Religions Around the World

Site: Plateforme pédagogique de l'Université Sétif2
Course: Initiation to Civilization and Cultural Texts
Book: Religions Around the World
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Date: Friday, 14 June 2024, 10:22 PM


In this book (Lecture), we will focus on Polytheism and Atheism.

1. An Introcuction to Religion

What is Religion?

In dictionaries, religion is defined as the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods. synonyms: faith, belief, divinity, worship, creed, teaching, doctrine, theology...

      Second: a particular system of faith and worship. The plural noun is religions e.g. "the world's great religions"

       Third, a pursuit or interest followed with great devotion. For example, "consumerism is a new religion“

The definition that we are going to rely on mostly is the Second, especially that we are going to learn aspects about each religion 

Religion and Mythology

      A Myth is an imaginary story about Supernatural entities or people with supernatural powers woven to explain natural phenomena. For instance, in all ancient civilizations, periods of rain and drought are linked with a certain god’s anger. Mythological entities were worshiped and feared by people, as a result, Myths gave birth to the first Polytheist and Pagan religions.
Mythology is the study of Myths. Since they were stories with a message to people in order to spread goodness. 

2. Common Aspects Between Religions

      People around the world are whether brought together or divided by their Cultural Identities and by belonging to one Civilization or another. In the previous lesson, we have seen that religion is one of the most important components of a culture which is a fragment of Civilization. It is compulsory to know that a person can be bilingual or multilingual but no one can follow 2 or more faiths. Consequently, people from the dawn of civilizations fought about and for their religions and ideas.
     There are three beliefs that are common throughout all religions, no matter what culture they come from, no matter who founded the religion, and no matter who practices the religion.
     One of these beliefs is that there is a higher power that presides over the universe, the cosmos, human affairs, and the earth. This higher power is often called God in whatever language a person uses, and some believe that this higher power is some sort of force or presence that is within each sentient being on Earth and in the universe.
    The second belief that seems to be common in every religion is the concept of “being a good person.” Some religions simply beseech the follower to do good deeds, take care of others, and practice the right action. Others have deterrents in place that help the follower act more fastidiously, mainly the idea that there will be some sort of punishment for not “being a good person” or doing the right thing. For example, Christians call this “the final judgment” that happens upon death and the punishment is hell or eternal damnation. Eastern philosophies call this karma, a type of punishment that happens in the next life after the one where the bad deeds were done. The Golden Rule, “Do unto others have you as you would have done unto yourself,” is quite prominent in every religion. This does not necessarily mean that each religion sees “doing the right thing” the same way. There are great variances in this area.    

   The third commonality across all religions is the idea that rituals of some sort are necessary and have been incorporated into the styles of worship of that particular religion. All religions have rituals, whether they are incorporated through prayer, singing, group gatherings, or other ways of focusing intent on the divine. 

All religions generally have

—Temples or Prayer place or sacrifice place
—Written Teachings and instructions
—Organized behavior

There are different practices of religions like Prayers, rituals, Sermons, Fasting, Sacrifices, Meditation, festivals…

3. Types of Religions

4. Atheism

     Atheism: “in general, the critique and denial of metaphysical beliefs in God or spiritual beings. As such, it is usually distinguished from theism, which affirms the reality of the divine and often seeks to demonstrate its existence. Atheism is also distinguished from agnosticism, which leaves open the question of whether there is a god or not, professing to find the questions unanswered or unanswerable.” Encyclopedia Britannica. 
      Atheists mostly believe in science and concrete things, which are visible, tangible and measurable. Science is generally defined as a systematic creativity that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanation and predictions about the universe. Science is based on experimentation and observation which is not the case of religions set since the creation of man. Even their theories about creation are different from what all religions narrate; like the Theory of Evolution by Charles Darwin in 1859 and The Big Bang theory by Georges Lemaître 1927. There are different schools of Atheism, we will just name few. 
    Another branch of atheists made of Philosophers who were determined to know what is beyond the universe and the nature of good and bad. They are interested in metaphysics and they question the existence of a god, life and death, and the human soul. We may name the Famous Frederick Nitzche. 

4.1. Humanism

It is a philosophical movement spread in modern and postmodern societies. Humanists deny the existence of supernatural deities or transcendent realities because they can’t find any evidence of its existence and they don’t believe in life after the death of the body. They believe in ethical commitment and education Their central value is that every individual is precious and humans have talents that they should cultivate.

Key terms: agnosticism, cosmology, atheism, sociology.

4.2. Agnosticism and Atheism

2-Agnosticism is the view that the truth of metaphysical claims regarding, in particular, the existence of a god or gods, or even ultimate reality, is unknown and may be impossible to know. One can be an agnostic as well as an atheist or religious believer.
3- Atheism describes a state of having no theistic beliefs; that is, no beliefs in gods or supernatural beings.

5. Transcendental Religions: Buddhism

those religions have subdivisions that are more polytheist. 

1- Buddhism A way of living based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama. The Five Precepts are the basic rules of living for lay Buddhists – refrain from harming living beings; taking what is not given; sexual misconduct; harmful speech; and drink or drugs which cloud the mind. Buddhism developed out of the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama who, in 535 BCE, reached enlightenment and assumed the title Buddha. He promoted 'The Middle Way' as the path to enlightenment rather than the extremes of mortification of the flesh or hedonism. Long after his death, the Buddha's teachings were written down. This collection is called the Tripitaka. Buddhists believe in reincarnation and that one must go through cycles of birth, life, and death. After many such cycles, if a person releases their attachment to desire and the self, they can attain Nirvana. In general, Buddhists do not believe in any type of God, the need for a savior, prayer, or eternal life after death. However, since the time of the Buddha, Buddhism has integrated many regional religious rituals, beliefs and customs into it as it has spread throughout Asia so that this generalization is no longer true for all Buddhists. This has occurred with little conflict due to the philosophical nature of Buddhism.

5.1. Jainism

 Jainism An ancient philosophy and ethical teaching that originated in India. The main principle is ahimsa – the avoidance, where possible, of physical or mental harm to any living being. Jainism is a religion without a belief in a creator god.  The founder of the Jain community was Vardhamana, the last Jina in a series of 24 who lived in East India. He attained enlightenment after 13 years of deprivation and committed the act of sallekhana, fasting to death, in 420 BCE. Jainism has many similarities to Hinduism and Buddhism which developed in the same part of the world. They believe in karma and reincarnation as do Hindus but they believe that enlightenment and liberation from this cycle can only be achieved through asceticism. Jains follow fruititarianism. This is the practice of only eating that which will not kill the plant or animal from which it is taken. They also practice ahimsa, non-violence, because any act of violence against a living thing creates negative karma which will adversely affect one's next life.
Sacred writings: The Jaina Sutras 
jain symboljain symbol explained

5.2. Taoism

Taoism was founded by Lao-Tse, a contemporary of Confucius in China. Taoism began as a combination of psychology and philosophy which Lao-Tse hoped would help end the constant feudal warfare and other conflicts of his time. His writings, the Tao-te-Ching, describe the nature of life, the way to peace and how a ruler should lead his life. Taoism became a religion in 440 CE when it was adopted as a state religion. Tao, roughly translated as the path, is a force which flows through all life and is the first cause of everything. The goal of everyone is to become one with the Tao. Tai Chi, a technique of exercise using slow deliberate movements, is used to balance the flow of energy or "chi" within the body. People should develop virtue and seek compassion, moderation, and humility. One should plan any action in advance and achieve it through minimal action. Yin (dark side) and Yang (light side) symbolize pairs of opposites which are seen through the universe, such as good and evil, light and dark, male and female. The impact of human civilization upsets the balance of Yin and Yang. Taoists believe that people are by nature, good and that one should be kind to others simply because such treatment will probably be reciprocated.
Sacred Writings: Tao-te-Ching
Ying Yang

6. Polytheist religions

1-African Religions

      Traditional African religions have an emphasis on salvation and wholeness in this world, here and now. Because Africans believe that life is a complex web of relationships that may either enhance and preserve life or diminish and destroy it, the goal of religion is to maintain those relationships. These relationships provide mental and physical harmony, and stability to create well‐being and wholeness for each individual.
    The quest for salvation has a lot to do with the threat to their lives, both physical and spiritual, on a daily basis. They believe that the threat from evil forces is very near and real. But it is also a life-affirming religion that celebrates the fullness of life and is known for its lively celebratory mood in worship. Drums and dancing are almost always involved in rites and practices. They believe in their ancestor's soul divinity and that nature too has a spirit.
2- Animism: the belief that the superpower of the universe, whether it was a god or a force, resides in Nature like rivers, trees, earth, some kind of animals, the Sun, the moon…etc. It is spread in Africa,  Asia, South America and Indian tribes in North America.

6.1. Hinduism

Hinduism is the ancient religion of India and Indus Valley River. It is not a single unified religion and has no founder, single teacher, nor prophets. Hindus believe in a universal soul or god known as Brahman who is worshipped in many diverse forms. These forms include complementary attributes of male and female deities, in human as well as animal forms. Hindu sects may have their own divinities whom they worship but these are simply different ways of approaching god. Brahman is often represented in a threefold form: Brahma as the creator of the universe, Vishnu its preserver and Shiva its destroyer.  Hindus believe that the soul is immortal and on the death of the body it transmigrates to a new life on earth. Whether this life is better or worse than the previous one depends on the amount of good or evil done in the previous life. This is the law of Karma. A series of good lives will break this cycle, leading to the ultimate absorption of the soul into Brahman. Bhagavad Gita is one of the many holy books of Hindus. It teaches that salvation comes through devotion and good deeds.  The temple or Mandir is the spiritual and community center for Hindus. Each family will have a small shrine in their own home for daily worship. The Hindu population globally is about 15%. 

—The major festivals
—The main festivals in the order they appear in the Hindu calendar are:
—Mahashivratri - Birthday of Lord Shiva (Information to be provided later)
—Holi - Festival of color
—Ramnavmi - Birthday of Lord Rama
—Rakshabandan - Protection from evil (Information to be provided later)
—Janmashtmi - Birthday of Lord Krishna (Information to be provided later)
—Navratri - Trinity of God worship in female form (Information to be provided later)
—Diwali - Festival of lights and advent of Hindu New Year
Ayyavazhi Symbolom symbolSwatska

6.2. Greco-Roman Religions

Greco-Roman Religion: Ancient Greek used to believe in many gods, each god has a role and a specialty: Athena (goddess of wisdom) Apollo (god of war) Aphrodite (goddess of beauty and love) they are all ruled by a higher divinity, Zeus, the god of the gods. It is unquestionable that the same gods were worshiped in ancient Rome using other names. Historians concluded that even Sumerians, Babylonians,  Akkadians, the first Assyrians, and Egyptians worshiped the same gods under different names

6.3. Shinto

Shinto is an ancient Japanese religion, closely tied to nature, which recognizes the existence of various "Kami", nature deities. The first two deities, Izanagi and Izanami, gave birth to the Japanese islands and their children became the deities of the various Japanese clans. One of their daughters, Amaterasu (Sun Goddess), is the ancestress of the Imperial Family and is regarded as the chief deity. All the Kami are benign and serve only to sustain and protect. They are not seen as separate from humanity due to sin because humanity is "Kami's Child." Followers of Shinto desire peace and believe all human life is sacred. They revere "musuhi", the Kami's creative and harmonizing powers, and aspire to have "makoto", sincerity or true heart. Morality is based upon that which is of benefit to the group.
shinto gods
There are "Four Affirmations" in Shinto:
—1) Tradition and family: the family is the main mechanism by which traditions are preserved.
—2) Love of nature: nature is sacred and natural objects are to be worshipped as sacred spirits.
—3) Physical cleanliness: they must take baths, wash their hands, and rinse their mouth often.
—4)"Matsuri": a festival which honors the spirits.

Sacred Writings: The Kojiki, The Nihongo

Created from three joined tomoe, the mitsudomoe is a popular symbol in Japan.

7. Monotheism

The rise, development, and spread of monotheism (the belief in one God), is one of the most significant and fascinating dimensions of human civilization. The three major monotheistic faiths are Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Judaism emerged in the second millennium. Christianity surfaced in the 1st century C.E. (Common Era), and Islam appeared in the early 7th century. Although ancient civilizations had known periods of monotheism, like the Egyptians under the rule of Akhenaton moved from polytheism and worshiping Amun to believing in One god “Aton” it is said “the Sun god” and other translations use “the Great God”. Before them, the Assyrians were united to worship the same god “Ashur” which was the first time that people connect with a god outside his temple. 
—Buddhism was one of the religions that started monotheist, believing in ONE super presence. But throughout time the teachings of Buddha changed and several gods and people had been worshiped, even Buddha himself.
     Sikhism The religion founded by Guru Nanak in India in the 15th Century CE. There is one God, people should serve by leading a life of prayer and obedience. Sikhs believe their soul then passes through various existences and will become one with God.
    While differences cultivate distinctions, there are many similarities between the three Abrahamic faiths. We can acquire a more rich and factual understanding of these religions by exploring their diversity of perspectives, the ways their traditions have changed over time, and how many of the tenets of each faith overlap with one another 
     Most of the monotheistic faiths originated in what is

known today as the Arab World and more specifically, within an area that spans no more than 300 miles. An emphasis on family values, charity, and respect for others are shared by these three religions. Throughout history, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have spread from their birthplace, crossing the boundaries of race and ethnicity, with followers in nearly every country in the world. Christianity is the single largest religion in the world, with roughly two billion followers globally. Islam, one of the world’s fastest growing faiths, has an estimated 1.5 billion followers across the globe. As of the 21st century, there are roughly 12 million Jews worldwide. 

believers of religions around the world

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam trace their roots back to Abraham, who is considered a prophet by all three faiths. While there are differences in the ways in which the stories of Abraham are recounted, the three are united by the belief in Abraham and therefore he is considered, by many, to be the father of monotheism

7.1. Judaism

Wailing wall
Judaism, which is 3,500 years old, is the oldest of the monotheistic religions. Jews believe that God made a covenant (known as the first covenant) with Abraham that he would be the father of a great people if he followed God’s instructions. Jews believe that God renewed the covenant that he previously made with Abraham with Moses (second covenant), who led the Jews out of slavery in Egypt to Mount Sinai. God also revealed a set of rules that Jews should live by, the most famous of which is known as the Ten Commandments.
     The Jewish holy book is called the Torah and is comprised of the first five books of the Bible. Jews also believe in the oral Torah, called the Talmud, which is the most significant collection of oral interpretations of the Torah. The Talmud was primarily compiled in ancient Babylonia (modern-day Iraq). Jews believe that both were given to the Prophet Moses.
Torah and talmud
set of jewish symbols
the ten commandments
Jewish people pray and study in Senagogues, and practise rituals and give sacrifices in Temples 

7.2. Christianity

Jesus Tomb in Jerusalem Palestine

Like Judaism and Islam, Christianity is classified as an Abrahamic religion. It began as a Jewish sect in the eastern Mediterranean. The disciples were first called Christians by or about 44 AD, meaning "followers of Christ", in Antioch. Ignatius of Antioch was the first Christian to use the label in self-reference. The earliest recorded use of the term Christianity was also by Ignatius of Antioch, around 100 AD. By the 4th century, Christianity had become the dominant religion in the Roman Empire. During the Middle Ages, most of the remainder of Europe was Christianized, with Christians also being a (sometimes large) religious minority in the Middle East, North Africa, and parts of India. Following the Age of Discovery, through missionary work and colonization, Christianity spread to the Americas and the rest of the world

el Quiama Church in Jerusalem

—Christianity is a monotheistic religion centered on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as presented in the New Testament Son of Mary in the Quran. Its followers, known as Christians, believe that Jesus is the son of God and the Messiah (or Christ) prophesied in the Old Testament, the part of their scriptures they have in common with Judaism. To Christians, Jesus Christ is a teacher, the model of a virtuous life, the revealer of God, and most importantly the savior of humanity who suffered, died and was resurrected in order to bring about salvation from sin. Christians maintain that Jesus ascended into heaven, and most denominations teach that Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead, granting everlasting life to his followers. Christians describe the New Testament account of Jesus' ministry as the Gospel, or "good news".  The pagan side of Christianity is believing in the trinity God, Son, and the Holy Spirit as deities. Some even worship Mother Mary or the Virgin Mary who gave birth to Jesus Christ. 
There are several derivations from Christianity, we’ll name just few: Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Mormon, Protestant, Puritan, Evangelic…

7.3. Islam

Though it is the youngest of the world's great religions, Muslims do not view it as a new religion. They believe that it is the same faith taught by the prophets, Abraham, David, Moses and Jesus. The role of Muhammad as the last prophet was to formalize and clarify the faith and purify it by removing ideas which were added in error. The two sacred texts of Islam are the Qur'an, which are the words of Allah 'the One True God' as given to Muhammad, and the Hadith, which is a collection of Muhammad's sayings.
— The duties of all Muslims are known as the Five Pillars of Islam and are:
—• Recite the shahadah at least once.
—• Perform the salat (prayer) 5 times a day while facing the Kaaba in Makkah
—• Donate regularly to charity via the zakat, a 2.5% charity tax, and through additional donations to the needy.
—• Fast during the month of Ramadan, the month that Muhammad received the Qur'an from Allah.
—• Make a pilgrimage to Makkah at least once in life, if economically and physically possible. 
     Muslims follow a strict monotheism with one creator who is just, omnipotent and merciful. They also believe in Satan who drives people to sin, and that all unbelievers and sinners will spend eternity in Hell. Muslims who sincerely repent and submit to God will return to a state of sinlessness and go to Paradise after death. Alcohol, drugs, and gambling should be avoided and they reject racism. They respect the earlier prophets, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, but regard the concept of the divinity of Jesus as blasphemous and do not believe that he was executed on the cross.
—Sacred Writings: The Qur’an, The Hadith 
An old version of the Quran dating to 579
Muslims gather in Masjid or Jamaa (mosque)
Sultane Ahmad Mosque, Istanbul, Turkey old city Jerusalem, Aqssa Mosque