Over the years, a number of theistic and atheistic scholars alike have attempted to devise methods in which the complex nature of the world’s religions can be further understood (ed. Blagden, 2007). Of these methods, is the model known as the ‘Seven Dimensions of Religion,’ proposed by academic Professor Ninian Smart in several of his published works (Brodd, 2009, p.9). However, by defining religion and how it is studied, as well as examining Smart’s ‘Seven Dimensions’ and applying them to the widely followed Eastern religious tradition of Theravada Buddhism, it can be seen that although there are strengths to the model, in amongst these strengths are considerable limitations for when the model is applied to the study of such Eastern faiths (The Open University, 2011).
First of all, when it comes to defining religion, the Australian High Court gives a legal definition of religion as, “a complex of belief and practices which point to a set of values and an understanding of the meaning of existence” (Henry, 2010). However, notwithstanding this, religion is a very personal part of humanity and has different meanings amongst different people, and as such the provided legal definition only goes so far in defining it. Due to this intimate and elaborate nature of religion (Beck et al., 2000, pp.4-6), religion and religious systems have been the focus of scholars for some time, and many methods of studying them have emerged. These methods can include psychological (observing religion as a product of the individual or collective consciousness); sociological (observing the place of religion in civilisation); Darwinian (observing religion as similar to a living organism in its evolution) (ed. Blagden, 2007); and finally phenomenological methods (observing religion without regard for limits defined by reality) (Princeton University, 2011c), under which Smart’s model falls (Ketola & Martikainen, 2011).
Smart’s model, the ‘Seven Dimensions of Religion,’ includes seven aspects that Smart believes are common, to a degree, amongst all religions and subsequently can be used, as he states, to “give a balanced description of the movements which have animated the human spirit and taken a place in the shaping of society” (Smart, 1989, p.21). The seven dimensions or aspects, as most recently updated, include the ritual or practical dimension (the repeated activities and customs); the doctrinal or philosophical dimension (the beliefs and teachings); the mythic or narrative dimension (the stories of key figures and customs); the experiential or emotional dimension (the feeling behind traditions and how the follower responds to them); the ethical or legal dimension (the set of moral virtues); the organizational or social dimension (the structures and roles of adherents); and finally the material or artistic dimension (the significant items or artefacts) of a particular religious tradition (Smart, 1996, p.10-11).
Considering this, perhaps the greatest...