What Is A Religion?

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Source credit: Mr Bello Blog
What exactly is a religion? According to Turner, a religion refers to those processes and institutions that render the social world intelligible, and which bind individuals authoritatively into the social order. In less elegant terms, it is a type of intangible glue that sticks different people together.

The word ‘religion’ is an umbrella term for various practices and beliefs. There are many ways to employ this term. What is African witchcraft to incredulous American researchers may simply be a way of life to the Africans themselves. There is a need to be wary of how we employ this term relatively, so that we establish common grounds for discussion and do not set ourselves up for futile cross-talking. There is also a need to be cautious of the historically Western connotations that the vocabulary in the sociological study of religions carry.

Now, religious issues have always been a taboo topic that people creep about on this multi-everything island set in the sea. Singapore has often been described as a multi-racial, multi-cultural and multi-religious city. It is, however, less of a melting pot of harmonious flavours than a mosaic where different pieces fit uncomfortably together. In general, mutual understanding between various religions is lacking.

Due to the historical friction between religious groups and the geographical situation of a predominantly Chinese country in a mostly Malay region, the government is worried that any racial and/or religious dispute may spark off an incendiary unrest. Hence, it is careful to appear unbiased, going to the extent that it allocates public holidays evenly between the different religious fractions.

It is interesting to discover more about this under-discussed topic. After all, we’re all caught in the making of history and it’d be insightful to study how religious forces will shape the contours of our human society in the 21st century.

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Wang Gungwu, in his Secular Values in Asia and the West, explains that the scholarly community generally accepts that being modern is a condition closely linked with being secular.

But what exactly does being secular mean? This word often refers to the separation of the Church and State, thus allowing room for the civil society and materialist-driven culture to flourish. Outside the Western world, it is most commonly used while referring to the political model established in postcolonial countries. The narrow definitions of this word preclude a more nuanced understanding of why modern secular values have not fared as well in some parts of the world and why different kinds of modernity may stem from different roots.

It has also been interesting to discuss the historical roots of capitalism and communism. Capital secularism is the “product of centuries of worldly struggle in search of wealth and power, and also of the search for a happier world at all levels of state and society”. This governance model divests power from military, religious and political authorities. Individuals gain more autonomy to direct their lives – but to what effects?

Instead of worshipping in religious sites, has the contemporary society found something else to revere? Have money, and its attendant prestige, become a contemporary religion?

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