Based on a paper titled “Studying Religion” by Misty Smith. Originally published on April 6, 2015, for REL/134 at the University of Phoenix.
*Disclaimer: I am a lifelong learner; therefore, I study various topics including religions and cultures. I do not intend to promote one over another and believe that everyone has the right to believe as they wish (or do not believe).
Defining a tradition as a religion can be somewhat difficult. Some believe that for a tradition to be a religion that there must be a God or Goddess involved, while others also require a set of holy scriptures to be in the equation. “The problem of how to define religion continues to plague scholars, who love definition. A definition may apply well to some religions, but not to others. A definition may apply to religions of the past, but may not be suitable for a religion of the future” (Molloy, 2013). Across the world, most religions have a common core of eight elements. These eight elements include a belief system, community, central myths, ritual beliefs, ethics, characteristic emotional experiences, material expression, and sacredness (Molloy, 2013).
The Three Western Religions
There are three main Western Religions in today’s society– Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Each of these religions has a varying amount of both differences and similarities. For example, all three of the Western religions believe in the God of Abraham, although they name him differently. Furthermore, they also believe in such central myths as God creating the world in seven days, Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, Heaven and Hell, and Angels.
Christianity, an off sect of Judaism, can be defined as the religion of Christians. “We accept as Christian any individual or group who devoutly, sincerely, thoughtfully, seriously, and prayerfully regards themselves to be Christian. That is, they honestly believe that they follow Yeshua of Nazareth’s (a.k.a. Jesus Christ’s) teachings as they interpret them to be” (“Religious Tolerance”, 2014). There are numerous denominations of the Christian faith; however, they all believe that Jesus Christ was not only the son of God on Earth but that he was God himself — they believe that for one to go to Heaven after they die, they must accept this as a fact. Christians use the cross as a symbol of their faith of Jesus’ divinity and believe that he died to make sure all of their sins would be forgiven. Furthermore, Christians view the Holy Bible as the divine words from God. The old testament refers to the God of Abraham, whereas the New Testament refers to Jesus as God. Christians also gather in churches on Sundays (according to the sect) for worship, which includes singing hymns, giving tithes, and baptisms. Furthermore, Christians allow every member of their churches, including women and children (in varying degrees), to participate in worship services.
Next, “Judaism is an Abrahamic religion — a faith which recognizes Abraham as a Patriarch. Others include Christianity, Islam, and the Baha’i Faith. Although Jews comprise only about 0.2% of the human race, Jewish influence on the world has been vast — far more than their numbers would indicate“(“Religious Tolerance”, 2014). Jews do not recognize Jesus as God, nor the son of God. They believe that there is only one God and that he was the God of Abraham.
The Jewish religious book is called the Torah and the Jewish people see the worship of Jesus as God as blasphemy. Furthermore, “Jews believe that God appointed the Jews to be his chosen people in order to set an example of holiness and ethical behavior to the world” (BBC News, 2014). “In the Jewish religion, recitation of prayers is the centre of worship. These prayers, often with instructions and commentary, are found in the siddur, the traditional Jewish prayer book. Observant Jews are expected to recite three prayers daily and more on the Sabbath and Jewish holidays. While solitary prayer is valid, attending synagogue to pray with a minyan (quorum of 10 adult males) is considered ideal” (Religion Facts, 2015).
The third major Western religion is Islam or the religion of Muhammad. “Islam is a monotheistic religion based on revelations received by the Prophet Muhammad in the 7th century A.D., which was later recorded in the Quran (or Koran), Islam’s sacred text. Islam has spread rapidly throughout the centuries and today the religion is, by some measurements, the largest in the world. Followers of Islam are called Muslims” (Religion Facts, 2015). Similar to Christianity, Muslims believe that Jesus was a true prophet of God (Allah) and was born of a virgin birth; however, stating that Jesus was the son of God or God himself is considered Blasphemy. Furthermore, Muslims deny the resurrection of Jesus, as do the Jews. However, unlike the Jews, Muslims believe that Jesus ascended directly to heaven to be with Allah during the crucifixion. (Religion Facts, 2015).
Fields of Study
“Religion has influenced so many areas of human life that it is a subject not only of religious studies but of other disciplines, too” (Molloy, 2013). Within the field of Psychology, “study include religious influences on child rearing, human behavior, gender expectations, and self-identity; group dynamics in religion; trance states; and comparative mystical experiences” (Molloy, 2013). “…philosophy seeks answers independently, following reason rather than religious authority, and it tries to fit its answers into a rational, systematic whole” (Molloy, 2013). Other fields study religion to see the daily life patterns of past and present civilizations which can be found to based upon mythological texts or ceremonies that have been passed down through generations.
Critical Issues in Academic Studies of Religions
Some critical issues to the academic study of religion are staying non-biased, and learning to not fall into cultural beliefs of the religious community being studied. (Molloy, 2013). For example, a lifelong Christian may not be able to objectively research the religion of Islam without comparing their own belief system. Keeping their personal religion as a basis of a correct religion can cause the outcome of academic studies to become nothing more than defining what is wrong with another religion over theirs.
In conclusion, the majority of the world’s religions share the eight elements; a belief system, a community, central myths, ritual beliefs, ethics, emotional responses, material expression, and sacredness. Therefore, if an individual can keep an open unbiased mind while researching religions they may be able to find more similarities than differences.
BBC News. (2014). Judaism. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/judaism/ Molloy, M. (2013). Experiencing the Worlds Religions (6th ed.). Retrieved from The
University of Phoenix eBook Collection database.
Religion Facts. (2015). Jewish Worship and Prayer. Retrieved from http://www.religionfacts.com/judaism/practices/worship_prayer.htm
Religious Tolerance. (2014). Retrieved from http://www.religioustolerance.org/