Defining Religion: Ninian Smart

I can’t stop emphasizing that “religion” is a contrived word and not a thing to be discovered. Thus, not surprisingly, people (scholars and lay folks alike) put forward all sorts of conflicting definitions for religion. Even Sabio Lantz offered a Syndrome Model in 1999. This is not to say such contrived words aren’t useful, but we need to recognize them for what they are.

Ninian Smart

Ninian Smart

The definition model I have illustrated above is Ninian Smart’s, a Scottish pioneer of secular religious studies who took his stab at defining “religion” and created this 6-dimensional definition where he describes 6 ingredients or flavors that comprise the mix of what we call religion.

A 3 Quark Daily article (where I am banned, if you’ll remember) used Smart’s model to test if Internet-Centrism is a religion or not.  The conclusion of the article is not important to me.  But instead, keeping in mind my previous “Religion as a Pejorative” post, we can see that the ways Internet-Centrism is likened to religion has negative connotations.  “Religion” is used to point out the weak sides of “Internet Centrism”.

But heck, most groups of people would qualify as religious for having stories, community, rules, rituals and experiences between them — according to Strong’s definition.  My definition, on the other hand contains a few more criteria to narrow the application of the word and thus to exclude the broader use of the word “religion”.  Either way, it is fun to play with definitions, but remember, people are inventing them, not discovering them.



Filed under Philosophy & Religion

14 responses to “Defining Religion: Ninian Smart

  1. Damn it! You make me think again. What the heck is religion and why it seems to me that I live in a religious country (without, necessarily, the concept of god). I can’t quite define it. Why do I need to define (describe) it? Because I am interested in communicating, in a very brief format, my observations as an outsider to the insiders who cannot necessarily see what’s going on (remember Plato’s cave allegory?) I’ll get back to you, eventually.

  2. Earnest

    Use of the internet about 10 years ago was often a pastime, not generally necessary for day to day life. It has induced such process efficiency recently that it has started to feel essential.

    I consider the internet a utility, and the more bandwidth I can get the better I like it. But if I had to I could still survive without it.

    Sewer service is also a utility. I really like having flush toilets, especially in a winter like this one, but again, if I had to use a pit toilet I could.

    Does this mean I am a devotee of a religion of flush toilets?

    I think we may be able to differentiate the devotion to the use of internet services or flush toilets by noting the element of petitioning a paranormal power for assistance through ritual. This element is not present in either of the internet or flush toilet examples.

  3. I think Ninian Smart and Sabio Lantz are attempting to define the made up or man-made religion; the Revealed Religion has no myths in it; and it is the path that leads to the One-True-God; all other activities help to that end.

  4. Paarsurrey,
    Islam has myths! But before I begin, let me tell you that I usually ignore your comments now and because of the following reasons:
    (1) your comments and replies often make no sense
    (2) you don’t seem to understand what people are saying here.
    (3) I tire of your Islamic propaganda and jargon<

    But I will take a chance today to address the falsehoods your throw out. But if this reply stirs you to more irrational replies, I will regret my effort today and go back to ignoring you. Do NOT try to redirect to your blog, I will not read your nonsense there. Comment here and keep it logical and pertinent.

    You said, "the Revealed Religion (your jargon for Islam) has no myths in it“.
    But you are wrong. Islam shares/borrows myths from Judaism and has its own unique myths. Let’s just look at just one example:

    The Exodus & Moses: Moses (Musa) and the whole exodus story is just a story — not a historical event. Thus, it is a fictional myth. Musa is mentioned about 50 times in the Qur’an. For example Qur’an 2.54, 2.60, 7:160, 10:83, 17:2.

    There we read repeats of myths of the Manna feeding and of Moses’ staff striking a rock and getting water (12 springs).

    But the main point of this post [which you missed, of course] is about the definitions of religions, not about making up religions — again, Paarsurrey, you show that you don’t read carefully. You are so excited to tell us about your wonderful sect of Islam and your messiah, that you don’t care what my post says.

  5. May I please add another myth of Islam (and all related religions), at the fear of appearing to repeat my usual cliché:
    Muslims (and Christians and Zoroastrians and Jews) refer to their god as if that god were male. That is, they say, He did that and we pray to Him, and His wisdom is infinite, and He is the one-true-god. Some religious folk say this is a convention. But most, especially the ones who adhere to their dogmas dogmatically [sic] get offended if I change the He to a She (or to It). I found myself in trouble with Muslims when I say Allah [peace be upon Her] said that She would … No, they reply, you can’t do that. The gender of god, that kind of strange myth, is, to them, an unshakable fact, just like the fact that zero plus zero equals zero.

    Another myth (I just learned from wikipedia, the source of all knowledge🙂 ):
    “O my people! Worship God! You have no other god but Him. I fear for you the punishment of a dreadful day!” Quran 7:59.
    In fact, one of the most funny of all myths, Noah’s arc, is there too.

  6. Earnest

    @ TK if Allah has a gender, yet no images, how can we verify the male attributes He must have? And is there procreation to do with the capacities associated with having a specific gender?

    Such difficult questions….

  7. You are in any angry mood; and you know in an angry mood no meaningful discussion is possible. I don’t discuss to win; but religion is part of my “self”; for that I have suffered a lot; but I don’t mind that.

    When you are out of this mood; and you want to have a friendly discussion; we may do that and others are also welcome to participate. Then you may choose any of the above items; but there will be no debate; there will be only discussion open to everybody.

    I like your blog.

    I only made my comments to on the thoughts expressed in the post of your blog, please.

  8. @Takis Konstantopoulos : 03/06/2014 at 8:58 am
    “Muslims (and Christians and Zoroastrians and Jews) refer to their god as if that god were male.” Unquote

    I can only speak for Islam/Quran/Muhammad.
    Quran mentions clearly that genders are not applicable on His personage:

    [112:1] In the name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful.
    [112:2] Say, ‘He is Allah, the One;
    [112:3] ‘Allah, the Independent and Besought of all.
    [112:4] ‘He begets not, nor is He begotten;
    [112:5] ‘And there is none like unto Him.’

  9. @ Takis & Earnest:
    Please don’t engage paarsurrey. He either responds to my comment without pretending to be a psychiatrist, or he may not post on my blog.
    My house, my rules.
    Let’s stay away from Godly genital issues — it is not pertinent to my post.

  10. @ paarsurrey,
    Again, you are wrong. Islam has myths, just like other religions.
    Both my definition of religion and Smart’s would label Islam as a religion.
    Reply to this or stop posting here.

  11. Please select one myth, not a list, which you find in Quran. Also please tell as to what you understand from “myth” , your own understanding of it ; not of the dictionary.

  12. Remember, paarsurrey, you started this issue with your outrageous claim that

    the Revealed Religion [Islam] has no myths in it.

    You did not define “myth”. So the burden is on you. But don’t do so in this post. Soon I will put up a post called “Myths in Islam” and probably one called “Myth Defined” Don’t post until I put up those posts. You can go and defend your favorite flavor of Islam there if you wish.

    I also have other Islam posts coming to — more sympathetic perhaps. You might be surprised.

  13. @Sabio Lantz : 03/06/2014 at 3:58 pm

    I think you won’t mind if I point out that the illustration you made titled “Ninian Smart’s model” has the dropper/marker second from left as “myths”; making total six components of religion; please see in the beginning of your post. Since you supported him in your post so you have to tell as to what you understand from a myth.

    The Truthful Religion has six Article of Faith, no doubt it:

    • Unity of God
    • His Angels
    • His Books
    • His Prophets
    • The Last Day
    • Divine Decree
    And five Pillars of Islam:

    • Kalima
    • Prayer
    • Fasting
    • Zakaat
    • Hajj

    “myths” are definitely not one of them.

    I like your blog but I don’t have necessarily/always to agree with whatever you write.

    Please be tolerant for a differing voice

    Thanks and regards

  14. Nope, paarsurrey, Islam still has myths AND articles of faith. You are wrong — it is not a matter of toleration of different voices. Smart’s definition fits your Islam, and Myth is one of them. We can argue particulars in another post but I shared a few above.

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