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2.8: Study Questions
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- Discuss the need for objectivity, empathy, and neutrality in the study of religion. Clarify what sense of objectivity is appropriate and what is not. Similarly, clarify what sense of neutrality is appropriate and what is not. To what extent are objectivity, empathy, and neutrality each realistically possible or approachable? Specifically, what does empathy consist of?
- In connection with question 1, explore in discussion what it means to think generically about religion-that is, about the generic features of religious life as distinct from features specific to individual traditions.
- Explore in discussion the author's definition of the nature of religion. How does it align or fail to align with other definitions you may be familiar with? To what extent does it illuminate what goes on in actual religious practice and activity? Explore how it applies to specific examples.
- Discuss the idea of the problem of meaning as the problem religion is specifically designed to address. Explore the different aspects of the problem of meaning and how each correlates with a different way of being religious. How do they differ from each other? Do the different aspects help explain why some people are drawn to one sort of religious tradition rather than another?
- Explore in discussion the author's idea of the threshold effect-the respect in which symbols change in their appearance and texture as one shifts from attending to them focally from the outside to attending from them subsidiarily on the inside. To what extent does this describe what you are familiar with in this kind of experience? Why is it important to recognize the threshold effect in the effort to empathize with a religious practice very different from what you may be familiar with?
- Explore in discussion the idea that religions are systems of symbols open to multiple interpretations-not as a liability giving rise to disagreement but as an asset giving rise to a richness of many complementary meanings. Can you think of examples that illustrate the idea?
- Explore in discussion the implications of the idea of religious common sense that is posed in this chapter-namely, that there is a basis for mutual recognition of commonality between persons of divergent religious faith (especially between participants in the same generic way of being religious). Insofar as there is such a thing, what possibilities does it open up for interreligious dialogue and cooperation?