Tuesday, September 9, 2008

History of Religion


Please visit this site and watch this 90 second clip covering the history of Religion. There are many questions that could be raised from this, feel free to offer your own, but I will offer only a few.

Why have Christianity and Islam seen such widespread propagation when they have only been around 2000 years compared to Hinduism's 5000 year history?
What are so enticing about their "spectacles?"


Evan Watson said...

I think the rapid expansion of Christianity and Islam have a lot to do with the fact that they are called to be "fishers of men." None of the other religions make an active effort to proselytize and convert others because they are considered either private personal concerns or are passed down by people simply being born into the tradition.

Christianity and Islam are also the only religions prone to establish theocratic states historically. Most of the expansion of Islam came by the sword in the first few centuries of the caliphates, and modern Islamic theocracies make efforts to suppress other traditions. Similarly Christianity saw the majority of its expansion into the Americas and Africa during the age of exploration and the colonial period.

Because of this, conversion would have offered many pragmatic advantages, even if it was only nominal. So many people would convert in name, or to some degree, but continue to practice other traditions. This is particularly evident in the Caribbean and African diasporic cultures.

I don't think there are any particular aspects of these religions that make them more attractive than any other, but historical and cultural forces that have allowed them to dominate.

jeff said...

In my opinion, Evan is right on target with his "fishers of men" theory. Christianity and Islam are both conversion oriented religions, maintaining that it is their duty to "save" those around them. This probably arises from the monotheistic tradition, whereas if your one god is not pleased, you are in serious trouble.

Hinduism and Buddhism have seen a much more limited spread due to their particular form of worship, which stresses the self and personal devotion. We discussed in my Asian religions class how Hinduism has classically been a much more tolerant religion toward other forms of worship, greatly influenced by the many differing forms of worship considered acceptable.

I think the basic argument comes down to a western religion belief that salvation comes through only one road, while eastern religion sees many paths leading to the same thing. With a mentality of only one correct path, followers will be much more likely to do whatever it takes to promote their beliefs. Simply, the nature of Christianity and Islam has led to a much wider spread, since much of that spread has been through force.

Blake said...

And I too agree with Evan’s post wherein he deftly pointed out that due to fortunate cultural and historical forces (from a believer’s perspective), Christianity and Islam rank as two of the world’s biggest, most influential, religions.

For the most part Evan is right on the mark; however, with regards to the following statement, “Christianity and Islam are also the only religions prone to establish theocratic states historically.” I would add Buddhism to that list.

Until recently, there has been a Buddhist theocracy in Tibet for an incredibly long time, as we discussed in class, until the Chinese occupation where they destroyed one of the few remaining, “socially isolated”, religious communities left on this planet.

To further my claim that Buddhism should be on this list, we must go back to 2nd / 3rd BCE to the life and reign of King Ashoka who created an empire wherein Buddhism could flourish and enjoyed massive expansion. King Ashoka reined before he converted to Buddhism. After waging massive wars and witnessing many deaths, he converted to Buddhism. Upon his conversion he not only made Buddhism the “state” religion of his empire, but he also sent monks (missionaries) to ancient Greece and Egypt as well as other places in the Ancient Near East.

The biggest difference (and the most telling) between the Buddhist theocratic states, in Tibet and under King Ashoka, and the other two previously mentioned is their claims to exclusivity and how they enforce them. There is not massive amounts of killing that take/took place in the name of Buddhism (though there has been plenty of violence in recent years against Buddhism) and people living in those Buddhist states were not forced to convert to Buddhism or hide their religion for fear of death unlike their Christian and Islamic counter-parts.

I believe that Buddhism’s policy of compassion prevented its historical domination on the scale of Christianity or Islam because it could not inspire fear (for your life) nor did it use force, though it still easily ranks top five amongst the world’s biggest, most influential religions.

Blake said...

As an addendum to my previous blog:

Buddhism is specifically a type of Yoga. There are many, many types of Yoga and most, if not all, are technically under the name Hinduism.

Without murking the comment up in theological and cultural differences a metaphor might help clarify Buddhism's relationship to Hinduism:

Christianity was a Jewish "sect" before it's break-away--here Buddhism is like Christianity while Hinduism is Judaism.

or if you like this better

Before the Protestant breakaway from Orthodoxy, there was one Catholic Church. Buddhism would be like the Protestant breakaway while Hinduism would be like Protestant's orthodox roots.