If asked, most individuals can name a dominant religion in the world. However, the ability to recognize a religious tradition does not indicate that individuals understand the components of a religious tradition. Various religious traditions share common themes and customary aspects as a part of their belief systems.
The central aspect that guides all religious traditions is the belief in a sacred or supernatural being. This force may be called God, or be identified by a number of other names and identities. However, this sacred force dominates the religious beliefs of the followers. The belief in a sacred, spiritual or more powerful being represents one of the most important aspects of all religions and traditions. This belief in the sacred allows the religion or tradition to develop a worldview, or overarching framework that allows the individuals to find personal meaning within the universe (Amlen, 2001, pp. 8-9).
In a religious tradition, the belief in the sacred must be collective. The belief system is shared with the members of the community and is taught to individuals within this community. Teaching of the belief system is often done through storytelling (Amlen, 2001, pp. 9-10). Much of the religion’s ideas and beliefs are found in a series of shared stories and myths. The story of Moses and the Ten Commandments represents one of the most widely known stories within religious traditions. It represents a pivotal part in the Torah or the Old Testament. In this story, a human being interacts with God, or the sacred force of the universe. While some may consider this a myth, others believe that it represents a sacred story of an actual event. This story is shared by three major religions of the world: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Together, these religions form the Abrahamic religions.
Another common story in many myths is a great flood in ancient times. For the Abrahamic religions, this is the story or myth of Noah and his Ark. Other ancient myths also share this story of a great flood or deluge. Stories represent a means by which the traditions are passed from generation to generation over time. This was particularly important during the historical times when most individuals were not literature. Without the use of stories, the religious traditions may have faded.
Religions also practice rituals. These rituals also represent a means by which the religion is passed from generation to generation. The rituals may occur during a sacred aspect of religious practice or they may be a part of daily life. A formal mass or temple ceremony represents a ceremony of religious practice. The daily rituals of saying prayers offer a means by which individuals may interact with their sacred form on a frequent basis. Through the use of rituals, the shared beliefs of the religion become a real aspect for its practitioners. For Christians, the dominant story is the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Part of this story involved Jesus sharing a Last Supper, possibly a Passover Seder, with his apostles. This story is brought to life for Christians through its recreation during Christian Mass. Jews relieve the Passover Seder annually. This recreates the traditional story involving their freedom from the Pharaoh as Hebrew slaves. For Native Americans, a significant ritual and rite-of-passage involves the Vision Quest. Today, the term Vision Quest may also refer to any rite-of-passage found in a religious tradition. It allows the individual to symbolically, spiritually, and physically enter into a new phase of his or her life. It recognizes the importance of marking various stages in the life development of an individual. It also connects the individual to the universe and the sacred through its various traditions and rituals (Krown, 2009). Other religions also have common rite-of-passages into adulthood. In the Jewish faith, the bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah recognizes that a child is now an adult. In Christianity, a confirmation ceremony often recognizes the child fully committing to the religion and becoming a full-fledged adult member. The Jewish faith also has a confirmation ceremony (Bar Mitzvah, Bat Mitvah and Confirmation, n.d.).
Religion traditions may organize in a number of ways. Organized religions hold traditions and rituals that are officially established within its leadership. Some religions may organize into small groups, parishes, covens or other communities. Other religions, such as the Roman Catholic Church, organize into an increasingly powerful hierarchy. This reaches from the priest at a local church to the bishop who runs the diocese. Dioceses are collected into larger dioceses, called an Archdiocese. Cardinals oversee large areas of the Catholic Church and form the College of Cardinals. The increasing hierarchy collects the smaller groups. The entire church is run by the Bishop of Rome, commonly called the pope. While he is the head of the Church, he is advised by his College of Cardinals. A new pope is chosen from this group of men after the death, or extremely rare resignation of the pope (Knight, 2009). This hierarchical form is used by a number of religions. Other religions, including many Protestant and Baptist groups, do not utilize this hierarchical form of organization. Rather, the followers are kept within smaller groups, such as local churches with a minister. The minister oversees all the needs of his community.
An important aspect in the study of religion needs to be on these unifying aspects. While it is important to recognize the differences between various faiths and traditions, society must recognize that the underlying framework of religious traditions is the same from belief system to belief system. Unfortunately, differences in religious backgrounds and faiths have led to wars, hatred and bloodshed throughout the history of the world. Therefore, the study of religion needs to focus on finding the commonalities that unify people, rather than differences that separate them. One hopes that by doing this, the resistance of religious groups to accept other groups will decrease over time.
- Amlen, E. (2001) Common themes in myth and religion. San Diego: Harcourt College Publishers.
- Bar Mitvah, Bat Mitvah and Confirmation (n.d.) Jewish Virtual Library. Retrieved June 20, 2013, from: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/barmitz.html
- Knight, K. (2009) Hierarchy. New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia. Retrieved June 20, 2013, from: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07322c.htm
- Krown, M. (2009, June 18) What is a vision quest and why do one? The Huffington Post. Retrieved June 20, 2013, from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/maddisen-k-krown/ask-maddisen-what-is-a-vi_b_217432.html