Comparative Religious Studies
Throughout history, and in the present society, humanity has been subject to a number of religious inclinations, which has, in turn, led to the establishment of various religions. World religions have been divided into major, minor, indigenous, and localized groups, which are the center of this article. Before looking drawing on the major religions of the world, the paper examines St. Thomas Aquinas’ Argument on the existence of God.
Key Words: God, Religion, Religious Texts
St. Thomas Aquinas:
Cosmological Argument on the Existence of God
In his argument about the existence of God, famous theologian, philosopher and catholic thinker, Thomas Aquinas explains different ways in which humanity can recognize the existence of God. More specifically, his cosmological argument on the existence of God indicates three major ways in which Gods existence can be realized. He draws attention to the world in motion, efficient causes, as well as the chain of causes (Forgie, 1995). Aquinas explains that the world is in constant motion, i.e., things keep changing over time. He argues that all things that are in motion are resultant from the creation of a being that, in itself, is in motion. Put simply, this means that things have been put in motion by another thing that is in motion. For example, human beings, animals, and plants are the greatest example of living creatures. These living creatures must, therefore, have been given life by another being that has life. However, Aquinas also argues that this cannot be traced to infinity because infinity would omit the existence of a first mover who is in essence the source of all motion (Forgie, 1995). The second part of his argument is based on the order of efficient causes. Here, Aquinas argues that the sensible world demands an order of causes and there is no thing that is a cause of itself: that things do not change themselves, as they need to e changed by something else, or change other things. Put simply, its means that the world exists on strings of motion, and if traced back in history, all things attribute their existence to a first cause, which is God. Conclusively, Thomas Aquinas argues for the existence of things and chains of causes through possibility and necessity (Forgie, 1995). He argues that something or someone that was pre-existing made the existence of all things in the world today possible. Additionally, it is through the fulfillment of the pre-existing being’s necessity that things were created thus the existence of God. Overall, Thomas Aquinas’ cosmological argument on the existence of God states that beings can either be dependent or self-existence. However, not all beings can be considered dependent beings, thus the existence of a self-existent being, which we all recognize as God.
Patterns in Indigenous Religions
Indigenous religions refer to religions that are native to the diverse indigenous groups that make up the world. Just like other religions, indigenous religions reveal similar characteristics and patterns with other religions such as Christianity and Islam, with the difference lying in the numbers of people who believe in theses religions. Indigenous religions have diverse attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that are characteristic to the ethnic groups that make up these religions. The three main patterns of indigenous religions include belief systems, the spiritual world, and mythology (Beauchamp, 1897). In relation to native America, one such indigenous religion is the Iroquois religion that is well known for its organization as a religious group in the state. In religion, a belief system refers to a attitudes, behaviors and beliefs that make up the structure of a religion. The belief system in Iroquois recognized the existence of good and evil and their associations with people in the community. Accordingly, the Iroquois nation based their beliefs on the existence of a supreme being known as “Ha-Wen-ne-yu”, thus the pattern of the existence of a spiritual world (Beauchamp, 1897). This indigenous religion believed that there exists a God who is the creator of all things and who ruled and administered the world. However, they did not bother on providing descriptions of this Supreme Being, and they only acknowledged his power beyond all understanding. This group also believed in the existence of other beings that were lower in class from God and acted as agents between God and human beings. These spirits were referred to as “Ho-no-che-ne-keh” and could be revealed to humanity through spiritual possession (Beauchamp, 1897). The “Ha-ne-go-ate-geh” was the evil spiritual being that caused people to commit evil acts, as well as, bring evil to the world (Beauchamp, 1897). Lastly, mythology refers to cosmogonies on the creation of the world and those who live in it. Stories regarding the relationship between the existence of the world as is known to man. In most indigenous communities, mythology is relatable to spiritual presentation and communities engage in rituals and devote their time to praise and worship. In their creation mythology, the Iroquois religion believed that God created all things and their ritual practices included worship services in seasonal periods. Praise and worship were ways to thank God for creation, as well as, ask for continued protection and survival of the community.
Experience of Religion: Descriptions
Theologians explain religious experience as a specific experience in which communities recognize the existence of a supreme being through divine faith and judgment (Eck, 1993). Religious experiences are further affirmed by the belief that individuals have experienced God or his presence in their lives. Accordingly, religious experiences range from awareness of God, or experiences of the miracle of God. Historic literature on religion reveals classical, medieval, and modern descriptions of the experience of religion, with the aim of understanding the different religions that make up the world today. The classical description of a religious experience, suggests the numinous factor, and ecstasy, which has been carried on to the modern descriptions of religion (Eck, 1993). On the other hand, the medieval description of religion recognizes a religious experience as going beyond the world’s natural order. Lastly, the modern description of religious experiences considers religious experiences as passive, transient, ineffable, and valuable (Eck, 1993). Accordingly, these descriptions illustrate some specific set of terms crucial for the study of religion to facilitate understanding among theologians and other scholars in the field. For example, the classical and medieval descriptions recognize some unnatural characteristics of a religious experience, thus the concept of the existence of spiritual beings. Most religions are founded on the existence of spiritual being who believers devote their lives to worshiping and serving. Secondly, these descriptions recognize that religious experiences are fascinating and fearful at the same time (Eck, 1993). This goes to show the power and authority of God as a supreme being who deserves to be worshipped. Ideally, the concept of his revelation to humanity through religious experiences illustrates his love for humankind and the relationship of God with humanity. In essence, descriptions of religious experiences provide theologians and other researchers with information regarding some of the characteristics of religion, for accurate definitions of the concepts and ideologies of religion in the world. Additionally, these descriptions can be used to compare the different religions that exists in the world today in an aim to understand the believers’ attitudes, beliefs and practices.
The term World Religions refers to the different religious groupings that exist in the world today. Religions are grouped based on their influence and historical origin, and for that reason, include five major religious groups. These five world religious include, Abrahamic Religions, Indian Religions, East Asian Religions, Indigenous Religions, and New Religious Movements (Wunn, 2003). The world religions further fall under these categories and they range from major groups to minor religions. The prevalence of these religions across different cultures is evident in the ethnic inclination of the religions to the community of believers. For example, East Asian religions are more prevalent in Asia than in other regions. Figure A below presents a reference of the world religions and their prevalence across cultures.
Religious Group Religions Included Prevalence in Different Cultures
Abrahamic Religions Judaism
Islam Judaism- Greatest concentration of believers in Israel and the international Jewish Diaspora, consisting of countries in America, and Europe.
Christianity- Predominant in Europe, America, and Africa. Less prevalent in Asian countries and other countries practicing paganism.
Islam- Greatest concentration in Asia and Africa, more specifically, northern Africa and the Middle East. The least concentration is in Europe and America.
East Asian Religions Confucianism
Taoism Confucianism- Greatest concentration of the religion if East Asia, more specifically, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore.
Taoism- Greatest concentration of the religion if East Asia, more specifically, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore.
Indian Religions Hinduism
Sikhism Hinduism- Prevalent among Indian communities and South Asia. Prevalence dependent on Indian ethnicity and the least occurrence is in Africa, Australia, with moderate prevalence in America.
Buddhism- Greatest concentration in Asia, more specifically, South and East Asia. Can also be traced to some parts of Europe and Australia.
Jainism- Prevalent among Indian communities and South Asia. Can also be traced to some European countries.
Sikhism- Prevalent among Indian communities and South Asia. Can also be traced to some European countries.
Indigenous Religions Afro- American Religions
Australian Aboriginal Afro- American Religions- Greatest concentration in the USA and some parts of East and Central Africa. Little to medium prevalence in the Caribbean sea and Cuba.
Iranian Religions- Largest and only concentration in communities that make up Iran.
Australian Aboriginal- Prevalent in diverse regions in Australia. No trace of religious practices outside Australia.
New Religious Movements Pentecostalism
Polytheist Recontructionism Pentecostalism- Greatest concentration in the US and some parts of Africa. Least concentration in Europe and Australia.
Polytheist Recontructionism- Prevalent in Europe and Northern Australia. Least concentration in Asia and Africa.
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam
As previously mentioned, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam make up the Abrahamic religion and for that reason are recognized as the primary religions in the western culture (Eck, 1993). For these religions to be considered as western religions, they comprise of a number of similar elements that are eminent in the western religious culture. Figure B below illustrates the elements of Judaism, Christianity with reference to religious figures, texts, identity, and practices.
Religion Religious Figure Religious Text Religious Identity Religious Practices Religious Buildings
David Torah Jew God as a supreme being
Principles of Faith
Religious Clothing Synagogues
Mary Bible Christian God as a sovereign Being
Muhammad Koran Muslim Oneness of God
Day of Resurrection
Predestination of Muslim community
Alms-giving Temple and Holy Shrines
Religious Texts: Western Culture
As mentioned above, the western culture comprises of three main religions including Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (Hefner, 1998). Like most religions, these three religions have religious texts used to describe the existence of Gods, their religion as a group, as well as, religious values beliefs and practices. The religious text for Judaism is the Torah, for Christianity is the Bible, whereas that of Islam is the Koran (Hefner, 1998). All three of these books share the central theme on the nature of God, which has influenced the cultural beliefs in these religions. The torah limits its believers form providing a concrete image for God. According to this religious text, God is a “He”; he is a supreme being whose existence is eternal. The administration of the Ten Commandments as explained in the torah state that God is ‘the lord thy God’, thus his existence as a supreme being who demands utter respect and recognition (Hefner, 1998). The torah recognizes God as a single entity, meaning that there is only one God who cannot and will not be imitated by other gods of beings. Scriptures in the Bible also recognize the spirituality of God, terming him a sovereign being who will not subject to any other being. The Bible also recognizes God as a holy being, meaning that he is pure and unique from other beings. God’s holiness is, therefore, the central description of God in the Bible, illustrating him as perfect and immutable, meaning he does not change in any way (Hefner, 1998). Lastly, the Bible recognizes God as wrathful, meaning he punishes those who do not follow his commandments. The Koran, on the other hand, characterizes God in three ways, God as the creator, Gods sustenance, and God’s Judgment. Put simply, the Koran states that God created the world, as well as, humankind, those who believe in him and follow his command will be sustained, and at the end of the world, God will Judge all of humanity (Hefner, 1998). A closer examination of these three texts indicates their similarities in the existence of a supreme being, which influences believers into following him and adhering to his rules and commandments. Additionally, the definition of the nature of God in these three texts explains the devotion of religious believers to service towards God, such as through the performance of rituals.
Hinduism, Confucianism, and Buddhism
Hinduism, Confucianism, and Buddhism were, previously, highlighted as world religions in Eastern culture, i.e., the Indian Religions (Eck, 1993). Just as the western religions, these Eastern religions comprise of various elements that are characteristic of the Eastern culture, hence their association with this culture. Figure C demonstrates Hindu, Buddhist and Confucius religious elements with reference to religious forms, texts, concepts, practices and identity.
Religion Religious Form Religious Texts Religious Concepts Religious Practices Religious Identity
Hinduism Eternal Law Bhagavad Gita God
Morality and Ethics
Human Life Objectives Rituals and Worship
Buddhism Buddha Four Noble Truths Suffering
Nature and Existence
Ethical Principles Monastic Life
Confucianism Confucius Analects Humanity
Rectification of Names
Religious Texts: Eastern Culture
Figure C above highlights the primary religious texts of Eastern religious Cultures as, Analects, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Four Noble Truths (Williams, 1998). Observably, these three religious texts share a central theme regarding ethical principles and the concept of human morality. At the outset, Confucius’ Analects is, solely, based on ethical principles, and the text proposes Confucian values such as, righteousness, piety, and loyalty (Williams, 1998). According to this book, putting these values into practices leads to the creation of a proper being who is not immoral or unethical in any way. Accordingly, the Analects teach the importance of being ethically disciplined so as to live a fulfilling life, and for that reason, humanity is classified according to individual ethical tendencies. The holiest of beings are those who exhibit Confucian values gaining them recognition in newer versions of the Analects. Scriptures in the Four Noble Truths also recognize the existence of suffering that is resultant from unethical behavior, more specifically, attachment to worldly desires (Williams, 1998). These scriptures explain that ceasing attachment to these desires will ensure the stoppage of suffering by individuals, as well as, humanity as a whole. Conclusively, the Bhagavad Gita, also shares the central theme of ethical principles with the other two Eastern religious texts. In this text, religious believers are taught about the concept of Dharma, which refers to duties assigned to humanity by the natural law (Williams, 1998). These duties form the basis for ethical and moral behavior in humanity, and are more often than not, influenced by individual age, gender, occupation, and class. Additionally, this religious text proposes various ideas on ethical conduct through adherence to the laws of the land. Scriptures in the book suggests that ethical beings are those who follow the natural and divine laws, whereas unethical beings are those who do not adhere to the expectations of natural law. Religious teachings regarding the ethical principle in these books dictate how believers should act, thus the explicit religious attitudes, behaviors and practices.
Minor Influential Belief Systems in Eastern Culture
Apart from the three aforementioned religions in the Eastern culture, there are other minor, but influential religions including Jainism, Taoism, and Sikhism (Eck, 1993). These three religious systems differ from the major religions of the Eastern culture in terms of the teachings concerning humanity and spirituality. These religions consist of different religious themes from those of the major religions, and they each major on one theme towards divine consciousness and liberation (Williams, 1998). For example, Jainism focuses its religious teachings on the achievement of divinity and righteousness through non-violence. Jainism also teaches eternal existence of Jainism as a religious system, and does not recognize other forms of religious systems. Research on this religious system indicates that Jainism has become highly influential in recent years gaining a following in all continents apart from Africa. Taoism, on the other hand, is a religious system that stresses a relationship between humanity and nature (Williams, 1998). Taoism proposes the idea of immortality, and the normalcy of the occurrences that shape the world. Taoism is a unique and influential religion as it is closely linked to medicine, martial arts, and astrology, making it different from the major religions of Eastern culture. The last minor, but influential religion in Eastern culture is Sikhism, which is founded on teachings concerning Guru Nanak Dev JI (Williams, 1998). This religious system is different from the major Eastern culture religions as it recognizes Sikh Gurus as supreme beings, as opposed to God. For that reason, believers of Sikhism are ordained to follow teachings by Sikh Gurus for the attainment of divinity and piety.
Just as there exists major religions in the world today, there also exists some minor religions that comprise of lesser followers than their major religious counterparts. Minor religions have been existent since the beginning of time, and they are religions that provide different interpretations and cultural practices towards religion (Wunn, 2003). These religious groups are minority groups owing to the limited following by believers, especially in the international setting. Two such minor religions include Mormonism, and polytheistic reconstructionism, and they represent ancient and modern minor religions respectively. Founded in early 1820s, Mormonism differentiated itself as a form of Christian primitivism based on the oldest teachings in Christianity (Wunn, 2003). Subsequently, Mormons, who are the followers of this religion maintained old beliefs, behaviors, and practices such as polygamy, which soon became the sole cultural practice of the religion. Contrastingly, polytheistic reconstructionism presents a modern, minor religious group that is founded on the belief of the existence of multiple deities. Often associated with paganism, polytheistic reconstructionism is characterized with the creation of individualized mythologies and rituals, with most of the believers demonstrating worship of beings of their own creation (Wunn, 2003).
Localized and Regional Religious Groups:
Australian Aboriginal Group
Apart from major and minor religions, there are several regional or local groups exhibiting the characteristics and elements of a religion. However, these groups cannot really be termed as religions but they reveal great similarities and differences with other world religions. One such group is the Australian Aboriginal group that is practiced by Australians from diverse local regions. Teachings in this group are based on the association of local landscapes with divinity and ancient civilization (Kolig & Gisela, 1992). Just like other religions, the Australian Aboriginal group comprises of elements and believes about spiritual beings. Two such notable beings taught by the teachings of this group include Captain Cook and the Dammari (Kolig & Gisela, 1992). While captain cook displays human characteristics and is responsible for colonialism in the local communities, the Dammari is more of a spiritual being who reveals himself in landscapes such as mountains and is usually relied on for protection and survival (Kolig & Gisela, 1992). Religious teachings of the group reveal creational and anthropological mythologies, and believers perform various rituals for their gods and supreme beings. However, this group differs from other world religions in relation to the existence of religious elements in the definition of the group. For example, the group does not have a principal text to support religious beliefs and practices for the communities. This group does not demonstrate any religious inclinations, thus cannot be termed as an actual religious group.
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