Press "Enter" to skip to content

Essay on Structural Aspects of Religion

admin 0

Theology is the systematic explanation which religious leaders work out to show man’s relation to his God and to the Universe. Almost all religions have their bodies of ideas, beliefs, doctrines, dogmas, articles of faith, ideals and ideologies. These things are systematized and rationalised in the form of theologies and creeds.

Often this includes some account of the origin of the world, and of man, like the stories of Creation in the Bible. The Hindu concept of the Trinity, that is, God described in three forms-Brahma, the Creator; Vishnu, the Preserver; and Shiva, the Destroyer, explains the creation, the preservation and the destruction of the world. Theol­ogy represents the creed, or body of beliefs and doctrines of the Church or the Temple. The written words become the sacred scriptures.

2. Ceremony and Ritual:

Ceremony or ritual is a standardised and accepted action directed towards some specific end. Ritual refers to “symbolic actions concerning the sacred.” Every religion has its own practices and techniques or rituals and ceremonies in order to communicate with the supernatural. Ritual expresses awe and reverence, obedience and homage to the God.

Sacrifices, sacred music, drama, dances, hymns, prayers, feasting, fasting, reading scriptures, writing, festivals, etc. represent various forms of rituals. They are found in all religions but in different ways.

These bring emotional unity among people and secure for them some kind of security. These rituals are relatively simple in some religions but complex and elaborate in some others. However, rituals and ceremonies are not confined to religion alone.

3. Symbolism:

“Throughout religion symbolism is important. Symbols are substitutes for or representation of objects or situations. They may be verbal or tangible. A religious symbol enables an individual to identify himself with his fellow-beings. It thus promotes a sense of social solidarity.

A symbol may often come to represent not the particular object or situation to which it was origi­nally attached, but the entire group and its culture. For example, the cross stands for Christianity, the Crescent for Islam, the Swasthik for Hinduism. Normally these symbols are emotion-charged.

4. Religious Codes:

‘Religious Code’ refers to a body of rules prescribed by a particular reli­gion for its followers to observe and follow. The code prescribes desirable conduct and prescribes undesirable behaviour.

The desirable behaviour brings rewards while the undesirable one brings punishment to the individual. In religious terminology there is a close connection between one’s behaviour and the probability of one’s attaining Heaven or going to Hell after one’s death.

The religious code defines the way in which one has to maintain one’s relation with the Supernatural and also with the fellow-beings. Buddhism thus places emphasis on “Ashta Marg (Eight-Fold Path), Jainism on “Triratnas” (Three- Jewelled Path), Islam on “Shariat” (Muslim Personal Law), Hindu­ism on “Manu Smriti”, Christianity on ‘Ten commandments’ and so on.

5. Sects:

A sect is a body of believers with similar religious attitudes and interests. The group of believers may hold a common body of beliefs, values and objectives. Certain persons, often only a few in the beginning, begin to disagree about more or less important points in the main ceremonials and doctrine of the parent organisation.

In course of time, they may go out of the organised Church, or they may be expelled by the Church itself. Now they formulate their own creed, their own official hierarchy, and take on a distinctive name and become a new “denomination”. Today’s sect is quite likely to become tomorrow’s Church.

In time, a sect makes its peace with the wider society and becomes a Church itself. Later, a new generation of people may break away from it and form another sect. Christianity has two main sects like Catholicism, and Protestantism and several other smaller sects like Puritanism, Presbyterianism, Lutheranism, Calvinism, etc.

Similarly, Buddhism has Mahayanism and Hinayanism, Jainism has the Svetambaras and the Digambaras, Islam has the Sunnis and the Shias; Hinduism has the sects like Shaivites, the Vaishnavites and the Shaktheyas oh the one hand; and David, Advaita and the Vishishtadvaita on the other.

6. Festivals:

Every religion has its own festivals. A religious festival is a kind of social get- together wherein people observe some rituals collectively. It may consist of prayers, processions, feasting or fasting, chanting of hymns and singing devotional songs, etc. Festivals reaffirm the faith and fidelity of the people into the principles and practices of religion. Festivals promote emotional integration and social harmony.

A common feature of the festival is that people clean their homes, wear ceremonial dresses and ornaments. Feasts and parties are often arranged and there is an ex­change of greetings, sweets and presents.

Some popular festivals of the Hindus are-Yugadi, Sankranthi, Navaratri, Vijaya Dashami, Ramanavami, Krishna Jayanthi, Deepavali, Ganesh Chaturthi, Naga Panchami, Gauri Pooja, Rishi-Panchami, Guru-Purnima, Rakshabandhan, Shivaratri and Holi.

7. Sacred Literature:

The theological explanation of a religion when it takes the written form becomes the sacred literature. In other words, the sacred scriptures of a religion represent its sacred literature.

Every religion has its own sacred literature. The essential principles, and theological ex­planations of a religion, in general, are incorporated in its sacred literature. This literature has a great survival value.

The Vedas, or ‘Srutis’, Upanishads or ‘Smritis’, Bhagavad Gita and the Epic are the sacred scriptures of Hindqism. ‘Bible’ is the main religious authority on Christianity and similarly, ‘Quran’ on Islam;’ Tripitakas’—(Sutta Pitaka, Vinaya Pitaka and Abhidhamma Pitaka) on Buddhism; “Agama Siddhanta” on Jainism; ‘Jend Avesta’ on Zoroastrianism; The Old Testament of the Jewish Bible” and ‘Talmud’ on Judaism and so on.

8. Myth:

Myth refers to “an ancient traditional story of Gods or heroes, especially, the one offering an explanation of some fact or phenomenon”—(Chamber’s Dictionary). It has been said that myth “is primitive philosophy, the simplest presentational form of thought, a series of attempts to understand the world, to explain life and death, fate and nature, gods and cults”-(E.Bethe). As Malinowski says myths are “statements of reality, products of a living faith, intimately connected with word and deed.”

Myth is also a complex kind of human assertion. It is a dramatic assertion, not simply a rational statement. It is a dramatic assertion in which the thoughts and feelings, attitudes and sentiments, are involved. It is the emotion-laden assertion of man’s place in a world that is meaningful to him, and of his solidarity with it.

It makes past and future immediately present; it expresses man’s solidarity with his world, and reasserts that solidarity in the face of human doubt. “Through it (Myth) men are related to their environment, to their ancestors, to their descendants, to the beyond which is the ground of all existence, to what is permanent beyond all flux.”(Thomas. F. O ‘Dea).

9. Mysticism:

‘Mysticism’ refers to the habit or tendency of religious thought and feeling of those who seek direct communion with God or the divine. In mysticism, religious life for some people becomes “transformed into a purely personal and inward experience”.

Hence, a ‘Mystic’ is one who seeks or attains direct relationship with the God in elevated religious feeling or ecstacy. He seeks to rise above all forms of the world-both those of the natural and societal environment and those of formalised cult as well.

The mystic response is found in all the world religions; in Christian­ity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism and even in Islam. Mysticism attracts varied types of people, but especially the intellectual and cultured groups. It is often an expression of protest in a subtle way. It expresses a desire to break out of established forms of worship and often of ideas.

Like the protest response, however, it can also be reincorporated into the Church. It contributes considerable enrich­ment to their subjective religious life. The 14th century saw the development of crisis in the Church, the beginning of scientific and positive thought, and a great increase in mysticism.