-- Swami Vivekananda
"I would rather live my life as if there is a God and die to find out there isn't, than live as if there isn't and to die to find out that there is."
-- Albert Camus
In this essay, I will explore the religious experience in general and some of its variations around the world. The focus will be on the types of religious beliefs and religious leaders, especially in small-scale societies. An exploration of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, or any other major religion is beyond the scope of this essay. The approach taken is that of cultural relativity--religious practices or beliefs are not evaluated in terms of their "correctness" or "sophistication" but, rather, in terms of their function within the societies that have them.
What is Religion?
A religion is a system of beliefs usually involving the worship of supernatural forces or beings. Religious beliefs provide shape and meaning to one's perception of the universe. In other words, they provide a sense of order in what might otherwise be seen as a chaotic existence. Religions also provide understanding and meaning for inexplicable events such as a loved one being killed in an earthquake or some other unpredictable force of nature. For most religious people, their beliefs about the supernatural are at the very core of their world views.
Rituals in Religion
The performance of rituals is an integral part of all religions. Rituals are stylized and usually repetitive acts that take place at a set time and location. They almost always involve the use of symbolic objects, words, and actions. For example, going to church on Sunday is a common religious ritual for Christians around the...
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...what is right and wrong behavior. If individuals do the right things in life, they may earn the approval of the gods. If they do the wrong things, they may suffer supernatural retribution. For instance, the most sacred text of Islam, the Koran, not only provides detailed lists of specific kinds of crimes and appropriate earthly punishments, but it also gives descriptions of how to do mundane tasks such as eating specific kinds of food.
The sacred texts of religions usually set precedents for proper behavior in common situations. The Judeo-Christian Bible stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Able, Noah, Job, Moses, Solomon, and even Jesus provide examples of how virtuous people should lead their lives. It does not matter whether the sacred stories or myths of a religion actually occurred in every detail--they are still illustrative of correct thought and behavior.
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