The Study of Religion, Traditional and New Religions

By Peter Clarke; Stewart Sutherland | Go to book overview

1

Religion and the Religions

Peter Byrne

Introduction

The aim of this book is to offer a survey of the world’s religions. We must ask ourselves at the outset what is the general character of the thing the more specialised chapters describe. There are three important questions which must be considered prior to any detailed description of the religious life of mankind in history: What is religion? What kind of unity does it possess? How far is it available for disinterested study? Each of the questions will be considered in separate subsections below.

Before they are tackled it is worth while to note some important features of the context in which they are considered—features which also help to reveal some of the assumptions underlying the approach behind this entire work. So it is vital to understand that what is offered in these pages is a work in the study of religions and not in theology. Theology is an attempt to express or articulate a given religious faith (see Smart, 1973:6). Theology thus begins, and is shaped by, the fundamental beliefs of, say, Christianity. The theologian in his development of these beliefs may offer historical accounts of the scriptures or church of his religion, but such accounts will be part of an attempt to state and defend the fundamentals of his faith for his fellow believers and the age in which they live. The student of religion attempts to offer a reflective account of the various facets of one religion or of many. He aims at detachment and disinterestedness in observation so far as these are possible. In describing the beliefs, practices and institutions of a particular religion he seeks neither to defend nor attack them, but only to understand. So it should be possible to offer a study of religion (or of religions) without committing oneself or one’s reader to the truth or falsity of that religion (or religions). Whereas to present a theology is to claim endorsement of some religious beliefs. It is in the spirit of detachment and disinterestedness that the present volume is offered.

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The Study of Religion, Traditional and New Religions
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Religion and the Study of Religions 1
  • 1 - Religion and the Religions 3
  • 2 - The Study of Religion and Religions 29
  • 3 - Religion and Ideology 41
  • 4 - Atheism and Agnosticism 52
  • Notes 60
  • Traditional Religions 61
  • 5 - Introduction to Traditional Religions 63
  • 6 - Shamanism 67
  • 7 - Australian Aboriginal Religion 78
  • Further Reading 84
  • 8 - Melanesian Religions 85
  • 9 - Maori Religion 96
  • 10 - African Traditional Religion 106
  • 11 - North American Traditional Religion 115
  • Further Reading 124
  • 12 - Latin American Traditional Religion 125
  • New Religious Movements 147
  • 13 - Introduction to New Religious Movements 149
  • 14 - North America 154
  • 15 - Western Europe: Self-Religions 167
  • 16 - Japan 174
  • 17 - Africa 187
  • 18 - ‘secularisation’: Religion in the Modern World 195
  • Further Reading 208
  • Index 209
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