living on the Ionic coast (today’s Turkey), gave a precise forecast for a total eclipse by calculation, but people took him almost for a prophet, and, what is more, he could forecast a rich bearing of olives, so that he lent all the olive presses in his country for a small amount of money, and consequently he was able to borrow them for a very good price. The next step from myths to reason can be found in the philosophy of Plato (ca. 428/427–348/347 BCE), a disciple of Socrates (ca. 469–399 BCE). Plato underlined his arguments in his dialogues with myths, in order to explain them better to his disciples. Among them, there was another important philosopher, the educator of Alexander the Great, Aristotle (384–322 BCE). Aristotle was also very interested in investigating natural phenomena and in explaining the world by reason, not by myths.
The general aim of this early Greek philosophy was to explain the universe by using human reason rather than mythical explanations. As a result, the soul of a human should not be in a disturbed situation, but in a quiet state, which is characterized as eudaimonía (felicity). The early philosophical schools in ancient Greece always had the intention of caring for the soul by giving reasonable explanations for the universe and its existence. Consequently, these early philosophical schools played the role that religions or beliefs play in our own time.
Major Religions and Belief Systems
There are many religious systems, including ancient systems or natural religions, or smaller derivates from the major religions or belief systems. All religions and belief systems aim to provide answers to human questions on the transcendent and to major questions on life and death. People thus find orientation for their lives within these major religions and belief systems.
In general, Eastern traditions differ from Western traditions. Among Eastern traditions, which have more the character of belief systems than religions, there is Hinduism and Buddhism, but also Confucianism in China, which concentrates on the ethical life, and the animistic and polytheistic Shinto in Japan, which honors and prays to the ancestors. These are known as very old religious traditions in the Eastern part of the world.
The Western traditions are better described as religions than as belief systems. The most important are Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. All three of these religions refer in quite different ways to Abraham (ca. 2000 BCE) as an ideal of a pious and religious person.
Also, Zoroastrianism is counted among the major religious traditions or belief systems. It is considered to be the first monotheistic belief system, with Ahura Mazda as the universal God. But it is also a dualistic system; asha/arta is the principle of “truth” and “order” whereas druj, “lie,” is the opposite. Both principles “fight” against each other in the world. Zoroastrianism was founded by the prophet Zoroaster, or Zarathushtra, in the farmland area of today’s Western Iran. The main teachings of Zoroastrianism can be found in the scripture Zend-Avesta.
In Asia, the Hindu traditions are well known; the religion of the Vedas and the Upanishads is grounded in very old scriptures (e.g., the Bhagavad Gita or “Song of God”). The beginning of these traditions is about 4,000 years BCE in India. The Hindu traditions have a polytheistic basis, with Shiva and Vishnu as the central deities, but only one eternal aim: the unification of the individual soul, atman, with the highest spirit, Brahman . After several lives, the soul can enter the Brahman, leaving the system of reincarnation ( samsara ), if the karma, the balance of all individual actions, is good enough. Five elements are considered to be central for Hindu beliefs: (1) dharma (ethics and duties), (2) samsara (cycle of reincarnation), (3) karma (action and resulting reaction), (4) moksha (liberation from the cycle of rebirth), and (5) yogas (paths and practices). Though it is controversially debated among scholars whether the caste system is an important part of Hindu teaching, this social system remains strong even today. There are four castes, called varnas, beginning with the highest cast: (1) Brahmins (teachers and priests); (2) Kshatriyas (warriors, nobles, and kings); (3) Vaishyas (farmers, merchants, and businessmen); and (4) Shudras (servants and laborers). The caste system is very rigid. Marriage is only possible within one caste. People outside the caste system, Parjanya or Antyaja (or now Dalits), the “untouchables,” have almost no chance to progress in social life. Therefore, this system has often been criticized as discriminatory (e.g., by Mahatma Gandhi [1869–1948], whose ideal was absolute peacefulness).
Also in Asia, the Buddhist tradition is founded on the philosophy of Siddhartha Gautama Buddha (ca. 563–483 BCE), who was a teacher of spiritual wisdom. There are two main traditions in Buddhism: the Mahayana (great vehicle) Buddhism and the Theravada (ancient teaching) Buddhism. A smaller tradition is the Hinayana (low vehicle) Buddhism. Central Buddhist teachings contain the Four Noble Truths: (1) the nature of suffering ( dukkha ), (2) suffering’s origin ( samudaya ), (3) suffering’s cessation ( nirodha ), and (4) the way ( marga ) leading to the cessation of suffering. This “way” (marga) is characterized by the Noble Eightfold Path: (1) right view, (2) right intention (wisdom), (3) right speech, (4) right action, (5) right livelihood (ethical conduct), (6) right effort, (7) right mindfulness, and (8) right concentration (concentration). The Noble Eightfold Path contains the ethical “program” of Buddhism.
One aim of Buddhism is to bring cessation from suffering to the human soul. There are several traditions within Buddhism. Among them, there is Zen Buddhism in Japan and Tibetan Buddhism, whose head is the Dalai Lama. The monastic tradition is also very common in Buddhism, because its discipline helps the adherent to succeed in achieving the aim, the nirvana, as a unity of the individual soul with the universal in the absolute nothingness (nirvana).
The Mosaic tradition, later Judaism, is historically the first major tradition in Western culture. Christianity and Islam followed. In Judaism, humankind has been given the advice to follow God’s law, which was revealed on Mount Sinai, or Horeb to Moses. This revelation took place during the Exodus, the Jews’ escape out of Egyptian slavery. Moses was the leader of the people of Israel during that time. A life in accordance to the law will end up in felicity and prosperity, even after death. The prophets played a major role, because they renewed the concentration on God’s revelation within his law. During the reign of the Babylonian emperor Nebuchadnezzar II (ca. 630–562 BCE), the Jewish people were kidnapped and taken to Babylon. The Babylonian Talmud was written during this time, a commentary on the Torah, with respect to other commentaries and the oral tradition, in order to give a set of rules for everyday life. Literature interpreting the Torah is known as midrash.
When the people of Israel returned to the Holy Land, they built the first temple. In the year 70 CE, the temple was destroyed by the Romans, and the rabbinic phase began in Judaism. Rabbis are teachers of the Holy Scripture and they interpret for believers. They also give advice to pious Jews on how to manage life and how to decide in problematic situations. The halakha means to follow properly the way of the Jewish tradition.
Judaism today is quite various. There are liberal branches, as well as orthodox branches, whose believers observe the traditional religious law very strictly. As predicted in the prophecies of the Hebrew Bible, Jewish people still wait for the Messiah, who will come in the future in order to complete the divine law in his person.
In Christianity, Jesus Christ is believed to be the son of God, who came to redeem people. After the original sin of Adam and Eve, humankind survived for the redemption. The redeemer is Jesus Christ, who was crucified by the Romans after being accused, by the Jews in Jerusalem, of heresy for pretending to be the Messiah, and whose resurrection after 3 days astonished people, especially his own disciples. After another 40 days, Jesus Christ went up into heaven. After another 9 days, the Holy Spirit was sent down to earth in order to lead the faithful and to give consolation to them. God is the Holy Trinity in Christian tradition: God-Father, God-Son, God-Holy-Spirit.
Later, the Christian church developed into a more and more powerful institution, which secures the tradition of belief and teaching. Although crusades have occurred, the Christian doctrine is against force and tends toward peace on earth. In the year 1054 CE, the Eastern Greek Church turned away from the Latin Roman Church with the pope, the bishop of Rome, as Vicar of Christ and head of the church. Formally, there were two reasons for the East-West Schism: First, the Western and the Eastern traditions could not find a proper date for Easter, and second, the Eastern tradition could not agree to the filioque (“and by the Son”) within the credo, the big confession of the faith. The filioque means that the Holy Spirit was sent by the Father and Son together.
In the 16th century, the Protestant Reformation movements began with the Augustinian monk Martin Luther (1483–1546) in Germany, Huldrych Zwingli (1484–1531), and John Calvin (1509–1564) in Switzerland. The theologians Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466 or 1469–1536) and Philipp Melanchthon (1497–1560) both followed the Lutheran teaching and supported the Protestant teaching in the academic sector (e.g., by writing important letters). The Protestant Reformation movements wanted to renew the Western Church (e.g., by providing new translations of the Bible, and a new structure by changing the hierarchy). But in the end, these movements divided the church again as a result of a second big schism. Protestant Christianity then divided again into the many small movements and churches, or denominations, of today.
In 1534, the English Church separated from the Roman Church, and as a result the Church of England or Anglican Church was founded. The king or the queen of England is the head of the Anglican Church, and meanwhile the Archbishop of Canterbury exercises this office worldwide in the Anglican Church (e.g., the Episcopal Church in the USA). Whereas the High Church is near to the Catholic Church, the Low Church is nearer to the Protestant Church. So the Anglican Church regards itself as a “middle way” between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism.
In contrast to Protestantism, the Catholic Church keeps up its 2,000-year-old tradition and discipline, although the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican (1962–1965) has changed some elements in this tradition.
Islam was founded by the prophet Muhammad (ca. 570–632 CE), who had a direct revelation from God ( Alla – h ). This revelation is written down in the Koran, the holy book of Islam. In 622 CE, the first year of the Islamic calendar, Muhammad went from Mecca to Medina; this event is called the Hijra, or “walk,” which was the founding act of Islam. Sometime later, Muhammad returned to Mecca with his soldiers and gained a lot of followers and power. Islam regards itself as the final religion, which is based on the ultimate revelation given by God to Muhammad. This revelation gave perfection to the Mosaic and Christian revelation. Muhammad, the prophet of God, is the last and the highest of the prophets.
In the Islamic tradition, on each Friday there is a ritual prayer in the mosque. Ritual prayers are among the most important elements of Islam, the so-called Five Pillars of Islam: (1) fasting in the month of Ramadan, (2) the pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj), (3) ritual prayers (salát) several times a day, (4) charity (e.g., giving money to the poor), and (5) the profession of faith. Also, the observance of religious law (sharia), which contains rules for all areas of human life, is central to Islamic teaching. Islam is a religion or belief system of strict discipline, and it has gained a lot of influence in the states of both the Near East and the Middle East, as well as in Indonesia and Africa.
Each major religion or belief system knows certain objects and symbols, as well as rites. The rite is often connected with specific objects or symbols. In Buddhism, for instance, the wheel is a symbol of the recurrence of life and, more important, the Noble Eightfold Path. In the Mosaic tradition, the Star of David is the central symbol of identification. In Christianity, the cross, on which Christ was sacrificed, is the core symbol. And in the Islamic tradition, the half moon, as well as the sword, is central.
Symbols serve to give meaning to rites. In Jewish service, for example, the scrolls of the Torah must not be touched by humans, because they are absolutely sacred and represent God’s presence. Therefore signs exist, sometimes formed like a human hand, with which the scrolls of the Torah can be touched in order to follow the lines, which have to be cited. Another symbol in Jewish service is the shofar, a horn (e.g., from a ram, which is blown in preparation for and during Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, when humans reconcile with God). Yom Kippur is celebrated 10 days after Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.
In the Catholic Holy Mass, wine and bread are leavened and then transubstantiated into the blood and body of Christ as an unbloody renewal of the Crucifixion of Christ. The Host is then essentially Christ, and it is carefully venerated and adored. Also, the Virgin Mary is venerated in the Catholic faith as the Mother of Jesus Christ (i.e., the Mother of God). In the Protestant traditions, the transubstantiation is interpreted in a different way. The essential real presence of Christ is limited to the moment of the transubstantiation. Also, the veneration of the Virgin Mary and the saints is not common in the Protestant tradition. In order to venerate the Corpus Christi (body of Christ), the Virgin Mary, or the saints, there are often processions of Christians, especially in the Catholic tradition.
The pilgrimage ( hajj ) to Mecca, one of the holy cities of Islam, has its aim in circling around the Kaaba, or “cube.” The Kaaba is a thousand-year-old small building and the most sacred place in Islam. In the Eastern corner of the Kaaba, there is the Black Stone, the most important feature of the “cube.” All Muslims pray in the direction of Mecca, as it is the center of Islam.
Also, ritual dances or specific music or songs help to bring people into a state of mind that leads them toward a deeper understanding of the transcendent. The location for rites is, in most cases, a sacred place or a temple (in Christianity, a church), which can be seen as the house of God. These “houses of God or gods” attach a specific place to religions or beliefs, thereby providing an identity for them; also, they provide a meeting point for the believers as a kind of “home.”
Religions and belief systems express themselves in teachings, on the one hand manifested by oral traditions and on the other by sacred manuscripts. The basis for most of the teachings is a divine revelation.
The most common religious manuscript in our times is the Holy Bible, the “book of books.” But in the Far East, we have a lively tradition of Holy Scriptures: In the Vedas and Upanishads, Indian religious wisdom is written down, as in the Bhagavad Gita, or Song of God, as mentioned earlier. In the Bhagavad Gita, Sanjaya, who has a supernatural eye, tells the blind-born king Dhritarashtra about the big battle (between the near-related royal families of the Pandavas and Kauravas) that took place in the region where now the city of Delhi is located.
Judaism and Christianity refer in different ways to the Holy Bible. The Mosaic tradition is based on the five books of Moses, the Mosaic law or the Torah, the books of the prophets, and the psalms. Another important writing of Jewish tradition is The Guide of the Perplexed by Moses Maimonides (ca. 1135–1204), which considers religious and philosophical aspects, and helps to interpret the Jewish law properly. Maimonides’s influence on Jewish thinking still remains intense. Christianity is also based on the Old Testament, partly equivalent to the Hebrew Bible ( Tanakh ), but also on the New Testament: the Four Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the Epistles of Saint Paul, and the General or Catholic Epistles, as well as the Apocalypse of Saint John.
In the Koran, or “the recitation,” the holy book of Islam, the revelation to Muhammad resulted in the central teachings of Islam, which are the core of the religious law, the sharia. Furthermore, the sunna, the history of the life of Muhammad, is the model of a good life for a Muslim. In Islam, the religious law, the sharia, has a great meaning, so the most important religious leaders are judges.
Teachings of all religions provide explanations for the beginning of the universe, as in Genesis, the first book of the bible, moral teachings, and orders for a good life, which must match the will of God. These moral teachings belong to the realm of natural rights, which are similar in all religions and belief systems and their teachings. Natural rights follow human nature and therefore human rationality. Religious teachings give answers to crucial human questions concerning the universe, ethical problems, and life and death.
In the field of religions and beliefs, many fruitful future research areas can be found. The humanities, especially the studies of religion, which are linked to anthropological and sociocultural research, create new research areas: using the structuralistic method of the French ethnologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, rituals are analyzed in order to discover the common structures of rituals in different religions or beliefs. Furthermore, the discourse of religions and beliefs are examined as well. Therefore, the dynamics and controversies within this discursive process are analyzed and described in order to obtain more results concerning the relationship between different religions and belief systems.
Also, the aesthetics of religions or beliefs are currently under scrutiny. Religions and beliefs can be described as aesthetical systems or systems of symbols, which influence the human realization of reality. The aesthetics of religion build up a systematic coherence for religions and belief systems. Another field of interest is the influence of religions and beliefs on different human societies and politics, because religions and belief systems provide ethical rules and values. Psychological studies examine the inner processes caused by the personal beliefs of a human being, for example during religious examinations, such as prayers or meditations. Very important for future research on religion is the investigation of human nature. All religions or belief systems provide concepts of human nature. This question of human nature is important for answering many questions and solving many problems in terms of the sciences in the future (e.g., in human-genetics research).
Also, in philosophy and theology, there are new areas of research, especially the examination of the relationship between rationality and religion or belief. For example, the context of metaphysical considerations of late antiquity and the appearance of Christian revelation in the first centuries, beginning with early Fathers of the Church like Origen (185–254 CE) and ending with Saint Augustine (354–430 CE). During that time, theology has its origins in the confrontation of philosophy and religion. A major rational concentration on religious thoughts can be found in the Middle Ages (e.g., in the Summa Theologica, written from 1264–1274, of Saint Thomas Aquinas). The rationalism of the European Enlightenment emphasized critical views grounded in logic and nature. After rationalism, German idealism included religion systematically within philosophy as a philosophical perfection of the spirit. The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) understood his philosophical work as a negative profile of religion in contrast to Christian thinking, which, he posited, is not suitable to human nature. But in the 20th and 21st centuries, religions and beliefs soon came back to the intellectual agenda. Therefore, religions and beliefs are truly fruitful objects for future research, as well as for anthropological research.
Summing up, the following three points are important for an anthropological perspective of religions and beliefs:
- Religions and belief systems want to give humans aspecial place in the universe and within reality itself, which is of course a different orientation from the scientific worldview, but nevertheless one way to consider the universe and humans within it.
- People may not want to refer to religion or beliefs assomething entirely made by humans. For many people, religions and beliefs should include a serious transcendental relationship (e.g., based on a revelation). Otherwise, religion is in danger of becoming an ideology, which may lead people to the use of force and cruelty, as in totalitarian political systems. Such systems are often characterized as political religions, like fascism, national socialism, or communism.
- Moreover, religions and belief systems need not be rigidsystems of moral teachings in order to suppress others. Religions offer guidelines for life respecting the truth, with the aim being a future life (of the soul) in truth and peace. In religions and belief systems, people want to live their lives in accordance with God, as fruitful and successful individuals. And, what is more, people want to gain the hope for eternal life or redemption after death, which thereby gives a meaningful sense to human existence, like a gate to paradise, near to God or the transcendent.
Religions and beliefs belong to many fields in the humanities: theology, philosophy, sociology, history, religious studies, and psychology (among others). It is very important that, in many perspectives on human life, religion and belief play a role as an answer to the question of the sense of human life and death. In religions and belief systems, humans seek answers to many other questions as well, especially in terms of ethical questions and the question of a good life. As a result, religions and belief systems play a major role within anthropological considerations of any kind.
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- Editor: Yujin Nagasawa Department of Philosophy|University of Birmingham|Edgbaston|Birmingham, B15 2TT|
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Considering escaping hell.
- Emmanuel Ifeanyi Ani
- Religious Studies , Volume 59 , Issue 1
Contractualism, exclusionary reasons and the moral argument for theism
- Aaron Rizzieri
Absolute identity and the Trinity
- Chris Tweedt
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There are many different "styles" you may choose from when citing sources. Your professor will probably tell you which "style" is preferred for your class. MLA (Modern Language Association), Chicago, and APA (American Psychological Association) are the three which are used most often by students at The Claremont Colleges.
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- Basic Legal Citation - Cornell Law School
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The Claremont Colleges Library has an electronic version of the Chicago Manual of Style.
- Chicago Manual of Style Online This link opens in a new window The Chicago Manual of Style (CMS) covers a variety of topics from manuscript preparation and publication to grammar, usage, and documentation. The material focuses on one of the two CMS documentation styles: the Notes-Bibliography System (NB), which is used by those in literature, history, and the arts. The other documentation style, the Author-Date System, is nearly identical in content but slightly different in form and is preferred in the social/sciences.
Citation Managers are tools to help you keep track of your citations as you research and to create/format your citations and bibliography. For example, Zotero allows you to keep citations, full text articles, and other research resources organized in one place. You can also use these tools to format your bibliographies and the notes/citations in your papers according to the appropriate style (APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.).
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Below are downloads (PDF format) of the M.A. (Religion) theses of some of our graduates to date.
Note: Certain requirements for current thesis students have changed since earlier theses were completed.
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How to Write a Research Proposal in Religious Studies? What This Paper Is For?
Depending on the educational establishment, a professor’s assignment, and the purpose of writing itself, a research proposal may differ in requirements. For example, students who are in the Doctor’s studies should submit such a paper for getting approval of their dissertation or a thesis. Students who actively work on launching researches or projects and need some funding for it have to persuade the investors or advisors committee of the relevance, significance, and importance of such a work. So, the main task of any student is to explain why their research matters, and how it will contribute to the subject or field.
Besides, some supervisors believe that it is an obligatory task of students to show their knowledge from the courses or classes and whether they succeeded in having a degree. Before writing, you should spend qualitative time on observations and discussions with your group. Find out why this subject is so important in today’s life, and how you, in particular, can change its impact it in the way it helps the society.
How to Write a Research Proposal in Religious Studies? Subject Matters
During the Religious Studies classes, you have for sure come up with their purpose and global impact on society. So, according to the official definition, Religious Studies are focused on studying and researching religious occurrence, beliefs, behavior and of course institutions. It does not solely explain who is God and what type of religions exist but how they affect the minds, and what principles such people follow. Thus, you have a wide range of topics you can base your research on.
For instance, popular approaches students follow to know inside out of this field are surveys and statistics. You can research how people from your community or friends consider religion, what are their beliefs and whether they find it challenging. As of now, many people believe that religion can deteriorate society by interpreting wrong its main purpose. While others think that a successful, law-abiding, and friendly person cannot survive without faith. Concerning the statistics, you can find the percentage of believers, or how many churches and mosques are built every year for human convenience.
Before selecting the topic, your group must have a faculty meeting to find out the professor’s motives. Do not neglect the opportunity to ask what topics are banned, banal and what are highly appreciated. One tip for those who have never coped with such a task, do not choose a paper on the Religion itself. Your work will only deal with definitions, and explanations that are well-studied. Choose one field such as Muslim Culture in Post-Soviet Countries and try to persuade the readers that it really matters in today’s life.
Try a quicker way
How to Choose the Right Topic
For your convenience, check the approximate list of the most popular topics within students. They will not only serve as the right choice to pick up but show the direction in which you should seek your unique and remarkable field.
- Evolution of Religion in Middle-East Countries;
- Women in Religious Institutions: Their Significance and Characterization;
- How Children Are Involved in Religion?
- Pope of Rome: The History of Elections and Controversial Beliefs;
- Bible and Quran: Where Is the Most Truth?
- Atheism as a Mainstream;
- New Religious Trends;
- Religious Attitude Toward Sex;
- LGBT in Religion;
- Online Religious Churches;
- Muslim Principles;
- Religion for Mentally-Ill People;
- Christianity From the Monetary Point of View.
If you want to show actual trends in this field, pay attention to the topic of Online Religious Churches. As of now, in the era of Instagram and Facebook, you can come across many priests who deliver the significance of God via the Internet. They have their pages where they share prayers or try to attract as many people as possible to their community. Research it and prove whether it has any sense or it is a waste of time. Otherwise, you can speak of sects that are developing at lightning speed, for instance, one of the strangest ones is the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Find statistics about how many people do follow it, and whether it is a joke or a real community.
How to Write a Research Proposal in Religious Studies: Start From Scratch
In the beginning, students get puzzled whether to go for an outline or proceed with the title. Depending on your confidence, you can skip outline but as per experience, it saves time and patience when you do not know what to write. Note, the common length of the research proposal is 2,500 words.
This chapter is nothing but a table of approximate content. Students skip this part because they are too confident in composing the text. However, it will benefit your time. Do not worry if you did not come up with an idea because its purpose is to create a sketch you will look at during writing the main parts of a research proposal.
Otherwise, you can just draw some ideas or phrases to mention in the main body of your work. Spend some time on this exercise, set a timer for 10 minutes, and start writing everything coming up into your mind. After you hear the alarm, take a look at the list and underline the words and ideas that have a right to exist. Such an approach helps students who have been assigned a particular topic by the supervisor. However, if you solely choose what to write about, think of topics you can master without any auxiliary help. You may research what bothers you or find out challenges that you overview in your everyday life. But, remember your research proposal should not be biased but contain evidence, facts, purpose, and efficient methods.
When composing the title, it is necessary to follow two steps only:
- It should be short, descriptive and logical. Try to make up a title of no more than 5-7 words. A reader will lose concentration and interest if he sees a long and interrogatory title;
- Do not use such phrases as A Review of, A Research of, An Investigation of. It is quite clear that you will conduct research, analysis or investigation of a particular problem. Besides, such titles do not provoke any desire to continue reading or even sponsoring your projects.
As per the format, the title should involve the name of the selected topic, faculty together with an educational establishment, your name, and date. Some colleges may ask you to leave a date field empty. So, make sure you find out such details in advance. Use APA style for formatting this page.
Here comes a brief summarization of your proposal, and it should be no longer than 250 words. Note, a student should not reveal the whole purpose of writing but give a clear and precise idea of why his work is actual, how it contributes to the knowledge and subject. If possible, try to make this chapter as one paragraph without dividing it into a few sub-paragraphs.
This stage refers to the significance of the problem you research or background motives you have had when selecting the topic. Ask yourself questions such as Why my research matters? Does it raise new issues in Religious Studies? You have to show a reader that you do not write it only to get a grade but you address some challenges that should be fixed and moderated.
This part has much importance. First off, you demonstrate a reader’s previous or ongoing researches or sources on the selected topic. Secondly, you show that you spent some time on analyzing the challenges instead of copying or plagiarizing someone’s work. For example, you can mention the scientists or researchers who dedicated studies to Religion, and you can attach some quotes for evidence. No need to make it in the form of a table or list, it is not a bibliography yet. You can compose this chapter in the story-way, explaining who, when and why also contributed to its studies.
Make sure you add only realistic goals and instruments that help or will affect your studies. For instance, surveys, tests are realistic because you can do them with your colleagues, students, people from your communities. But, traveling around the world asking for feedback may seem unreliable statement especially if you need funding. Explain how the LGBT community in your town is accepted by the churches, and what you think are the ways to tolerate any sexual orientation and beliefs. Methods can be various such as an evening group focused on making aware people of such representatives, or toleration meetings to teach people how to treat everyone equally.
To not beat about the bush, find online helpers that can cite everything for you, Keep in mind, if you attach the source by mentioning its name only, your research proposal can be detected as a plagiarised one, and you won’t get a supervisor’s approval. Structure all cited references in alphabetical order.
Set the time frames for conducting one or another research, hitting the targets, and submitting the work itself. If your professor does not mention the exact date, leave the field empty or write only a month.
For students who are in the Doctor’s course, there may be one more task. They have to mention an approximate budget if they require funding. Thus, you have to attach the final cost, justification of the amount, and methods on how you came up with such a cost.
How to Write a Research Proposal in Religious Studies? Final Observations
Do not hurry up to submit your work if you did not do any proofreading. First off, you need some time for relaxation and restarting your mind and brain. Secondly, only within a short time, you can quickly spot mistakes. Other helpful tips are:
- Never leave a research proposal for the last moment. Students who care about their grades and urgently need funding for their projects outline ideas several months in advance. It helps to identify efficient methods, significance, and defining the contribution of the topic on the subject;
- Spend time researching Internet sources. For example, find online groups where students from around the world, post their works and ask for feedback. Such an approach is aimed to spot the latest challenges in Religious Studies and trends that are popular to address;
- Insert your text in online editors. Such services as Grammarly or Hemingway App are helpful for proofreading. In case of any mistake, a system highlights it and you correct it without any waste of time. The latter editor also helps to understand the readability rate of your sentences;
- Check for overused phrases or words. Religion should not be repeated in every sentence. Try to play with words and substitute them to make you work look professional;
- Find out whether you are persuasive enough. Your friends or relatives can listen to you delivering the speech. After they should tell you if they give you funding or you should rewrite some chapters;
- Ask your professor about the bibliography. Some of them want to see not only a reference list but all the sources where you took your inspiration from;
- Do not exceed the limit. If your required length is 2,500 words, write the exact amount. The only fluctuation possible is +-10 words;
- If possible, do a presentation to attach visible materials for more persuasion. In this case, your last chapter of the work will be Appendices.
Finally, before submitting your work, you can speak to the professor, and explain to him what your research resulted in. In some cases, he would give you feedback whether it is acceptable or advise what to add more to get the top results. However, do not expect a faculty advisor to correct at the spot your work. Writing it independently is the highest target, especially in Master’s and Doctor’s degrees. References:
- Denscombe, M. (2012). Research proposals.
- Markgraf, J. (2009). LibGuides http://www.springshare.com/libguides/. Public Services Quarterly, 5(4), pp.269-270.
- Smith, H. (2011). The world’s religions. Lahore, Pakistan: Suhail Academy.
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An academic paper without a thesis would be like a mammal without a spine.2 You might have heard “thesis” deﬁ ned as the main idea or argument of your paper. In some cases, this basic deﬁ nition makes sense. But in many writing assignments, especially longer research papers, the stakes for a good thesis go up.
Remember—religious studies is interdisciplinary, so there are multiple modes of investigation, including literary, historical, cultural, sociological, and anthropological. These approaches tend to contextualize religious phenomena, such as beliefs and rituals.
Format of Paper I. Content and Organization A. Your papers should be 7,500 – 9,000 words, inclusive of footnotes, but exclusive of bibliography. Footnotes ( not endnotes) and bibliography must follow the guidelines contained in the Chicago Manual of Style, which may be found in book form in the department lounge, or online, in summary form.
Outline Introduction Development of Religion and Belief Early Explanations for Religion and Belief Major Religions and Belief Systems Eastern and Western Traditions Hinduism Buddhism Judaism Christianity Islam Religious Objects, Symbols, and Rituals Religion, Manuscripts, and Teachings Future Directions Conclusion Bibliography Introduction
Editorial board. Religious Studies is an international journal devoted to the problems of the philosophy of religion as they arise out of classical and contemporary discussions and from varied religious traditions. More than 40 articles are published each year, and the journal also contains an extensive book review section.
For example, Zotero allows you to keep citations, full text articles, and other research resources organized in one place. You can also use these tools to format your bibliographies and the notes/citations in your papers according to the appropriate style (APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.). Watch this video to learn more about Zotero
Admissions Students Programs Faculty About Below are downloads (PDF format) of the M.A. (Religion) theses of some of our graduates to date. Note: Certain requirements for current thesis students have changed since earlier theses were completed.
A reflective essay is an academic assignment that requires your viewpoint. Religious Studies reflection paper samples help students understand how to structure the paper and reflect on religion. This sample is about religions, beliefs, and personal choices, and one of the good religious reflection paper samples to follow.
So, according to the official definition, Religious Studies are focused on studying and researching religious occurrence, beliefs, behavior and of course institutions. It does not solely explain who is God and what type of religions exist but how they affect the minds, and what principles such people follow.