Different Aspects of Religion essay

Religions is an important aspect of human life. Through the centuries people tried to find the definition and to distinguish main aspects of religion. Different specialists approach from different sides to this question. Durkheim, Otto and Eliade also made their contribution to the study of religion. Despite their view and approaches are different, there are still ideas which unite them. All of them center of the study of Sacred as a fundamental aspect of religion. Durkheim paid great attention to the dichotomy of profane and sacred. In his book The Elementary Forms of Religious Life Durkheim states that “the primary characteristic of religion is that it divides the world into the two domains of sacred and profane” (Durkheim, 112). He also states that these two notions are opposed to each others and divide the world into two different parts. Durkeim does not equal sacred to the divine. He views sacredness rather like form of prohibition and separation, which divides one thing from the other things, making them special.

This main division makes the core of human outlook by his mind. Sacred makes people see the division of the world to the things which are sacred and which are not.  This way looking for the source of sacred becomes an important goal of his research. Since he states that ”˜neither man nor nature is inherently sacred’ he looks for it in other places (Durkheim 84). Durkheim centers on Australian totemism in the attempt to find the roots of the Sacred. He believes that ones the source of sacred if found in any religion it can be found in other religions as well because it must be common for all religions. Finally he come to the conclusion that sacred is some feeling or states which trancedents social reality. “Thus in totemism the sacred totemic emblem symbolises the clan: the sacred reality is actually the clan itself” (Allen. 102)

Rudolf Otto in his famous book The Idea of the Holy also makes an attempt to approach the understanding of religion. He believes that defining the Holy can bring answers to the understanding of religion. Otto centers on the irrational mystery, which makes the core of any religions and which is hard to identify and explain. He believes that numinous is one of characteristics of the Holy. He defines numinous as “non-rational, non-sensory experience or feeling whose primary and immediate object is outside the self” (Gooch, 179). The word numinous derives from the Latin word deity.  According to Otto the numinous is a terrifying (in Latin tremendum) and fascinating (fascinans) mystery.

Eliade uses the concepts of Otto and Durkheim in his investigations of religion.

Eliade approaches the study of religion through the study of Shamanism, yoga and some other aspects of sacred teachings. Same like Otto and Durkheim, Eliade believes that the experience of the sacred makes the core of any religion. He makes an attempts to define broad categories, which are common for all religions of the world. Eliade uses the concept of hierophany in order to express his vision of religion. He believes the hierophany is a manifestation of the Sacred. He believes that this concept helps people to understand and put in order the world around them. According to him: “A hierophany amounts to a revelation of an absolute reality, opposed to the nonreality of the vast surrounding expanse”(Eliade, 125). Rites and special actions help people to approach sacred.

Sacred space assumes special actions from people who commit religions rites. Sacred time is another category introduced by Eliade. He believes that Sacred deals with the creation and sacred time is important because it deals with the very moment of creation and all myth return to this time as it is the most important moment. “Nostalgia for origins” and “eternal return” are conditioned by human desire to find that moment of sacred time, or the origin of the sacred.  Axis mundi, or the center of the world or Cosmic center is another important concept used by Eliade to explain his vision of religion. He views Asix mundi as a concept which helps to divide the world to sacred and profane. This center is a point where sacred and profane world connect. Axis mundi becomes a way for the people to see the sacred and get some directions of the holy for their profane lives.

Otto, Eliade and Durkheim present important concepts of religion. All three of them tried to approach the fundamental problem of religion, which has an extremely important meaning. They used different ways to explain the nature of religion but all three of them view Sacred as a fundamental and core concept of any religion. This common notion unites their views though they use different words explaining it.

Traditional African religion consists of big quality of traditional beliefs, rites and ceremonies. They may differ significantly for different parts of the continent. At the same time there are common characteristics, which unite all trends of Traditional African Religion. Theses characteristics include an attempt of African religion to give convincing explanations to the world around us and to work out rules and regulations of harmonious and peaceful coexistence in nature and among people. Holism, which view a person is a part of nature is an important aspect of this religion.  This religion also becomes a source of moral and ethical standards which regulate not only religious but also social and private life of people. Virtue in this religion is mainly connected with social aspect of life and community. Personal good is not divided from common good. Social behavioral patters, such as respect of parents, rulers, hospitality, raising children are regulated by religion. Man “relates not only to people, but to almost everything else, man “does not see himself as an individual but believes that his real life is in community with his fellows” (Steyne 1990, 62). Personal virtues, such as honesty, trustworthiness and courage are also established by religion. In African religion morality is often connected with the obedience to God. According to this religion virtuous person who obeys all moral duties and regulations has more chances to get God’s respect and recognition.

Dalai Lama in his recent lecture expressed ideas, which are closely connected by basic beliefs of African religion. In his lecture Dalai Lama states “Basically, universal responsibility is feeling for other people’s suffering just as we feel our own. It is the realization that even our enemy is entirely motivated by the quest for happiness” (Laird, 202). He centers on the things which are common for all people and believes that religion and universal human values may be that common point which unites all people of the world. Among three important commitments Dalai Lama named the promotion of human values, the promotion of harmony in religion and independence of Tibet. First two commitments closely coincide with African religion which appeals to universal moral values, such as peaceful coexistence of men and nature, men and men and obedience to higher power. Brian Weiss in his “Messages from the master” also turns to the theme of spiritual search and sacredness. In his book he speaks about rebirth (reincarnation) and higher spirits (masters) who lead and help us in our lives. These ideas are very close to the Oriental concept of karma and reincarnation but at the same time these ideas have some differences. The ideas about sacredness and higher power expressed by Weiss have common features with fundamental religions ideas. Weiss proposes to develop inner understanding for people who want to lead a more spiritual life. Only this way people will be able to get the messages of higher creatures who lead and help them in their existence.

The Middle Passage, which was a part of triangle trade system was the name of the transportation part where African Americans from Africa were delivered to America by European ships. The movie Middle Pass describes this transportation of “live cargo” from the African continent to America. When all atrocities and inhuman conditions of attitude to slaves are uncovered there arises a natural question about the attitude of the Catholic Church to slavery.

Officially Catholic Church condemned slavery. These tendency was especially visible in the beginning of American colonization. For example, Pope Gregory XVI’s expressed rigid discontent with the actions of slaveholders: “Indians, blacks, or other such people. He condemned “any ecclesiastic or lay person from presuming to defend as permissible this trade in blacks under no matter what pretext or excuse” (Allard) At the same time slaves became a mighty tool of economic development and the Church gradually softened its position on the issue of slavery. In addition the inhabitants of the African continent were treated like people who did not belong to Christian religion and thus were not as valuable as “true Christians” and this gave additional reasons to slaveholders an thus the Church to justify their actions. Carl Marx with his accent on materialism and economic necessity would probably state that Catholic Church made too little to stop the oppression of the black people. He believed that the Church was nothing but an additional weapon of the ruling class which helped them to keep other people in order and in the case with slave trade the Church again followed the desires of wealthy people and thus did not make any serious resistance to slavery because it was economically profitable. This way Marx links the actions with the economic situation and in reaction on slavery he also explains by the economic reasons.

The Middle Passage movie shows terrible historical data about the transportation of captured Africans to the American continent. The movie shows not only terrible reality of slavery and inhuman conditions of life but also gives an insight into the native beliefs of the Africans. The movie shows that these people were very attached to their families and communities. In their native land they used to live in communes formed by the members of their families. Giving honor to ancestors was a part of family tradition as well as religions beliefs. From the one side Africans gave honor to their ancestors and from the other side them worshiped them and asked them for help. Belief in God in presented in African religion in the form of belief in different sprits and natural forces who help people and punish them. These religious beliefs have their manifestations in different rites and rituals, which are aimed to get the blessing of the ancestors, spirits and natural powers. Myths and oral stories occupy an important place in the religion of Africans. Since this religion did not have written sources the main beliefs were passed in oral tradition from one person to another. Myths and tales are used to explain all fundamental processes of the universe. Symbols are rituals make an important part of African religion. Africans believe in the power of different things which can have influence on human life. They carry different religions sacred objects with them which aim to protect them or give some special abilities. The cult of ancestors was naturally connected with the cult of burial. Burial was a special ceremony in Africa. This ceremony guaranteed happy after life for the dead people and good life for their predecessors. During the passage a lot of Africans died because of terrible conditions of life and different diseases.

The bodies of dead people were simple thrown away into the water. This became a rigid violation of all traditions and beliefs of Africans. The entire history of slavery and especially the Middle passage contains a lot of violations which illustrate inhuman attitude to Africans. These terrible events are described with great realism in the movie.

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