Religion more about the complex ideas of each
Religion is a very complex idea. Many scholars have defined and explained what religion is and how it affects society, including Ninian Smart and Rodney Stark. These two religious scholars may seem polar opposites, but studying each man, their beliefs, and why they believe what they believe helps us learn more about the complex ideas of each religion. Understanding religion is simply too broad of a term, since religion defines so many parts of humanity. However, by looking at what important scholars such as Smart and Stark have contributed to the field, we can hope to gain a better understanding of why people do and take the actions that they do because of religion. Smart defined religion in his unpublished paper Towards a Definition of Religion as, “a set of institutionalized rituals, identified with a tradition and/or evoking sacral sentiments directed at a divine or trans-divine focus see in the context of the human phenomenological environment and at least partially described by myths or by myths and doctrines.” Simply stated, Smart believed that religion was a set of traditions and rituals directed at a divine focus described by myths and doctrines. On the other hand, Stark defined religion as the complete opposite. In his book, written along with William Sims Bainbridge, The Future of Religion: Secularization, Revival, And Cult Formation, religion was defined as “systems of general compensators based on supernatural assumptions,” while also speaking of five dimensions of “religiousness”: belief, practice, experience, knowledge, and consequences. Stark is a sociologist, while Smart was not. This means that Stark uses sociology to describe the factors to the rise of, for example, Christian belief. Smart does not necessarily take the same approach.Stark has made many claims about religion, even once suggesting that Christianity, Judaism, and Islam were not purely monotheistic because “while each of these faiths posits the existence of a supreme god of unlimited scope, they also assert the existence of lesser supernatural beings, including Satan.” His views are very interesting and different. In his book God’s Battalions: The Case for the Crusades, he even argues a controversial argument that the Crusades were “a justified war waged against Muslim terror and aggression.” By doing this, Stark is justifying the murder of millions in an initial attempt by the Catholics in Europe to recapture the Holy Land from Muslims by stating that it was the Muslims who started it all. It is claims such as these that have caused many religious scholars to not be open to his ideas. Another belief that he maintains is that “the “philosophes” of the so-called “Enlightenment” played no role in the rise of science—the great scientific progress of the time was achieved by highly religious men, many of them Catholic clergy.” Even though there is evidence that the rise of science was helped along by philosophes such as David Hume, who explained the science of man, Stark clearly states that religious men did all of the work, while also asserting that the Enlightenment did not necessarily occur in the first place. Ninian Smart seemed to have ideas that were the exact opposite of Stark’s. For example, he claims, “No religion, it seems to me, contains the whole truth. I think it’s mad to think that there is nothing to learn from other traditions and civilizations.” Smart believed that “if you accept that other religions have something to offer and you learn from them,” you can identify with two religions at the same time. He identified himself as a Buddhist-Episcopalian. Smart spoke about seven dimensions of religion, which include ritual, narrative and mythic, experimental and emotional, social and institutional, ethical and legal, doctrinal and philosophical, and material. This is similar to Stark’s five dimensions of “religiousness.” Both Stark and Smart believe that religion is extremely important in society. In his book Dimensions of the Sacred: An Anatomy of the World’s Beliefs, Smart aims “to advance our understanding of how we as human beings interact thoughtfully with the cosmos and express the exigencies of our own nature and existence.” Stark strongly believes in the idea that religion is supernatural, while Smart claims that religion helps explain how the cosmos explain our existence. He believes in an “invisible world,” which, as stated in The View of the Invisible World: Ninian Smart’s Analysis of the Dimensions of Religion and of Religious Experience by Bryan Rennie, can be clarified as such: “Any worldview with a future (or past) thus refers to an invisible world. Every worldview thus can be seen as a “view” of the invisible world and thus be religious to that extent.” Smart takes this “invisible world” and explains how a worldview of religion can be a “view” of this supposed world. He takes no one doctrine as completely true or completely false, but rather argues that all of the different religions can help define the world that we live in. This belief led religious studies to be separated from theology so that each religion is viewed and studied equally as the other religions. Ninian Smart and Rodney Stark influenced religious studies in their own way. They each brought something to the table so that future scholars may study religions more effectively and appropriately. Although their beliefs may seem completely different, they both shared the same purpose: to educate society on how and why religion is the way it is, and how it is viewed in our society. These are only two examples of people who impacted religious studies, but there are many more, including ?mile Durkheim, Irving Hexham and Immanuel Kant, and there certainly will be many more in the future. After all, religion is a growing part of humanity, and we must all be capable of understanding its complexities in order to understand the world and our purpose in it.