Another Outline for “Western Religions”

Image - fresco, Abraham meeting three angels
Abraham meeting, at the very least, three angels
By English: Unknown [Public domain],

I keep trying to organize the material in the introduction to the “western” world religions class I sometimes teach in a way that allows us to cover off the religion trivia/jeopardy questions (In “All About Abe” for $100: “Judaism, Christianity, and Islam” buzz “What are the Abrahamic religions?”) and still think about more general organizing concepts and talk about some things that really matter. This session, I am trying out a six-point narrative outline that roughly corresponds to the six weeks of the session, and that tries to play out the notion of “communities of memory” more self-consciously than I have in the past.

  1. The three religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are rooted in or centered around identity-shaping, “world-creating,” stories, so that we could identify them as “communities of memory.”
  2. All three religions represent distinctive ways of life and behavior that are shaped by traditional practices and commitments.
    More precisely, the communities of memory that have formed around these distinctive stories and that identify themselves as religious communities advocate and practice distinctive ways of life and behavior that involve distinctive commitments (e.g., ontological, epistemological, ethical commitments), which are legitimized with reference to these stories.
  3. All three religions identify their stories and the texts that communicate them with revelation – revealed truth.
    The concept of “revealed truth” implies some distinctive epistemological claims; it has consequences for the possible meanings these communities and their members can consistently give to their stories and texts; it imposes – or anyhow, may impose – constraints or limits on the possible articulations of communal truth claims with other (or, others’) truth claims.
  4. All three religions are normatively lived out in communities. These communities are the present institutional and normative expressions of the ideas, rituals, social and political arrangements and processes, that over time have been people’s responses to the “memory” at their center.
  5. All three religious communities have become what they are today as the result of “tradition,” that is, of continuing “arguments” that began early in the process of constituting these religious memories, and have continued historically. They are also related to one another by a certain mutual denial of one another’s claims, and by their pattern of shared and differing commitments.
  6. All three religions continue to be interrogated as to their compatibility with the way of life and thought of the contemporary (modern, or even post-modern) world. On the other hand, their ways of life continue to be a constituent feature of the contemporary world.

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