What Are We Talking About When We Talk About Religion?

When we talk about religion, we more often focus on the adjective “religious,” or how people are religious: contemplative/mystical, ethical/social, cognitive/ epistemological, etc. Religious experiences can be dynamically sudden and explosively reorienting, or they can constitute gradual increases in spiritual awareness. In concert with talking about how people are religious, we also probe why people are religious: historically, anthropologically, psychologically, politically, economically, and theologically. In any of these instances regarding how and why, we understand that being religious can be a double-edged sword: a constructive, amelioratory, aesthetic or emotionally fulfilling experience of the sublime; or a despicable motivation and odious, detestable legitimation scenario responsible for many heinous and oppressive forms of human behavior. As a form of human behavior, a seminal dimension of every human culture, religion has cut both ways. -- John C. Holt, PhD ‘77, University of Chicago Divinity School Alumnus of the Year in 2007 and Visiting Professor of Theravada Buddhism