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Encyclopedia > Development of religion

There are a number of models regarding the ways in which religions come into being and develop. Broadly speaking, these models fall into three categories:

  • Models which see religions as social constructions;
  • Models which see religions as progressing toward higher, objective truth;
  • Models which see a particular religion as absolutely true;

The models are not mutually exclusive. Multiple models may be seen to apply simultaneously, or different models may be seen as applying to different religions.


Religions as social construction

This group of models holds that religion is a social construction, rather than referring to actual supernatural phenomena, that is, phenomena beyond the natural world that we measure using the scientific method. Some of these models view religion as nonetheless having or having had a mostly positive effect on society, the individual, and civilization itself, and others view it as having or having had a mostly injurious or destructive effect. Many of these views have their origins in the field of the sociology of religion. An abstract model (or conceptual model) is a theoretical construct that represents physical, biological or social processes, with a set of variables and a set of logical and quantitative relationships between them. ... A social construction, or social construct or a social concept is an invention or artifact of a particular culture or society which exists solely because people agree to behave as if it exists, or agree to follow certain conventional rules. ... The supernatural (Latin: super- exceeding + nature) refers to forces and phenomena which are beyond ordinary scientific understanding. ... The deepest visible-light image of the universe, the Hubble Ultra Deep Field. ... Scientific method refers to a body of techniques for the investigation of phenomena and the acquisition of new knowledge of the natural world, as well as the correction and integration of previous knowledge, based on observable, empirical, measurable evidence, and subject to laws of reasoning. ... The sociology of religion is – among other elements – the study of the practices, social structures, historical backgrounds, development, universal themes, and roles of religion in society. ...

Often these models are adopted by non-religious or anti-religious people to explain religion in terms of purely natural phenomena, so that no supernatural explanations are necessary. However, some religious people believe that religion has both natural and supernatural explanations, and that studying the purely natural causes of religion is not incompatible with a personal belief in supernatural causes also. This position is often adopted by sociologists of religion, etc., who wish to study religion from a secular perspective but still permit themselves to hold their own personal religious views.

Dogma selection model

In the dogma selection model, religion is a set of beliefs which allow humans to encode useful survival tips and social structures. For example, early populations may not have understood microbes (germs), but thinking of illness as being caused by invisible demons that can hop on nearby people and possess them also supplies a mental model that reminds one to stay away from people that are coughing. The demon is an abstraction or approximation of germs and their infectious nature.

Dogma that increases the survival of a group will spread using a kind of Darwinian selection process (see Natural Selection; meme). The most useful dogma's spread because they keep the population that espouses them alive to bear more children. Over time good ideas may "mutate" as new generations or tribal branches alter them and the best variation spread using the selection process described above. Of course sometimes religious doctrine goes awry and ends up in large numbers of deaths, but it is the net benefits that count in the end. Charles Darwin in 1859 in his book The Origin of Species defined Natural selection as the principle, by which each slight variation [of a trait], if useful, is preserved. ... The term meme (IPA: ) refers to any unit of cultural information, such as a cultural practice or idea or concept, which one mind transmits (verbally or by repeated action) to another mind. ...

Opiate of the masses model

In this model, held by individuals such as Karl Marx and Bertrand Russell, religion is seen as a tool concocted by the powerful to pacify and oppress the powerless. As Bertrand Russell wrote, "Religion in any shape or form is regarded as pernicious and deliberate falsehood, spread and encouraged by rulers and clerics in their own interests, since it is easier to control over the ignorant." In this model, the development of religion is seen as analogous to the growth of a cancer: and the most "developed" religion would be no religion at all. Karl Heinrich Marx (May 5, 1818 Trier, Germany – March 14, 1883 London) was an immensely influential German philosopher, political economist, and revolutionary organizer of the International Workingmens Association. ... Bertrand Arthur William Russell, 3rd Earl Russell, OM, FRS (18 May 1872 – 2 February 1970), was an influential British logician, philosopher, and mathematician, working mostly in the 20th century. ...

"Theory of religion" model

R. Stark & W. S. Bainbridge's put forward the following theory in their book "Theory of Religion" and subsequent works. According to the theory, religions are simply cults that become mainstream. They define cults as "deviant religious organization with novel beliefs and practices" that is as new religious movements that unlike sects have not separated from another religious organization. They assert that cults appear into society in two ways, innovation and importation. Innovation happens when an individual starts a new cult within a society, usually because he or she had a purported revelation. Importation occurs when a group that is accepted and established in one society is brought into another society. In religion and sociology, a cult is a cohesive group of people (often a relatively small and recently founded religious movement) devoted to beliefs or practices that the surrounding culture or society considers to be far outside the mainstream. ... A new religious movement or NRM is a religious, ethical, or spiritual grouping of fairly recent origin which is not part of an established religion and has not yet become recognised as a standard denomination, church, or religious body. ... A sect is generally a small religious or political group that has branched off from a larger established group. ...

As to the development of the cults, the authors present four models: the Psychopathological Model, the Entrepreneurial Model, the Social Model and the Normal Revelations model.

Psychopathological model: religions are founded during a period of severe stress in the life of the founder. The founder suffers from psychological problems, which they resolve through the founding of the religion. (The development of the religion is for them a form of self-therapy, or self-medication.)

Entrepreneurial model: founders of religions act like entrepreneurs, developing new products (religions) to sell to consumers (to convert people to). According to this model, most founders of new religions already have experience in several religious groups before they begin their own. They take ideas from the pre-existing religions, and try to improve on them to make them more popular.

Social model: religions are founded by means of social implosions. Members of the religious group spend less and less time with people outside the group, and more and more time with each other within it. The level of affection and emotional bonding between members of a group increases, and their emotional bonds to members outside the group diminish. According to the social model, when a social implosion occurs, the group will naturally develop a new theology and rituals to accompany it.

Normal revelations: religions are founded when the founder interprets ordinary natural phenomena as supernatural; for instance, ascribing his or her own creativity in inventing the religion to that of the deity.

Religions as progressively true

In contrast to the above models, the following models see religion as "progressively true." These models differentiate between major world religions and the cults and false religions which develop in the above ways. Within these models, and in contrast to cults, religions reflect an essential Truth to one degree or another. The development of religion is therefore the course of religions aligning themselves more closely with the Truth. Major religious groups as a percentage of the world population in 2005. ...

1) Within these models, religions are developed by prophets and teachers who bring genuine insight to religious thought. This contrasts with the "useful lie" model above, which sees religious thought as merely random changes which spread according to their usefulness.
2) Within these models, prophets such as Jesus and Muhammad are seen as outsiders leading a divine rebellion against the dominant and corrupt power structures to rescue humanity from destruction. Religion is therefore "grass-roots" in origin, rather than "imposed by the powerful." This contrasts strongly with the Opiate of the Masses model which sees religion as originating with the rich and powerful as a means of controlling the powerless.
3) Within these models, prophets are seen as having genuine insight and wisdom. This contrasts with the "Theory of Religion" model, which ascribes religious birth and development to some psychological or moral pathology in religious leaders and believers.

Bahá'í prophecy model

In the Bahá'í view, religion develops through a series of divine interventions from God, in the form of a Manifestation of God. Bahá'ís believe that God has sent a number of messengers in different times and cultures to bring divine revelation to humanity. Each of these messengers taught the truth of God, but later messengers provided more information to humanity, because humanity was ready to receive the more subtle teachings. Bahá'ís believe in Adam, the Jewish prophets, Jesus, and Muhammad, among others, as messengers of God. Bahá'ís believe Bahá'u'lláh, the founder of Bahá'í Faith, has brought the latest revelation from God. Seat of the Universal House of Justice, governing body of the Baháís in Haifa Israel The Baháí Faith is an emerging global religion founded by Baháulláh, a 19th century Persian exile. ... The Baháí Faith refers to what are commonly called Prophets as Manifestations of God, or simply Manifestations (mazhar). ... Michelangelos depiction of God in the painting Creation of the Sun and Moon in the Sistine Chapel Krishna, the eighth incarnation of Vishnu, the ultimate reality or God in Hinduism This article discusses the term God in the context of monotheism and henotheism. ... This article is about the biblical Adam and Eve. ... A prophet is a person who is believed to speak through divine inspiration. ... For other uses, see Jesus (disambiguation). ... For other people named Muhammad, see Muhammad (disambiguation). ... Shrine of Baháulláh Baháulláh (Arabic: بهاء الله Glory of God) (b. ...

In summarizing this view, Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith stated: Shoghi Effendi (1897-1957) Shoghi Effendi Rabbani (March 1, 1897 - November 5, 1957) was the Guardian of the Baháí Faith from 1921 until his death. ...

"The fundamental principle enunciated by Bahá'u'lláh, the followers of His Faith firmly believe, is that religious truth is not absolute but relative, that Divine Revelation is a continuous and progressive process, that all the great religions of the world are divine in origin, that their basic principles are in complete harmony, that their aims and purposes are one and the same, that their teachings are but facets of one truth, that their functions are complementary, that they differ only in the nonessential aspects of their doctrines, and that their missions represent successive stages in the spiritual evolution of human society." (Shoghi Effendi in The Promised Day Is Come, preface) [1]

See Progressive Revelation for more information Progressive Revelation is a core teaching of the Baháí Faith that flows from the Three Onenesses, namely: the Oneness of God, the Oneness of Religion, and the Oneness of Humanity // Overview The basic concept relates closely to Baháí views of the nature of prophets, termed Manifestations of the Cause of...

Great Awakening model

In the Great Awakening model, religion proceeds along a Hegelian dialectic of thesis, antithesis, synthesis, in cycles of approximately 80 years as a result of the interaction between four archetypal generations. The model begins with a religious Thesis, or established system of beliefs and practices. Subsequently, the thesis faces new intellectual and spiritual challenges which it is unable to adequately address (the antithesis). In reaction to these perceived flaws in the status quo, new spiritual thinkers develop religious understanding to address the new needs. These understandings are often radically opposed to the thesis, and lead to a great deal of conflict between the "old" and "new" ways. Ultimately, a synthesis develops, which incorporates the strengths of the old and the insights of the new. This synthesis becomes the new thesis, and the cycle continues. It is argued that this cycle has occurred four times in American history, which was preceded by two cycles in Britain. See Great Awakening for a more complete discussion. Great Awakenings are commonly said to be periods of religious revival in Anglo-American religious history. ... Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (August 27, 1770 - November 14, 1831) was a German philosopher born in Stuttgart, Württemberg, in present-day southwest Germany. ... In classical philosophy, dialectic (Greek: διαλεκτική) is an exchange of propositions (theses) and counter-propositions (antitheses) resulting in a synthesis of the opposing assertions, or at least a qualitative transformation in the direction of the dialogue. ... Synthesis (from the Greek words syn = plus and thesis = position) is commonly understood to be an integration of two or more pre-existing elements which results in a new creation. ... Great Awakenings are commonly said to be periods of religious revival in Anglo-American religious history. ...

A Study of History model

In A Study of History, Arnold J. Toynbee argues that as civilizations decay, they experience a "schism in the soul," as the creative and spiritual impulse dies. In this environment of spiritual nadir, a few prophets (such as Abraham, Moses, the Prophets, and Christ) are given to extraordinary spiritual insight, born of the spiritual decay in the dying civilization. He describes such prophets as "surveyors of the course of secular civilization who report breaks in the road and breakdowns in the traffic, and plot a new spiritual course which will avoid those pitfalls." A Study of History is the 12-volume magnum opus of British historian Arnold J. Toynbee, finished in 1961. ... Arnold Joseph Toynbee (April 14, 1889 - October 22, 1975) was a British historian whose twelve-volume analysis of the rise and fall of civilizations, A Study of History, 1934-1961, was a synthesis of global history, a metahistory based on universal rhythms of rise, flowering and decline. ...

Thus, he argues, the "high points" in secular history coincide with the "low points" in spiritual history, and vice versa. He notes that the call of Abraham followed the defiance of God by the self-confident builders of the Tower of Babel; that the mission of Moses was to rescue God's chosen people from the fleshpots of Egypt; that the prophets of Israel and Judah were inspired to preach repentance from the spiritual backslidings into which Israel lapsed in its 'land flowing with milk and honey' which Yahweh had provided for them; and that the Ministry of Christ, whose passion reflected the anguish of the Hellenic Time of Troubles, was the intervention of God Himself for the purpose of extending to the whole of Mankind the covenant he had made with Israel.

While these new spiritual insights allow for the birth of a new religion and ultimately a new civilization, they are ultimately impermanent. This is due to their tendency to deteriorate after being institutionalized, as men of God degenerate into successful businessmen or men of politics. He describes the worst corruption of all, however, as "idolizing the terrestrial institution in which the Church Militant on Earth is imperfectly though unavoidably embodied. A church is in danger of lapsing into this idolatry insofar as she lapses into believing herself to be, not merely a depository of truth, but the sole depository of the whole truth in a complete and definite revelation."

Of the possibility that a new religion may arise in Western civilization to finally establish a permanent kingdom of heaven, he concludes that is in unlikely or impossible. "The manifest reason is exhibited by the nature of Society and the nature of Man. For Society is nothing but the common ground between the fields of action of personalities, and human personality has an innate capacity for evil as well as for good. The establishment of such a single Church Militant as we have imagined would not purge Man of Original Sin. This World is a province of the Kingdom of God, but it is a rebellious province, and, in the nature of things, it will always remain so."

Religions as absolutely true

In the following models, religions are seen as absolutely and unchangingly True. They contrast with both the first group of models (which held religion to be false), and the second group (which held religion to develop over time).

Jewish model

Traditional Judaism teaches that God relates to humanity through a series of covenants, which are initiated by him, and in which God promises to perform certain acts on the condition that humans "keep their side of the bargain." Jews believe that they are bound by the Mosaic law, which includes the Ten Commandments and additional teachings, especially those found in Leviticus and the later Sanhedrin. All non-Jews are under the Noahide Laws, established by God after the Global flood which wiped out antediluvian civilization. Those who fulfill their part of the covenant are granted the afterlife. Covenant, in its most general sense, is a word for a solemn promise or similar undertaking. ... Torah, (תורה) is a Hebrew word meaning teaching, instruction, or especially law. It primarily refers to the first section of the Tanakh–the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, or the Five Books of Moses, but can also be used in the general sense to also include both the Written... Leviticus is the third book of the Hebrew Bible, also the third book in the Torah (five books of Moses). ... For the tractate in the Mishnah, see Sanhedrin (tractate). ... The Noahide Laws (Hebrew: שבע מצוות בני נח -- Seven Noahide Laws), also called the Brit Noah (Covenant [of] Noah) are the mitzvot (commandments) and halakhot (laws) that Judaism teaches that all non-Jews are morally bound to follow. ... A painting by the American Edward Hicks (1780–1849), showing the animals boarding Noahs Ark two by two. ... According to the Bible, the only survivors from the antediluvian period were Noah and his family. ... The afterlife (or life after death) is a generic term referring to a continuation of existence, typically spiritual and experiential, beyond this world, or after death. ...

Exclusivist models

Many religions which claim an exclusive revelation from God assert that theirs is the "One True Religion," and all others are false, because they do not originate from the same source. Exclusivism can be seen in many religions, particularly in certain branches of Christianity and Islam. In such a model, the development of "True Religion" is inexorably tied to a single prophet and/or holy book, and all other religions are described as "non-religion," in that they originate either from human ignorance, or from the evil influence of deceivers, false prophets, or even Satan. The practice of being exclusive; mentality characterized by the disregard for opinions and ideas other than ones own. ... Christianity is a monotheistic religion centered on the New Testament accounts of the life, teachings, and actions of Jesus of Nazareth, known by Christians as Jesus Christ. ... Islam (Arabic: ; ( (help· info)), submission (to the will of God) is a monotheistic faith and the worlds second-largest religion. ... False prophet is a label given to a person who is viewed as illegitimately claiming charismatic authority within a religious group. ... To meet Wikipedias quality standards, this article or section may require cleanup. ...

Role of charismatic figures in the development of religions

Many religions have been deeply influenced by charismatic leaders, such as Jesus, Martin Luther, Saint Francis of Assisi, John Calvin, Joseph Smith, Adi Sankara, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Swami Vivekanada, Sai Baba, Muhammad, Gautama Buddha, etc. These leaders are either the central teacher and founder of the religion (e.g. Muhammad, Jesus, or Gautama) or reformers or prominent persons. The sociologist Max Weber defined charismatic authority, also called charismatic domination, or charismatic leadership, as resting on devotion to the exceptional sanctity, heroism or exemplary character of an individual person, and of the normative patterns or order revealed or ordained by him. Charismatic authority is one of three forms of... For other uses, see Jesus (disambiguation). ... Luther at age 46 (Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1529) The Luther seal Martin Luther (November 10, 1483–February 18, 1546) was a German theologian, an Augustinian monk, and an ecclesiastical reformer whose teachings inspired the Reformation and deeply influenced the doctrines and culture of the Lutheran and Protestant traditions. ... Francis of Assisi by El Greco Saint Francis of Assisi (1182 – 4 October 1226) founded the Franciscan Order or Friars Minor. He is the patron saint of animals, merchants, Italy, Catholic action and the environment. ... John Calvin (July 10, 1509 – May 27, 1564) was an important French Christian theologian during the Protestant Reformation and is the namesake of the system of Christian theology called Calvinism. ... Joseph Smith is the name of five Latter Day Saint leaders, namely: Joseph Smith, Sr. ... Sri Adi Sankara Adi Shankaracharya or Adi Shankara (the first Shankara in his lineage), reverentially called Bhagavatpada Acharya (the teacher at the feet of Lord), Shankara (approximately 509- 477 BC (though some claim 788-820 CE)) was the most famous Advaita philosopher who had a profound influence on the growth... Sri Thakur Gadadhar Chattopadhyaya Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (Bangla: শ্রীরামকৄষ্ঞ পরমহংস) (February 18, 1836 - August 16, 1886) was a Bengali saint. ... Introduction Swami Vivekananda (Narendranath Dutta) (January 12, 1863 - July 4, 1902) is considered one of the most famous and influential spiritual leaders of the Hindu religion. ... This article is about the original, turn of the century Shirdi Sai Baba from Bombay state (now Maharashtra). ... For other people named Muhammad, see Muhammad (disambiguation). ... Standing Buddha, ancient region of Gandhara, northern Pakistan, 1st century CE, Musée Guimet. ...

The historical or legendary founders of some of the major world religions include Abraham and Moses (Judaism), Zoroaster (Zoroastrianism), Siddhartha Gautama (Buddhism), Vaikundar (Ayyavazhi), Jesus (Christianity), Muhammad (Islam), Mahavir (Jainism) and Bahá'u'lláh (Bahá'í). It has been suggested that Abraham (Hebrew Bible) be merged into this article or section. ... Moses or Móshe (מֹשֶׁה, Standard Hebrew Móše, Tiberian Hebrew Mōšeh, Arabic موسى Musa, Spanish Moisés, Ethiopic ሙሴ Musse) was a son of Amram and his wife, Jochebed, a Levite. ... Judaism is the religion of the Jewish people with around 14 million followers (as of 2005 [1]). It is one of the first recorded monotheistic faiths and one of the oldest religious traditions still practiced today. ... Zoroaster, in a popular Parsi Zoroastrian depiction. ... Zoroastrianism (Persian: آيين زرتشت , Aeen-e Zartosht) was once the state religion of Sassanid Persia, and played an important role during the preceding Achaemenid and Parthian eras. ... Standing Buddha, ancient region of Gandhara, northern Pakistan, 1st century CE. Gautama Buddha was a South Asian spiritual leader who lived between approximately 563 BCE and 483 BCE. Born Siddhartha Gautama in Sanskrit, a name meaning descendant of Gotama whose aims are achieved/who is efficacious in achieving aims, he... Buddhism (Pāli Buddhadhamma or Sanskrit Buddhadharma) is a religion and philosophy based on the teachings of the Buddha, Siddhārtha Gautama, who lived in the 5th century BCE. Buddhism spread throughout the ancient Indian sub-continent in the five centuries following his death, and propagated into Central, Southeast, and... Ayya Vaikundar was the Manu avathar (to born as a human being) of Lord Narayana according to Akilattirattu Ammanai the holy script of Ayyavazhi religion. ... Ayyavazhi (Tamil: path of the father), officially a Tamil Hindu monistic sect that originated in South India in the mid-19th century. ... For other people named Muhammad, see Muhammad (disambiguation). ... Islam (Arabic: ; ( (help· info)), submission (to the will of God) is a monotheistic faith and the worlds second-largest religion. ... This article or section should be merged with Mahavir Swami Mahavir or Mahavira (the Great Hero -- Also, Vardhamana (increasing) or Niggantha Nathaputta -- 599 BC - 527 BC) was the 24th, and last, Jainist Tirthankara. ... Pre-Kushana Ayagapatta from Mathura Jainism (pronounced in English as //), traditionally known as Jain Dharma (जैन धर्म), is a religion and philosophy originating in the prehistory of South Asia. ... Shrine of Baháulláh Baháulláh (Arabic: بهاء الله Glory of God) (b. ... Seat of the Universal House of Justice, governing body of the Baháís in Haifa Israel The Baháí Faith is an emerging global religion founded by Baháulláh, a 19th century Persian exile. ...

See also

Comparative religion is a field of religious studies that analyzes interpretive differences of common themes and ideas among the worlds religions. ...


  • Robert William Fogel; The Fourth Great Awakening & the Future of Egalitarianism; 2000, University of Chicago Press, ISBN 0226256626
  • William Strauss and Neil Howe, The Fourth Turning, New York: Broadway Books, 1997.
  • Joseph Tracy, The Great Awakening: A History of the Revival of Religion in the Time of Edwards and Whitefield, 1997, Banner of Truth, ISBN 0851517129. This is a reprint of the original work published in 1842.

  Results from FactBites:
Religion - Crystalinks (1479 words)
Religion is a system of social coherence commonly understood as a group of beliefs or attitudes concerning an object, person, unseen or imaginary being, or system of thought considered to be supernatural, sacred, divine or highest truth, and the moral codes, practices, values, institutions, and rituals associated with such belief or system of thought.
Models that view religion as a social construction include the "Dogma Selection Model," which holds that religions, although untrue in themselves, encode instructions or habits useful for survival, and that these ideas "mutate" periodically as they are passed on, and spread or die out in accord with their effectiveness at improving chances for survival.
Another model is the "religion is the opium of the masses" model, which states, according to Bertrand Russell, that "[r]eligion in any shape or form is regarded as a pernicious and deliberate falsehood, spread and encouraged by rulers and clerics in their own interests, since it is easier to exercise control over the ignorant".
Development of religion - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (2073 words)
Normal revelations: religions are founded when the founder interprets ordinary natural phenomena as supernatural; for instance, ascribing his or her own creativity in inventing the religion to that of the deity.
Religion is therefore "grass-roots" in origin, rather than "imposed by the powerful." This contrasts strongly with the Opiate of the Masses model which sees religion as originating with the rich and powerful as a means of controlling the powerless.
Of the possibility that a new religion may arise in Western civilization to finally establish a permanent kingdom of heaven, he concludes that it is unlikely or impossible.
  More results at FactBites »



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