Each “world religion” is actually a classification of multiple distinct movements, sects, divisions and denominations and none are single, unified, monolithic organizations. The diversity within these groupings varies. Hinduism, for example, is often described as a collection of very different traditions bound by a geographical and national identity. So broad is this religious “umbrella” that it includes polytheistic, tri-theistic, monotheistic, pantheistic, non-theistic and atheistic traditions.

The Babi & Baha’i traditions, on the other hand, are probably the most unified of the classical world religions. They are almost entirely contained within one very organized, hierarchical denomination, the Bahai Faith, based in Haifa, Israel. But there are small schismatic groups, such as the Arizona-based “Orthodox” Baha’is, Azali Babis (probably defunct) and four or five others.

All adherents of a single religion usually share at least some commonalities, such as a common historical heritage and some shared doctrines or practices. But these rules can’t be pushed too far before being overburdened by exceptions. A listing of doctrinally and organizationally meaningful divisions or denominational “branches” (such as Catholic, Eastern/Orthodox Christian, Sunni Islam, Shiite Islam, Evangelical Christian, Mahayana Buddhism, Theravada Buddhism, etc.) would clearly be useful, but that is the subject of a different list: Major Branches of Major World Religions.

From a sociological and historical perspective, most religions have arisen from within existing religious frameworks: Christianity from Judaism, Buddhism from Hinduism, Babi & Baha’i faiths from Islam, etc. For the purposes of defining a religion we need to have some cutoff point. Should Sikhism be listed as a Hindu sect (as in many older textbooks), or as a world religion in its own right?

To manage this question we have chosen to use the most commonly-recognized divisions in comparative religion texts. These definitions are primarily sociological and historical, not doctrinal or theological and have been presented here in order of the number of world wide adherents (with kind permission from http://www.adherents.com)

Following is a link to a calendar of religious festivals from different faith paths and spiritual traditions: http://www.reonline.org.uk/supporting/festivals-calendar/

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9 responses »

  1. If you are interested in some new ideas on the interfaith movement and the Trinity, please check out my website at http://www.religiouspluralism.ca, and give me your thoughts on improving content and presentation.

    My thesis is that an abstract version of the Trinity could be Christianity’s answer to the world need for a framework of pluralistic theology.

    In a constructive worldview: east, west, and far-east religions present a threefold understanding of One God manifest primarily in Muslim and Hebrew intuition of the Deity Absolute, Christian and Krishnan Hindu conception of the Universe Absolute Supreme Being; and Shaivite Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist apprehension of the Destroyer (meaning also Consummator), Unconditioned Absolute, or Spirit of All That Is and is not. Together with their variations and combinations in other major religions, these religious ideas reflect and express our collective understanding of God, in an expanded concept of the Holy Trinity.

    The Trinity Absolute is portrayed in the logic of world religions, as follows:

    1. Muslims and Jews may be said to worship only the first person of the Trinity, i.e. the existential Deity Absolute Creator, known as Allah or Yhwh, Abba or Father (as Jesus called him), Brahma, and other names; represented by Gabriel (Executive Archangel), Muhammad and Moses (mighty messenger prophets), and others.

    2. Christians and Krishnan Hindus may be said to worship the first person through a second person, i.e. the experiential Universe or “Universal” Absolute Supreme Being (Allsoul or Supersoul), called Son/Christ or Vishnu/Krishna; represented by Michael (Supreme Archangel), Jesus (teacher and savior of souls), and others. The Allsoul is that gestalt of personal human consciousness, which we expect will be the “body of Christ” (Mahdi, Messiah, Kalki or Maitreya) in the second coming – personified in history by Muhammad, Jesus Christ, Buddha (9th incarnation of Vishnu), and others.

    3. Shaivite Hindus, Buddhists, and Confucian-Taoists seem to venerate the synthesis of the first and second persons in a third person or appearance, ie. the Destiny Consummator of ultimate reality – unqualified Nirvana consciousness – associative Tao of All That Is – the absonite* Unconditioned Absolute Spirit “Synthesis of Source and Synthesis,”** who/which is logically expected to be Allah/Abba/Brahma glorified in and by union with the Supreme Being – represented in religions by Gabriel, Michael, and other Archangels, Mahadevas, Spiritpersons, etc., who may be included within the mysterious Holy Ghost.

    Other strains of religion seem to be psychological variations on the third person, or possibly combinations and permutations of the members of the Trinity – all just different personality perspectives on the Same God. Taken together, the world’s major religions give us at least two insights into the first person of this thrice-personal One God, two perceptions of the second person, and at least three glimpses of the third.

    * The ever-mysterious Holy Ghost or Unconditioned Spirit is neither absolutely infinite, nor absolutely finite, but absonite; meaning neither existential nor experiential, but their ultimate consummation; neither fully ideal nor totally real, but a middle path and grand synthesis of the superconscious and the conscious, in consciousness of the unconscious.

    ** This conception is so strong because somewhat as the Absonite Spirit is a synthesis of the spirit of the Absolute and the spirit of the Supreme, so it would seem that the evolving Supreme Being may himself also be a synthesis or “gestalt” of humanity with itself, in an Almighty Universe Allperson or Supersoul. Thus ultimately, the Absonite is their Unconditioned Absolute Coordinate Identity – the Spirit Synthesis of Source and Synthesis – the metaphysical Destiny Consummator of All That Is.

    After the Hindu and Buddhist conceptions, perhaps the most subtle expression and comprehensive symbol of the 3rd person of the Trinity is the Tao; involving the harmonization of “yin and yang” (great opposing ideas indentified in positive and negative, or otherwise contrasting terms). In the Taoist icon of yin and yang, the s-shaped line separating the black and white spaces may be interpreted as the Unconditioned “Middle Path” between condition and conditioned opposites, while the circle that encompasses them both suggests their synthesis in the Spirit of the “Great Way” or Tao of All That Is.

    If the small black and white circles or “eyes” are taken to represent a nucleus of truth in both yin and yang, then the metaphysics of this symbolism fits nicely with the paradoxical mystery of the Christian Holy Ghost; who is neither the spirit of the one nor the spirit of the other, but the Glorified Spirit proceeding from both, taken altogether – as one entity – personally distinct from his co-equal, co-eternal and fully coordinate co-sponsors, who differentiate from him, as well as mingle and meld in him.

    For more details, please see: http://www.religiouspluralism.ca

    Samuel Stuart Maynes

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    • For me, the true trinity would be called ‘Goddessence’ – (a term quoted in Joan Borysenko’s ‘A Woman’s Journey to God’) – it perfectly captures the 3 qualities I feel necessary for a truly inclusive, pluralistic understanding of the Divine: God, Goddess, Essence. Because until we can appreciate that the feminine is as much a part of the Divine as the masculine, we are diminishing the Divine in a way which serves a very tiring and outdated gender bias.

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  2. For those of us from interfaith families building intentional interfaith family communities, there is a “fourth definition” (which for us, was the first definition) of interfaith. As people who are intermarried and thus live fulltime in interfaith engagement, or are born into a state of interfaithness by virtue of having parents from two religions, we define interfaith as including the possibility of drawing equally on two (or more) religions. Traditionally, there have been a lot of arguments about why this cannot be done. But we’re doing it, and find it has specific benefits. The idea of “always in addition to” works for me, but it is in addition to my two family religions, not in addition to a singular religion. We realize these ideas challenge the safe “dialogue” rules whereby everyone returns from encounter with the “other” to a singular religion. But we feel that people from interfaith families cultivate strong skills in interfaith communication and should be included in dialogue based on this expertise, rather than excluded because we straddle traditional boundaries.

    This website is tremendously helpful in describing the various interfaith seminaries. Thus far, there has not been much interaction between the interfaith families movement and the “interfaith movement” or interfaith seminaries. In my experience, many people who are drawn to interfaith dialogue are inspired by their own experiences with intermarriage (their own, or their parents, or somewhere in their extended family or close friendships). Yet, they may feel they must downplay this source of inspiration, due to fear of “syncretism.” Going forward, interfaith marriage is on the rise in many religious communities, and we would like to see the perspective of interfaith families represented more fully in the “interfaith movement.”

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    • Dear Susan, thank you for your thoughtful comments and new perspective. We had indeed left this approach to interfaith out of the discussion and I can only wonder why.

      One of the reasons may be that it is somehow taken for granted but, of course, that’s not good enough. To be honest, aside from living in spiritually based (“hippie”) communities in the 1970’s and 80’s, I haven’t had any exposure to intentional interfaith family communities and so I’m very excited to know of their existence. We’d love for you to post something about them, or perhaps write a piece for our Guest Writers’ section of this blog.

      Regarding what you call the “safe” definition of interfaith dialogue where everyone returns from an encounter with the “other” to a singular religion, I may have overstated this in my comments. My experience is that any real encounter with the “other” has a catalytic effect on each person/group and they return to their “tribe” transformed after an initiation of profound and sometimes, terrifying beauty. Do this often enough and of course, the spiritual tradition of one’s upbringing can no longer satisfy the soul because once it has expanded to embrace another spiritual reality, it can’t contract again.

      As to the fear of being criticized for syncretism, I’m surprised at this – though the same word is used to describe the form of interfaith practiced by some Interfaith Ministers who draw their inspiration from many religious sources, teachings and scriptures. Some people believe that by picking only part of a religious or spiritual tradition or practice, Interfaith Ministers are not subject to the same rigor that a committed practitioner of one faith tradition is subject to. This can sometimes be true and is one of the reasons why most Interfaith Ministers retain their existing faith tradition and “add” to their experience of that through study and contemplation of others – so that they continue the disciplines of their own tradition, many of which, as you’d know, have been developed and refined over centuries, creating an historical precedent and rich tradition, as well as firm guidelines for development.

      By coincidence or synchronicity, a few days before I received your comments, I posted the most beautiful vimeo of an interfaith wedding on our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/pages/Interfaithnet/322212391149007 – “Otis and Nitasha: wedding highlights” (5 November).

      Blessed be!!

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  3. Thank you for this very comprehensive response. I am happy with that. I also welcome others’ thoughts.

    One additional concept which I think is important is that the concept of interfaith is in addition to ones existing faith and not a replacement. It doesn’t seek to be a new religion, but can include worship formats that includes elements from a variety of faiths. It can also cater for people without any earlier faith, of course.

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    • Yes, Peter, quite right. I meant to mention that Interfaith is also inclusive of people who don’t have an existing faith path. That’s why some are introducing the term “interspiritual” but I think that word doesn’t have much meaning. I prefer “inclusive” ie, of everybody.

      Regarding interfaith not being a replacement of an existing faith tradition, yes. The motto of the seminary where I studied was “Never instead of, always in addition to.”

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  4. My name is Peter Warren. I am a pluralist living in Sydney. I like the idea of your website and association.

    I was looking here for what interfaith looks like, e.g. what are the guiding principals that an interfaith practitioner would adhere to? Are any sects or beliefs unacceptable to interfaith? What if any, is the interfaith position regarding e.g. homosexuality, war and the like?

    Are there any published definitions of interfaith?

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    • Hi Peter, thanks for your comment. I’ll respond the best I can but perhaps others in our group might respond also…

      Interfaith probably has as many definitions as people using the term, however there are 3 main ways it’s used – the first is to describe a kind of dialogue between individuals from different faith traditions, ie “interfaith dialogue”. In that case, the people involved attempt to understand another’s faith tradition (and their experience of that faith tradition) to come to some common ground, through dialogue. Most people who engage in interfaith dialogue say that there’s an unexpected benefit in that they find that their experience of their own faith tradition is deepened through the process.

      The second way the term is used is to describe the movement based on interfaith dialogue, the “interfaith movement”, in other words, an active commitment by leaders of faith traditions to engage with other traditions in an organised way – often there’s a particular program or initiative that becomes the vehicle for the process, such as within the United Nations, or individual governments or government bodies.

      The third way it’s used is a bit more complex. Most of the people on this blog site are called “Interfaith Ministers” because they’ve studied at an interfaith seminary or similar institution (some universities have degrees in divinity, for example, which encompass different faith traditions). There are quite a few interfaith seminaries around the world now – in UK, Canada and United States. Like any seminary, ordination as a Minister is the outcome, but the core curriculum is what’s commonly called comparative religion, ie all the major faiths are studied and compared, as well as units in pastoral care, counselling, psychology, ceremonies and rites, but it’s a process which is both academic and experiential. The curriculum also includes a lot of reflective processes where the student examines her own value systems, ethical dilemmas, responses to the academic material etc and these processes often confront, and usually deepen the student’s experience of their own faith tradition. Interfaith seminary students are Hindu, Zen Buddhist, Christian, Moslem, Tibetan Buddhist, Sufi…. on and on… and students don’t change their faith, but take their interfaith seminary training back into their communities.

      In my opinion though, the interfaith seminary training experience leads to an experience of the Divine through different pathways, so that there’s a realization that there isn’t only one way to experience the Divine, God, Allah and all the other names and names of divine aspects – even more, that there’s an experience which is shared by all faith traditions at their core. I guess you’d say this is a mystical experience, of oneness, love and often insight into the nature of human existence which was felt by the person who started the faith tradition. In this way, interfaith becomes an experience of the Divine in its own right – experience between the faiths – also known as the “perennial philosophy” or “wisdom tradition” often passed on between teacher and student and based on mystical initiations. Without discounting the possibility of syncretism sneaking in, this latter use of the term is where the delight is for me – but it’s also where the controversy is for many people.

      So in summary, all the people who are Interfaith Ministers share a Code of Ethics based on the principles of integrity, respect, diversity, inclusiveness, understanding, a commitment to self-exploration, etc etc which was developed by the interfaith seminary where they trained and we are in the process of developing organisations in Asia Pacific based on these principles. Some Interfaith Ministers choose to become congregational ministers, some chaplains, some healers, counsellors, some marriage or funeral celebrants – some continue their secular lives but with a new layer of meaning…

      I’ll hand over to others to comment.

      peace always

      Liked by 1 person

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