World Religions

OPENING PRAYER:

O God, illuminate our hearts with light, our eyes with light and our ears with light; and let there be light on our right and light on our left. Let there be light above us and light below us; let there be light in front of us and light behind us. O God, make us a light.
– The Prophet’s Prayer – Traditional Islamic Prayer

JUDAISM:

Judaism encompasses the religion, philosophy, culture and way of life of the Jewish people. Judaism is an ancient monotheistic religion, with the Torah as its foundational text (part of the larger text known as the Tanakh or Hebrew Bible), and supplemental oral tradition represented by later texts such as the Midrash and the Talmud. Judaism is considered by religious Jews to be the expression of the covenantal relationship that God established with the Children of Israel. 

Judaism includes a wide corpus of texts, practices, theological positions, and forms of organization. Within Judaism there are a variety of movements, most of which emerged from Rabbinic Judaism, which holds that God revealed his laws and commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai in the form of both the Written and Oral Torah. Historically, this assertion was challenged by various groups such as the Sadducees and Hellenistic Judaism during the Second Temple period; the Karaites and Sabbateans during the early and later medieval period; and among segments of the modern non-Orthodox denominations.

Modern branches of Judaism such as Humanistic Judaism may be nontheistic. Today, the largest Jewish religious movements are Orthodox Judaism (Haredi Judaism and Modern Orthodox Judaism), Conservative Judaism and Reform Judaism. Major sources of difference between these groups are their approaches to Jewish law, the authority of the Rabbinic tradition, and the significance of the State of Israel. Orthodox Judaism maintains that the Torah and Jewish law are divine in origin, eternal and unalterable, and that they should be strictly followed. Conservative and Reform Judaism are more liberal, with Conservative Judaism generally promoting a more “traditional” interpretation of Judaism’s requirements than Reform Judaism. A typical Reform position is that Jewish law should be viewed as a set of general guidelines rather than as a set of restrictions and obligations whose observance is required of all Jews. Historically, special courts enforced Jewish law; today, these courts still exist but the practice of Judaism is mostly voluntary. Authority on theological and legal matters is not vested in any one person or organization, but in the sacred texts and rabbis and scholars who interpret them.

Judaism claims a historical continuity spanning more than 3,000 years. Judaism has its roots as a structured religion in the Middle East during the Bronze Age. Of the major world religions, Judaism is considered one of the oldest monotheistic religions. TheHebrews / Israelites were already referred to as “Jews” in later books of the Tanakh such as the Book of Esther, with the term Jews replacing the title “Children of Israel”. Judaism’s texts, traditions and values strongly influenced later Abrahamic religions, including Christianity, Islam and the Baha’i Faith. Many aspects of Judaism have also directly or indirectly influenced secular Western ethics and civil law.

REFLECTION: In the comments section post one thing that you noticed that is similar to Christianity and one new thing that you learned.

ISLAM:

Islam is a monotheistic and Abrahamic religion articulated by the Qur’an, a religious text considered by its adherents to be the verbatim word of God (Allāh), and, for the vast majority of adherents, by the teachings and normative example (called the sunnah, composed of accounts called hadith) of Muhammad (c. 570–8 June 632 CE), considered by most of them to be the last prophet of God. An adherent of Islam is called a Muslim (sometimes spelled “Moslem”).

Muslims believe that God is one and incomparable and that the purpose of existence is to worship God. Muslims also believe that Islam is the complete and universal version of a primordial faith that was revealed many times before through prophets including Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. Muslims maintain that the previous messages and revelations have been partially misinterpreted over time, they are nevertheless all obliged, according to the Qur’an, to treat the older scriptures with the utmost respect. As for the Qur’an, Muslims consider it to be both the unaltered and the final revelation of God.Religious concepts and practices include the five pillars of Islam, which are obligatory acts of worship, and following Islamic law, which touches on virtually every aspect of life and society, from topics ranging from banking and welfare, to family life and the environment.

The expansion of the Muslim world involved various caliphates and empires, traders and conversion to Islam by missionary activities. Most Muslims are of two denominations: Sunni (75–90%) or Shia (10–20%). About 13% of Muslims live in Indonesia, the largest Muslim-majority country, 25% in South Asia, 20% in the Middle East, and 15% in Sub-Saharan Africa. Sizable Muslim communities are also found in Europe, China, Russia, and the Americas. Converts and immigrant communities are found in almost every part of the world. With about 1.6 billion followers or 23% of the global population, Islam is the second-largest religion by number of adherents and, according to many sources, the fastest-growing major religion in the world.

REFLECTION: In the comments section post one thing that you noticed that is similar to Christianity and one new thing that you learned.

HINDUISM:

Hinduism is a religion, or a way of life, found most notably in India and Nepal. Although Hinduism contains a broad range of philosophies, it is a family of linked religious cultures bound by shared concepts, recognisable rituals, cosmology, shared textual resources, pilgrimage to sacred sites and the questioning of authority. It includes Shaivism, Vaishnavism and Shaktism among others, each with an interwoven diversity of beliefs and practices.

Hinduism has been called the “oldest religion” in the world, and some practitioners and scholars refer to it as Sanātana Dharma, “the eternal law” or the “eternal way” beyond human origins. Scholars regard Hinduism as a fusion or synthesis of various Indian cultures and traditions, with diverse roots and no founder. This “Hindu synthesis” started to develop between 500 BCE and 300 CE, after the Vedic times. Hinduism prescribes the eternal duties, such as honesty, refraining from injuring living beings (ahimsa), patience, forbearance, self-restraint, compassion, among others.

Prominent themes in Hindu beliefs include (but are not restricted to), the four Puruṣārthas, the proper goals or aims of human life, namely Dharma (ethics/duties), Artha (prosperity/work), Kama (emotions/sexuality) and Moksha (liberation/freedom); karma (action, intent and consequences), samsara (cycle of rebirth), and the various Yogas (paths or practices to attain moksha). Hindu practices include rituals such as puja (worship) and recitations, meditation, family-oriented rites of passage, annual festivals, and occasional pilgrimages. Some Hindus leave their social world and material possessions, then engage in lifelong Sannyasa (ascetic practices) to achieve moksha.

Hindu texts are classified into Shruti (“heard”) and Smriti (“remembered”). These texts discuss theology, philosophy, mythology, Vedicyajna, Yoga and agamic rituals and temple building, among other topics. Major scriptures include the Vedas and Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Agamas. With approximately one billion followers, Hinduism is the world’s third largest religion by population, and the majority religion in India and Nepal.

REFLECTION: In the comments section post one thing that you noticed that is similar to Christianity and one new thing that you learned.

BUDDHISM:

Buddhism is a nontheistic religion or philosophy that encompasses a variety of traditions, beliefs and spiritual practices largely based on teachings attributed to Gautama Buddha, commonly known as the Buddha (“the awakened one”). According to Buddhist tradition, the Buddha lived and taught in the eastern part of the Indian subcontinent sometime between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE. He is recognized by Buddhists as an awakened or enlightened teacher who shared his insights to help sentient beings end their suffering through the elimination of ignorance and craving. Buddhists believe that this is accomplished through the direct understanding and perception of dependent origination and the Four Noble Truths.

Two major extant branches of Buddhism are generally recognized by scholars: Theravada (“The School of the Elders”) and Mahayana (“The Great Vehicle”). Vajrayana, a body of teachings attributed to Indian siddhas, may be viewed as a third branch or merely a part of Mahayana. Theravada has a widespread following in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia. Mahayana which includes the traditions of Pure Land, Zen, Nichiren Buddhism, Shingon, and Tiantai (Tendai) is found throughout East Asia. Tibetan Buddhism, which preserves the Vajrayana teachings of eighth century India, is practiced in regions surrounding the Himalayas, Mongolia and Kalmykia. Buddhists number between an estimated 488 million and 535 million, making it one of the world’s major religions.

In Theravada Buddhism, the ultimate goal is the attainment of the sublime state of Nirvana, achieved by practicing the Noble Eightfold Path (also known as the Middle Way), thus escaping what is seen as a cycle of suffering and rebirth. Mahayana Buddhism instead aspires to Buddhahood via the bodhisattva path, a state wherein one remains in this cycle to help other beings reach awakening. Tibetan Buddhism aspires to Buddhahood or rainbow body.

Buddhist schools vary on the exact nature of the path to liberation, the importance and canonicity of various teachings and scriptures, and especially their respective practices. A consistent aspect of all Buddhist schools is the lack of any need to believe in a creator deity, or need even to address the question of such a deity at all. The foundations of Buddhist tradition and practice are the Three Jewels: the Buddha, the Dharma (the teachings), and the Sangha (the community). Taking “refuge in the triple gem” has traditionally been a declaration and commitment to being on the Buddhist path, and in general distinguishes a Buddhist from a non-Buddhist. Other practices may include following ethical precepts; support of the monastic community; renouncing conventional living and becoming a monastic; the development of mindfulness and practice of meditation; cultivation of higher wisdom and discernment; study of scriptures; devotional practices; ceremonies; and in the Mahayana tradition, invocation of buddhas and bodhisattvas.

REFLECTION: In the comments section post one thing that you noticed that is similar to Christianity and one new thing that you learned.

CLOSING PRAYER:

For us, this eternal teaching is true and enduring, beloved and precious, awesome,
good and beautiful. The God of the universe is truly our Sovereign, the Rock of Jacob,
our Protecting Shield. God endures through all generations; God’s name persists;
God’s throne is firm; God’s sovereignty and faithfulness last forever. God’s words live
and endure, faithful and precious for eternity. From Egypt You redeemed us, freeing us from bondage. For that, Your beloved sang praise, exalting You. Your dear ones offered hymns, songs, praise, blessing, and thanksgiving to You as Sovereign, the living and enduring God. High and exalted, great and awesome, God ever humbles the proud, raises the lowly, frees the imprisoned, redeems the afflicted, helps the oppressed, answering our people when we cry out. Praise to God Most High; blessed is God and deserving of blessing!
– Traditional Jewish Prayer

WANT TO LEARN MORE?

Here are some introductory videos on Sikhism, Sufism, & Jainism…