If the first class session was an intro to the class, the second session was an intro to the study of comparative religion. I didn't feel like I actually learned much, and I also felt like a lot of the "history of thought on religion" was unnecessary for this course (and L. pointed out when I was talking to her a few days later that there weren't really any theologians included).
In Class #1, the prof talked about how when he was writing his dissertation, he really loved Robert Bellah's definition of religion as "a symbol system which orients us to the ultimate conditions of existence" and his wife had said, "isn't that also true of music, art, and science?" In Class #2, he said that his wife had suggested as a definition of religion: "a symbol system which orients us to the ultimate MYSTERY of existence." This is an improvement, though still not great.
Five step process for approaching a religion/faith tradition different from your own:
1. know thyself
2. when approaching someone else's religion/faith tradition, seek that which is most appealing to you
e.g. when sitting next to someone on an airplane, you think of non-controversial or non-critical things to say in conversation
don't wanna feel like you're punishing yourself
3. cultivate a sensitivity to the language, symbol, and gesture which are unique to that tradition
4. formulate working criteria of evaluation that are perhaps unique to that tradition
e.g. how important are words as a conveyor or a medium of truth or understanding in a tradition
5. find a dialogue partner
He said a practitioner might say, "oh, that textbook is wrong," and he hopes that if anyone present in class thinks he's wrong they would interrupt.
shaman as paradigm: person with spiritual power (visionary power, healing power, etc.)
He said that creating a religion from pieces of various existing religions might create a religion that looks pretty odd, maybe a creature that can't walk. This made me uncomfortable.
a myth tells us something deeper about the human condition than just the superficial details of the story
mythos ~~ pseudos
Talking about Greek myth: "Hades, the earth" (I was like, "wtf? death!") "Athena, wisdom. Wisdom is female. That's refreshing." I facepalmed, 'cause... Sophia.
Herodotus (father of history) noticed different societies each had their own pantheon.
Comparative religion started with the Greeks, at least in the West.
rise of disbelief
Protagoras - father of agnosticism
Sanskrit word for knowledge: jnana
The Meaning and End of Religion
legere: to read, or to pay attention to (cf. "neglect")
ligare: to tie (so, to "relink" us)
lig: to be aware of, to pay attention to, to attend to, to take heed of (full acknowledgment of a surrounding environment to which we are deeply related)
Euhemerus - like the Telephone game
Dead people become larger than life.
fastforward from ancient theories to 19th century
from Class #1: Max Miller -- "he who knows one [religion] knows none"
Kant - morality & ethics, categorical imperative (behave in such a way that if everyone behaved that way we would have a better world)
Schleiermacher: (Christian theologian) the essential experience of religion was one that a child feels but which we can carry with us through adulthood - of being a creature surrounded by a vast ocean of nurturing power
- religion is not an attitude or way of seeing the world but a way of feeling about life (feeling of dependency and gratitude)
we will see a dialectic between religions of self-sufficiency and dependence/devotion/gratitude
Feurbach (atheist) all the things we say about God are things we want in a perfect father
Marx said you cannot formulate philosophy before you pass through the fiery brook [German: Feurbach]
the first task of philosophy is to demythologize religion
if the religious authorities are telling you what to believe, you'll never ask a true question
"opium of the people"
ideas are secondary to material forces
functionalism - religion wouldn't have lasted so long if it didn't provide some benefit to those who adopted it
Malinowski - Magic, Science, and Religion
Max Weber - religion is in part an expression of economic forces, but religion also influences economics
~28min film: Sacred Trances of Java and Bali
There was some interesting stuff, like the use of the trance ritual in telling the story of how a people were converted to Islam (apparently Christianity's not the only religion that converts people but also lets them retain elements of the pagan/animist/whatever faith tradition they had before) but my favorite part was: omfg, "tending the village ducks" (@22:49-23:02)
The handout we got in Class #1 outline 3 approaches to the study of religion -- Descriptive, Narrative, Interpretive -- and after watching the film he solicited the class to articulate a descriptive catalog of what we saw in the film (symbolic objects, actors, activities). Possibly we did the other 2 as well? I was having difficulty following the lecture like the whole time.
one definition of religion (Clifford Geertz): "a system of symbols which acts to establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and clothing those conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic."
Prof said this isn't one of his favorite definitions because it implies that it's all a trick and we saw in the trance video that they are dealing with questions of real forces in life.
layers of religious elements seen in the film (from oldest to most recent):
Hinduism + Buddhism (Buddhism grows out of Hinduism)
nationalism [this bothered me because while I'll agree that nationalism can share many elements with what we more traditionally think of as "religion," the only thing we saw in this film was that the pawan(? shaman-figure) is also a high-ranking government official]
yes, we're seeing hybridity or syncretism
yoga - cognate with "yoke"
paths of knowledge, action, and devotion
The Bhagavad Gita is Krishna explaining to a warrior why he shouldn't quit being a warrior -- e.g., if you die performing your dharma, you will be reborn into a higher birth/caste, so this could be a great opportunity for everyone.