The Two Dimensions of Religion

Religion is a system of beliefs, practices, and observances that people follow in order to enrich their lives, express identity, connect with others, cope with life’s ups and downs, and help others.

In the past, religion was often a standardized, formalized system of belief and ritual that could be defined with precision. However, in the twentieth century, the term religion has spawned a more diverse approach that changes the way we define this concept and how it is used.

One important aspect of this approach is that it embraces the idea that religion is not simply a set of formal beliefs and observances, but rather a living thing. This approach differs from traditional concepts in that it focuses on what people do with religious resources–images, artefacts, rituals, moral teachings, and other traditions they may or may not know well–in order to enrich their lives, express identity, and connect with others.

The other key dimension of this approach is the experiential dimension. This dimension describes the quality and content of human experience as it relates to the divine, otherworldy, or invisible. It includes visions, dreams, creative inspiration, contact with other beings, revelation of meaning, truth, or significance, emotional connections, and intangible encounters that escape language.

This dimension is crucial to understanding how religion works, and suffuses the other dimensions of religion in a reciprocal relationship. In addition, the experiential dimension also feeds into the social and institutional dimensions of religion.

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