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How Far Do You Think Observing A Visible Religious Activity, Such As A Festival, Can Help You Understand The Part A Religion Plays In The Life Of An Individual Or A Community?

1282 words - 6 pages

To fully understand the part a religion plays in the life of an individual or a community, I would suggest that we need to examine it from several different points of view, only some of which can be addressed by observing a visible religious activity.Using Ninian Smart's 'dimensional model' as a starting point, we can examine the different dimensions of a religion and discover how much insight into each of them the observation of a visible religious activity would allow, and consider other means of gathering the information needed to gain a full and rounded understanding of the role of a religion in the life of a community or individual.It seems fairly clear that the practical and ritual ...view middle of the document...

I suppose it could be argued that observation of Penticostalists, speaking in tongues, or some of theAfrican based religions, where trancelike or ecstatic states are induced, with or without the use of drugs, provide evidence of this dimension, but even then, you would only be observing the physical results, rather than understanding the experience itself. I would suggest that the only way to truely explore the experiential and emotional dimension of any religion is to experience it yourself. Failing that, at the very least, you need to talk to people who have undergone these experiences, although they will almost certainly tell you that it is impossible to adequately describe the peace of prayer or the ecstacy of feeling God working within you.The narrative or mythic dimension can be more easily explored through observation of a visible religious activity, as many religious rituals echo or re-enact episodes from creation myths, lives of gods or founders of a religion, or passages from sacred texts. The JudaicPassover celebrations, for example, re-enact episodes from the Exodus, as Christian Communion recalls the events of the Last Supper. This is without straying into the widerreligious festivals, such as the Oberamergau Passion Plays or the York and Chester Mystery Play cycles, which dramatise large passages of the Bible. Even here, though,observation can only give us a glimpse of a small part of the role a religion can play in the life of an individual or a community. We may learn a great deal of what that particular activity means, but any one activity is only a part of the whole religion.When we look at the doctrinal and philosophical dimension I would argue that, in some cases, observation of a visible religious activity can be nothing short of misleading. If,for instance, an observer witnessed Communion in both a Roman Catholic and an Anglican church he would see many similarities and only slight differences between thetwo rituals. It would be easy to dismiss the differences as merely cosmetic. There is nothing to be observed that would tell him about the major doctrinal differences between the two ceremonies. There is nothing visible to draw a line between the Anglican act of rememberance of a past event, however central to their belief, and the Roman Catholic belief that they are, literally, consuming the body and blood of Christ, through the 'miracle' of transubstantiation. Likewise, observation of visible religious activity in a synagogue, where women are seated separately and play no active part in the rituals,might lead us to think that they have...

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