origin and evolution of religion

AlpinLuke

Ad Honoris
Oct 2011
25,229
Lago Maggiore, Italy
Environmental influence ...

Years ago, I was comparing the Egyptian religion with the Indian one [two polytheist systems] and I noted something:

the two systems are based on cycles and ... curious coincidence, the local climate of the two regions present remarkable [and well evident!] cycles. In Egypt there were [and there are] the cycles of the floods of River Nile and in Hindu region there were [and there are] the cycles of the monsoon.

Developing the reasoning, I have noted that also Native American cultures knew a cyclical religious context [again: the cycles of the hurricanes are quite remarkable as atmospheric process].

Am I exaggerating interpreting a possible influence on the formation of proto-religions [about their base characteristics] or could this be a possibility?
 

abram

Ad Honorem
Oct 2014
2,124
oklahoma
Years ago, I was comparing the Egyptian religion with the Indian one [two polytheist systems] and I noted something:

the two systems are based on cycles and ... curious coincidence, the local climate of the two regions present remarkable [and well evident!] cycles. In Egypt there were [and there are] the cycles of the floods of River Nile and in Hindu region there were [and there are] the cycles of the monsoon.

Developing the reasoning, I have noted that also Native American cultures knew a cyclical religious context [again: the cycles of the hurricanes are quite remarkable as atmospheric process].

Am I exaggerating interpreting a possible influence on the formation of proto-religions [about their base characteristics] or could this be a possibility?
I think it's possible. The next phenomenologist on my list is Mercia Eliade, Romanian historian of religion, who picked up on Otto's idea that religion is about the sacred and can't be reduced to anything else. He combines this with a Jungian acceptance of the collective unconscious and archetypes, although his conceptualization of them is distinctive. Eliade stresses the importance of holy spaces called hierophanies where the numinous supersedes the profane (the routine reality of everyday life). He sees early religion as an effort to abolish history and return to a timeless original golden age of archetypal heroes. He called this "the eternal return." A cyclical view of time is the most common way of accomplishing this. "The primitive, by conferring a cyclical direction upon time, annuls its irreversibility." Eternal Return, p. 89. This same "terror of history" is also evident in religions of some of the great civilizations, which take a somewhat different approach toward it. Hinduism offered escape from the cycle of rebirth by the doctrine of moksha. The Aztecs and Toltecs believed that the world at the time of the European arrival was in its fifth cycle of creation and extinction. The Abrahamic religions sacralize a linear path through history to regain the lost paradise of the golden age in End Times and the future Kingdom of God. Etc.
 
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AlpinLuke

Ad Honoris
Oct 2011
25,229
Lago Maggiore, Italy
We could add a consideration about how the deity has evolved in the human perspective. Keeping in mind that in polytheist religion it’s still in part so, before of the introduction of at least the Supreme Gods [and then of the unique God], humans were able to interact directly with the deities … dealing with them as other beings, even with some possibilities to cheat and to control them. Usually by means of magic. In Ancient Egypt, for example, knowing the secret name of a God there was the possibility to control that God.

This was an important evolution: in some way the humans accepted no more to have just to worship the deities and the supernatural entities. They felt in some way to have some rights to a certain independence, a capability to “face” the divine.

Monotheism has improved further the human – divine relation [making it absolutely personal and intimate], but it has dismissed the perspective of a certain capability to oppose God. On the contrary, to oppose God has become a terrible sin and an aspect of the fallen angels … the spiritual entities who don’t follow G-d.

In other words, becoming comprehensive, I would draw this path:


Pure polytheism [no Supreme Gods around]

Moderate polytheism [with Supreme Gods]

Monotheism [with the Unique God as evolution of one or more Supreme Gods and “fallen angels” as His opponents … as evolution of the other “competitors”, the inferior Gods].
 

Theodoric

Ad Honorem
Mar 2012
2,639
Religion is a really poorly defined and amorphous term. So it's really difficult to pin down what it is, let alone get a consensus on it.

Westerners do not interpret the idea of religion the same way someone in India would. The idea of separate boundaries of faith didn't really exist in most places until the modern era. I think our western idea of religion began somewhere between Zoroastrians and Platonists - perhaps the Pythagoreans. Wealthy Persian/Greek intellectuals or nobles, in other words.

Judaism, Roman mystery religions, and those sorts are all descended from these. These are the Western ideas of religion. I know less about the East, but I do know that the idea of Hinduism today is due to a lot of Western restructuring, and that the traditional "Hinduism" that is thousands of years old, is quite different than how Westerners view religion.


As far as spiritualism goes, I think that goes back WAY before history, perhaps well before our species since ritualism has been observed in primates separated from humans by about 8-10 million years.
 

Naomasa298

Forum Staff
Apr 2010
32,044
T'Republic of Yorkshire
Well, what is the distinction between a religion and a belief system?

Taoism is not a religion by the strictest definition of the word, but it certainly has the characteristics of what would commonly be defined a a religion. Shintoism is the same.
 

abram

Ad Honorem
Oct 2014
2,124
oklahoma
Well, what is the distinction between a religion and a belief system?

Taoism is not a religion by the strictest definition of the word, but it certainly has the characteristics of what would commonly be defined a a religion. Shintoism is the same.
Religion is a particular kind of belief-value system. Distinguishing it from other kinds isn't easy, and some secular belief systems like Marxism and nationalism come close. In the OP, I defined religion as a system of beliefs, values and practices that relate people to the sacred, transcendent, ultimate or numinous dimensions of existence. Professor Mark Berkson, Chair of the Religion Department at Hamline University, uses the "family resemblance" or cluster approach to further dentify a set of attributes we associate with religion. If a belief system has all or most of these characteristics, we consider it to be a religion. These are: (1) divinity: a transcendent or numinous "ultimate meaning" which is typically but not always a supernatural being; (2) ritual: prescribed ceremonies, rites or proceedings; (3) norms of right conduct, defining good and evil; (4) revealed truths, whether provided by sacred scriptures or the ecstatic trances of shamans, elders, or prophets; and (5) soteriology: a concept of deliverance to a better life by practicing the religion. Taoism has most of these characteristics. (1) ultimate reality is the underlying natural order, the Tao, the creative and harmonizing force of Yin and Yang that governs the world; (2) rituals: of purification, meditation, Tai Chi, and Feng Shui; (3) norms of right conduct: wu wei (absecne of striving), ziren (spontaneity), and de (harmony with the natural order); (4) revealed truths (the Dao De Jing and Zhuangzi); and (5) deliverance (from conscious striving and goal-oriented behavior).
 
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Naomasa298

Forum Staff
Apr 2010
32,044
T'Republic of Yorkshire
Religion is a particular kind of belief-value system. Distinguishing it from other kinds isn't easy, and some secular belief systems like Marxism and nationalism come close. In the OP, I defined religion as a system of beliefs, values and practices that relate people to the sacred, transcendent, ultimate or numinous dimensions of existence. Professor Mark Berkson, Chair of the Religion Department at Hamline University, uses the "family resemblance" or cluster approach to further dentify a set of attributes we associate with religion. If a belief system has all or most of these characteristics, we consider it to be a religion. These are: (1) divinity: a transcendent or numinous "ultimate meaning" which is typically but not always a supernatural being; (2) ritual: prescribed ceremonies, rites or proceedings; (3) norms of right conduct, defining good and evil; (4) revealed truths, whether provided by sacred scriptures or the ecstatic trances of shamans, elders, or prophets; and (5) soteriology: a concept of deliverance to a better life by practicing the religion. Taoism has most of these characteristics. (1) ultimate reality is the underlying natural order, the Tao, the creative and harmonizing force of Yin and Yang that governs the world; (2) rituals: of purification, meditation, Tai Chi, and Feng Shui; (3) norms of right conduct: wu wei (absecne of striving), ziren (spontaneity), and de (harmony with the natural order); (4) revealed truths (the Dao De Jing and Zhuangzi); and (5) deliverance (from conscious striving and goal-oriented behavior).
Excellent answer, thanks.
 
Nov 2010
6,212
Indiana
Did ancient religions include a moral code? It seems that polytheism was more interested is paying tribute to a god in order for that god to intercede in some way and that a moral code only became important with monotheism.
 
Feb 2017
201
Canada
Did ancient religions include a moral code? It seems that polytheism was more interested is paying tribute to a god in order for that god to intercede in some way and that a moral code only became important with monotheism.
Depends on the religion, but they were usually more oriented toward influencing events that the adherents thought out of their control.
 

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