Religious practices include a wide variety of activity, but in some cases these practices might be described as rituals, a term that carries many conflicting associations. We can look at ritual as a type of religious practice, which pays attention to not only what is done, but also the broader context in which the action is situated.
In other words, rituals are religious practices with some degree of specificity that separates them from ‘everyday’ religious activities.
This definition finds common ground with a dictionary definition, which describes ritual as ‘[a] religious or solemn ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order’ (Oxford University Press, 2018).
This sense of ritual as a mechanism of order and control recurs in a variety of contexts, but we should be wary of making things too simple! Catherine Bell (2006) points out that:
…scholars may be at the point of relinquishing the idea that there can be a single theory of ritual, for ritual may not be any one thing.
We can start to appreciate the differences between ritual and non-ritual religious practices by considering diet. For many people, choosing what food to eat is a decision based on their religious culture and beliefs, but isn’t actually a ritual.
Jewish dietary law (kashrut), requires that only foods of appropriate types can be consumed; these appropriate foods are described as kosher, suitable for consumption. However, the decision to eat (or not) in accordance with kashrut doesn’t appear to be ritualistic; it isn’t ceremonial, and although the prescribed foods suggest a sense of order, kashrut doesn’t dictate where, when, or how a meal is eaten.
By contrast, the slaughter of animals for consumption could be described as a ritual because it involves a deliberate action by an authorised person (in the case of Jewish slaughter, this person is called a shochet) with prescribed methods, intentions, and outcomes.
In Judaism, this ritual slaughter is known as shechita, but it’s worth noting that the British organisation Shechita UK doesn’t consider the act a ritual, and instead describes the process in medical terms, focusing on the claimed humaneness of the method.
There is no ritual involved in shechita.
The procedure consists of a rapid and expert transverse incision with an instrument of surgical sharpness (a chalaf), which severs the major structures and vessels at the neck. This causes an instant drop in blood pressure in the brain and immediately results in the irreversible cessation of consciousness. Thus, shechita renders the animal insensible to pain, dispatches and exsanguinates in a swift action, and fulfils all the requirements of humaneness and compassion.
You can read their comments in full here: A Guide to Shechita
An interesting overlap between ritual and non-ritual practice is found in the act of eating. Making the opening remarks at the Shoresh Food Conference (a Jewish event), Risa Alyson Cooper questions whether it’s enough for Jews to eat kosher foods, or whether they should introduce additional (ritual) behaviour:
‘Does eating Jewishly mean creating space for the divine at our tables? Does it mean acknowledging the role of an ultimate Creator, an [sic] unifying energy or breath of life? Does it mean saying a blessing, expressions of gratitude?’
You can read her remarks in full here: http://shoresh.ca/shoresh-food-conference-opening-remarks-or-inspiration-move-me-brightly/
The activities that Cooper describes (creating space for, and acknowledging, the divine) would shift the act of eating further into the realm of ritual, creating a more deliberate approach to consumption, a better sense of order, and clearer outcomes (appreciation and gratitude among the eaters).
This exploration also hints that the boundary between ritual and non-ritual may be permeable – in other words actions might move between ritual and non-ritual depending on a variety of factors including what the action is, why it’s performed, how it’s done, where, when, and with whom.
Every aspect of a practice can influence how that practice is experienced and perceived, and create boundaries in the social and emotional lives of religious practitioners.
The video below features a talk on ritual delivered by Dimitris Xygalatas - pay attention to what he suggests about the function of ritual, and the form it usually takes.
Boundaries, and their utility, according to Xygalatas, form the basis of ritual; rituals create a sense of order which contrasts with the more common experience of disorder.
He notes that rituals can function as methods of mitigating the stress that comes with uncertainty:
We see that the more stressed [experimental participants] get, the more repetitive, rigid, and redundant their hand movements become; in other words, the more stressed they get, the more ritualised their behaviour.
The sense that ritual involves formalism (strict rules about behaviour) is found across a variety of religious contexts, but is ritual behaviour just rigid and repetitive?
Let’s look at the high energy environment of African Neo-Pentecostal Christian churches, for example the Cherubim and Seraphim church of Nigeria.
You can see an example of the C&S church activity in the video below:
The church rituals involve physical activity such as clapping, kicking, dancing, and singing, and each has its own meaning and purpose. For instance, kicking symbolises spiritual power and helps to manifest it for the adherent, clapping symbolises victory, and singing symbolises joy (Harris, 2006, p.194).
One of the tenets of C&S churches (and Pentecostalism more generally) is that people are moved by the power of the Holy Spirit (one of the three Christian aspects of God), and these ecstatic expressions (dancing, clapping, etc.) aren’t specifically premeditated, but there’s nonetheless an expectation that spontaneous movements can take place within the context of worship, and so they too form part of the ritual.
The highly charged, spontaneous ritual activity found in Neo-Pentecostalism seems to disagree with how Xygalatas talks about ritual as an activity characterised by repetition and rigidity.
The religion and ritual studies scholar Catherine Bell (2006) suggests that, in part, the modern understanding of ritual as something unthinkingly repeated and detached from authentic engagement with the world has been inherited from Western Protestant attitudes towards the Catholic church, and notes that this bias should be carefully negotiated.
Among the many attitudes towards ritual in the history of religion is the Protestant distrust of rites. That distrust is taken the furthest by groups like the Quakers, who shun any kind of orchestrated activity. Even today, a self-consciously “modern” attitude tends to equate a full ritual system with a “primitive” form of religiosity. This cultural continuation of a Protestant aversion to ritual tends to equate heavily ritualized practices with Catholic excesses and with the Catholic corruption of a prior, pristine period. These inconsistent assessments of ritual - ritual as a merely primitive activity versus ritual as excessively priestly pomp - avoided expose by being applied to different religions in different parts of the world. Hence primitive religion was to be found in illiterate Africa and corrupted Buddhism in literate Asia. Despite sensitivity to these tendencies, some argue that there remain subtle biases. “Ritualistic” still connotes thoughtless and dogmatic.
Bell, 2006, p. 399
Not only is our modern understanding of ritual based on historic distrust, but the way we justify this distrust shifts depending on our circumstances.
If the rituals are committed by a large organisation (like the Catholic Church), then they are examples of religion that has grown too large, become too formal and stiff. This criticism wouldn’t work in a pre-literate society, for example a remote tribe living in the wilderness, so instead the justification is that ritual is simplistic and primitive - religion in its infancy, superstition.
As Bell points out, even after we attempt to correct for these inherited ideas about ritual, very often negative bias still exists - if not within ourselves then certainly within the wider society and culture.
Some religious groups that have transitioned into a Western context show an awareness of this bias and try to make it work in their favour, for instance the BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, a Hindu order originally from India with temples in the UK, takes care to assert that their rituals ‘…are not rooted in blind faith or superstition; rather, they have a practical application and relevance to people’s everyday lives’ (https://www.baps.org/About-BAPS/WhoWeAre/BasicBeliefs/ThePhilosophy/HinduPracticesandRituals.aspx).
Whether ritual is understood as rigid or flexible, the idea that it generates and sustains order is reinforced by the work of Mary Douglas.
Using dietary restrictions as an example, Douglas explored how an experience of order is built out of distinctions such as purity and pollution, often based on seemingly superficial assessments.
Her explanation of the dietary rules expressed in the Jewish scripture, for example, is that within the cultural context of early Judaism, sheep were the ‘normal’ animal for food. Animals were therefore assessed based on how closely they matched this standard – pigs did not match very closely at all, and were therefore excluded from the diet. These sorts of social categories provide the context within which the ritual operates, and explain how it produces and sustains a sense of order.
Returning to the Cherubim and Seraphim church, there are many elements of C&S worship that help to reinforce the ritual distinction between chaos and order, such as white garments (symbolising purity), removal of shoes in places of prayer (preventing pollution), and prohibitions against menstruating women (the power of bodily fluids plays into Douglas’s ideas about things being in their appropriate place – bodily fluids ‘belong’ in the body).
This interpretation of ritual as a method of establishing (or re-establishing) order finds common ground with Robin Horton, who suggests that rituals are methods of controlling the environment; this is a functional theory of why ritual arises, i.e. ritual serves a function and should be understood in that light.
Horton claims that the views and beliefs that underlie ritual activities arise as a way to understand what the world is, and why it behaves the way that it does.
This functional approach suggests that ritual is an intentional action, which makes use of relationships (or perceived relationships) between phenomena; the restrictions on how and by whom a ritual is conducted make sense when considered within this framework.
In other words, ritual is a kind of science, where actions are believed to have specific outcomes, and so are used when the outcome is needed. If some people or things invalidate the outcome, they must be prevented from performing the ritual (leading to ideas of purity and pollution).
When performing a scientific experiment involving the cultivation of bacteria in a petri dish, it is important to keep the equipment clean, to work with pure samples, and to use the same method for each run of the experiment. According to Horton, this is very similar to ritual behaviour because they are both expressions of the same tendencies - if you want a repeatable outcome, you have to follow a particular method.
Where this approach may fail to explain ritual is situations where rituals emerge without premeditated purpose or even a framework of established rules about what ritual leads to what outcome.
An excellent example of this sort of naturally occurring ritual is provided by Ronald Grimes (2011), who describes establishing a ritual practice with his students that he intentionally does not explain in advance.
He hands out a small wooden egg-shaped object repeatedly throughout his classes, and even takes the ‘egg’ on field trips with the students.
In the absence of a provided meaning or intention, ritual behaviour nonetheless developed through the repetition of an activity (handling and discussing a wooden ‘egg’). Grimes observed that meaning was independently developed by the participants, who, having grown attached to the object and the ritual, didn’t want to throw the ‘egg’ away at the end of the year, and instead suggested repeating the process with the next group of students as a way of establishing a link between them all.
Clearly, though ritual is often repetitious to the point of formalism, it doesn’t need be as tightly regimented as the liturgical rites of a church to qualify; by the same token, Horton’s functionalism (i.e. a ritual’s intentional, purposive aspect) might come after a ritual has developed, rather than being a pre-requisite.
Nonetheless, rituals often do fulfil many functions, one of which is to record events and experiences across time and space; the performance of ritual provides a link between practitioners no matter where or when they exist.
The Shi’ite Muslim rituals of Ashura (https://www.ashura.com/) both in Iraq and the wider world are a good example of ritual preserving memory; the ceremonial gatherings, or majalis, provide opportunities for communities to relive not just the narrative of the martyrdom of Imam Husayn, but to embrace and embody the emotions first felt over a thousand years ago. You can watch a quick overview of Ashura in the video from Euronews below.
Claims of antiquity can help to establish rituals as authentic by connecting participants to their history and ancestors, but maintaining a ritual over vast distances is just as important for members of dispersed communities. For example, the Hindu diaspora (Hindus who have left their homeland of India) can often find themselves in alien societies and cultures, so ritual acts, ranging from nitya puja (daily devotion) to the construction of a mandir (temple) and installation of murtis (divine statues), can all help to ensure a connection between adherents’ original home and their new one.
At its root, ritual seems to suggest that there are moments worth preserving because of their orienting power; these moments point towards order, even if that order comes from a sense of pain or despair. Since disorder can represent uncertainty and anxiety, people will tend to preserve moments of order by repeating, approximating, or re-enacting them.
However, for all this talk about order and meaning, ritual is clearly not one single thing; Catherine Bell (2006) notes that in contemporary ritual studies ‘…the emphasis is on how people ritualize…’ as opposed to looking for a universal definition (much like contemporary religious studies).
If we were to hazard a provisional definition of ritual, we might say that ritual practice means taking care to perform an action in accordance with a formula that emerges from human engagement with disorder, either consciously or subconsciously, so that order might be preserved, generated, or utilised. It takes on many forms, and serves many emergent functions, but at its root involves a relationship between chaos and order that positions the human individual as mediator, and regulates its own development by tending towards conservatism.
[Podcasts] #She Too A seven-part podcast series exploring some of the texts that include violence against women in the Bible.
[Reports] A Report into Anti-Sikh Hate Crimes The All Party Parliamentary Group for British Sikhs 2020 [sikhi sikhism hate crime discrimination]
[Reports] A Report on the State of Hinduism in Religious Education in UK Schools Insight UK 2021 [hinduism religious education]
[Online Courses] A spiritual revolution? Wicca and religious change in the 1960s This free course looks at the 'crisis' of traditional religion in the Sixties in the Western world. It explores the process of religious renewal, looking at the development of Wicca, the prototypical form of modern Paganism. [wicca 1960s paganism]
[Figures] A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada [stub iskcon hinduism vaishnavism bhakti]
About the project Understanding Religion is a website aimed at providing easy access to information about the study of religion. Always free, written clearly for a wide audience, grounded in academic study and supported by references for those who want to dive deeper.
[Websites] Access to Insight A freely available compendium of translations from the Pali Canon, along with a selection of other Theravada Buddhist texts. [buddhism theravada pali canon suttas]
[Scholars] Agnieszka Halemba
[Texts] Ahadith The ahadith are texts containing reported stories about Muhammad, and are frequently used to fill in details about the life of the prophet; they also provide guidance on points not directly addressed by the Qur'an. [islam stub]
[Traditions] Ahmadiyya Muslim Community [islam stub]
[Figures] Ahura Mazda The supreme deity in Zoroastrianism. [zoroastrianism deities stub]
[Concepts] Akashic records The Akashic records are a non-physical storehouse of information, proposed by Theosophists to contain a record of all thoughts, words, and actions in the past and future. [stub]
[Figures Scholars] Alan Watts [stub]
[Figures] Allah The supreme deity in Islam. [islam deities stub]
[Perspectives] Alternative Perspectives Alternative perspectives, due to their absence in mainstream texts and dismissal by historical scholars, are sometimes difficult to hear over the sound of traditional narratives – but this is increasingly changing for the better.
[Podcasts] An A-Z of Believing From Atheism to Zealotry, join Dr Ed Kessler, for a 26-week crash course on religion and society.
[Youtube Channels] Angela's Symposium [magic demonology paganism occultism]
[Concepts] Animism Animism is a term based on the Latin word for 'soul', which frames all religious belief in terms of how it imbues the natural world with agency and personality, but more recent scholarship has developed this understanding to focus more on the relationships and responsibilities which typically define animist perspectives. [indigenous]
[Online Courses] Antisemitism: From Its Origins to the Present Join 50 leading scholars in exploring antisemitism, from its roots to its contemporary forms. [antisemitism hate]
[Practices] Austerities A category of difficult, often painful, practices which may include restricting intake of food or water, or engaging in challenging rituals. [stub]
Authors Contribitors and editors.
[Entheogens] Ayahuasca A drink prepared by indigenous groups in the Amazon, containing a number of psychoactive chemicals. It is often used in groups to facilitate healing, visions, and insight. [dmt shamanism indigenous religion]
[Videos] BASR 2020 Worldviews in RS and RE Panel [religious studies religious education]
[Websites] BBC Bitesize BBC [religious studies religious education]
[Websites] BBC Teach BBC [religious studies religious education]
[Books] Be Love Now Ram Das 2010 [hinduism yoga]
[Concepts] Belief Religious systems often include beliefs about the world (both seen and unseen), which describe (or dictate) how the world operates. Subscribing to a set of beliefs (orthodoxy) is not always essential for belonging to a religion.
[Texts] Bhagavad Gita A popular Hindu text, part of the larger Mahabharata, which contains a conversation between Krishna and Arjuna. [stub hinduism]
[Places] Blaauboschkraal stone ruins A series of stone circles in South Africa. [megaliths south africa stub]
[Places] Bodh Gaya The site of Buddha's enlightenment. [buddhism stub]
[Figures] Bodhisattva A figure in Buddhist traditions who is on the path to enlightenment. [buddhism mahayana theravada]
Books A collection of pages, organised around themes and topics, free to use and share.
[Figures] Brahma The Hindu deity of creation. [stub deities]
[Figures Concepts] Brahman A Hindu deity and philosophical principle, viewed by some as the supreme reality, or by others as the creative effulgence of another deity. [deities]
[Figures] Brahmin A Hindu holy person, often officiates ceremonies. [stub]
[Journals] British Journal of Religious Education [religious education]
[Traditions] Buddhism Buddhism is a family of traditions which trace their lineage back to a figure known as Siddartha Gautama, a man who discovered a means of escape from the suffering of existence. It is said that he became 'awakened', and this is the meaning of his title: Buddha. [buddhism india china tibet japan]
[Books] Buddhism: A Very Short Introduction Damien Keown 1996 Provides a good overview of the essential points of Buddhism. [buddhism]
[Books] Buddhist Yoga Anonymous 1995 A translation of the Sandhinirmochana-sutra (Scripture Unlocking the Mysteries) - a classical sourcebook of Buddhist yoga. [buddhism yoga]
[Traditions] Candomblé [stub]
[Entheogens] Cannabis Cannabis is a psychoactive drug from the Cannabis plant used primarily for medical or recreational purposes, however it can also be used for spiritual purposes. [marijuana weed pot herb ganja]
[Traditions] Caodaism Caodaism emerged in Vietnam during the 1920s and based its structure on that of the Roman Catholic Church, but drew its principles and practices from Buddhism, Daoism, Christianity, and Confucianism. [vietnam new religious movements]
[Perspectives] Capitalist Spirituality A term used to describe the use of religious ideas, practices, and materials in the support of capitalist ideologies, for example the promotion of meditation in the workplace in order to boost productivity.
[Scholars] Carl Jung A Swiss psychologist who helped introduce and develop ideas about the human unconscious.
[Scholars] Catherine Bell An American religious studies scholar who specialised in the study of Chinese religions and ritual studies. [ritual chinese religion china]
[Practices Sounds] Chanting A vocal practice in which words or sounds are repeated, either alone or in a group.
[Articles] Chemically-Induced Visions in the Fourth Book of Ezra in Light of Comparative Persian Material Vicente Dobroruka 2006 [entheogens]
[Occasions] Chinese New Year [china]
[Traditions] Christianity Christians follow the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, a man born around the beginning of the first century in the land which is now Israel. [christianity israel jesus]
[Places] Church The term 'church' can refer to subtraditions within Christianity, or a place of worship for Christians.
[Perspectives] Cognitive Theories
Commentary Pages These commentaries provide the glue which holds together pages into books.
[Videos] CRPL Seminar 15th October - Buddhist Responses to Sexual Misconduct [buddhism sex abuse sexual abuse]
[Objects] Crucifix A physical representation of Jesus dying on the cross, used by Christians as a reminder of Jesus's death and resurrection; the crucifix is used in a variety of contexts, often as a focal point within a church.
[Concepts] Cults One of the key aspects of religion – particularly in public discourse – is the relationship between 'organised religion' and small groups of devotees lead by charismatic individuals, commonly referred to as cults.
[Journals] Culture and Religion [religious education]
[Concepts] Dharma The Hindu concept of law, righteousness, or way of life.
[Scholars] Dimitris Xygalatas An anthropologist and cognitive scientist studying ritual and cooperation. [ritual anthropology cognitive science]
[Entheogens] DMT A chemical substance that occurs in many plants and animals and which has historically been prepared by various cultures for ritual purposes as an entheogen. [N,N-Dimethyltryptamine]
[Scholars] Douglas Marshall A scholar of religion and ritual.
[Articles] Early Christians Might Have Been High on Hallucinogenic Communion Wine Ed Prideaux 2020 A discussion on the early use of hallucinogenic chemicals mixed with alcohol to form so-called 'spiked' wine. [entheogens wine]
[Traditions] Eastern Orthodox Church
[Occasions] Eid-e-Shuja’ Eid-e-Shuja’, also known as Eid-e-Zahra, is a ritual festival observed by most Twelver Shi‘a Muslims. It marks the end of the two-month mourning period after the events of the Karbala massacre, which occurred in 680 AD. [islam]
[Figures] El The name for any god or deity in the ancient Near East, is also the name of specific deities in that region. [deities]
[Figures] Elohim [deities]
[Podcasts] Encounter Encounter is a discussion podcast produced by the Woolf Institute and presented by its Founder Director Dr Ed Kessler, exploring the relationship between religion and society.
[Practices Food] Eucharist
[Texts] Gathas A collection of 17 hymns, believed to have been composed by Zarathustra – the Gathas represent the core of the Zoroastrian liturgy (the Yasna). [zoroastrianism]
[Places] Glastonbury A town in Somerset, United Kingdom, which acts as a site of pilgrimage for many. [united kingdom somerset pilgrimage christianity pagan]
[Online Courses] Governing Religion: Global Challenges and Comparative Approaches Explore the relationship between religions and governments and learn how religions have come to be governed across the world. [diversity]
[Scholars] Graham Harvey
[Figures] Guru Amar Das
[Figures] Guru Angad
[Figures] Guru Arjan
[Figures] Guru Gobind Singh
[Figures] Guru Har Krishnan
[Figures] Guru Har Rai
[Figures] Guru Hargobind
[Figures] Guru Nanak
[Figures] Guru Ram Das
[Figures] Guru Tegh Bahadur
[Scholars] Gwilym Beckerlegge
[Figures] Hassan al-Banna Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, is alternately praised as a leading social reformer, and decried as laying the foundations for modern Islamic terrorist groups. [islam egypt]
[Concepts] Henotheism Henotheism means the worship and veneration of one god, in a world where many gods exist – for example the worship of Artemis within the Greek Pantheon.
[Traditions] Himalayan Institute Of Yoga Science And Philosophy The Himalayan Institute of Yoga Science and Philosophy was founded by Swami Rama, and is dedicated to sharing so-called Himalayan Yoga. [hinduism india]
[Books] Hindu Myths Wendy O'Flaherty 1975 A collection of Puranas - stories about Hindu deities and mythological figures. [hinduism india mythology]
[Traditions] Hinduism A diverse range of Indian religious systems, which regard the Vedas as authoritative scripture. [india]
[Books] Hinduism: A Very Short Introduction Kim Knott 1998 [hinduism]
[Books] History of Western Philosophy Bertrand Russell 1946 [philosophy greece catholicism]
[Scholars] Hugh Beattie
[Practices Sounds] Hymns
[Reports] Improving Religious Literacy: A Contribution to the Debate The All Party Parliamentary Group on Religious Education 2016 [religious education religious literacy]
[Books] Indian Philosophy: Volume 1 Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan 1923 This volume of Radhakrishnan’s two-volume work on Indian philosophy goes into detail on the Rig Veda and Upanishads, Jainism, Buddhism, and the theism of the Bhagavad Gita. [india philosophy buddhism hinduism jainism]
[Podcasts] Inside Fundamentalism Four-part podcast series reflecting on aspects of strictly observed religion.
[Online Courses] Interfaith Dialogue for Combating Extremism among Young People Explore the role of interfaith education in preventing forms of violent extremism and building resilient communities. [interfaith extremism young people violence]
[Reports] Interim Report: Religious Education for All The Commission on Religious Education 2017 [religious education]
[Books] Introducing World Religions Victoria Kennick Urubshurow 2008 A textbook on religious studies, surveying traditions from around the world. [religious studies world religions]
Introduction to Religious Studies Explore the world of religion with this in-depth course and develop a thematic understanding of contemporary religious studies.
Introduction to Religious Studies | Welcome
[Figures] Isaiah Shembe
[Traditions] Islam A monotheistic tradition that developed during 7th century Arabia, and which traces its roots back to the one god of the Hebrews. [arabia muhammad]
[Traditions] Jainism The Jain religious tradition focuses on liberation from the suffering of rebirth, and in this sense has common ground with its near geographic neighbours - Hinduism and Buddhism. [india]
[Scholars] James George Frazer
[Figures] Jehovah [deities]
[Figures] Jesus The founding figure of Christianity, Jesus was a Jewish mircle-worker and teacher who proclaimed a divine message in the 1st century CE.
[Scholars] Jonathan Z. Smith
[Places] Kanniyakumari A town in southern India, named after Kanya Kumari, a Hindu goddess. Also the site of a memorial to Swami Vivekananda. [india hinduism tamil nadu vivekananda]
[Scholars] Karen Armstrong
[Practices Concepts Food] Kashrut Jewish dietary law.
[Podcasts] Keeping it 101: A Killjoy's Introduction to Religion Aimed at a general audience who want to get to grips with contemporary religious studies, this podcast explores a range of topics, including the concept of religion as category, and the significance of race, gender, and sexuality.
[Practices Sounds] Kirtan
[Figures] Korean Martyrs
[Practices Concepts Food] Kosher Food which is appropriate to eat in Jewish traditions.
[Texts] Lankavatara Sutra
[Figures] Lao Tzu
[Youtube Channels] Let's Talk Religion [islam sufism philosophy religious studies]
[Scholars] Linda Woodhead
[Perspectives] Liquid Religion
[Perspectives] Literary Bias Texts (of all kinds) are controlled and mediated by people, and therefore restrictions can sometimes be made about which texts are preserved and shared, and which are ignored or destroyed. This can lead to an erasure of certain material from a religious tradition, or from the public understanding of that tradition, particularly if the material disagrees with the perspective of those in positions of power. [texts scripture bias]
[Perspectives] Lived Religion
[Podcasts] Living in Harmony The role of music in religious practice and interreligious encounter across the Middle East.
[Texts] Lotus Sutra
Luke Burns Luke Burns is the founder and director of the Online Centre for Religious Studies.
[Occasions] Mabon Mabon is a pagan festival that takes place on the autumnal equinox, during which foods are harvested and thanks is given to the Earth.
[Occasions] Maghi This is an annual festival commemorating the forty Sikh martyrs who originally deserted Guru Gobind Singh, but later returned to fight alongside him at Muktsar.
[Traditions] Mahayana Buddhism A form of Buddhism which is focused on attaining liberation for all beings out of compassion for the suffering of the world. [buddhism india]
Main Pages Information about the site.
[Practices Sounds] Mantra
[Scholars] Marion Bowman Marion Bowman is a scholar of religion at the Open University
[Scholars] Mary Douglas A British anthropologist, known for her writings on human culture and symbolism, whose area of speciality was social anthropology. [culture symbolism anthropology]
[Perspectives] Material Religion
[Entheogens] Mescaline Cacti
[Scholars] Mircea Eliade
[Figures] Mohandas Gandhi A figure of Indian independence against British rule, Gandhi was a revered Hindu activist. [hinduism india]
[Figures] Muhammad Muhammad is the revered prophet of Islam, who was active during the 6th Century in Arabia.
[Objects] Murti Used by Hindus, a murti is a physical representation of a deity, which that deity can inhabit, and through which the deity is worshipped. [hinduism]
[Online Courses] Muslims in Britain: Changes and Challenges Develop your understanding of Muslims and their faith through an exploration of communities in Britain. [islam muslims britain united kingdom]
[Places] Nabta Playa An ancient North African megalith. [megaliths]
[Podcasts] Naked Reflections Reflecting on recent science news stories and current events, authoritative thinkers unpack the implications for society.
[Scholars] Nancy Ammerman
[Traditions] Nazareth Baptist Church
[Figures] Neem Karoli Baba
[Perspectives] New Animism
new religious movements
[Texts] New Testament
[Podcasts] New Testament Review Influential works of New Testament scholarship discussed by two Duke PhD candidates.
[Scholars] Ninian Smart Smart was a Scottish writer and educator who developed the field of academic religious studies, and helped to distance it from theology. He took the investigation away from which religion was 'true', and instead looked at the lived experiences of religious adherents. [phenomenology religious studies]
[Podcasts] NT Pod Podcast about the New Testament and Christian Origins. Condensed comment from an academic perspective for everyone interested in historical approaches to the New Testament. By Mark Goodacre, Frances Hill Fox Professor of Religious Studies, Duke University.
[Occasions] Obon A Japanese celebration of people's ancestors, which developed out of Buddhist and Confucian traditions. [japan buddhism confucianism]
[Texts] Old Testament
Pages All pages, all categories
[Concepts] Panpsychism The belief that the universe is one, collective intelligence or consciousness.
[Concepts] Pantheism The belief that everything is god.
[Figures] Paramahansa Yogananda
[Scholars] Pascal Boyer
[Practices] Pilgrimage Pilgrimage is a practice of journeying to a significant location, but the location, method of travel, and meaning attached can vary widely. There is often a close relationship, or even overlap, with tourism.
[Concepts] Polytheism Polytheism is any system of belief involving multiple deities.
[Practices] Practice Religious practices are those behaviours and actions that have religious meaning for those who perform them; there are many different types and examples of such practices, including pilgrimage to holy sites (such as the tomb of Imam Husayn for Shi'ite Muslims), prayer, and song – to name a few.
[Texts] Principia Discordia The Principia Discordia is a semi-satirical work on the nature of divine chaos. [discordianism eris fnord stub]
[Entheogens] Psilocybin Mushrooms [magic mushrooms shrooms cubes]
[Books] Psychology and Religion G. S. Spinks 1963 A detailed review of the psychological study of religion, touching on the theories of Freud and Jung, and exploring the psychology of prayer, worship, and mystical experiences. [psychology]
[Figures] Ram Dass
[Occasions] Ramadan Ramadan is the period of fasting and contemplation undertaken by Muslims in the ninth lunar month of the year. [islam]
[Texts] Ramayana The Ramayana (literally Rama's travels) is about the character Rama, prince of a kingdom called Ayodhya (and later its king), but Rama is actually the god Vishnu who has taken birth in a human form, or avatar. [hinduism india]
[Traditions] Rastafari Movement
[Traditions] Ravidassia religion A tradition with roots in Sikhi, which reveres Ravidass as Guru. [sikhi]
[Figures] Regina Jonas
[Podcasts] Rejected Religion Discussions on religious topics typically viewed as alternative, forbidden, or heretical. [religious studies hermeticism occult esotericism alternative religion]
[Online Courses] Religion and Conflict Understand and analyse the role of religion in conflicts and peacebuilding in present-day societies, with this free online course. [violence terrorism]
[Reports] Religion and Worldviews: the way forward. A national plan for RE The Commission on Religious Education 2018 [religious education]
[Podcasts] Religion Bites This is a podcast by Malory Nye on the study of religion.
[Youtube Channels] Religion for Breakfast [religious studies]
[Online Courses] Religion, Radicalisation, Resilience Understand religious radicalisation and violence and learn strategies to build resilience in communities and schools. [violence radicalisation terrorism]
[Online Courses] Religions From The Inside: Improving Interreligious Dialogue Explore the value of cooperation between faiths and learn how the five main world religions’ core beliefs relate to each other. [interreligious dialogue]
[Online Courses] Religious Literacy: Traditions and Scriptures Learn how to better understand the rich and complex ways that religions function in historic and contemporary contexts. [religious literacy]
[Books] Revelations of Divine Love Julian of Norwich 1966 [christianity women mystic mysticism religious experience]
[Scholars] Richard King Co-author of 'Selling Spirituality'
[Practices Concepts] Ritual Some religious practices have specific rules about how they are performed, these practices are sometimes called rituals. There is no hard line between 'religious practice' and 'ritual', but practices with more rules can be described as more ritualistic. [ritual order meaning]
[Scholars] Robin Horton An English social anthropologist and philosopher, he carried out specialised study in comparative religion which challenged and expanded views in the study of the anthropology of religion. [anthropology philosophy africa indigenous religion magic myth ritual]
[Scholars] Ronald Grimes A ritual theorist who founded the interdisciplinary field of ritual studies. [ritual anthropology american religion media]
[Scholars] Rudolf Otto
[Youtube Channels] Rune Hjarnø Rasmussen [nordic animism denmark animism]
[Traditions] Santo Daime
[Experiences] Satori An experience of enlightenment within Zen Buddhism. [zen buddhism enlightenment]
[Perspectives] Self-Religion Self-religion is a term used by scholars to describe the modern phenomenon of highly individualised religious practice, which draws from diverse spiritual traditions in order to create a unique form of religion that is acceptable to the individual.
[Concepts] Seva Within the Sikh religion, one of the important practical aspects is seva or selfless service, which takes the form of charitable actions.
[Perspectives] Seven Dimensions of Religion The seven dimensions of religion are a framework for exploring and understanding religion, developed by the Scottish scholar of religion, Ninian Smart. [phenomenology religious studies]
[Practices] Shechita A form of ritual slaughter in Jewish traditions.
[Figures] Siddhārtha Gautama (Buddha) The founder of Buddhism. [buddhism india nepal]
[Scholars] Sigmund Freud
[Traditions] Sikhi (Sikhism) Sikhi is the name of a religious tradition which emerged in the Punjab, initiated by Guru Nanak, and led by a series of Gurus who acted as divine intermediaries between God and humanity. The final human Guru bestowed spiritual authority onto the community's scriptures and the community itself. [punjab india]
[Concepts] Six Articles of Faith Within Islam, there are three aspects which are generally agreed upon - these are islam (submission), iman (faith), and ihsan (perfection). In this article, we're going to focus on iman and see how it is understood in relation to Islam as a religious tradition, but it's clear from this threefold division that faith by itself isn't the whole story. [islam]
[YouTube Channels] SOAS Centre of Yoga Studies: YouTube Channel Run by SOAS University, the Centre of Yoga Studies researches and shares information about yoga practices and history.
Sources Useful articles, books, and online resources.
[Texts] Sri Guru Granth Sahib The Sikh holy text, revered as a guru.
[Figures] Swami Vivekananda
[Traditions] Sámi indigenous religion [indigenous]
Terms and Conditions The boring bits...
[Podcasts] Text Talks Text Talks provides teachers and students (and anyone else who’s interested) with weekly podcasts and resources based around the GCSE and A Level Syllabuses for Buddhism and Hinduism. [hinduism buddhism religious education gcse a level]
[Texts Concepts] Texts Although the word 'texts' might imply a written document, the term has a wider scope in the field of religious studies. [texts scripture art material religion]
[Texts] The Bible The Christian holy text, which includes accounts of the creation of the world and God's dealings with humanity.
[Podcasts] The Classical Ideas Podcast The goal of The Classical Ideas Podcast is to empower students with the core knowledge of major world religions to improve citizenship and agency in a diverse society.
[Websites] The Database of Religious History The world’s first comprehensive online quantitative and qualitative encyclopedia of religious cultural history.
[Podcasts] The Faith and Belief Forum: Podcast Produced by the Faith and Belief Forum, an organisation dedicated to building good relations between people of different identities.
[Books] The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion James George Frazer 1922 [comparative religion mythology]
[Books] The Indian Theogony Sukumari Bhattacharji 1970 A work on comparative mythology, focusing on Indian deities and mythologies - particularly with reference to the triad of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. [hinduism india comparative mythology]
[Traditions] The International Church of Cannabis The International Church of Cannabis is a religious group based in Denver, Colorado, USA, which uses cannabis during its ceremonies in order to help members have a better understanding of themselves. [stub entheogens]
[Journals] The Journal of Religion, Nature and Culture [religious studies social science cognitive science nature]
[Books] The Last Days of Socrates Plato 1954 A collection of Plato's writings, centered around the life and death of Socrates, including Euthyphro, The Apology, Crito, and Phaedo. [greece philosophy]
[Books] The Life of Milarepa Rechung 1928 An abridged version of Evans-Wentz’s translation, telling the life story of the Tibetan Buddhist monk Milarepa. [tibet buddhism biography]
[Podcasts] The Panpsycast Philosophy Podcast A weekly philosophy podcast inspiring and supporting students, teachers, academics, and free-thinkers worldwide.
[Texts] The Pañcadaśī The Pañcadaśī is a Hindu philosophical text, in the tradition of advaita vedanta, also known as non-dualism. [hinduism vedanta]
[Podcasts] The RE Podcast [religious education]
[Books] The Religious Experience of Mankind Ninian Smart 1969 A comprehensive survey of religious experiences from around the world. [comparative religion]
[Podcasts] The Religious Studies Project The Religious Studies Project (RSP) is an international collaborative enterprise producing weekly podcasts and resources on the social-scientific study of religion.
[Podcasts] The Sacred Listen to Theos in conversation, and interviewing other thought leaders, about Christianity and faith in the world today.
[Books] The Science of Self-Realization A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada 1977 A collection of essays on Vaishnavite devotional yoga, or bhakti. [bhakti yoga vaishnavism iskcon]
[Books] The Serpent Power Sir John Woodroffe 1918 An introduction to the concept of laya yoga, along with translations of two Sanskrit works - the Sat-Chakra-Nirupana and the Paduka-Pancaka. [yoga kundalini hinduism india]
[Online Courses] The Sharia and Islamic Law: An Introduction Discover Sharia and Islamic law, and learn more about some of the diverse roles they play in Muslim life. [islam sharia fiqh]
[Books] The Study of Religion: An Introduction to Key Ideas and Methods George D. Chryssides and Ron Greaves 2007 [religious studies world religions]
[Books] The Upanishads Anonymous 1965 Mascaró presents a selection of the Hindu Upanishads in English translation. [hinduism]
[Books] The Varieties of Religious Experience William James 1902 Published at the beginning of the twentieth century, The Varieties of Religious Experience is a far-ranging exploration of the psychology and philosophy behind different kinds of religious experiences. [religious studies world religions religious experience]
[Perspectives] The World Religions Paradigm When the category of religion is used to describe 'world religions', it is often in a way that turns multiple diverse traditions, philosophies, and practices, into one single entity for the sake of simplicity. [religious studies]
[Books] Theogony and Works and Days Hesiod 1988 [greece mythology]
[Traditions] Theravada Buddhism Theravada is a form of Buddhism that venerates the Buddha but does not deify him, follows the teachings of the old scriptures (the Pali Canon), and values the aspirational figure of the arhat. [buddhism india]
[Figures] Thomas Aquinas
[Practices] Trimarga The trimarga are three methods of liberation found within Hindu traditions.
[Concepts] Trinity The so-called 'holy trinity' is a Christian formulation of the order or structure of god, comprised of the father, the spirit, and the son.
[Occasions] Tu BiShvat A Jewish holiday occurring on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat, the 'new year of the trees'. [new year trees judaism israel]
[Traditions] Vajrajana Buddhism
[Traditions] Wana people [indigenous]
[Scholars] Wendy Doniger
[Questions] What is religion? Although at first glance, you might think that religion is an easy to understand concept - it becomes very difficult to pin down, the more you look at it. There are lots of possible definitions, but none of them are 100% right.
[Questions] What is religious literacy? Religious literacy is a term that has become more popular in recent years, but what exactly do we mean when we talk about it? [religious studies religious literacy]
[Questions] What is religious studies? Religious studies is the academic study of religion - but what does that really mean? [religious studies]
[Questions] What makes a place sacred? To claim that a location, structure, or geographical feature is sacred is to assert that it is set apart and regarded with special reverence, yet there are many ways to understand this sacrality, where it comes from, and how it is expressed by different groups of people. [sacred place geography]
[Questions] Who creates religion? The modern study of religion, beginning in the 19th Century, has been traditionally driven by male European scholars, who have carried their own cultural biases and assumptions - some unconscious, others less so. [religious studies]
[Online Courses] Why Religion Matters: Religious Literacy, Culture and Diversity A free online course from the Open University, exploring the importance of religious literacy. [religious studies religious literacy]
[Podcasts] Wise Studies Podcast
[Podcasts] Woolf Research What's the leading research in the field of religion and society? And how are we contributing to it?
[Reports] Worldviews in Religious Education Theos Think Tank 2020 This report interprets and develops the idea of worldview and explores its implications for the classroom. [religious education]
[Videos] Worldviews in Religious Education launch This is a recording of 'What are worldviews and why should schools teach them?' on 21st October 2020. [religious education]
[Reports] Worldviews: A Multidisciplinary Report Céline Benoit, Timothy Hutchings and Rachael Shillitoe 2020 As part of the Worldview Project, the REC commissioned a multidisciplinary academic literature review on the worldview concept. This was prepared by three academics working in different disciplines in different universities. [worldviews religious education]
[Traditions] Yazidism Yazidism is a monotheistic tradition, which believes that the universe was created by a single deity, Xwedê, and is governed by seven angels.
[Videos] Yoginī temples and their antecedents: reassessing the textual evidence A live recording of an online talk and Q+A via zoom on 21st October 2020 for the SOAS Centre of Yoga Studies. [yoga]
[Scholars] Émile Durkheim