The Importance of Religion: Meaning and Action in Our Strange World

The Importance of Religion: Meaning and Action in Our Strange World

The Importance of Religion: Meaning and Action in Our Strange World

The Importance of Religion: Meaning and Action in Our Strange World

Synopsis

The Importance of Religion reveals the significance of religion in modern times, showing how it provides people with meaning to their lives and helps guide them in their everyday moral choices
  • Provides readers with a new understanding of religion, demonstrating how in its actions, texts and world views religion is enduring and vividly engages with the mystery of the world
  • Offers striking arguments about the relationship of religion to science, art and politics
  • Engagingly written by a highly respected scholar of religion with an international reputation

Excerpt

A prevailing idea from the Enlightenment, still with us today, is that the light of reason would dispel the darkness of religion and reveal the universe to us. While the desire for enlightenment and the attendant aspiration for a better human future are commendable, the identification of religion with darkness and ignorance is problematic. Religion has not gone away and is a topic of deep concern both because of its destructive capacity – most conflicts in the world have a religious component – and for its constructive capacity as a resource that gives people truth, beauty, and goodness. While secularization has developed in the West, this has not heralded the demise of religion. Christianity may be in decline in northern Europe but is expanding in Africa and the Americas. Islam is expanding in Europe and it is not inconceivable that it will be the majority religion in Europe in the course of time. With the demise of communism in Russia and Eastern Europe and the transformation of communism in China, religions are developing in those countries, both new religions and reinvigorated old religions, Orthodoxy in Russia, Buddhism and Taoism in China. In some western societies we also have the enhancement of privatized, individual spirituality linked with a quest for authentic experience and the true self.

This book is written in the context of these developments and in view of the persistence of religion in modern times. This is not a survey of religions or the contemporary religious field, of which there are plenty of fine volumes, nor is it a defense of religion as such, but is intended to develop new vocabularies and theoretical perspectives for the study of religion. It claims that the importance of religion is existential; religions provide significant meaning to life and guide people in their choices and practices.

Religions are not primarily propositions about the nature of reality, although they can be that, but ways of living and dying, ways of choosing a good life and guiding judgments about moral choice. Through actions the ways of life that we call religions mediate the human encounter with mystery. The world is a mysterious place, which scientific accounts do not exhaust but rather serve to add to its mystery. Religions show us ways of inhabiting our . . .

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