Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Essentialist vs. Cultural Interpretation of Religion

From the editorial of a recent IJFM, quoting an “exceptional” Wikipedia entry on the insider movement.  The long-held traditional, essentialist view of world religious is fading away:

Underlying the question of following Jesus within various religio-cultural systems is an understanding of the nature of world religions. An essentialist approach suggests that each major religion has a core set of beliefs that differs from all the other major religions.  Religions are seen as monolithic, with a prevailing interpretation of core doctrine that defines the worldview of its adherents. A cultural approach to world religions, however, holds that they are a conglomeration of diverse communities, defined more by traditions, history and customs than a singular stated core theology. While the essentialist view has traditionally been held, current research in the field of religious studies challenges the essentialist view (see Religion). Evidence points to a great variety of doctrines and practices within each of the major religious traditions.  In practice, many Hindus, Muslims and Christians follow religious traditions with very minimal personal understanding of core beliefs.

The theology of religious is a broad, deep, and complex issue, but I find this simple nuance above to be quite helpful.  It has more to do with hermeneutics than anything else.

Related: The Anthropology of Islam and Islam is Not a Civilization

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