chapter  1
Pages 17

Religious studies scholars might certainly be delighted to have a definition of religion that everyone could agree on, but no such definition has yet emerged. Among the reasons for this lack of agreement is the tendency for people to define religion too narrowly, often from the perspective of their own backgrounds and culture. Imagine, for instance, persons raised in predominantly Christian or Muslim cultures, who would certainly note clear signs of religious beliefs and activities around them. If they belonged to those religions themselves, they would, of course, be active participants in the features of those traditions. But even as religious “outsiders” living within those societies influenced by the religious culture of Christianity or Islam, they would probably observe communal gatherings for preaching or prayer, the presence of religious edifices such as churches or mosques, the periodic celebration of festivals and rituals such as Christmas or Ramadan, and the presence of religious specialists such as priests, ministers, or imams. Thus, if asked, they would certainly agree that there was such a thing as “religion,” and that it played a vital role in the lives of many of the people around them. However, when pressed to define just what religion is and what it entails, they would very likely provide explanations based on what they themselves believed or what they saw around them. So they might end up defining religion as requiring a belief in the one true god, in sin, in an afterlife, and so on. They might designate anything outside their own cultural tradition’s notions of religion as not religion at all, but misguided beliefs and superstitious practices, or

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ing from certain acts such as murder or adultery), with particular beliefs (such as in a single high god, divinely revealed teachings, and in the concepts of judgment and punishment), and so on.