When a religion claims that it is the word of God and that the word is unconditionally true; and that, further, the word is about the Cosmos: everything that was, is and shall be. So, when I say that religion is such an entity, namely, it claims that it is the word of God and that it claims to be unconditionally true and that it is about the Cosmos, I am accepting the self description of religion. (However, the hypothesis that religion is an explanatorily intelligible (EI) account formulates it without committing itself to any ontological claims. That is, it takes no stances about what specific religions say or do not say about the existence of entities. The hypothesis does not show how, and in what sense, the Bible, say, is an EI account. It merely says that The Bible has such a status to believers. If you reread the relevant paragraphs of ‘The Heathen in his blindness: Asia, the West and the dynamic of religion’ where I first formulate the hypothesis, you will notice that I formulate it conditionally: “If such a being exists, if such an account is forthcoming … etc then we have an EI account.”) If we do not accept the self-description of religion, The Bible becomes a mere book and we cannot study it at all to say anything about Christianity.
However, this meta-characterization is not interesting in and of itself. You see religion as the EI account of the Cosmos and itself could come into being without having most of the properties that the empirical religions in human societies possess. (See the Scientific Fiction example in Chapter 9.) So, when I do talk about religions, I speak of what happens when people believe that they have a religion and the empirical constraints such people put on religion. The dynamic of universalization of religion comes into existence because of the logic of how people go-about in the world: they have a religion and that it is an exemplification of religion. The cultural history of the West can be written because of the internal tension within Christianity: it is both religion and merely one religion in human community.
Religions, if studied either as Religion or as World view, force us to do theology. But religion also generates a configuration of learning and I study religion at this level of abstraction. Here, I do not have to accept the self-description of religion but merely describe the dynamic of the emergence of a configuration of learning. The latter is brought into existence by human beings who relate to each other and the world in a particular way. So, I accept the existence of a configuration of learning; I believe that it is possible to develop hypotheses about it that satisfy the best criteria of rationality and scientificity that we possess. I do not have to assume the existence of religion: I say that people act as though what they have is religion; one can say that they are rational beings because the existence of religion is a good reason for them to believe in the existence of religion; they believe in its existence; this attitude makes them go-about in the world in a particular way (i.e. this is their configuration of learning); and this way of going-about in the world has a structure and logic that can be described; such descriptions can be tested in a rational way… In other words, religion can be studied at three different levels of abstraction: (a) religion as religion – this is the level of self-description of religion; (b) religion as also a world view – this also forces us to do some kind of theology; (c) apart from being religion and world view, a religion also produces a configuration of learning. My studies are pitched at the level of (c) and does not touch either (a) or (b).
- Why the question about the origin of religion is ill-formulated?
- Which facts are relevant? Hipkapi and Hinduism