Saturday, 18 October 2014

Taxonomies for Religions Index

EDIT 26/11/2014 - I found some terrible errors regarding the order of the paragraphs and tried to fix it.

The other day a friend of mine observed that I am obsessed with understanding other people’s philosophies and how those philosophies affect their actions. She isn’t wrong. In yet another attempt to create a framework for such understanding, I’m attempting to compile taxonomies for religions.

What is a taxonomy for religions? This first post is a good example. By “taxonomy for religions” I mean a way of conceptualizing religions and seeing how they are different from one another. (And, I suppose, they give opportunities to see when they are the same.) So in that first example, you can divide and group religions according to the problem they see in the world and the solution they offer to address it. In a way, a taxonomy is a set of questions which narrow in on particular features in order to help us understand the things we’re putting into the taxa (in this case, religions).

But isn’t that narrow? Aren’t there more ways of grouping religions than just problem/solution? Absolutely. And that’s why I want lots of them. I hope that by overlaying them we can create a more detailed (or, I like to think, textured) view of each religion. That’s what I want to do here: if I gather enough such taxonomies in one place, we can start building a really complete understanding of each religious tradition.

Religious tradition? Wouldn’t the problem/solution question apply to sects within religions, too? Or even to individual believers? Yes, yes, and yes. It’s almost like you’ve read my first post! Some of these taxonomies will apply to believers better than to religions. For example, Richard Beck talks about Winter Christians and Summer Christians. This applies to believers (Christians, specifically), not religions. But you could also note that some religions, and some sects within religions, accommodate Winter Believers better than Summer Believers or vice versa. As such you could create categories—or taxonomies—on the Religion level according to the sorts of beliefs/attitudes it encourages or accepts on the Individual level.

What are Winter Christians and Summer Christians? The linked post contains a good explanation, but I’ll also explain it in a later post. [EDIT: I don't.]You obviously care about this, but why should anyone else? It’s really important to understand why people act the way they do and think the things they do! How else can you reason with them or predict their actions? Also, if you’re one of those people who needs to understand a person in order to empathize with them, then how else will you be their friend? You don’t want to go around assuming that everyone thinks the same as you do about things, do you? (If so, how’s that working out for you? And for the people around you?)
But, more importantly, how are you supposed to play a cleric or paladin in your D&D session next week if you don’t know what religions and religious people are like? Oh, you’re the DM? Then how are you supposed to make up the behaviours and beliefs of the Cult of Tiamat?

So if I basically don’t care about religion and I don’t plan on playing a cleric, then there’s no point reading any of this? You say you don’t care about religion, but maybe you’re thinking of something different than I am. Do you care about philosophy? Or metaphysics? Basic approaches to ethics or decision-making? Or a person’s fundamental understanding of the world, so fundamental that it remains somewhat obscure to the person holding it? About worldviews? Cosmologies? Cultures and subcultures? Then you care about religions, just maybe not the ones with God and stuff in them.

Isn’t that an unnecessarily and unhelpfully broad definition of religion? Maybe. Maybe not. That’s a whole other series of posts that I plan on writing someday. In the meantime, the basic question to ask is whether the worldview under consideration can fit in these taxonomies. Most of them can—even if they appear to be, or consider themselves, non-religious.

Would you like people to recommend taxonomies for people to add to your list? Absolutely! Thanks for asking! Write it in the comments! Or e-mail me, if you know my e-mail address! (Maybe I’ll rig up a burner account for this thing…)

But what if the ones I might recommend aren’t exactly scholarly taxonomies? In the last few years it’s started to seem like you mostly care about scholarly stuff, and I’m afraid that’s not really the world in which I live… Don’t worry about it! Didn’t I just prattle on about D&D? And take a look at my Table of Contents; it has lots of non-scholarly stuff.

Speaking of, maybe you’ll want to get on to that Table of Contents before you lose readers…? Oh, right. Good thinking.

Table of Contents, with Sloppy Annotations
  1. Religion as Problem and Solution or Religion as Obsession and Epiphany – On Stephen Prothero’s God Is Not One and W. Paul Jones’s Theological Worlds, to whit, all religions observe that something is wrong with the world and try to address it.
  2. The Religions of Textbooks – On the 3 C’s, the 5 C’s, Patheos, enumerations of the divine, and RPG random generators, to whit, the sort of Religious Studies 101 overview of a religion.
  3. Prophet, Sage, and Shaman – On clergy and other religious specialists, religious classes in RPGs, and the priesthood of all believers, to whit, different kinds of religious specialists and what they might indicate about the religion in question.
  4. Ultimate Concerns – On Paul Tillich’s Dynamics of Faith, to whit, looking at what people are ultimately concerned about, whether they recognize the ultimacy of the Ultimate, and different types of faith; further, how taxonomies have investments.
  5. Who is the Object of Religion? And Who the Subject? – On Robert Hunt’s blog Interfaith Encounters, to whit, whether a believer asks questions of the religion or the other way around, and what role morality plays in that relationship.
  6. Looking Square at Death – On Richard Beck’s blog Experimental Theology and book The Slavery of Death, to whit, does religion deny death or face it honestly, and how does it handle doubt and suffering?
  7. The Kitchen Drawer with Odds and Ends – On Sam Harris and wakefulness, Edward Feser and trads/mods, stuff I’ve written before about genres, and Scott McCloud's grouping of artists.
  8. Taxonomies and Mythopoeia – trying to cobble all this together for use in D&D and other RPGs; also, for fantasy worldbuilding generally, with commentary on having to do the same thing four times for religion, sect, community, individual.
  9. A Post-Hoc Mission Statement – On caveats and limitations and getting knocked on the head.
Links go live as I write the posts, and titles will updated as that happens. Will hopefully gain more entries as you recommend stuff. 

Bonus Content!
  1. Random Religion Generator - I create an online random generator somewhat (but far from entirely or faithfully) based on the above.
  2. Quest and Castle - On the Quest variable in religion, with reference again to Richard Beck and, briefly, Paul Tillich.
  3. Alien, Warrior, Outcast, Fugitive, and Victim - On W. Paul Jones's Theological Worlds, in greater depth

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