Compare ancient religions’ burial rituals, views on death, and views on the afterlife

Week 2: Exploring the Three Pillars of Analysis: Part 1—Beliefs

They totally differ from us in religion, as we believe nothing in which they believe, and vice versa. On the whole, there is very little disputing about theological topics among themselves; at the utmost, they fight with words, but they will never stake their soul or body or their property on religious controversy.
—R.C. Zaehner

For many people, the idea of “religion” is synonymous with the idea of “beliefs.” Adherents of a given religious tradition tend to share the same or similar explanations about the world, how it was created, why we are here, and what happens when we die. For people raised within a culture that does not consider “religious” concepts, it may not even occur to an individual to ponder the answers to these questions. But to the outside observer, the way people within a given sacred canopy answer these questions can shed light on how the religious tradition informs and shapes social structure, government, or other aspects of society. For traditions within more pluralistic societies, contradictory belief systems may cause individuals to come into conflict with one another.

Learning Objectives

Students will:
  • Compare ancient religions’ burial rituals, views on death, and views on the afterlife
  • Analyze how ancient religions’ burial rituals, views on death, and views on the afterlife are reflected in culture
  • Evaluate how religious spaces shape and are shaped by religious belief systems
  • Select a religious tradition for analysis in the context of a globalized culture

Photo Credit: [Dave and Les Jacobs]/[Blend Images]/Getty Images

Learning Resources

Required Readings

Kurtz, L. R. (2016). Gods in the global village: The world’s religions in sociological perspective (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Chapter 1, “Religious Life in the Global Village”“Three Pillars of Analysis: Beliefs, Rituals, and Institutions” (pp. 23–30)
Chapter 2, “A Sociological Tour: Turning East”“Hinduism, or Sanatana Dharma” (pp. 53–62)
“Buddhism” (pp. 69–74)
“Taoism” (pp. 80–83)
Chapter 3, “The Tour: Western Religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam”“Judaism” (pp. 93–99)
“Christianity” (pp. 101–106)
“Islam” (pp. 110–116)
Chapter 4, “Indigenous Religions”“The Veneration of Ancestors” (pp. 140–141)