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World Religions and Belief Systems: Definition of Terms

World Religions and Belief Systems: Definition of Terms

In the subject Introduction to World Religions and Belief Systems, the learners are expected to demonstrate understanding of belief system or worldview, Religion, Spirituality, Philosophy of Religion, Theology, the elements of religion, belief system, and spirituality. Being familiar with the following terms and concepts are very important as an introduction:

1.  ‘Materialism’ is the philosophical doctrine that physical matter is the only ultimate reality. It maintains that all that exists is reducible to matter or to qualities or upshots of matter.

2. Theists believe that unlike opposing ethical theories, theistic moral system (which is also called ‘moral supernaturalism’) can satisfactorily explain the existence of objective ethical values and moral laws.

3. Worldview is more than culture as it extends to perceptions of time and space, of happiness and of well-being. In fact, the beliefs, values, and behaviors of a culture stem from its worldviews.
                      
4. Derived from the German term ‘weltanschauung,’ the term ‘worldview’ refers to the cluster of beliefs an individual holds about the most significant concepts of life such as God, the cosmos (universe), and humanity. These beliefs, which may or may not be true, form a general picture, a broad-spectrum outlook, or a grand perspective on life and the world.

5. ‘Spirituality’ is one’s integrative view of life. It involves a quest for the meaning and ultimate value of life as opposed to an instrumentalist or materialistic attitude to life.

6.  The word ‘philosophy’ came from the Greek words ‘philo’ (love) and ‘sophia’ (wisdom) and is thus literally defined as “the love of wisdom”. Considered by some as ‘the mother of all branches of knowledge’, it may be defined as the systematic examination of principles and presuppositions of any field of inquiry, including religion.
 
7. “Seekers” are those people who are looking for a spiritual home but contemplate recovering earlier religious identities. These SBNRs embrace the “spiritual but not religious" label and are eager to find a completely new religious identity or alternative spiritual group that they can ultimately commit to.
 
8. Belief systems are often deemed as convictions, often in the form of supernatural or religious beliefs, though they may also take the form of scientific views, or any philosophical belief relating to the sphere of daily life.

9. Religious scriptures are the so-called sacred texts which religions consider to be central to their faith. Religious texts may be utilized to “evoke a deeper connection with the divine, convey spiritual truths, promote mystical experience, foster communal identity, and to guide individual and communal spiritual practice” (“Religious Text,” n.d.).

10. Generally, a ‘ritual’ is a “sequence of activities involving gestures, words, and objects, performed in a sequestered place, and performed according to set sequence” (“Ritual,” n.d.).  Rituals may be prescribed by the traditions of a community, including a religious community.

11. Other polytheists are ‘kathenotheists,’ that is, worshiping different gods or goddesses at different times.
 
12. The term ‘monotheism’ comes from the Greek ‘μόνος’ (‘monos’) meaning “single” and ‘θεός’ (‘theos’) meaning ‘god.’ It characterizes the traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—religions that had grown up in opposition to polytheism.
 
13. The spiritual dimension (spirit) is described as a unifying force within individuals, integrating and transcending all other dimensions. This dimension is also described as God-consciousness, or related to a deity or supreme values.

14. This worldview finds its roots in empiricism, which claims that all valid knowledge is derived from experience, and in positivism, which denies all metaphysical concepts. Ethically, naturalism proposes that morality must be limited to non-spiritual context since it denies any supernatural end for humankind.

15. A religion is also viewed as “an organized collection of beliefs, cultural systems, and worldviews that relate humanity to an order of existence” (“Religion,” n.d.). Many religions possess holy scriptures, narratives, or sacred accounts that aim to explain the origin and meaning of life and the universe.

16. Webster’s dictionary defines theology as “the science of God or of religion; the science which treats of the existence, character, and attributes of God, his laws and government, the doctrines we are to believe, and the duties we are to practice. . . the science of Christian faith and life.” In the fifth-century, the philosopher Augustine defined theology as “rational discussion respecting the deity” (“Theology,” n.d.).

17. ‘Philosophy of religion’ refers to the philosophical study of the main themes and concepts involved in religions. It may also include an enquiry into the religious significance of historical events (e.g., the Holocaust) and the general features of the cosmos, the laws of nature, and the occurrence of conscious life.

18. A ‘mosque’ is a place of worship for followers of Islam. Many mosques” have elaborate domes, minarets, and prayer halls, in varying styles of architecture … The mosque serves as a place where Muslims can come together for ‘salat’ (prayer) as well as a center for information, education, social welfare, and dispute settlement” (“Mosque,” n.d.).

19. Monism is a philosophical, cosmological, and metaphysical stand which proposes an ultimate unity of all things, and that all seeming differences, distinctions, divisions, and separations are ultimately only apparent or partial aspects of an ultimate whole. It is a theological stance that “all is one, that there are no fundamental divisions, and that a unified set of laws underlie all of nature.

20. Evolutionists claim that the existence of all life is explained by natural selection which for them is a “blind, unconscious, no purpose, no mind, no vision, no foresight, no sight at all, automatic process” (Dawkins, 2000, p. 14). In other words, all life allegedly originated through intrinsically directionless series of processes as opposed to the planned and decisive creation by God.

The following 25 concepts and terms are also important in studying world religions and belief systems:

1. ‘Belief system’ refers to a particular way of ordering the realities of one’s world. It is often interchangeable with the term ‘worldview,’ hence, the two shall be predominantly used as synonyms in this book.

2. A ‘worldview’ is a theory of the world used for living in it, serving as a mental model of reality, a framework of ideas and attitudes about ourselves, the world, and life.
Simply put, a worldview may be defined as how one sees life and the world at large.

3. Theism or theistic worldview holds that a deity or deities exist/s. Many theistic worldviews consider this supernatural being as an infinite personal God who is the creator of the universe, and who supernaturally acts on things in it. 

4. ‘Atheism’ refers to the disbelief, denial of, or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods. The term comes from the Greek prefix a-, meaning ‘without,’ and the Greek word theos, which means ‘god.’

5. ‘Naturalism’ is a belief system that rejects all spiritual and supernatural explanations of the worldand affirms nature as the totality of reality. It holds that we can comprehend nature only through scientific investigation since science is the sole basis of what can be known.

6. ‘Materialism’ is the philosophical doctrine that physical matter is the only ultimate reality. It maintains that all that exists is reducible to matter or to qualities or upshots of matter.

7. ‘Religion’ refers to the pursuit of transformation guided by a sacred belief system. It is defined as “people's beliefs and opinions concerning the existence, nature, and worship of a deity or deities, and divine involvement in the universe and human life” (“Religion,” 2009).

8. ‘Spirituality’ is one’s integrative view of life. It involves a quest for the meaning and ultimate value of life as opposed to an instrumentalist or materialistic attitude to life.

9. Simply put, theology is the study of God. It comes from the word ‘theos’ which is Greek for ‘God,’ and ‘logos,’ meaning ‘word’ or ‘study.’

10. ‘Philosophy of religion’ refers to the philosophical study of the main themes and concepts involved in religions. It may also include an enquiry into the religious significance of historical events (e.g., the Holocaust) and the general features of the cosmos, the laws of nature, and the occurrence of conscious life.

11. ‘Religious rituals’ refer to the behavior performed by a religious member or a group of believers with reference to supernatural power or a deity. It includes varieties of behavior such as reciting prayers, singing of hymns, dancing, fasting, putting on of special types of cloth, taking birth in holy rivers, crawling, etc.

12. A ‘synagogue’ is a Jewish house of prayer. Synagogues have a large hall for prayer (the main sanctuary).

13. A ‘mosque’ is a place of worship for followers of Islam. Many mosques” have elaborate domes, minarets, and prayer halls, in varying styles of architecture … The mosque serves as a place where Muslims can come together for ‘salat’ (prayer) as well as a center for information, education, social welfare, and dispute settlement” (“Mosque,” n.d.).

14. Monism is a philosophical, cosmological, and metaphysical stand which proposes an ultimate unity of all things, and that all seeming differences, distinctions, divisions, and separations are ultimately only apparent or partial aspects of an ultimate whole. It is a theological stance that “all is one, that there are no fundamental divisions, and that a unified set of laws underlie all of nature.

15. Polytheism’ refers to the worship of or belief in more than one deity, especially several deities usually assembled into a pantheon of gods and goddesses, along with their own religions and rituals. Especially in a sociological perspective, the emergence of polytheism has been attributed to the desire to pacify the uncontrollable forces of nature, the need for supernatural moral sanctions, and the attempt to justify specialization and class distinctions.

16. ‘Monotheism’is the “belief in single God: the belief that there is only one God” (“Monotheism,” 2009). The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church defines it as the “belief in one personal and transcendent God.”

17. ‘Atheism’ stands for the disbelief, denial of, or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods. The term comes from the Greek prefix ‘a-,’ meaning ‘without,’ and the Greek word ‘theos,’ which means ‘god.’

18. Darwinism, the advocacy of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, and evolutionism, the belief in the theory of evolution by natural selection, are fundamentally related. Both ideologies attribute the origins of all life forms and other things not to the purposeful creation by God but to the behavior of random chemical and physical forces.

19. A spiritual but not religious (SBNR) individual associates faith with the private realm of personal experience rather than with the public realm of religious institutions, creeds, and rituals. He or she may ignore membership in religious institutions, participation in formal rituals, and adherence to official denominational doctrines.

20. “Dissenters” are the people who, for the most part, make a conscious effort to veer away from institutional religion.

21. “Casuals” are the people who see religious and/or spiritual practices as primarily functional.

22. “Explorers” are the people who seem to have what Mercandante refers to as a “spiritual wanderlust.”

23. Seekers” are those people who are looking for a spiritual home but contemplate recovering earlier religious identities.

24. Immigrants” are those people who have found themselves in a novel spiritual realm and are trying to adjust themselves to this newfound identity and its community.

25. Religious but not spiritual (RBNS) man is thus sketched as someone who can give gifts, pray, and do many good works, but he or she does not understand what it is to offer oneself. Accordingly, this person may pay ‘tithes’ exactly, but he or she will not put himself or herself to death in the moments of temptation. 

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