Understanding Religion DB Posts/Replies



This course is a lot of intellectual work, so we are going to take this mid-point as an opportunity to pause, reflect, and check-in.


Four weeks ago, we started on this journey called “Understanding Religion.” Craft a post in which you share

the benefits and challenges that this material has      presented to you thus far,

including any strategies you may have found      for incorporating this new understanding into what you already knew.

How are you thinking about religion differently,      and in what ways is that a good thing


Graduate Students: Final Paper Checkpoint


By this time, you should be well on your way toward finalizing a topic for your paper. Although this topic will become more nuanced as you progress, it is important to commit to an area of study early so that you have sufficient time to research, develop a thesis, write, and—of course—edit.

Description & Delivery

  • Topic: Religion and Spirituality as Culturally Related Phenomena

Under the “” tab, upload a 1-paragraph yet detailed description of your topic. Please include a draft of your research question and, if you have it, a draft of your thesis statement. These do not need to be solidified at this time, but they do need to be operative. All projects need a good question and/or thesis to guide them, even if they end up changing along the way (in fact, it would be odd if your question and thesis did not change).

  • 3.  Understanding Religion-Dabbling in historical inquiry

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  • a. Hi everyone! I choose to look at the Hebrew bible, Isiah 14:3-22, “Israel’s Remnant Taunts Babylon” to discuss how I would go about analyzing this text from the perspective of a historian. Starting off I think it is so important to acknowledge that studying the history of a religion is extremely complex. Simply reading the words of the Bible do not even begin to scratch the surface of what the religion truly means. There are and were real people that lived through the religion, lived the traditions and read those words everyday. As a historian it is difficult to understand the gravity of the religion simply by a few pages of a book. As noted in this weeks reading, this job is extremely difficult, “Written history was composed by the “winners” of battles and literate elites. We must be cautious about what they recorded (or did not record)”(Hedges, 95). Through history what is written down is often the winning situations, the great triumphs, and the great stories passed down. It is important when going through written texts such as Isiah 14:3-22, “Israel’s Remnant Taunts Babylon” to understand what is going on during that time. And keep in mind the possibilities of changed details to better a story, or simply the highlight reel. Along with this the terminology is important to examine, there usage of words have changed over time along with their meanings, specifically paying attention to words such as “fable, legend, history, and myth”. In regards to Isiah 14:3-22, “Israel’s Remnant Taunts Babylon” from a historians point of view I would read through the text focusing on those words that may have alternative meanings and really hone in on what the author is trying to convey. I would also pay attention to the context of the text, is the author recording a triumph, a defeat, what specifically are they trying to get across and what potentially may be left out to improve the story. I would also dive into what was going on historically wise during that time if necessary to provide more context for the passage. 

“History: Historical Methodology and the Invention of Tradition” (Ch.4; pp.93-116)

Hebrew Bible: 

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b. I chose to read and analyze Isaiah 14:3-22, “Israel’s Remnant Taunts Babylon” and will show you how I do through the lens of a historian. Firstly, I am going to look at the historical context, meaning we must look at the history of the beliefs and cultural norms of that time, and examine how it has changed to get to where it is in the present day (Seachris, 2013, p. 93). Society is everchanging and progressing, so religion’s have to adapt to remain relevant. It is necessary to study the beliefs and historical events, religious or not, so we can have a better understanding of the text we are evaluating. We can also study the language of that time, as that will help determine how it was written and translated over the years. Words can have different meanings even from generation to generation, so understanding the history of the language will help you decipher the original intent of the writings. We must also analyze other texts that were written at the same time to see how they compare in regards to language, ideas, and agendas and these can be secular texts as well. Many texts may have political agendas and can try to influence people, so it is important to see who is writing it and do they have a position of power (Seachris, 2013, p. 103). What kind of verbiage are they using, i.e. is it persuasive language? Bruce Lincoln advises us to research what the consequences are and who will benefit from people believing their writings (Seachris, 2013, p. 103). Are they trying to persuade the readers to belief certain things, rather then just inform them on the religious teachings?  Language is a powerful tool and it is imperative to analyze it and recognize that power when studying spiritual and religious texts. These methods will give you the skills you need to critically and respectfully analyze ancient sacred texts.

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a. Understanding Religion-Analyzing a Tradition

Native American Religions are of great interest to me. A Google image search of “Native American religion, presented me with drawings and photos of persons dancing, preparing for war, and engaged in religion ceremony, and symbols used. With the teepees, there doesn’t appear to be any indication of social status, all appear to be of similar design and construction. 

I fall into the outsider category. What I know of their religion and culture comes from what I’ve seen in cinema, television, read in articles, heard from family members or friends, learned at a conference from experts on the traditions, and a little from elders and tribal members. Excluding the elders and tribal members, the other sources have provided a variety of perspectives, some positive and some not so much. In all, I see a religion and associated society to be rich in culture and tradition, to have a keen understanding of the world around them, of ‘nature’, who live within their means, in harmony with the land. While there is a hierarchy of sorts, elders are old members of the tribe who have earned respect. They are responsible for continuity of story and tradition, passing it on to subsequent generations. There seems to be no elite or classes, though notoriety is earned by reaching cultural milestones associated with gender roles. 

Regarding syncretism. I would imagine that there is a some mixing of religious ideas amongst varying tribes.

I interpret the photo to be an elder and a family engaged in an educational session, of storytelling. Community is at the center. There is a leader; he sits with the family, not in front of them, which to me is a demonstration of kinship and equality. 

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b. Would you care to dance?

Much like there is a vast array of institutions and belief systems that identified as Christian, so it is in the Muslim world. One of these strains among the Islamic traditions is that of Sufism, which is readily recognizable by images of the Dervish dance, a hallmark traditional practice of Sufism. Not cognizant of the meaning and purpose of this dance, the images in my examination nevertheless revealed several factors that distinguish Sufism, in general, from other Islamic traditions (let us not forget that Sufism is denounced in some of the Muslim world, and not considered anything resembling “true” Islam).

In these images, one can see some transformation, particularly regarding the role of women. For instance, images captured or produced artistically prior to the 21st Century do not include women as “dancers”. In stark contrast, in more recently produced images, women play equal or commanding roles in the dance. Regardless of gender, the dancers perform the dance wearing a “skirt” that extends outward as they whirl, and most wear a cylindrical headdress. The colors are uniform across the dancers, such that no “individuality” is expressed. At the same time, this seems to bestow a sense of unity among them. The images also indicate that when performed indoors, the dance takes place in large halls, many of which appear to portray a Muslim-inspired architectural design. When performed outdoors, the “venue” seems to be central common areas or flat terrain. This dance, then, does not seem to be exclusively tied to places reserved for religious practices. This, in turn, portrays a more secular image of the Dervish dance, and consequently to Sufism.

The images reveal geographic factors, as well, and with some global awareness, it becomes clear that Sufism is by and large practiced in nations such as Turkey and Morocco. There are notable exceptions, of course, as the images also show Afghani women, Iranian men and some Pakistani and Indian men and women also performing the Dervish dance. This tradition appears to involve a certain class or group of individuals. As an outsider, it is difficult to discern whether this is a practice all Sufis perform at some point, or if it is reserved for an elite group among them. It is also not clear if the “spectators” are somehow participating (perhaps by physical presence/support in a ceremony) or are simply spectating at an artistic performance. From the images, there seems to be no social classification or eligibility to witness the dance, that is, men and women of all ages are among the attendees, gathered in circular fashion around the dancers. The dancers are clearly the center of attention, who in turn, are attending to something else, as is visible in their state of trance.  

Though it is not entirely clear that these images of the Dervish dance portray an accurate portrayal of common Sufi practices, the Dervish dance is nevertheless clearly and only associated with non-Christian, non-Buddhist, non-Hinduist and non-Jewish forms of faith.  Because the Dervish dance is generally seen only in certain North African and Middle Eastern states, it is thereby associated also with the more secular societies within what is considered the Muslim world.  

5.  Understanding Religion-Reflecting your own experience

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I think this is in-line with the parameters of the assignment. I can’t think of a current means in which this applies to me. I do my own thing, always have, not fitting into a ‘norm’ given my age, gender, sexual preference, state of residence, or religious background. 

The ideal Mormon boy is baptized at 8, confirmed a deacon at 12, a teacher at 14, and a priest at 16; active in all phases of scouting during this time. He graduates from high school, receives the Eagle Scout award, then having shown diligence and faithfulness to God by not smoking, drinking, or having any form of sexual relations, he heads out on a 24-month mission where he teaches the gospel of Jesus Christ, 16 hours a day 7 days a week.

Shortly after returning home, he enrolls in college in pursuit of his career. Dating ensues, he meets a faithful young woman, they court for 6 months and then are married in the temple.  They copulate like rabbits and 8 months later, they’re pregnant. The wife quits school to perform her ordained duties to care for the children and be a wife – “barefoot and pregnant”. Four years later, he graduates and lands a job as a successful doctor, accountant, or yeah; they now have 6 kids.

This is the order of things and the expectation of the cute old ladies. As the numbers below show, it is not what always happened, there are always exceptions.

Of say 10 guys in the neighborhood, about 60% were celibate until marriage, 50% hadn’t consumed alcohol, 80% hadn’t smoked, 90% hadn’t experimented with illicit drugs, 90% married, of the 90%, 100% married a partner of the opposite sex.

Post serving a mission, my story was different. Instead of marrying my high school girlfriend, I started dating guys. I was not married in the temple, never will be. Dating is tough. I’m old, picky, a black sheep in the family. Ha ha.

As to the incorporation of new insights. I was dreading taking these religious studies courses, As a Mormon, we study scripture every Sunday, every day in high school (four years of it) and I have 18 credits of religious studies in college, that unfortunately didn’t count cause writing wasn’t invented when I was enrolled in the classes. I am over religion. HOWEVER, I appreciate this class – learning about the study of religion. I think my mind has been opened a bit, and I’m a little more open to believing or acknowledging that there is a God. Perspectives this semester have helped me better understand my position regarding my former faith and to God. I won’t fit in socially, which I accept.

DISCLAIMER: What you have read is a bit of a joke regarding the perfect Mormon guy. I did not make it up, there is a social expectation to it. Women are NOT baby machines, NOR servants of men. What I see of younger relatives is that husband and wife are friends, equals. A woman may pop out the baby, but it’s not necessarily her role to stay home w/ the kids. The couple decides. It’s good to see the young people adapting to what’s best for them.


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b. I’m going to Disneyland

The family vacation is as natural to American society as is the rising and setting of the Sun. It could be argued that social class has much to do with access to the resources required for the family vacation, that the scope and manifestations of the family vacation are contingent upon these resources. However, it could also be argued that regardless of socioeconomic class, the family unit somehow realizes an annual or seasonal long-term “outing”, “vacation”, “trip”, etc. It is a family unit’s journey or time away from the daily demands of living, and it is distinct from the occasional, weekly or monthly excursions to the park, zoo, movie theaters, or a “night out on the town”. 

This social practice is imbedded in labor laws, allowing for at least some time away from work (be it paid or not), and it is time that is “earned”. This social practice is propagated by numerous market forces and the tourist industry in general, it could be argued, relies heavily on the “family vacation”. Moreover, the expectations of the greater social sphere are such that if a family unit does not in some way engage in activities one might associate with vacations, then the family unit seems to be marginalized, at best, and perhaps stigmatized based on socioeconomic factors. The family unit may place the anticipated expenses of this activity on the unit’s annual budget, thus impacting other expenses during the year or season, which remarkably is not discouraged by the much more salient, daily economic forces. The concept (and socially acceptable manifestations) of vacation is intertwined in all forms of media. It is a centerpiece in the chronological, sequential memory of any family unit’s history. The concept and its practice comprise a “habit” that in some ways resembles a ritualistic tradition. It is a practice that is expected of family units in their respective social strata and is a topic of social exchange among the varying networks and groups with which they engage in their “habitat”. The family vacation is of tantamount importance in the broader social sphere and is shaped by the dynamic formulations of this sphere. That is, in whatever way the family unit defines their “family vacation”, it must nevertheless meet the requisite qualifications defined by the broader social unit, the habitat.

This habitus, the way in which the family unit’s vacation (or habit) is shaped and practiced, must take into consideration the distinguishing factors that make the vacation an acceptable practice that it portends to be. These qualifications can be legally defined, and often are, and generally must meet the qualifications of the social networks in which the family unit operates. So natural to a family’s social networks, be it school, work, or other institutional groups, it is a normative concept and practice that transcends and embraces all forms of beliefs and traditions in, arguably, the greater part of the Westernized world.

Analyzing this practice at first impressed upon me how intermeshed my family unit is in the broader social sphere. To a considerable degree, it has helped in forming a unique marker of identity that aligns with the identity markers that fit with the concept of “family”. It helps to explain the relatability my family unit has had and continues to have with other family units, whether real or imagined (such as in film and literature). It is normal and expected of my family unit to go on vacation. So ingrained is the concept, that when one says, “I’m going to Disneyland”, it is generally understood what this means, that one is exercising a practice common to most in, at least, the United States.

6. Understanding Religion-Narrating Ourselves

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Having migrated intercontinentally three times during my formative years resulted in a capacity to navigate in distinctly different regional cultures with a modicum of ease. This upbringing also facilitated an incrementally more agile process of acculturation, such that I have been able to accept, adopt and shift with the traditions of the places I have been. It is a multicultural identity that manifests in accordance with the roles associated with this multicultural and multilingual foundation. Though not a world traveler since then, coming to an understanding of some regional cultures, their norms and mores is always reliant, deliberately, on an identity fashioned by the languages and traditions to which I have been exposed. To know a language is to know a culture, or subculture, or some other social niche. Religion, political ideology, philosophical position, educational class, nationality, primary language and social networks, among other no less important aspects, thus comprise the elements of this identity.

The two elements that have borne the greatest influence on the “home” culture have been religion and language. Beyond the formative years, my primary language became American English, which differed significantly from the “King’s English” to which I had been exposed previously. While Castilian Spanish was spoken at home (also a bit different from much of the Spanish-speaking world), Christianity was the religion that shaped family traditions. The religious group to which we belonged was our in-group, which in turn did not take kindly to those considered the out-group. Relationships with out-group individuals was greatly discouraged, and it was this exclusionary force that I eventually rejected altogether. Existentialism, reason and modern science became the guideposts for my internal identity, and my multicultural roles, including those erringly ascribed to me, became the guideposts for my external identity.

Given that these roles dictate the practice of Christian traditions, with my family we honor and participate in common holidays, days of remembrance and practices commonly associated with Christianity (e.g., Easter, Christmas, prayer). I can do so in primarily two world languages, not so well in a couple of others. Spiritual But Not Religious, then, seems to be a suitable marker of external identity, and to a great degree, of internal identity. Important to consider, however, is that the “spiritual” cog is likely formulated by the religion of origin, so to speak. The non-Abrahamic religions, for instance, would not have any relevance to this formulation.  I simply cannot claim that my concept of spirituality is the same as that found in such religions as Hinduism and Buddhism.

The issue of race is, of course, rather significant. Though outwardly not associated with being of sub-Saharan African, Asian, Nordic, northern European or Middle Eastern descent, it can be difficult for those whose racial and ethnic ancestry are of these regions to classify my race and ethnicity. My complexion, eye color, stature and mannerisms can also be seen in people of a myriad of Mediterranean cultures, as well as in those people the latter colonized. Giving them my non-Anglicized name generally leads to my designation as “Hispanic”. Ironically, most other “Hispanics” initially tend to not recognize me as being so, that is, until I speak and do as they speak and do.

Obviously not a brief description of my identity, this reflection also signals the various identities that do not define me and roles that I do not play. This is in line with the assertion Hedges makes, that “our identity is often defined as much by what we are not, as what we are” (2021, p. 140). The multicultural and multilingual upbringing also expand the “range of identities”, as Hedges might argue (p. 141). This range would certainly be truncated had my formative years been spent in one culture, with one language, and one religious belief. The shifting nature of identity has oscillated in, I presume, a different fashion had my upbringing been confined, again, to one culture, language and religious belief. Even so, Christianity has been the most stable yet pliable element of this identity, leaving to speculation how this element would have engaged, within these multicultural contexts, were it to have shifted from Christianity to something else. Additionally, the socioeconomic class to which I have mostly been attached would have similarly confounding influences on my identity mosaic.

The exercise of “identification” is thus contingent on both the internal and external forces. How I have been able to determine the internal elements has been possible by determining the external elements, and vice versa. Fluid as they are, most elements over time have changed considerably since those formative years, and some have stood the test of time. There has been some sway in what one could consider the “pillars” of identity, some being language, worldview, and ascribed roles. This exercise has thereby compelled me to reflect heavily on what has shaped this range of identities: languages, Christian formulations, race (White?) and ethnicity (Hispanic?), social groups, nationality, socioeconomic status, Western philosophical positions, university education, professions/career (teaching, socio-medical research, linguistics), and familial relationships.


Hedges, P. M. (2021). Understanding religion: Theories and methods for studying religiously diverse societies. University of California Press. 

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b. Hi everyone! I found this prompt extremely challenging, I felt like there are so many ways my identity has been impacted over the years shaping me into who I am today. I identity today is completely different than it was five years ago or even last week. I would begin by depicting that I am loving, I care deeply about my patients I work with everyday, and those around me. I love to be outside and travel the world having lived in many different countries and seen extraordinary things. I am a student and knowledge seeker and someone who loves to be active. Im also shaped by the hardships in my life, a bit part of my identity for a long time was that I went through ACL surgery and rehab, while that was prominent a few years ago it has now faded a little. I think that our identities are always shifting and changing based on where we are in our lives. And seen in Hedges an in-group is those who share common traits similar to your identity and an out-group is the opposite. My groups have also changed over the years, as my identity has changed so has the people I surround myself with that contain similar interests. 

One piece I noted that would alter my understanding of religion if it did not occur would be my ACL injury and recovery. I spent so long being angry that I could not walk, run, jump, do the things that I loved every single day. I felt lost and like I was missing out on so much. But that experience forced me to look at everyday tasks like a victory, something that I was so thankful I Ould wake up everyday and accomplish. If this did not happen I don’t think I would appreciate the little everyday things in my life so deeply. 

Through this exercise I learned that my identity is very different than I would have imagined a few months ago. It reminded me that I am always changing and evolving and my identity is ever changing. 

7. Understanding Religion- A Moment of Reflection

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The benefits this class has presented to me is to be more open the the diversity of  different beliefs, practices, and religion everyone around practices to be humble, have empathy, be less biases, and not just assume assumption over something I am unfamiliar with. I have gained a deeper understanding of religious concepts, histories, and cultural context. I also learned to question and analyze my own belief and those of others and overall the deeper history of each religion and try to look how much it has changed over time. Challenges I find myself with is the information overload in a short period of time along with each religious traditions and concepts but reading and intaking as much as I can is all I can do and understand as much as I can. Strategies that are currently helping me are writing thoughts and insights down especially when I run into the unknown and do not understand. Later I  look back to my notes and do deeper research or connect the dots as I read more. Engaging on the discussions with fellow students and reading all of their thoughts has also help and broaden my perspectives. What I am currently thinking about religion is no one really chooses to be who they are, some people are just raised into certain beliefs, practices. religion, perspectives, and social environment. This has created more empathy within myself over others and wanting to broaden my knowledge in religion all over the world and overall carry respect, empathy, and dignity. 


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b. Hi everyone! 

I think the biggest benefit and challenge for me in this course has been the need to push myself with each discussion post. As challenging as it may have been to come in to each week without bias and focus on reading the text, watching the videos and leaning what this week has to offer it has produced some great knowledge. I find it difficult at times to leave bias outside a classroom, it is natural, however I have found leaving it behind so beneficial in this course. It has forced me to truly think about the content and form new opinion regarding what’s in front of me. 

One strategy I have been doing each week has been to use the content from that week to think about my past religious experiences and see if I can notice anything I may not have in the moment. I went to a Catholic grade school and high school which included many religion classes. I have been challenging myself to use the weekly content to examine memories from those classes regarding stories or content and see if the weekly content relates. For example I remembered in high school taking a World Religions class, I enjoyed the class and felt like it covered multiple religions well. Now looking at this class through the lens of this cause it brought to mind a relation to the topic regarding how to define religion. I noticed that I wished the class dove deeper into each religion and how in reality there really weren’t covering anything about the religion, just some bullet points. 

Understanding Religion DB Posts/Replies

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