After reading the article “the case for contamination”  by Kwame Anthony Appiah respond the following question:

QUESTION: “What roles does religion play in Appiah’s analysis? Is the “contamination” Appiah is advocating good for religion, or should religions (and cultures) avoid it? Should religion remain changeless and resist any outside influences that might bring about change, or should it be open to those influences (become more “cosmopolitan”) even it means questioning or abandoning some of its traditions?

Essay should be:

(1)     2-3 pages long

(2) Include information from class material.

Link to the article



Pals = Ten Theories of Religion

Livingston = Anatomy of the Sacred


1. One of the important contributions of Ernst Troeltsch to the analysis of religion is his typology of church, sect, and cult. Discuss what Troeltsch (influenced by Weber) means by these categories and how can they be used to explain the social or communal aspects of religious phenomena. To be able to write an acceptable essay on this question the chapter on Weber in Pals and Chapter 7 of LivingstonAnatomy of the Sacred, are indispensable. (Weber strongly influenced Troeltsch, but the question is about Troeltsch, not Weber.)

2. When we study religion, we tend to focus on the founder almost exclusively: Buddha, Jesus, Muhammed, Moses, and the earliest generation of believers (apostles, companions, immediate disciples), and disregard the second and third generation of followers as insignificant. In my lectures I corrected this imbalance by emphasizing the importance of works produced at a later stage or phase of the religion (by second or third generation followers) that is not distinguished by the originality or exceptional charisma of the original founders. Early Catholicism in Christianity (consult early sections of the Outline) and the Bhagavad Gita are two expressions and later developments of Christianity and Hinduism respectively. Question (in two parts): 1. Explain, USING MAX WEBER’S CATEGORIES (Charismatic leader, Prophet, Bureaucrat), how both Early Catholicism (and the Bhagavad Gita) are significant a phase or stage all religions go through, if they are going to survive and perpetuate themselves, after the founder has died, and the next generation or two of believers has to figure out how to keep the faith going, as it were. 2. Explain also how it is that these second or third generation of leaders (the “bureaucrats”) of the religion are in a way the real preservers of the religion and are just as (and perhaps more) important and essential to its survival as the founders themselves. ( Chapter 5 of Pals and parts of Chapter 7 of Livingston are essential readings for answering this question, as well as my treatment of Max Weber and the extended comments on Early Catholicism and the Bhagavad Gita in the Outline of the lectures posted on Canvas).

3. As we have seen from the readings on Durkheim, Tylor, Frazer, Freud, and earlier key figures such as Feuerbach and Marx, the study of religion has emphasized the all-too-human nature of religious phenomena. Religion is seen as the creation of the human mind or of society (or culture) in general, whether this is seen in a positive light (Durkheim and Geertz) or a very negative one (Marx and Freud). These sociological, psychological, or anthropological interpretations of religions can be seen as expressions of the ascendance of secularism and scientific naturalism in the last two hundred years since the Enlightenment. Religion is being “explained away” (or “reduced” to) as a human, natural phenomenon, with no basis in some transcendent, supernatural reality. Question (in two parts)1. Do you agree with Tylor, Frazer, Marx, Durkheim, and Freud, that religion has been explained away as, and can be reduced to, a purely natural phenomenon? 2. Or do you agree with Schleiermacher, Otto, Eliade, Heidegger, and even anthropologists such as Clifford Geertz—who does not deny the reality of the transcendent in religion (even as he says that as a scientist he cannot affirm it either)— that there is in religion something that cannot be reduced to or explained in terms of the naturalor, at the very least, that we must suspend our judgment about the ultimate status (truth or falsity) of religious phenomena?



4. Myth and Sacred Scripture we have seen are essential aspects of all religions. Yet believers seem to be uncomfortable with the category of myth when scholars apply it to their particular religion. And this is especially true in the three Western religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Even Hindus are now upset that a Western scholar would consider one of their great epics, the Ramayana, “myth.” Christians never had a problem labeling the stories in other religions myth, while strongly defending the historical and literal truth of every story in the Genesis narratives, or events in the life of Jesus, even to the minutest detail. Orthodox Jews and Muslims would be offended if anyone suggested there is myth in the Torah or the Qur’an. How do we deal with myth and historical criticism? Even if a myth is historically untrue, can it still be true in a more important sense? Question: Discuss the different views of myth in Chapter 4 of Livingston, and state with which view do you agree the most and why?

5. Question (in three parts): 1. Is religious Fundamentalism in the end a desperate attempt to preserve the old order by peoples, groups, or societies (in America and the Muslim world) that cannot accept the modern world and choose to live in discredited and obsolete worldview? 2. Or is it the only way religion can be saved from the destructive critique of scientific naturalism? 3. Is there a middle way that is neither naturalistic nor fundamentalist? For example, Are thinkers like Heidegger, Otto, and Eliade perhaps giving us an alternative to both naturalism and fundamentalism, or are their positions too vague or give up too much to naturalism to be taken seriously as an alternative worthy of our consideration? (For this question you must read Livingston, Chapter 14.)

6. Ritual is arguably one of the most important categories of religion, even more than belief in a god. Many Jews who do not believe in God yet are observant Jews (that are Orthodox in practice but not in belief). Buddhists are atheists yet have developed elaborate rituals through the centuries. In China Hsun Tzu and Confucius exalted the role of ritual (Li) even when they themselves may have harbored doubts about the supernatural. Question (in three parts): 1. What is the most important function of ritual? 2. What is it about ritual that makes it such a central aspect of religion, and perhaps the most important aspect? 3. In what sense can it be said that not God or gods but ritual is the true creator of humanity and society and the most significant element in religon? (For this question you must read Livingston, Chapter 5, “Sacred Ritual”; Pals chapters on Durkheim and Eliade; Geertz’s discussion of ritual at the top of page 272 in Pals is also quite useful in thinking about this question, as well as skimming “Religion as a Cultural System” posted on Canvas for references to ritual, the essay which is the basis for Pals’s exposition of Geertz).

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