questions about the history of religion

May 2015
29
Texas
#1
Hi, I am not sure weather I am in the right part of the forum to ask this question so please move this thread to the proper area if its in the wrong section. 1. after the last ancient era did societies become religiously run societies in the middle ages until the beginning of the industrial age or modern era? If no then has societies always been religiously runned societies?

2. when did the word religion start or begin to exist? I had previously learned from somewhere that the word religion was invented in the middle ages and that before the middle ages there was no word for religion as the religions of ancient times had no name to them. Just the gods, magic and the mythologies associated with those myth stories of each ancient civilization witch were considered true or fact In those times. despite what I had learned about the word religion being a midevil/middle ages invention I have seen a few vids on the ancient atheist philosophers on youtube for example in one of Epicurus's quote's, he states the word religion in that quote as well as others stating the word in there quotes. because of those videos I saw, it appears to be proof that the word religion was in invented or had existed in earlier times before the middle ages. This is a contradiction so witch is it? was the word religion invented in the middle ages OR did the word exist in earlier or much earlier times?
 
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Nov 2016
400
Munich
#2
1. after the last ancient era did societies become religiously run societies in the middle ages until the beginning of the industrial age or modern era? If no then has societies always been religiously runned societies?
As far as we look back into the historical past (I ignore prehistory), religious institutions and concepts were closely connected with the authorities of a community, i.e. with chieftain and royalism. Either priests acted as servant functionaries of a ruler or the priesthood was a partial function of the ruler (priestking). Religious concepts usually included the idea that the supreme deity is in a close relationship to the ruler and that he owes his earthly power to the deity. The oldest document of such a relationship is the Sumerian vulture stele, which makes the ruler Eannatum owe his power to various deities, above all the city god of Lagash, Ningirsu, whom he calls his father.

Such concepts are called the ´religious legitimation´ of a ruler. Linked to this is the idea that the ruler acts as the earthly representative of the deity and exercises his power on behalf or in the interest of that. There was the same idea in Ancient Egypt, even in an aggravated form, since here the ruler himself was considered divine. In Greece (Alexander), Persia and Rome - to name but a few examples - the concept of divine assistance to the ruler helped him to an acceptance, which he would not have had otherwise of course. In short: Theistic religion cannot be separated from the aspect of power of political rule; in its basic structure it is even a product of this rule.

A common expression for the relationship between religion and power is the "divine grace" (lat. Dei Gratia), which, as shown, was already practiced in ancient Sumer. This idea of course also existed with the Christian Carolingians, Ottonians, Salians, Staufers and Habsburgs (e.g. Charlemagne: "a deo coronatus imperator" = emperor crowned by God). Luther (1525) even tried to legitimize the violence of the princes against rebellious peasants by their divine grace, citing the letter from the Romans. In his paper ´De servo arbitrio´, Luther created the "religious" basis for later absolutism through the doctrine of predestination represented therein and the associated belief that the will of God is manifested in the structures of power. Ironically, it was later the mega-absolutist Louis XIV, who also referred to a divine grace, who, as the enemy of Jansenism teaching predestination, revoked the Edict of Nantes (freedom of religion for Huguenots) and proclaimed the Edict of Fontainebleau on the basis of the principle "One King, One Faith, One Law". The Catholic Louis XIV also thought he stood above the Pope in religious questions and only felt responsible to ´God´.

2. when did the word religion start or begin to exist?
´Religion´ comes from Latin ´religio´ that originally had different meanings, e.g. doubt, fear of gods, piousness, superstition, sacredness. Its earliest application is provable in Roman texts from about 200 BCE. According to Cicero the word goes back to ´relegere´ (read again, take back / figuratively: pay attention to, consider matters of temple cult). Thus ´religio´ would mean ´observation of cult rules´ in contrast to superstition in its original meaning of ecstasy. In the 4th century CE the Christian Lactantius traced ´religio´ back to ´religare´ (lash back, bind fast) in the sense of the binding of a person to a deity. There is however no consense on this interpretation among linguists. In the MA and early modern times the words ´fides´ (faith) and ´secta´ (followership) were common. In the 17th century (Herbert of Cherbury in "De veritate" from 1624)´religion´ started to assume its today meaning, however still confined to Christian faith. Only in the following century, the Age of Enlightenment, it became more and more applied also to other belief systems.
 
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AlpinLuke

Ad Honoris
Oct 2011
24,526
Lago Maggiore, Italy
#4
"Religion" is a quite recent conceptualization. In Ancient Egypt, for example, no one minded about the existence or not of a system of belief. Who cared?


What we call "religion" is a sum of existing beliefs, rituals, magical rules ... who worshiped Amun didn't think to be a follower of the religion of KmT ... he thought to be a follower of Amun. Period.


To apply the term "religion" to the ancient past is like to apply the term Communist. We can detect Communist behaviors in the ancient past, but sure they didn't think to be Communist!


So this thread is not about "history of religion", but about history of magic, beliefs and superstition.
 
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Nov 2016
400
Munich
#5
What we call "religion" is a sum of existing beliefs, rituals, magical rules ... who worshiped Amun didn't think to be a follower of the religion of KmT ... he thought to be a follower of Amun. Period.
That´s true, however for scientific consideration we need concepts and categories in order to analyze the inner and outer contexts of historical phenomena, events and situations. This is called a ´meta-perspective´which is positioned´above´ the object which is to be analyzed. To this purpose we need the concept of ´religion´ when examining certain fields of past cultures. By the way, your application of the term ´belief´ is also anachronistic since those people did not ´believe´ but were actually convinced of the reality of their ideas of gods etc.

Without meta-concepts like ´religion´ past cultures cannot be scientifically seen through. From the scientific view, we have to distinguish between aspects (politics, religion) that were not understood as different aspects in those cultures.

Other examples are the Marxist concepts of ´class´, ´class struggle´, ´exploitation´, ´use value´ and ´product fetishism´, which were originally never used or even thought of by economically involved people. As to the modern concept of ´suppression of women´, in Antiquity, for example, men suppressed women without having any notion of ´suppressing´ them, instead they thought that such behavior was normal and adequate to the natures of both sexes.
 
Jun 2018
117
Philadelphia, PA
#6
So, yes, we can discuss the origin of terms and the norms and mores of the cultures and civilizations. Obviously these are necessary to put certain things into perspective.

BUT, these sorts of things are also apart of the history of religion. Religion is a rather expansive term. It can include things like burial rights and practices, worship, and can govern to day activities and relations. There is a lot that goes into it, so we can never really say when we are and are not discussing the history of religion.
 
Nov 2016
400
Munich
#7
Religion is a rather expansive term. It can include things like burial rights and practices, worship, and can govern to day activities and relations. There is a lot that goes into it, so we can never really say when we are and are not discussing the history of religion.
So we need an efficient concept and definition of ´religion´. I propose the following:

´Religion´ is a complex of rituals and ideas that aim at contacting and influencing supernatural powers or beings for certain purposes in connection with the alleged welfare of a community or individual.

´Supernatural´ means not provable by physical senses or instruments. Thus we can differentiate two spheres in an ancient culture: the ´supernatural´ sphere which is thought to be real, however (in our view) physically not provable, and a mundane (material, natural) sphere the elements of which are physically provable. To this sphere belongs politics, since all political events can basically be attested by human senses. What cannot be attest by those senses are ´divine´ factors which allegedly are connected as causes with such events, e.g. in the shape of a war deity that promotes the victory over an enemy.

A concept of ´religion´ defined that way is indispensable for analyzing and making transparent certain historical events and practices. This concept separates the imaginary (the supernatural deities) from the real (the mundane processes) both of which were amalgamated in the thinking and the social and political practices of the ancients. Thus ´religion´ is not an abstract concept with no reference in ancient cultures but is referring to the imagination of alleged supernatural powers (and to the corresponding rituals) that were however not seen through as imaginative by the ancients.

My definition is applicable to all kinds of communities from gatherer/hunter groups and tribes via peoples (Jews), empires and nations to the whole mankind and even all living beings, as in Buddhism.

The adjective "alleged" (in my definition) means a relativization of "welfare" insofar as one has to take into account that ´religion´ - as I pointed out in my first answer - has mostly been instrumentalized by the ruling class of a community. One of the best examples is of course ancient Egypt.

Wherever there is a ruling class that profits from the ´religious´ system of their communitiy it can be said that the purpose of this system is not the welfare of the whole community but mainly of the ruling class. This does not mean that ´religion´ is or was a consciously elaborated fraud (= fraud hypothesis), at least not in the whole.

Of course, many priests and kings were aware of the possibilities that ´religion´ provided for achieving pragmatic, that is, political or economical, purposes, so that they were ´creative´ in their dealing with new ideas on deities, for example, Sargon the Great who used the enormous popularity of goddess Inanna by ascribing to her his military victories over his opponents, what finally led to the promotion of the goddess Ishtar, a combination of fertility and love goddess (Inanna) and an until then minor war goddess from Kish with the name ´Ishtar´.
 
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AlpinLuke

Ad Honoris
Oct 2011
24,526
Lago Maggiore, Italy
#8
That´s true, however for scientific consideration we need concepts and categories in order to analyze the inner and outer contexts of historical phenomena, events and situations. This is called a ´meta-perspective´which is positioned´above´ the object which is to be analyzed. To this purpose we need the concept of ´religion´ when examining certain fields of past cultures. By the way, your application of the term ´belief´ is also anachronistic since those people did not ´believe´ but were actually convinced of the reality of their ideas of gods etc.

Without meta-concepts like ´religion´ past cultures cannot be scientifically seen through. From the scientific view, we have to distinguish between aspects (politics, religion) that were not understood as different aspects in those cultures.

Other examples are the Marxist concepts of ´class´, ´class struggle´, ´exploitation´, ´use value´ and ´product fetishism´, which were originally never used or even thought of by economically involved people. As to the modern concept of ´suppression of women´, in Antiquity, for example, men suppressed women without having any notion of ´suppressing´ them, instead they thought that such behavior was normal and adequate to the natures of both sexes.

Sure, I'm familiar with semiotics and I do know that the reader gives to the text its final meaning. Obviously we need to stay in our own cultural context. Anyway it's useful to underline that what we think today is quite far and different from what they thought in that far past. Just to understand their world.
 
Nov 2016
400
Munich
#9
Sure, I'm familiar with semiotics and I do know that the reader gives to the text its final meaning. Obviously we need to stay in our own cultural context. Anyway it's useful to underline that what we think today is quite far and different from what they thought in that far past. Just to understand their world.
I would like to refer to my post #7 above, that deals with the issue in detail.
 
Jun 2018
117
Philadelphia, PA
#10
Wherever there is a ruling class that profits from the ´religious´ system of their communitiy it can be said that the purpose of this system is not the welfare of the whole community but mainly of the ruling class.
Not necessarily. Think about a theocracy, such as Iran. This is how the people (or at least the majority of them) want their government to function. There are those who want to see more religion and religious practices in government as opposed to our separation of church and state. Not nearly to the lengths of the Renaissance or The Dark Ages, but more so than exists now.
 

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