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Author: Ted Fairchild

This lesson will give an overview of why the topics or morality and ethics are important to the study of World Religions.

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Hello and welcome. Welcome to this overview of religion. We all have many associations with the word "religion," with religion itself, and our experience with it, or our inexperience. What about you? What are your first associations with religion? Church? God? Meditation? The unknown? Beauty? Peace? Groups of people in fancy clothing?

Well, whatever it is, notions of right and wrong are bound to appear. So let's get an overview of religion in relation to these grand categories of right and wrong, morality, and ethics, and how to behave in the world.

All religions have value structures and frameworks for guiding adherence. And for some people, religion can be a confusing path, whether it's a spiritual journey or not. But regardless of that, religions almost always offer a system of values to help practitioners make decisions about what is right and what is wrong.

And these value judgments are often different from one religion to another, and there are also differences within any particular religion. Values and perspectives on right and wrong on what's permissible and what's not, et cetera, these also tend to change through the course of history.

For example, within any religion that you can think of, attitudes and values about war are likely to have changed throughout the course of history. And this is partly due to continued reflection by theologians, religious authorities, and the community. And of course, a religious community in general usually evolves with the times and the current context.

So how does this happen in a religion? Well, in the beginning of the lesson, it was pointed out that there are guidelines for behavior and decision making about right and wrong. And depending on the religion, there are different authoritative structures, references, and figures to lend guidance and support.

In the monotheistic religions of the West, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, ideas of right and wrong are generally found in their sacred texts, their holy books, sometimes in the form of stories that contain moral lessons, rules of conduct, and laws.

In these traditions, there are usually religious leaders who work to interpret material for the lay people, and this supports the structure of belief. And these leaders often work on interpreting the sacred text for a changing cultural context and a different changing social climate. An example of women in the priesthood might come to mind.

And there are many settings where this guidance might be offered, a Christian sermon as part of a religious service, for example, an academic lecture, in books, a meeting of Christian clerics or Muslim mujtahids.

However, if you look into any of the Eastern religions like Buddhism or Hinduism, for example, you'll see that tradition plays a much stronger role in guiding and informing the ethical and moral conduct of the adherent. Sacred texts, of course, are the primary source, and religious leaders are also responsible for guiding and interpreting tradition.

But the Eastern religions don't follow one god in the way that the monotheistic religions do. The rules and laws and moral structure and code of ethics are more generally dispersed throughout the tradition, dispersed, in some cases, among several different gods, and the stories of their lives, et cetera. It's a much more woven tapestry of moral and ethical behavior and conduct.

In both East and West, however, in the religions of the East and the West, sacred texts, leadership, as well as written and oral tradition play strong roles in guiding the adherent. The differences have to do with form and emphasis.

So now we can review. We started by saying that all religions have values and guidelines for what is right and what is wrong to help the adherent or the practitioner. And we also said that these values vary from one religion to another, and that they are also likely to change in some way through the course of history. And we understood that religious leaders interpret holy books for the common person to help distinguish right from wrong in a changing world.

And finally, when looking for a source of value construction and guidance, it was pointed out tradition is emphasized more in some of the Eastern religions, and that this was partly due to it not being a monotheistic religion. And that its system of codes and conducts is threaded through the teachings and are a bit more broadly dispersed throughout the tradition, perhaps keeping the Eastern adherent busy in a different way than the adherent of the West.


Notes on "Overview"


Music: "World Music Percussion:"


Terms to Know

A code of behavior or conduct generally inspired in whole or in part by non-religious, often philosophical, teachings.


A code of behavior or conduct generally inspired in whole or in part by divinely inspired religious beliefs.