professor response 200 words
This is an incredibly thorough posting and you have hit directly on every key feature for the week’s discussion. I would just like to add something about shamanism, as you are one of the few students to mention shamanism this week. Shamanism is rooted along the Arctic circle, mostly in Siberia, Northern Asia, and the extreme Northwest coast of the Americas. Shamanism is based on practices without any real systematic belief structure in place. Shamanic practices are typified by drumming and dance, in which a shaman will leave their body and journey through another world and interact with beings in that world in order to heal or assist a person in need. Shamanism it is thought, was derived from ancient Tantric practices and relates to even to Buddhism in some ways. It was once thought by early scholars that shamanism was the original form of religion, but it is now realized that shamans exist in very few places of the world, and are related to only certain types of practices. In South America and Mexico for example, people will call themselves shamans, and in some parts of Africa and India as well. However, these practices often involve either possession (in India and Africa) or healing within the natural world (Mexico and South America) and do not involve the actual trance like leaving of the body found in true shamanism. However, we cannot suggest that some one who earnestly believes they are a shaman is not a shaman. So here we enter into one of these sticky areas, do we call a person a shaman because they want to be called a shaman, or do we try to keep the term clear in its proper usage. The fact that scholars have given much attention to something like shamanism is unfortunately not always such a good thing. Great posting Abdul, thank you.
Peer response 200 words
For Smart, “myth” is a story a divine significance – something that explains how or why something is, in the context of a religion. Within traditions, myths serve to reinforce ideologies, sets of values, or explain how the world came to be. For example, the stories of the Bible are the most functional of “myths” if one applies Smart’s definition – the stories contained within it teach a certain set of morals through the examples of prophets, or explain other ideologies central to Christianity throughout story. To understand the myths of the people, one can then understand the social psychology of the time.
The “cosmos” within Smart’s reading references the entire physical universe – the universe that religions such as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam regard as being created by a singular higher power, at the beginning of time. The cosmos, in some religions, are also seen as being imbued by divine power – in Greek and Egyptian mythology, there are accounts of gods both major and minor being assigned to maintain their own part of the cosmos. There is the Greek Titan Atlas who is said to be physically holding up the heavens for all of eternity, as well as the ancient Egyptian Nūt, who was the sky goddess – it was believed that Nūt was the sky herself, and was responsible for birthing the sun every morning. Despite the significant differences between the two Greek and Egyptian religions and myths overall, the common thread here is what Smart mentions at the beginning of The Mythic Dimension – myths have a “likeness of function” that is shared across religions and cultures. Effectively, each myth was written with a specific purpose in mind, and this is the commonality between religions involving myth.
The purpose of doctrines is to bring order to what religion teaches – Smart provides the example of the Trinity representing the plurality and the oneness of god. Another purpose that doctrines serve is keeping the teachings of religion relevant; it effectively helps maintain the traditions that were established likely thousands of years ago and tie them into the very different lifestyles of today. Doctrine can help guide some followers of a religion to apply age-old teachings into what they may consider a modern life that is too distant from the times of prophets. I have seen within the local Muslim community a sort of “reverse-doctrine” – where Muslims begin to reinterpret the doctrines of Islam to fit their own agendas, and I’ve seen it bring up really interesting debate within the community. As an example, it is a fairly well-established idea that Muslim men may marry women outside of the Muslim faith, however, Muslim women must marry a Muslim man. With the rise of feminism (thank god) and the questioning of what people had generally accepted for so long, this prompted young, female Muslim scholars to look into the root of this practice, and what they found was very different from what was believed. Since Islam came from the Arab world, where men were so in command of society, lawmaking, etc., it was basically the norm to preach that women could not marry outside of the faith as a form of “protecting” them, when it is clearly stated in the Qu’ran that women have the same rights as men, and that it extends to marriage.
This supports Smart’s idea of “looseness of doctrine”, and how doctrines affect one another – as Islam began to be Westernized, the root Arab doctrines mingled with the misogynistic aspects of an old culture, and this created a doctrine that wasn’t present within the religion to begin with. A looseness of doctrine is not necessarily a negative thing however, there merely needs to be an awareness of how religion is a global phenomenon, and can be different around the world due to the vastly different lives communities lead within their own corners of the world.