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What is Religion?/the dynamic of religion : This is not about the definition of religion but the entity itself
Posted: 10 October 2012 12:19 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 46 ]
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I’m sorry you feel that way. My posts weren’t meant to anger or infuriate.

I’m just a university student who is passionate about the social sciences and learning about other cultures including my own. As an Indian and a social sciences student, I discovered that what most of the social sciences textbooks say about India didn’t mesh with the actual experience of many Indians. It was during that time that I discovered Edward Said’s ‘Orientalism’, which precisely talks about this issue (of course, in his book he was talking about the middle east and arabs instead of India). I started looking for more works like this and discovered the book “The heathen in his blindness”, which builds and improves upon Edward Said’s research.


More and more people in the social sciences are gravitating towards this kind of research.

so that was what motivated these posts, i find this author’s work fascinating and wanted to share it.

[ Edited: 10 October 2012 12:27 PM by arv13 ]
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Posted: 10 October 2012 03:07 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 47 ]
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arv13 - 10 October 2012 12:19 PM

I’m sorry you feel that way. My posts weren’t meant to anger or infuriate.

I’m just a university student who is passionate about the social sciences and learning about other cultures including my own. As an Indian and a social sciences student, I discovered that what most of the social sciences textbooks say about India didn’t mesh with the actual experience of many Indians. It was during that time that I discovered Edward Said’s ‘Orientalism’, which precisely talks about this issue (of course, in his book he was talking about the middle east and arabs instead of India). I started looking for more works like this and discovered the book “The heathen in his blindness”, which builds and improves upon Edward Said’s research.


More and more people in the social sciences are gravitating towards this kind of research.

so that was what motivated these posts, i find this author’s work fascinating and wanted to share it.

To pick one religion (christianity) as the culprit of “confounding their language” is prejudicial. All religions have it wrong. No religion can prove any of what they espouse as truth. It’s all fantasy!

Fables have the same moral teachings as religion, should we adopt them as truth?

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Posted: 11 October 2012 01:04 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 48 ]
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George - 10 October 2012 11:31 AM

What a load of rubbish, arv13. Your pseudo-anthropological nonsense is beginning to sound more and more like trolling. Or maybe you are an Indian and fighting for some kind of a “cause.” Either way, your posts are utterly unreadable.

If you agree or not is one thing, but to call it nonsense goes too far, George. Especially in the case of Hinduism, arv13 has a point. Contrary to arv13 I think it is a religion, but not one, but a big conglomerate of practices that exist in India. I think it was Frits Staal who said ‘Hinduism does not exist’, meaning that it is nearly impossible to find even one single believe or practice common to all Hindus. Hinduism does not have a single canon of holy books, it has no one single founder, etc etc. So declaring Hinduism a religion, without a clear insight what Hinduism is, is at least problematic. arv13 seems to extrapolate from this to other religions.

[ Edited: 11 October 2012 01:46 AM by GdB ]
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Posted: 11 October 2012 03:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 49 ]
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But even here we find commonly practised rituals, though this seems to be the most intellectually free major religion.

The religious life of many Hindus is focused on devotion to God (perceived as Brahman, Shiva, Vishnu, or Shakti) or several gods. This devotion usually takes the form of rituals associated with sculptures and images of gods in home shrines.

Hindu religious practices center on the importance of fulfilling the duties associated both with one’s social position and one’s stage of life. With regard to the latter, traditional Hindus are expected to pass through four stages (ashramas) over the course of their life:
1.brahmacharga, which takes place during the school years, is focused on acquiring knowledge and developing character;
2.grastha, the middle years, is focused on worldly pursuits and pleasures such as marriage, family and career;
3.vanaprastha, when one’s children reach adulthood, is a time of increased focus on spiritual things; and
4.sanngasu, in the last years of life, one may abandon the world entirely for a life of contemplation.
All stages of life for the Hindu, however, involve religious rituals and practices. Some of the major Hindu practices are described in the articles below.

http://www.religionfacts.com/hinduism/practices.htm

This type of philosophy and lifestyle i could get into if it allowed for interpretation and variation of ritual and incantation.

I can see myself sitting on the porch one clear Idaho night and contemplating the universe while listening to Ives’ “unsanswered question”...... oh oh

[ Edited: 11 October 2012 03:33 AM by Write4U ]
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Posted: 11 October 2012 06:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 50 ]
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GdB - 11 October 2012 01:04 AM
George - 10 October 2012 11:31 AM

What a load of rubbish, arv13. Your pseudo-anthropological nonsense is beginning to sound more and more like trolling. Or maybe you are an Indian and fighting for some kind of a “cause.” Either way, your posts are utterly unreadable.

If you agree or not is one thing, but to call it nonsense goes too far, George. Especially in the case of Hinduism, arv13 has a point. Contrary to arv13 I think it is a religion, but not one, but a big conglomerate of practices that exist in India. I think it was Frits Staal who said ‘Hinduism does not exist’, meaning that it is nearly impossible to find even one single believe or practice common to all Hindus. Hinduism does not have a single canon of holy books, it has no one single founder, etc etc. So declaring Hinduism a religion, without a clear insight what Hinduism is, is at least problematic. arv13 seems to extrapolate from this to other religions.

It is all nonsense, just like your crackpot theories on Buddhism. The only difference between the Hindus feeding (“offering”) rats milk and you meditating is that they are primitive, where you do it out of boredom.

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Posted: 11 October 2012 06:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 51 ]
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George - 11 October 2012 06:29 AM

It is all nonsense, just like your crackpot theories on Buddhism. The only difference between the Hindus feeding (“offering”) rats milk and you meditating is that they are primitive, where you do it out of boredom.

This is so utterly stupid, I will not even answer.

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Posted: 11 October 2012 04:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 52 ]
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This is a difficult call.  When believers in one religion post their views here at great length as gospel (possibly with the unconscious implication that non-believers are damned or at best, stupid) rather than stating them as their views, I can understand and even sympathize when a non-believer responds just as strongly in the opposite direction. 

I certainly agree that we should all be more respectful of each other, but since many of us here are non-believers, it would be nice if the fundamentalist religionists, be they Moslems, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, etc. indicated clearly that their post is their opinion rather than the ineffable truth from their god or controlling force.

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Posted: 11 October 2012 06:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 53 ]
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hi GdB

I’m also a fan of Fritz Staal’s work. His book “rules without meaning” is very enlightening.


I think some members have misunderstood what i’ve been trying to say. This is not about ‘blaming’ or ‘defending’ one religion or another.

This is about trying to gain a scientific understanding of ‘culture’ and ‘cultural differences’. Fortunately or unfortunately, only one culture (namely, the ‘west’ ) has mostly studied other cultures, and it is commonly recognized in the social sciences that the way the West has described and conceptualized other cultures is problematic and distorting in a lot of cases.


This is where ‘religion’ comes into the picture. The modern western (european) culture was influenced and shaped by Christianity. The way it has looked at other cultures has also been influenced by this framework.

So this is not one person’s opinion on whether this or that religion is ‘bad’  or ‘better’

This is a scientific theory about how religion shapes a culture and the way it looks at other cultures.

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Posted: 11 October 2012 06:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 54 ]
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arv13 - 11 October 2012 06:33 PM

hi GdB

I’m also a fan of Fritz Staal’s work. His book “rules without meaning” is very enlightening.


I think some members have misunderstood what i’ve been trying to say. This is not about ‘blaming’ or ‘defending’ one religion or another.

This is about trying to gain a scientific understanding of ‘culture’ and ‘cultural differences’. Fortunately or unfortunately, only one culture (namely, the ‘west’ ) has mostly studied other cultures, and it is commonly recognized in the social sciences that the way the West has described and conceptualized other cultures is problematic and distorting in a lot of cases.


This is where ‘religion’ comes into the picture. The modern western (european) culture was influenced and shaped by Christianity. The way it has looked at other cultures has also been influenced by this framework.

So this is not one person’s opinion on whether this or that religion is ‘bad’  or ‘better’

This is a scientific theory about how religion shapes a culture and the way it looks at other cultures.

And for Islam to call the west the “great satan” is not a distortion and problematic? The reason why the west has accumulated data on other societies is due to our exploration of the earth. It is true that many conclusions are false and understanding a culture is problematic when analyzed from a different viewpoint. But this goes both ways. Unless you are prepared to say that other cultures understand western culture better than we understand theirs, one cannot focus on the western culture alone. Cultural differences are apparent even between local villages all over the world.

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Posted: 11 October 2012 09:08 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 55 ]
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Write4U - 11 October 2012 06:48 PM
arv13 - 11 October 2012 06:33 PM

hi GdB

I’m also a fan of Fritz Staal’s work. His book “rules without meaning” is very enlightening.


I think some members have misunderstood what i’ve been trying to say. This is not about ‘blaming’ or ‘defending’ one religion or another.

This is about trying to gain a scientific understanding of ‘culture’ and ‘cultural differences’. Fortunately or unfortunately, only one culture (namely, the ‘west’ ) has mostly studied other cultures, and it is commonly recognized in the social sciences that the way the West has described and conceptualized other cultures is problematic and distorting in a lot of cases.


This is where ‘religion’ comes into the picture. The modern western (european) culture was influenced and shaped by Christianity. The way it has looked at other cultures has also been influenced by this framework.

So this is not one person’s opinion on whether this or that religion is ‘bad’  or ‘better’

This is a scientific theory about how religion shapes a culture and the way it looks at other cultures.

And for Islam to call the west the “great satan” is not a distortion and problematic? The reason why the west has accumulated data on other societies is due to our exploration of the earth. It is true that many conclusions are false and understanding a culture is problematic when analyzed from a different viewpoint. But this goes both ways. Unless you are prepared to say that other cultures understand western culture better than we understand theirs, one cannot focus on the western culture alone. Cultural differences are apparent even between local villages all over the world.

Ofcourse it is problematic. That is precisely the point. You are absolutely right that other cultures don’t understand western culture any better than western culture understands other cultures. That is why it is imperative (now, more than ever), that we develop a scientific framework that will actually give us knowledge about culture and cultural differences, that will actually give us knowledge both about Western culture (since social sciences have distorted what western culture is also, it just reproduces the self image of the west) and other cultures. Social sciences should help us understand and appreciate cultural complexity and diversity, just as Natural sciences have done for the natural world.

They haven’t done that so far. They merely trivialize and distort cultural difference instead of producing knowledge about other cultures.

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Posted: 11 October 2012 09:50 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 56 ]
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arv13 - 11 October 2012 09:08 PM
Write4U - 11 October 2012 06:48 PM
arv13 - 11 October 2012 06:33 PM

hi GdB

I’m also a fan of Fritz Staal’s work. His book “rules without meaning” is very enlightening.


I think some members have misunderstood what i’ve been trying to say. This is not about ‘blaming’ or ‘defending’ one religion or another.

This is about trying to gain a scientific understanding of ‘culture’ and ‘cultural differences’. Fortunately or unfortunately, only one culture (namely, the ‘west’ ) has mostly studied other cultures, and it is commonly recognized in the social sciences that the way the West has described and conceptualized other cultures is problematic and distorting in a lot of cases.


This is where ‘religion’ comes into the picture. The modern western (european) culture was influenced and shaped by Christianity. The way it has looked at other cultures has also been influenced by this framework.

So this is not one person’s opinion on whether this or that religion is ‘bad’  or ‘better’

This is a scientific theory about how religion shapes a culture and the way it looks at other cultures.

And for Islam to call the west the “great satan” is not a distortion and problematic? The reason why the west has accumulated data on other societies is due to our exploration of the earth. It is true that many conclusions are false and understanding a culture is problematic when analyzed from a different viewpoint. But this goes both ways. Unless you are prepared to say that other cultures understand western culture better than we understand theirs, one cannot focus on the western culture alone. Cultural differences are apparent even between local villages all over the world.

Ofcourse it is problematic. That is precisely the point. You are absolutely right that other cultures don’t understand western culture any better than western culture understands other cultures. That is why it is imperative (now, more than ever), that we develop a scientific framework that will actually give us knowledge about culture and cultural differences, that will actually give us knowledge both about Western culture (since social sciences have distorted what western culture is also, it just reproduces the self image of the west) and other cultures. Social sciences should help us understand and appreciate cultural complexity and diversity, just as Natural sciences have done for the natural world.

They haven’t done that so far. They merely trivialize and distort cultural difference instead of producing knowledge about other cultures.

I agree in principle, if cultures were secular. But if a culture (theocracy) demands that their viewpoint is the only true viewpoint, then no amount of analysis will be able to overcome this chasm.
Unfortunately there seems to be no culture that does not have a fundamental religious association. We say that the US has a secular culture but that is a false assumption. The US is one of the most religious cultures. The only positive aspect is that our laws are secular which in fact allow those religions to flourish. This cannot be said of the old theocracies. There seems to be a trend in Islam toward fundamentalism and restriction of personal freedoms than ever before and unfortunately this might be due to previous religious wars, which only resulted in distrust and opposition to new ideas.
IMO, understanding cultures does nothing to advance the ability to live peacefully side-by-side. When individual rights are subservient to ancient dogma, how can one expect a discussion on secular terms. It just won’t work until religion is relegated to personal subjective experience and replaced with objective humanistic principles of ethics and morals.

[ Edited: 11 October 2012 09:56 PM by Write4U ]
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Posted: 12 October 2012 04:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 57 ]
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I am wondering why arv13 is misunderstood so many times. The point he is making is that there are still preconceptions in the way western cultural anthropology studies other cultures, at least when it is about religion. He refers to Balagangadhara, who obviously is a respected professor in ‘Comparative Science of Cultures’ in Belgium. That of course does not mean that everything he proposes is correct and scientifically underpinned. But what he obviously does is pointing to the fact that cultural anthropology takes too many ideas for granted from its western background. So if you agree or not, at least he is trying to establish a firmer scientific ground for cultural anthropology, by making it more universal, i.e. find descriptions that correctly picture the differences between religions in the west and elsewhere.

That is not done by saying something like ‘What Jesus is for Christianity is Mohammed for the Islam, Buddha for Buddhism, and Krishna for Hinduism’. It is also not done by dividing the culture in ‘daily or worldly business’ on one side, and ‘religious activities’ at the other side. (The little I know of Hinduism I suppose such a division cannot be made. I expect the same in all forms of animalism.) At least I find Balagangadhara’s approach interesting. There are plenty problems in interpreting other cultures correctly, so at least trying to solve them by cleaning our own prejudices seems a valuable project to me.

arv13: correct me where I misunderstood you.
garythehuman: I found the book as pdf with google. So if you are really interested…

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Posted: 12 October 2012 01:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 58 ]
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GdB - 12 October 2012 04:23 AM

I am wondering why arv13 is misunderstood so many times. The point he is making is that there are still preconceptions in the way western cultural anthropology studies other cultures, at least when it is about religion. He refers to Balagangadhara, who obviously is a respected professor in ‘Comparative Science of Cultures’ in Belgium. That of course does not mean that everything he proposes is correct and scientifically underpinned. But what he obviously does is pointing to the fact that cultural anthropology takes too many ideas for granted from its western background. So if you agree or not, at least he is trying to establish a firmer scientific ground for cultural anthropology, by making it more universal, i.e. find descriptions that correctly picture the differences between religions in the west and elsewhere.

That is not done by saying something like ‘What Jesus is for Christianity is Mohammed for the Islam, Buddha for Buddhism, and Krishna for Hinduism’. It is also not done by dividing the culture in ‘daily or worldly business’ on one side, and ‘religious activities’ at the other side. (The little I know of Hinduism I suppose such a division cannot be made. I expect the same in all forms of animalism.) At least I find Balagangadhara’s approach interesting. There are plenty problems in interpreting other cultures correctly, so at least trying to solve them by cleaning our own prejudices seems a valuable project to me.

arv13: correct me where I misunderstood you.
garythehuman: I found the book as pdf with google. So if you are really interested…


thanks gdb, yes you are on the right track. but he goes much further than his predecessors. He builds on authors like Fritz staal and Edward Said. Many researchers before him have noted the fact that Europeans just brought different practices together and lumped them under the term “hinduism” or “shintoism” or “jainism”, but they still considered these practices as ‘religious practices’.  He takes it one step further and asks: Why are these practices and traditions considered religion at all? He makes it clear in his book, that the ‘universality of religion’ is a pre theoretical assumption and not a scientifically proven fact, and devotes volumes of pages on explaining how and why this is so.

In the process he studies the Western culture itself, its development, and how it encountered and studied other cultures. The assumption that religion is found across all cultures was an assumption that started way back in the 14th and 15th century Europe when missionaries and travelers journeyed to Asia and Africa and immediately set about the task of finding the ‘religion’ of these peoples.  They never even considered the possibility that maybe these cultures don’t have religion. No, they thought these cultures MUST have religion, because God implanted a sense of divinity in all human beings (this was the theological doctrine on which this assumption was based, this wasn’t overt most of the time, but it was always in the background).  Ofcourse, when you approach it with that attitude, you’ll pigeonhole whatever you find as RELIGION or RELIGIOUS.

Anthropologists of today continue this proud tradition. Ofcourse, most (all?) of them don’t actually believe that God implanted a sense of divinity in all human beings, but they still use the same basic framework used by the early missionaries and travelers without realizing that this framework and way of looking at other cultures is derived from theology.

The book “heathen in his blindness” is not about “other cultures”. It is about the history and story of Western culture and how and why it has described other cultures in a certain way. In order to understand other cultures, one has to first understand the Western culture, because it is their lens, their paradigm which everyone uses when studying other cultures.


If it turns out that the cultures in China, India,  Japan, Africa etc are infact cultures without religion, the implications are huge for both those cultures, western culture, and social sciences itself.

Anyway, it is a fascinating book and I certainly can’t cram 500 pages of material into all these posts. It signals a paradigm shift in the social sciences, and as gdb said, it is available for free on the internet as a pdf file if u just google it.

There are also youtube videos of him giving lectures at a conference (Rethinking Religion in India) about this topic. I don’t know whether i’m allowed to post the link or whether it is spam.

[ Edited: 12 October 2012 02:06 PM by arv13 ]
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Posted: 12 October 2012 02:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 59 ]
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“China, India,  Japan, Africa etc”? Who are the “etc”? The Mayas and the Incas I presume?  grin

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Posted: 12 October 2012 03:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 60 ]
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yeah, all non muslim, non christian and non jewish cultures.

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