Religious variation

John McCreery (jlm@TWICS.COM)
Mon, 29 Jul 1996 01:00:10 +0900

Edward Farrell asserts that we need a theory of mind to account for
religious variation. I ask now what variation he has in mind. I have been
pretty specific about what I would take to be religious/ritual behavior:
(1) non-routine; (2) stereotyped; (3) specialized for communication in
agonistic situations; (4) addressed to beings not visible to the observer.
I am quite aware that this sort of operational definition will be offensive
to those who see the essence of religion in cognitive, emotional, or
spiritual experience.I would remind them that the word "religion" itself is
derived from the Latin "religio", meaning a social obligation; so that
Durkheim is closer to the original than, say, Kierkekgaard. I am prepared
to acknowledge that there are differences in doctrine and fine points in
liturgy difficult to explain in general sociological terms. (That is why, I
insist, we need some subtlety in interpreting particular rites or dogmas.)
I have also read James on the varieties of religious experience and recall
having at one time or another experienced a great many of them. If there is
a theory of mind adequate to explain why I have felt exalted at some times
(quite close, it seemed, to Otto's "mysterium tremendums"[SIC]), bored or
irritated at others; have at some points in my life had a keen interest in
fine points of dogma that at others have struck me as sheerest piffle, I
should be glad to know of it. I note, too, that issues that once struck my
ancestors as worth fighting wars and burning people at the stake over are
now, except for the odd scholar, totally lifeless. (When is the last time
you saw someone getting bent out of shape over, say, transubstantiation vs.
consubstantiation?) If a theory of mind can explain that, I will then be
truly impressed.

John McCreery
3-206 Mitsusawa HT, 25-2 Miyagaya, Nishi-ku
Yokohama 220, JAPAN

"And the Lord said unto Cyrus, 'Shall the clay say to him who moldest it,
what makest thou? Let the potsherd of the earth speak to the potsherd of
the earth." --An anthropologist's credo