Smart’s Seven Dimensions of Religion

Assignment:

Using Smart’s Seven Dimensions of Religion, and examining your own life, outline these seven points and fill in examples for each from your own life experience.  Include at least three examples in each category;  more is better.  These may be listed in outline form, if you wish, or written in prose.  In both cases, you will need to identify and briefly elaborate on your point.  If you choose to write in a format other than outline, be very clear about the seven categories, in order, and your (minimum) three examples.

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If you were raised in a religious home or have participated in a faith tradition as an adult, you should be able to draw examples from that.  Each of you, though, lives in a world filled with religion and religious expressions, and examples for each of these categories may be drawn from popular music, current news, what you see as you drive to work, and so on.

Length: roughly 1,000-1,200 words.  Much below this length and your work will not meet expectations for length;  much above this and it will be excessive.

Religion is a part of every human culture, influencing all areas of life.  Religious Studies scholar Ninian Smart (1927-2001) was a Scottish educator who was instrumental in establishing the study of religion as an academic discipline.  He devised a system of understanding and describing religion which might help you to begin the exploration of world religions this term.  We will use this as the framework for your Unit 1 paper.

Smart’s Seven Dimensions of Religion:

1)   Ritual/Practical:  worship, meditation, pilgrimage, sacrifice, sacrificial rites, healing.

2)   Doctrinal/Philosophical:  impermanence is central to Buddhism;  Catholics are more doctrinal than Quakers;  Buddhists are more doctrinal than traditional African religions;  Theravada Buddhism more so than Zen.

3)   Mythic or Narrative:  all have stories:  Christ’s life, death, resurrection;  Buddha’s life.  In modernizing traditions, history is the narrative which takes the place of myth: our ancestors, our heroes, become our national identity.

4)   Experiential/Emotional:  the enlightenment of Buddha;  the prophetic vision of Muhammad;  the conversion of Paul.  It is vital to Zen and Native American (vision quest), and less important in Scottish Calvinism.

5)   Ethical/Legal:  not only doctrines and myths, but ethical and legal imperatives:  Torah is integral to Jews,  Shari’a integral to Muslims, Buddhism affirms the Four Great Virtues and Confucianism describes the desired attributes of a gentleman.  There are variations:  ethical mores are central to Quakers, less so to Shinto.  In modern national states certain norms of civil behavior tend to be prescribed in schools.

6)   Organization/Social:  the way it manifests in society, the type of leadership with priests or other religious specialists.  Embedded in a social context, religious tradition will take on aspects of that context, such that the Church of England cleric plays a role in the English class system, the early Catholic missionaries in China debated whether to use wheat or rice flour for bread, and so on.  Religions have much to say about leadership and relationships.

7)   Material/Artistic:  chapels, cathedrals, temples, mosques, icons, statuary, books, pulpits-  namely, concrete expressions.  Keep in mind that a simple book is easier to carry than a monastery is to occupy.

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