Hi all, I am currently writing a chapter for a book on spirituality and youth work. Here is a section of my chapter on how to understand religion, spirituality and the sacred, and what a definition of these realities might be when discussing them in relation to youth work. The academically minded may be frustrated that I haven’t provided full references – there are some suggestions for further reading at the end.
Secularism constructs ‘religion’ as a private endeavour:
In the West ‘we see “religion” as a coherent system of obligatory beliefs, institutions and rituals, centring on a supernatural God, whose practice is essentially private and hermetically sealed off from all “secular” activities’. In other cultures and through the ages the idea of religion has never been reduced to beliefs and practices separated off from the rest of life. (Pickard)
A definition of religion
Seeking to avoid privatized definitions of ‘religion’, I follow Schneiders, who distinguishes three interrelated elements. One, religion is the “fundamental life stance of the person who believes in transcendent reality, however designated”. Two, “a spiritual tradition” which is a “characteristic way of understanding and living in the presence of the numinous”. Examples would be Buddhism, Christianity, or Zoroastrianism. Three, religion refers to “a religion or institutionalized formulation of a particular spiritual tradition”. We think of Roman Catholicism or Sunni Islam. These particular forms are incredibly complex, requiring particular beliefs, rules, debates, cultural systems and rituals for their maintenance. Schneider argues that this last element is what most casual observers mean when they say ‘religion’.