- Why have all known human cultures developed religious beliefs?
All societies have attempted to answer the question of the meaning of life. It is in doing so that man has discovered that there is a greater power than himself that causes things to appear the way they do and to function the way they do. Man has discovered that in his very nature, he is subject to a number of limitations that require him to understand a power greater than himself that is not as limited as he is. It is from such a thinking that different societies have embraced religion. The whole concept of religion across different societies attempts to answer the question of why things are the way they appear, as well as trying to understand the whole meaning of life. Mircea Eliade is of the view that all religions share a common belief in a realm of otherworldly, numinous reality or what he calls a sacred realm, one that is distinct from the profane, or everyday visible reality (Albl. M, p. 5). This reality has informed religion into dividing the ordinary from that which exceeds normal reality, or the ordinary. Different beliefs have developed in different societies all trying to explain this puzzle of a power that exists beyond the ordinary and one that causes things to be as they are. Man has gone as far as appreciating the fact that this power influences him as well to be as he is and to behave as he does. Different societies have differing understandings of what this power is and where it is found and the virtues it possesses, but there are constants that are seen in such disparities. For example, there are some moral beliefs that are universally consistent in varying societies, and these questions of morality are not merely informed by instinct but a higher power. It is such views that inform the different religious beliefs found in societies.
- What does the word “transcendent” mean and how is it related to religious beliefs?
The word transcendence as used means going beyond the ordinary or to surpass ordinary limits. In the religious context, the word transcendence means that there is a power that goes beyond the ordinary human limitations. It is this power that has informed religions in different societies. Man has appreciated the fact that in his very nature, all the questions pertaining to form and the meaning of life cannot be answered by his own experiences and knowledge. He appreciates that there is a power beyond him that has caused things to be as they are and that causes things to behave the way that they do. Mircea Eliade is of the view that there is a sacred realm that is distinct from everyday reality (Albl. M p.6). Transcendence therefore is the operational extra-ordinary influence that cannot be explained through the human wisdom.
- What does it mean to ask whether human life or the universe as a whole has a transcendent meaning?
To ask whether human life or the universe as a whole has a transcendent meaning would imply that there is a question as to whether there is an operational influence beyond what is ordinary or what is physically at the disposal of nature. This question draws out of the curiosity to understand the meaning of life and the course taken by the same. Human beings across different societies have come to appreciate that there is a power greater than self and beyond the ordinary universe that causes things to be as they are. This power influences both man and the nature around him to conform to its control. As he is, man appreciates the fact that though he can understand all that is around him, he is unable to understand the power that causes things to be as they are. This has caused him to appreciate religion or a transcendent realm that gives everyday life its meaning.
- What are some reasons for thinking that a transcendent realm exists?
The reason why man is propelled to believe that there exists a transcendent is based on the fact that there are things he cannot explain. For example, the question of morality across societies defeats the reasoning that it is based on mere instinct. The experience of truth and freedom, beauty and love all go beyond rational explanation. All these draw man to one conclusion, that there is a power beyond the ordinary realms that causes these things to happen. Man appreciates that there is a transcendent realm that exists beyond and above the ordinary that causes things to be as they are and to behave the way they do.
- What is the root meaning of the word “theology?” How does academic discipline of religious studies differ from theology?
The word theology comes from a combination of two Greek terms; “Theos”, meaning God and “logos” meaning study. It is therefore a compound word that births a discipline that is centered on the study of God. In more relatable terms, Theology is the reasonable, or rational study of the divine (Albl. M, p. 13), that insists on the disciplined, rigorous use of reason. It insists on the reasonable examination of all reality, both in this world and in the transcendent. Access to the transcendent is only explained through faith, which qualifies it as reasonable. The difference between theology and religious studies is that theology limits itself to one particular faith tradition while religious studies includes all religious traditions. Theology will attempt to understand the real nature of the transcendent or the divine (god) while religious studies tries to understand behavior and belief without the precepts of a given society. Religious studies could therefore be described as the study of religious beliefs, behaviors and institutions that compares, interprets and explains religion through a number of cultural perspectives. Theology is specific on a given tradition and goes as far as understanding beyond a hypothetical analysis, the reason behind things. Religious studies could be very general and in so being fail to address the very questions of real truth, which can only be achieved through the testimony of eyewitnesses, written documents, or through archeological evidence. Theology goes to those depths of direct evidence that is beyond opinion and hypothesis. Proponents of theology go as far as getting evidence from written materials, eye witnessing and even in some instances, getting archeological evidence to cement their claims.