Hinduism – Pathways to God

In this seminar we looked at the different approaches (Yogas/Margas, meaning union or connection) through which Hindu Devotee’s unite with Brahman. There are four proposed pathways to God and they can be used individually, or should someone choose, they can use a combination of yogas/margas.

The four yogas we examined are: bhakti yoga; raja yoga; karma yoga; jnana yoga. Each yoga has a different focus, so will suit different people. For me, this makes the yogas even more inviting as you can choose which is best for you, knowing that whatever you choose to do, you can form a connection with Brahman.

 

bhakti-yoga

 

Bhakti yoga: the term ‘bhakti’ means intense love for God, meaning that bhakti yoga is the path of love. This pathway is more suited to those people who are naturally drawn to God. This type of devotee will spend their time praying and worshipping in remembrance of their deity. Bhakti yoga includes doing things like reading the Hindu scriptures, singing devotional songs and developing a loving relationship with the deity of the devotee’s choice.

 

raja-yoga

Raja yoga: this path is the path to God through meditation. It could be said to be the hardest yoga as it requires the devotee to allow their mind to be absolutely still in order to experience God. Rishis, the founders of Hinduism, were able to see God through meditation.

 

karma-yoga

 

Karma yoga: this is the path of action. This yoga is based on Krishna’s teaching in the Bhagavad Gita that action is better than inaction. It is this idea that forms the basis of karma yoga. The main instructions of karma yoga are: to never stop working, but ensure the work is selfless; work for the benefit of others; lead a God-centred life by offering the results of our actions to God. Karma yoga teaches that as God lives i everyone, whenever we do good to others, we become closer to God.

 

 

 

jnana-yoga

 

Jnana yoga: this is the path to God through reason and intellect. Devotees of jnana yoga believe that we require a far greater understanding of the world in order to ‘really’ see what is out there, and what we are all about, and for this reason we should partake in the practice of jnana yoga. The tools for this type of yoga are dispassion and discrimination. Dispassion towards the world in order to become less distracted, and Discrimination – to focus our minds on what is real and what is unreal.

 

This seminar was a really interesting session, and showed me the actual meaning of yoga. Before this session, I didn’t realise that there were different types of yoga to suit different needs – I just assumed that there was one type of yoga, and that it was just used in the therapeutic sense to help people relax at home.

 

 

 

My First RE assignment!

I decided to do my assignment for this module slightly differently to my peers. Instead of doing an overview of everything we have studied, I focused on my strongest subject, and went into more detail. My assignment was a PowerPoint presentation based around the question ‘what is religion?’, but focused purely on the sociological point of views on the question.

I decided to work this way because I previously studied Sociology at A Level, and did a module on beliefs in society. As I still had my old work I felt that it would be the best way to achieve (hopefully!) a good grade for this module. My choice of how I would present my work was based on the fact that later in the course, if needed, I could use the PowerPoint as a teaching tool. It is for this reason I kept the information, although complex, concise and easy to work through and understand.

I had so much fun producing my assignment as I really felt that I put in all the information I could, in an easy-to-understand way.

This may be a short blog post, but there are limited ways to express how enjoyable my first proper Religious Education assignment was to produce!

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Beginning the Study of Religion: wk 9

This was the last seminar for the Beginning the Study of Religion module, and we focused on the question of truth. We began my looking at how, after the Second World War, Britain became much more multi-cultural due to the amount of immigration when Britain needed rebuilding. However, we acknowledged that multi-cultural societies can have problems within them, seemingly caused by religion. In our group we identified problems such as homophobia, war, segregation, sexism etc. In contrast, we looked at a religious figure who was very peaceful – Gandhi. His quote ‘there are many causes I would die for. There is not a single cause I would kill for’ is a perfect way to show how religion is not always how it is represented in the media.

We then looked at how, while there are disagreements between differing religions, there are also conflicts within related religions, and sometimes within the same religion. An example of a disagreement between different religions is that Muslims believe in the existence of a God, while Buddhists do not. A prime example of conflict within religion, is the disagreement about remarriage between Catholics and Protestants. The idea of differences between related religions is things like the disagreement on whether Jesus was a prophet between Christians and Jews. These are related religions as they can both be categorised as Abrahamic.

This activity led nicely on to the question of whether disagreements like these raise problems for the justification of belief. From this, we can ask the question ‘what is truth?’. We were shown a video that tried to explain the concept of truth in a simple way (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tb46sTEhcY8). This video can also help explain something called the Correspondence theory from Aristotle. His actual quote is “To say that that which is, is not, and that which is not, is, is a falsehood; therefore, to say that which is, is, and that which is not, is not, is true”. This was very hard to try and break down and find the meaning of, but it basically is saying that an opinion or statement is true when it corresponds to an appropriate fact.

After deciphering the correspondence theory, we looked at common responses to the fact of plurality: dogmatism, scepticism, inclusivism and pluralism.

Dogmatism/exclusivism: this is the belief that your religion holds the monopoly of truth and everyone else is wrong.

Scepticism: this is the belief that the fact that there is plurality proves that all religious beliefs are wrong.

Inclusivism: inclusivists agree to an extent with exclusivists that their religion holds the full truth, but they allow for the possibility that other religions contain some truth, allowing for salvation of others. For example, the Catholic Church accepts that Jews can be saved based on the Abrahamic covenant.

Pluralism:  pluralists believe that every religion is a pathway to experiencing ultimate reality. They say that people of different faiths experience the same thing, but in different ways, so there is no contradiction. The way I understand this notion is by imagining that we all have goggles on. Some wear ‘Christian goggles’, some wear ‘Jewish goggles’ and so on. Each different type of goggle is tinted so that we see the world in a different light depending on which goggles we wear. Two people could experience the same thing, but view it in a different way through their ‘religion goggles’.

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For me, this picture illustrates the idea of pluralism perfectly – two people from different faiths, finding a common ground.

 

 

As our last seminar, this was a lovely way to end the module by allowing us to consider our view on religious belief, and even debate the different outlooks between each other. It really got us all talking, and, more importantly, listening.

Beginning the Study of Religion: wk 8

This week we looked at the anthropology of religion, and began by getting a concrete definition of what anthropology is. We said that it is the study of humankind, or the study of human society, culture and their development. In short, it can be explained as the science of humans.

In contrast to sociology, anthropology studies the less dominant societies as opposed to the dominant western societies and their development and culture. Anthropologists have been accused of ‘going native’. This is a problem as it suggests that our western society is the normative form of reference and therefore superior to other societies. It creates an ‘us’ and ‘them’ point of view.

‘Anthropological study involves attempting to become part of the community adopting its customs and lifestyles, and participating in its key events.’ (Chrysiddes & Greaves, 2007:52). Anthropologists will usually live with a particular tribe and investigate things like: patterns of behaviour; social structures; religious practices. Once they had all their information, they would write about their findings. This became a science in itself called ethnography, which simply put, means writing about people.

We watched two videos in the seminar which followed anthropologists investigating different cultures and lifestyles. The first video was about Haitian voodoo https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kpeLdXeIbwA&list=PL55C36D6828593884. It was really interesting to see how different their traditions are to those we see everyday in our own society. We also watched a video investigating the Wicca community in England, which is a coven of witches who have sacred rituals and meetings as part of their tradition.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1nPsyZJBTeQ&index=2&list=PL55C36D6828593884. What most of our group found hardest was trying to look at these traditions without prejudice originating from our own beliefs. It really showed how difficult an anthropologist’s job is when they have to forget about their own views.

As with any method of study, anthropology has its fair share of criticisms. ‘Anthropologists who submit themselves to periods of immersion in another culture inevitably take the risk that their own way of looking at the world will be challenged, transformed and perhaps destroyed’ (Bowie, 2000:10). People can question the methodology and anthropological claims of neutrality due to the length of time spent with the group under study – there is a danger that the anthropologist’s own views may be affected by what they see, making their study biased. Because of this, anthropologists include not only fieldwork, but analysis of the process of doing the fieldwork and also a recognition of the ‘meddling part played by the scholar’ (Puwar 2003: 32).

After looking at some of the problems that arise, we looked at some key figures in anthropology, starting with Sir Edward Tyler, who was appointed first chair of anthropology in Great Britain. Tyler speculated that humans might have developed the idea of a soul and the idea that spirits might inhabit natural phenomena as humans tried to rationalise things they could not explain through reason alone. He also coined the term ‘animism’ which he believed gave way for polytheism and, later, monotheism. We also looked into how Emile Durkheim’s work can, although he is primarily a sociologist, cross over into anthropology. He conducted an extensive study into Australian Aboriginal religion, which he believed to be the earliest and most basic form of religion with its use of totemic symbols. He argued that these totemic symbols were ‘mystically charged emblems of group loyalties, and that ritual expressed and strengthened the social organism’. Durkheim used the term ‘collective effervescence’ to describe what he saw expressed at these rituals.

We looked at a modern anthropologist Clifford Geertz, and his idea of ‘thick description’, meaning the interpretation of the subject’s own interpretation of events based on the observer’s empirical knowledge. This marked the change from ‘etic’ which is looking at cultures from the outside in light of broader principles, to ‘emic’ meaning viewing cultures from the ‘inside’.

We concluded the session by looking at how anthropological study has changed over time. Today, globalisation and mass migration has meant that religions and traditions that used to be specific to one area of the world are now spreading as people bring their faith with them if they relocate. Many anthropologists now see their role as ‘to reconsider modern, secular society as symbolically and culturally constituted, and as much based on religious impulse as on reason’.

Beginning the Study of Religion: wk 7

In this week’s seminar, we focused on the sociology of religion. We looked at the different sociological definitions of religion, and how they can be criticised. We also briefly looked at the ideas of sociologists like Karl Marx, Max Weber and Emile Durkheim, who are considered the ‘founding fathers’ of modern sociological study.

Durkheim is of the opinion that religion is a social phenomenon – that we would not be religious ‘on our own’. The likes of Marx and Weber stress the relationship between religion and the economic and social structure of society. These sociologists would use both qualitative and quantitative methods in their research.

We saw that the sociological study of religion is different to the philosophical study of religion in the sense that the sociological study does not attempt to assess the validity of truth claims in religion, whereas the philosophical type of study is focused on trying to verify or falsify claims in religion. Modern sociology can also include the sociology of ‘irreligion’, the likes of secular humanism or civil religion. Sociology tends to consider the notion of religion as non-rational as there is no evidence, and therefore claims cannot be proven.  Sociologists ask questions like ‘how does religion affect society as a whole?’; ‘how does religion affect social institutions like marriage, economy etc?’; ‘how does one measure religiosity?’ and so on.

We then moved on to look at some definitions in the sociology of religion:

Functionalism – considers the functions religion has for society and consider how religion can encourage social stability. From this perspective, the existence of non-rational accounts of reality (such as religion) can be explained by the benefits they offer society.

Rationalism – objects to the functionalist and phenomenological approach. This theory says that people are religious, not for psychological comfort (like functionalists like Malinowski believe), but because they think they are actually correct.

Conflict theory -describes religion as the ‘opiate of the masses’ (Karl Marx), a way for the elite to reinforce lower class oppression. Religion is used by the bourgeoisie to justify things like racism, sexism, oppression of minorities etc. Focus on rewards in the afterlife blinds people to current oppression according to conflict theorists. Religion provides a false consciousness for the oppressed in society.

max-weber

We also looked briefly at Max Weber and his typologies. Weber classifies religious groups as: ecclesias, which describes religions that are all-embracing , enmeshed with the political and economic structure of society; denominations, which refers to when the ecclasia loses the monopoly (truth); sects, which come about as a protest of parent denominations; cults, which are new religious movements (NRMs) described as non-traditional religious groups usually based on a belief in a divine element within the individual. An example of a cult is the Scientology movement, which focuses on self-actualisation and development, and trying to show its followers that they have capabilities within themselves, not given to them if they ask some sort of deistic figure.

We found in the seminar, that there were differing focuses of sociological studies, with some sociologists focusing on particular religious communities and their relationship with society, while others focus on the makeup of particular religious groups. Max Weber is an example of this type of thinking. He conducted a study into the correlation between Protestantism and capitalism. He discovered that one particular branch of Protestantism – Calvinism – can explain how the religion and social structure are linked. Calvinism preaches the idea of predestination, meaning that God has already decided who can enter Heaven and who can not. People who believed this thought that by working hard and making a profit, they would be sure of a place in Heaven, and therefore would make a profit and then reinvest their money to make an even bigger profit. As one would suspect, Weber found that ‘Protestant’ countries prospered more. For Weber, this explains capitalism from a religious point. Weber’s book, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism explains his theory in more detail.

We briefly touched on modern sociology and how it differs. Early sociologists saw religion as being in decline,whereas modern thinkers such as Stark and Bainbridge believe religion will never disappear from society. Their theory of the ‘secularisation cycle’ explains how religion can be doubted sometimes, but will always end up having people turning to it.

stark-and-bainbridge-2

As one would suspect, with so many sociological theories on religion, there are a fair amount of criticisms. In our seminar we looked at a few of the main ones that tend to crop up time and time again on the subject. There is the idea that the theories are too ‘eurocentric’ as many conclusions are based around Christianity, or at least the Abrahamic faiths. There is also the criticism that the idea of a compensator in the form of an afterlife does not correspond with Dharmic religions and their emphasis on imminence.

The conclusions drawn from this week’s seminar are that diversity of religious belief is not what sociologists find problematic, but rather why non-scientific beliefs exist in the first place. We also saw how the increase in spirituality in eastern societies has reversed the predicted trend of secularisation, and how because of this, sociologists now try to explain why religion still exists, not why they think it will decline.

 

Beginning the Study of Religion: wk 6

This seminar was all about the psychological study of religion. We learnt that the psychology of religion investigates: religious behaviour, thinking and experience; the function of faith in a person’s world (individual, social, cultural); the individual (although it does take into account the social context); empirical evidence; intersections with (socio)biology, anthropology, sociology. Psychology is so concerned with religion, because the study of psychology is concerned with human behaviour and how it can be affected in different contexts. We also looked at how there are different ‘schools’ of psychology in different cultures. For example, Anglo-Saxon is different from “continental”, and European/American is different from oriental or Islamic. In this seminar, we focused just on the Anglo-Saxon school of psychology.

Psychologists will look at things like whether religious people are happier, healthier, more moral etc. They will also look at whether religion has negative effects on people, looking at things like suicide pacts, cults, end time theology and so on.

We moved onto the idea that some psychologists have that certain people have more capacity to be religious due to their DNA. We watched a video*, which showed why some psychologists are seriously considering the argument of ‘the God Gene’. The video showed the storied of two people who had both had very ‘real’ religious experiences due to the way temporal lobe epilepsy can affect a minority of people. One man had a hallucination in which he believed that he had died and been sent to hell because he had not been a devout Christian. Although in his normal life, the man was a confirmed atheist, he still had this vision as a result of the temporal lobe epilepsy. The documentary also showed a woman, who unlike the man, was religious – she was a devout Roman Catholic – and had been having visions and the like, for many years. Her first was after her honeymoon when she was in hospital. She believed a woman on the same ward as her to be the devil, and described her as having green skin. Another experience came when she gave birth to her son. The woman believed that she was Mary, her husband was Joseph, and that their new born son was Jesus Christ. The documentary was extremely eye-opening, and made it clear why religion is such a studied subject within psychology around the world. For example, with information and science at the standard it is today, psychologists could even begin to question the likes of Saint Paul’s vision on the road to Damascus, Moses and the burning bush, stories like those of Ellen White and her visions etc. *https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4bwN1Agsk5s&t=371s

We then moved onto our own personal research to look at individual people and their views on religion. We looked at key thinkers on religion such as: Freud, who stated that religion was simply a form of obsessional neurosis resulting in our need for a father figure and guidance; William James who says that religious experiences are ‘psychological phenomena’ – although this is not against the validity of the experience for the person; Erik Erikson, who tends to link religion with culture, and so on.

All in all, this seminar was very interesting, and gave new insight into a study of religion that not many of us had considered and has allowed me to look at other things I have studied from another angle, which I believe can only be beneficial as part of my course.

Beginning the Study of Religion: wk 5

This week, we looked at Phenomenology. This was the most challenging topic so far, but I feel that my understanding of phenomenology has improved after spending a bit of time looking over the seminar notes and PowerPoint at home as well as in university.

Phenomenology: The study the study of “phenomena”: appearances of things, or things as they appear in our experience, or the ways we experience things, thus the meanings things have in our experience. Phenomenology studies conscious experience as experienced from the subjective or first person point of view.

Also, the study of phenomena through lived experience asks ‘how is religion experienced in the moment?’. At first, this was still a bit daunting, but after looking further into the subject, it made more sense.

One particular thinker we looked at in relation to phenomenology was Edmund Husserl. Husserl stated that phenomenology is a doctrine concerned with what things are, not whether things are. He is not interested in the metaphysical world, and neither seeks nor accepts evidence other than that offered by consciousness itself. Above all, for Husserl, phenomenology is a method and attitude of mind.

The aim in the phenomenological study of religion is to provide a straight forward account of religious phenomena, untainted by conscious polemic assumptions. This type of study of religion allows religious believers to speak for themselves, and record and categorise what they say.

We then moved on to look at the idea of phenomenological reduction, which Husserl calls bracketing away/suspending/disconnecting. Phenomenological reduction aims to effectively erase unnecessary speculation by returning the subject to their primitive experience of the matter, whether the object of inquiry is a feeling, an idea or a perception.

The idea of bracketing is to put aside any information we add to something when we see it. For example, when we see an object, we may see it from an aesthetic (purely physical, visual) point of view, however, we will use logic to deduce things about the object, assuming it means one thing, when in fact, it may have originally meant something completely different to someone else. The swastika is a prime example of this. It was used around 5,000 years before Hitler came to power, and comes from the Sanskrit word svastika, which means “good fortune” or “well-being.” To this day it is a sacred symbol in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. However, because of the information we have now, we presume a different meaning for the swastika without looking at it for what it really is in someone else’s terms.

Because of this, Husserl states that we must bracket things out. The brackets go round categories of information. These categories are then tossed from our minds. In this way, we will be left with the object itself, which is what we must study. The conclusions we draw will better represent the object of study, as we will deduce purely from what the object is, not from what we believe it to be out of context.

Phenomenological reduction helps us to free ourselves from our prejudices and remain completely detached so we can encounter ‘things as they really are in themselves’. Sharpe (1975) said that the phenomenological approach ‘provided a path to the verstehen (understanding) of religion, and a grasp of its wesen (essence)’.

Lastly, we touched upon the idea of Empathic Objectivity. Phenomenologist J.L Cox argues that a non-believer can appreciate the meaning of religion in the believer’s own terms because he has suspended his own personal or academic presuppositions by temporarily placing them in brackets. The idea of empathy fits perfectly with the idea of bracketing as to work, each relies on the other. If one did not have empathy, one could not sufficiently bracket our own beliefs/thoughts, and conversely, if one did not bracket their opinions, they would not be fully empathetic towards someone else.