Defining Religion

Question 1: Defining Religion (answer either Part A or Part B, but not both). One of the main themes in this course has been that definitions/theories of religion are many, and it can be difficult to define/explain religion. We started the course with a general discussion of ‘religion,’ and then proceeded to examine five different so-called ‘religious traditions’ across three Asian countries. Using some of the definitions of religion we considered early on and perhaps some of the ideas of our three secular humanists, as well as data from our five ‘religious’ traditions, discuss your views on how religion should be defined and whether or not all of the traditions studied this term are actually ‘religions.’ In your discussion, use specific examples from the traditions covered this term. One of the most common ways to go about defining religion is to examine the similarities and differences among various ‘presumptive’ religions and see if you can identify a set of features common to most or all of them. What are some of the similarities we encountered in Indian, Chinese and Japanese ‘religions’ that might serve as defining characteristics of religion more generally? Can these similarities be used to construct a comprehensive definition of religion? If so, how? If not, why not? Question 2: History and/or Politics (answer either Part A or Part B, but not both). Another main theme in this course has been that religions have histories and they change over time. Without doubt, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism and Shinto all underwent significant changes over time. Provide a general discussion of this phenomenon of religions ‘changing/evolving’ over time using specific examples taken from our course. Another main theme in this course has been the often-inextricable link between politics and religion (or at least some aspects of religion). We saw this in India, China and Japan. In our modern democracies, we tend to view politics and religion as separate categories and become ‘suspicious’ when they get blended together. Using examples taken from our course, discuss whether or not you believe politics and religion really are (or should be) separate categories, and why. Ultimately, in your view, what should the relationship between politics and religion be?

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