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Religious behaviour

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Template:Merge-multiple The religions of the world consist of religious images and religious behaviour. The religious images of the religions from the past and of present day religions, like gods, ghosts and worshipped ancestors, concepts of guilt, dogmatic teachings and ideas of the hereafter, are generally quite well known. Religious behaviour on the other hand, the actions which believers of a specific religion do or do not do, is often not that well known. For an understanding of religion however, religious behaviour is at least as important as the religious images.

Religious behaviour consists of actions and avoidances

Religious behaviour consists of both religious actions and religious avoidances. Religious actions are also called 'ritual'. Religious avoidances are called taboos or ritual prohibitions.

Religious actions

The two best known religious actions are prayer and sacrifice. The most general religious action is prayer. All religious people pray. It can be done quietly by a person all alone, but people can also pray to their gods in groups with music, songs etcetera. Sacrifice is also a widely spread religious action. Prayer and sacrifice often form the basis of other, more complicated religious actions like pilgrimage, processions, consulting an oracle (see also below). There are many rituals connected to a certain purpose, like initiation rituals, cleansing rituals and rituals in preparation of an important happening or task. Among these are also the so-called rituals of transition, which occur in important moments of the human life cycle, like birth, adulthood/marriage, sickness and death. A special religious action is possession and ecstasy, in which man has the experience of being possessed by a god or ghost. In many religious actions religious specialists like priests, vicars, rabbis, imams and pandits are involved.

Religious avoidances

A religious avoidance is when a person desists from something or from some action for religious reasons. It can be food or drink that one does not touch because of one's religion for some time (fast). This abstinence can also be for a longer time. Some people do not have sex their whole lives (celibacy). Or one avoids to come into contact with blood, (parts of) dead animals etcetera. Well known examples are: Jews and Muslims do not eat pork; celibacy of Christian priests (Roman Catholic church); the purity rules of Hinduism and Judaism. These avoidances, formerly also called 'taboos', are often about food and drink. But there are countless avoidances in the world of religion. i.e. in connection with

  • food and drink. The kind of food and drink; the preparation; the way of eating and drinking
  • sexuality, fertility, blood, menstruation, pregnancy, birth and early childhood
  • clothes, hair and appearance
  • speech; some words are forbidden (cursing)
  • dying, death and mourning

Religious avoidances are often not easily recognisable as (part of) religious behaviour. When asked, the believers often do not motivate this kind of behaviour explicitly as religious. They often do not refer to their religious images (gods a.o.), but say the avoidance is because of health reasons, because of ethical reasons, or because it is hygienic. It is analysis that reveals the religious nature of this important part of religious behaviour.

Religious actions and religious avoidances can be combined and thus appear connected. One abstains for example from food or sex in preparation for an important ritual. That is why these religious avoidances are also called 'ritual avoidances'.

The study of religious behaviour

Religious behaviour is seldom studied for it self. When it is given attention at all, it is usually studied as an illustration of the religious images, like in comparative religion and cultural anthropology, or as part of the study of man in the social sciences.

See also

All the works of Th. P. van Baaren

In English: Th. P. van Baaren and H. J. W. Drijvers (Hrsg.): Religion, Culture and Methodology. Papers of the Groningen Working-group for the Study of Fundamental Problems and Methods of Science of Religion. - The Hague/Paris: Mouton & Co. (1973). 171 pp. (Religion and Reason. Method and Theory in the Study and Interpretation of Religion, Bd. 8)

Online resource

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