What is Religion?

Lesson Objectives

• Appreciate the Greek influences on our conception of religion

• Appreciate how religio and fides were discussed in Roman society

• Understand the impact of the Medieval Church on modern religion

• Appreciate how other religions came to be viewed as such

• Understand how religions today are fundamentally diverse

• Appreciate why religion and religious literacy matter today

Key Terms





No True Scotsman fallacy

From the Greeks...

Sacred: Totem & Taboo (Review)

• Totems: Objects or acts symbolically good for the tribe

     • Examples: bald eagle, national flag in American culture

     • Symbolic representation of tribal identity

• Taboos: Objects or acts symbolically detrimental to the tribe

     • Example: the American flag touching the ground

     • Establishing boundaries and cultural norms     • Rituals are sacred sequences of actions rooted in tribal traditions

     • Example: Carving the Thanksgiving turkey in American culture

     • Rituals shape human behavior and foster social cohesion

Before Religion (Review)

• Absence of conceptual framework for "Religion" in ancient societies

• Pre-Roman societies practiced diverse rituals

     • Greeks: totems, taboos, and sacred civic practices

     • Hebrew and Indian Culture: "sacred" and "law" but no "religion"

          daht and dharma later translated as "religion" by the West

     • Ancient Chinese Culture: "ancestral teaching" but no "religion"

          • zong-jiào later translated as "religion" by the West

400s BCE | Temple Practices & Ancient Greece

• Herodotus: 'Father of History', aims to preserve human events, cf. Historia

     • Focus on both Greek and non-Greek achievements

     • Desire to prevent erasure of historical traces

• Herodotus' examination of foreign cultural practices

     • Study includes foreign temples and priestly activities

     • Herodotus coins the term "threskeia" for ceremonial observances

• Significance of "threskeia" — for "religion"

     • Marks initial conceptualization of religious practices

     • Sets foundation for further religious studies and discourse