Wednesday, 26 November 2014

A Post-Hoc Mission Statement

A Taxonomies for Religion Post

I had planned to write a summary for this series as it relates to real life to follow the one related to roleplaying games, but as I sit here I realize there’s nothing to say about real life that hasn’t been said about the roleplaying games, which I guess should come as a surprise to no one. So I’m not going to write the second of those posts; just go read the first one. What I am going to do is reiterate this project’s mission on a slightly bigger level, insisting on some caveats and imagining situations where you could use it.

Those caveats, then: In no way is this series of posts enough to achieve real understanding of any religion. You could grab this series of questions—that is, after all, what this is, a series of questions rather than a series of categories or, really, a series of questions because it’s a series of categories—and sit down in front of any religion and fill in all the little blanks. I really hope this helps you. I’ll talk in a bit about why I think it would. But when you’re done with that you won’t be done. Not at all. Because when you’re done with all this, you’ve still got to know how the religion works, how it’s structured, what it looks like on the inside. These questions will open the door for you, I think; you’ve got to step in after that.

What these questions are supposed to do is clear the preconceptions from your head. I suspect that most people have a dismally narrow view of what religion is. This includes the religious and the non-religious in equal measure, and I’m sure it does not discriminate by religion or denomination. This also includes the sorts of people who say other people have a narrow view of religion; this includes, I imagine, myself. Look again at Robert Hunt’s introduction to one of his distinctions:
The obvious must sometimes be said: for inter-religious dialogue to be of any value those involved must know what they are talking about. And not just expertise. They must know what they have in common, what this “religion” thing is that they supposedly share.
In his example, Hunt argues that one of his interlocutors merely assumes that all religious people imagine religion the same way; it does not even occur to this man that there’s another way of thinking about it. But there are other ways of thinking about and doing religion, and so this man fails to understand them. And so, if you’re debating with someone about a workplace policy or you’re trying to learn about your friend’s religious tradition or you’re drafting a diversity training policy or you’re engaging with philosophical and critical thought coming from a person who adheres to a religion that you do not, and so you’re trying to understand that person’s worldview, you’ll be seriously limited if you are making assumptions about their religion that simply aren’t true. In this series I want to help knock those assumptions out of your head; that is, I want to knock these assumptions out of my own head. I also hope to do so in a way that makes future knockings easier and more productive, too.

But that’s only the first step, as I said. I knock out the assumptions by offering alternatives; these alternatives may also help. But they might not, too. They might not be all that important to the religion you’re looking at. That’s why I want as many as I can get. But once you’ve got all these frameworks, you have to start figuring out how they fit together to produce the details which the rest of it won’t generate. And you’ve got to look at it in historical and social context, sometimes because stuff people say is religious is not really indigenous to their religion at all (so-called-Christian capitalism) and sometimes parts of their religion comes from their politics (American evangelicalism’s inherent racism). The real work follows the frameworks, and there’s no guide for it, because it has to arise in response to the particular religion you’re looking at.

And, of course, finally, you’ve got to get a sense of the individual. Psychology becomes pretty important then. I’ve got some suggestions about where you might start—personal epistemology definitely comes to mind—but you’ll need a toolbox bigger than mine currently is. Because, all else told, the individual matters at least as much to the religion as the religion to the individual.

Hopefully, though, after all these caveats, I’ve made a place where you can begin. Hopefully I’ve got you asking some questions.



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