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July 22, 2010

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Patrick S. O'Donnell

Revising some criteria first articulated by William P. Alston several decades ago, I like the following as indicative of "religion-making characteristics" (from a handout I give to my students):

1. Belief in supernatural beings (spirits, gods, etc.), God, or a supreme divine principle or force. A doctrinal, theological, ethical and/or philosophical dimension.
2. A distinction between sacred and non-sacred (or ‘profane’) objects, space, and/or time. An experiential or emotional dimension.
3. Ritual acts centered upon or focused around sacred events, places, times, or objects. This includes such activities as worship, prayer, meditation, pilgrimage, sacrifice (vegetable, animal, or human; literal or figurative), sacramental rites, lifecycle rituals, and healing activities. A ritual and/or praxis dimension.
4. A moral code (ethics) or ‘way of life’ believed to be sanctioned by the gods or God, or logically derived from adherence to the divine principle or force. A doctrinal, theological, ethical and/or philosophical dimension.
5. Prayer, worship, meditation, and other forms of communication or attunement with the gods, God, or the divine principle or force. An experiential or emotional and ritual dimension.
6. A worldview that situates, through (usually mythic) narrative, the individual and his/her community and tradition within the cosmos, world, and/or history. It is a significant, if not primary source of one’s identity, both in its individual form and group aspect. The worldview articulates the meaning—makes sense of—the group’s cultural traditions: its myths, history, rituals, and symbols. A mythic or narrative dimension.
7. Characteristically religious emotions or attitudes: a peculiar form of awe and fear, ‘dread’ or angst, existential anxiety, sense of mystery, adoration, reverence, love, devotion, hope, a sense of guilt or shame, serenity, compassion, etc. An experiential or emotional dimension.
8. A more or less total organization or structuring of one’s life based on an understanding (hence interpretation) of the worldview. Experiential, narrative and philosophical dimensions.
9. A social group wherein personal and collective identity is forged by the aforementioned factors. An organizational, institutional or sociological dimension.
10. Artistic or creative expressions related to any of the above. Belief in supernatural beings (spirits, gods, etc.), God, or a supreme divine principle or force. A doctrinal, theological, ethical and/or philosophical dimension.
2. A distinction between sacred and non-sacred (or ‘profane’) objects, space, and/or time. An experiential or emotional dimension.
3. Ritual acts centered upon or focused around sacred events, places, times, or objects. This includes such activities as worship, prayer, meditation, pilgrimage, sacrifice (vegetable, animal, or human; literal or figurative), sacramental rites, lifecycle rituals, and healing activities. A ritual and/or praxis dimension.
4. A moral code (ethics) or ‘way of life’ believed to be sanctioned by the gods or God, or logically derived from adherence to the divine principle or force. A doctrinal, theological, ethical and/or philosophical dimension.
5. Prayer, worship, meditation, and other forms of communication or attunement with the gods, God, or the divine principle or force. An experiential or emotional and ritual dimension.
6. A worldview that situates, through (usually mythic) narrative, the individual and his/her community and tradition within the cosmos, world, and/or history. It is a significant, if not primary source of one’s identity, both in its individual form and group aspect. The worldview articulates the meaning—makes sense of—the group’s cultural traditions: its myths, history, rituals, and symbols. A mythic or narrative dimension.
7. Characteristically religious emotions or attitudes: a peculiar form of awe and fear, ‘dread’ or angst, existential anxiety, sense of mystery, adoration, reverence, love, devotion, hope, a sense of guilt or shame, serenity, compassion, etc. An experiential or emotional dimension.
8. A more or less total organization or structuring of one’s life based on an understanding (hence interpretation) of the worldview. Experiential, narrative and philosophical dimensions.
9. A social group wherein personal and collective identity is forged by the aforementioned factors. An organizational, institutional or sociological dimension.
10. Artistic or creative expressions related to any of the above. An artistic and praxis dimension.

{The 'dimension' characterization is intended to tie in with a discussion by the late Ninian Smart of the typical 'dimensions' of religious worldviews and so may be a bit opaque without further elaboration or explanation).

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