Chapter 8. Comparative Religion

An image of a buddha statue surrounded by lights, a person lights a candle.
Photo by Julie Ricard on Unsplash

10.1 Cross-Cultural Examination of Religion

10.2 Religions Change Over Time

  • The evolutionary approach argues that world religions evolved over time to meet culturally different needs and historical changing needs. The evolutionary approach comes initially from Edward Burnett Tylor, who argued that religions evolve in a linear manner in one inevitable direction. Of course, we know that religions don’t actually evolve in a linear manner, but religions do change and adapt over time.
  • The other major approach is the diffusionist approach. Diffusionists argue that religions spread, or diffuse, across the globe because people spread them. We do so by sharing our beliefs and practices with others, who sometimes adopt those beliefs and practices as their own. We also bring our beliefs and practices with us when we move to new places. Today, diffusion is always happening, and with globalization and mass migration, world religions are spreading more than ever. With technology, we are able to share our religious and spiritual world views more than ever. The diffusionist approach is often criticized because it over-simplifies the way that religions spread. In its extreme form, diffusionism implies that spiritual innovation never happens. Rather, one or two civilizations came up with religious ideas and spread these ideas to everyone else. However, innovation does happen.

10.3 The First Religion

10.4 Mesopotamian Religion and Judaism

  • Both religions discuss a “primeval sea” that existed before creation,
  • Believe that humans were fashioned from clay
  • Both tell a flood story
  • Both tell a plague story

10.5 Hinduism

10.6 Ancient Egypt’s Brief Monotheism

10.7 The Influence of Zoroastrianism

10.8 Buddhism

  1. Siddhartha sees a sick person who is suffering. Before this moment, Siddhartha did not know about illness.
  2. Siddhartha then sees an old person and is shocked because he had never before realized that people age.
  3. Then, Siddhartha sees a dead body and is horrified because he had not previously been made aware of death.
  4. Finally, amidst all of this shock and suffering, Siddhartha sees a monk who is peacefully meditating. Siddhartha resolves to enter a journey of spirituality in order to find a solution to stop the suffering of people.
  1. All of life is suffering
  2. We suffer because we cling to ideas, people, things, etc.
  3. Only by not clinging can we stop suffering
  4. There are eight ways to stop clinging called The Eightfold Path
  1. Right understanding
  2. Right thought
  3. Right speech
  4. Right action
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness
  8. Right concentration

10.9 Christianity

10.10 Weber and the Protestant Work Ethic

  • The practice of buying divine forgiveness by giving money to the church
  • The church’s celibacy requirements
  • The worshipping of saints as near gods
  • The powerful position held by the Pope (Beverley 126–127)
  • Religious devotion usually leads people to reject worldly affairs (wealth, possessions).
  • The Protestant Reformation (16th century, Martin Luther) glorified work. This social schism rejected traditional ideas surrounding knowledge, power, and spirituality.
  • Any work viewed as “sacred’/ a calling
  • Work is suddenly viewed as a service to society.
  • This new attitude allowed a desire for wealth.
  • This idea overcomes previous issues regarding wage and time
  • Pre-capitalist workers were unwilling to work more hours after reaching their desired income.
  • Capitalist workers are willing to work more hours if they are paid a high wage
  • In Weber’s view, this was not a uniquely “Western” trend — but the two cultural forces are so compatible that both Protestantism and capitalism flourish. The two established themselves as the dominating forces in both the United States and in Europe.

10.11 Islam

  1. Faith, the monotheistic idea that there is no God but one God.
  2. Prayer, which requires followers to pray 3 or 5 times a day depending on whether one is Sunni or Shia.
  3. Alms-giving, where all Muslims donate a portion of their income to charity,
  4. Fasting, when Muslims do not eat or drink from sun up to sun down during the month of Ramadan
  5. Pilgrimage, where Muslims are required to visit the holy site of Mecca once in their lives, which is called the Hajj.

10.12 Comparing and Contrasting Religious Influences

  • Their philosophies and stories are very similar; for example, when Jesus gives the “Sermon on the Mount”, the first thing that he teaches is the “Golden Rule”. The Golden Rule says, “do not do anything to others that you would not want others to do to you”. On the other hand, Buddha gives his first lessons beneath the Bodhi tree and his first lesson is: treat others as you would like to be treated.
  • Both Buddhism and Christianity preached nonviolence while living in violent societies, and it was a radical idea at the time.
  • Both Buddhism and Christianity rejected material wealth and undermined the ruling powers of their society.
  • Both Buddha and Jesus are believed to have had prostitutes as friends which reveals a common cultural oppression of women and a revolutionary new idea to overcome oppressive class structures.
  • Both religious figures started their spiritual journey at age 30.
  • Jesus’ and Buddha’s legends are similar, as both of their mothers’ pregnancies were announced by angels: an elephant in Buddhism and Angel Gabriel in Christianity.
  • Both mothers gave birth during a journey, with Mary traveling to Jerusalem, and Buddha’s mother returning to her hometown.
  • It’s believed that Jesus was crucified by at age 32.
  • It’s believed that Buddha died at age 90 from food poisoning. In the story, one of Buddha’s followers accidentally undercooked a fish and served it to him. Rather than dying dramatically, it’s believed that Buddha calmly explained to his distraught followers the lesson: everything eventually dies.






Cultural Anthropologist in Los Angeles

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Amanda Zunner-Keating

Amanda Zunner-Keating

Cultural Anthropologist in Los Angeles

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