Religion has been in existence since the beginning of the world, as reported by several published works over the years. However, as the world changed and evolved, scholars came up in different fields to try and answer some of the world’s long-standing questions whose answers had not yet been found. Many of these scholars and problems were based on religion, and it, therefore, gathered a lot of public attention. Scholars in theology and sociology are still studying religion to date.
Kwame Anthony Appiah gave a Ted Talk on whether religion is right; there is no such thing as religion. His argument was since a new religion was a religion if it was anything like those that already existed. He was also of the opinion that belief has been generalized such that if a community practice different custom from those that are widely known, then it would still be considered as religion (Appiah, 2014). I agree with his view of faith in that; people start to explore the unknown from what is known. Therefore Christianity, Judaism, and Buddhism have been the building blocks from which other religions have been established.
On the other hand, another scholar and professor, Ninian Smart, give a different view of religion. Smart says that religion can be analyzed by looking at the seven dimensions involved. These dimensions are the experiential, the ritual, the mythic, the doctrinal, the ethical, the social, and institutional, as well as the material dimensions (Smart, 1989). I agree that each of these dimensions is vital to the understanding of any given religion. However, the tangible concept may not be as crucial because the aspects looked at in this dimension, such as buildings of worship, are made by people. Furthermore, God is a spirit who transcends all representations; therefore, understanding him should not be based on human-made objects such as churches, mosques, and temples.
A ritual can generally be defined as a solemn religious ceremony that involves a series of steps done in a particular order, at a specific time with a definite objective. Much like religion, rituals have been in existence since the beginning of the world. With time, many rituals have grown or diminished in scale, significance, and even occurrence (Gmelch, 1981). Rituals are generally associated with one of two things; religion or culture.
In the cultural view, rituals were a vital part of any culture. However, these ritualistic practices differ based on culture across the globe. For example, in some African cultures, dowry is paid by the groom’s family to the bride’s family as a token of appreciation for having given them their daughter as a prized possession. However, in Hindu culture, the bride’s family pays the dowry to the groom. The connection between ritual and culture, especially in the modern world, is almost entirely based on keeping a specific culture alive. As stated, rituals vary based on culture, and they are one of the most important ways to maintain a culture. When these rituals are practiced, they prevent cultures from being assimilated by others and from being lost entirely.
The association between culture and rituals, in my opinion, is much more significant than that of religion and culture. This is because although religions have several ritualistic practices, congregants can choose which of these rituals they will adhere to and can ignore those that they feel they cannot comply. However, when we look at ritualistic cultural practices, everyone within the community is assigned a role that they must play within the ceremonies. If any of the members refuse to take part or carry out the duties assigned to them, then there are consequences which they must face, unlike in ritualistic religious practices.
In the religious view, rituals are prescribed, routinized, actions, whose function is symbolic and has specific importance to the performer and his or her community. Religious ceremonies also vary between religions and even between denominations worldwide. For example, Muslims wash before praying, whereas Christians have no such ritual. Furthermore, Catholics make the sign of the cross as they enter a church, whereas Protestants do not. The association between religion and rituals is based on the beliefs that are held by members of a religion. This means that if the believers think that the rituals are worth practicing or will give them favor in the eyes of their divine being, then they are more likely to take part in those rituals.
According to Gmelch, Baseball players also had everyday routines that they would take part in because they believed that these rituals would gain them a favor and allow them to win. However, the author also believes that the rituals performed by these players served to give them a sense of control over reality regardless of whether they won or lost a game (1981).
In conclusion, several years of religious studies have revealed that there is no concrete definition of religion that we can all agree. The reason for this is that religion is a broad practice that can be looked at from many different lenses making it hard to come up with one definite view. Much like culture and religion, each one of us has our own rituals, which we create and stick to until we feel that it is time for a change. The reason for these rituals is that they give us a much-needed sense of control where reality is concerned.
- Appiah, K. A. (May 2014). Is religion good or bad? (This is a trick question). Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/kwame_anthony_appiah_is_religion_good_or_bad_this_is_a_trick_question?language=en#t-863792
- Gmelch, G. (January 01, 1981). Baseball magic. Anthropological Realities, 104-108. Smart, N. (1989)’The nature of religion and the nature of secular world views.’ The World’s Religions: Old Traditions and Modern Transformations. Cambridge University Press. pp. 10–25