Religious Studies 001H

Philip Jenkins

Fall 2003


Religion: Some Attempts at Definition


*Walter Houston Clark: “the inner experience of the individual when he senses a Beyond, especially as evidenced by the effect of this experience on his behavior when he actively attempts to harmonize his life with the Beyond”


*William James, “the feelings, acts and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine”


*Clifford Geertz: “Religion is 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 these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the moods and motivations seems uniquely realistic”


*Emile Durkheim: “a set of beliefs and practices pertaining to sacred things that unite people in a moral community”. Religious beliefs stem from people’s experiences with the social forces that shape their lives


*William James on the characteristics of the religious life: “1. that the visible world is part of a more spiritual universe from which it draws its chief significance; 2. that union or harmonious relation with that higher universe is our true end; 3. and that prayer or inner communion with the spirit thereof, be that spirit god or law, is a process wherein work is really done, and spiritual energy flows in and produces effects, psychological or material within the phenomenal world.”


*Peter Berger: “The sacred cosmos which transcends and includes man in its ordering of reality thus provides man’s ultimate shield against the terror of anomie. To be in a right relationship with the sacred is to be protected against the nightmare threats of chaos”


*Virginia Wilkinson: “All societies create myths to justify their values; once created, these myths become forces that shape subsequent history”.


*Hilda R. E. Davidson: “The mythology of a people . . . is the comment of the men of one particular age or civilization on the mysteries of human existence and the human mind, their model for social behavior, and their attempt to define in stories of gods and demons their perception of the inner realities.”