Re: Religious Variation

Ronald Kephart (rkephart@OSPREY.UNF.EDU)
Tue, 30 Jul 1996 14:52:06 -0400

In message <v01530502ae24029aa4ae@[]> Rosemary Gianno writes:
> This discussion of what constitutes religion has been interesting. In
> regarding to beginning sociologically, in the way that John McCreery does,
> it reminded me of the distinction many people in the US make today between
> religion and "spirituality." I would be interested in anything that has
> been written about this from an anthropological or sociological
> perspective. From talking with people who espouse spirituality as opposed
> to religion, it seems to be very individualistic and rejecting of any
> belief system, religion, derived from a social group that has become
> institutionalized. Beyond that, I have a hard time defining it.
> R. Gianno

Since I'm in so much trouble on other fronts, I may as well fire a few shots in
this direction too...

My own working definition of "religion" is a set of beliefs and behaviors
associated with the understanding and/or control of forces/events deemed to be
outside ordinary understanding and control. If this or something like it is
accepted (and PLEASE note that it is intended to be a working definition only!!)
then religion is, indeed, a human universal.

There are different types of religious belief systems, or "cults" (A. Wallace's
term I believe). Individualistic cults are those in which people are
essentially their own practitioners. In severe contrast, you have the
ecclesiastic cults (Catholicism, etc.) where there is a burocratic hierarchy
governed by a relatively strict code of permissible beliefs and behaviors.
Seems to me that "spiritualists" might fit into the "individualistic" category;
surely what they practice is a manifestation of "religion" in the
anthropological sense.

Ron Kephart
University of North Florida