Early use of "religio" referred to having "responsibility in all areas of life"

John Morreall and Tamara Sonn (from 50 Great Myths About Religions):

Among the problems with the idea that all societies have religions is that it assumes, at the very least, that that things or aspects of life categorized as "religious" can be distinguished from those that fall outside that category. That it, it assumes that there are aspects of life that are not involved in religion. Actually, however, this compartmentalization of religion is not found in all societies today, and was not found anywhere before 1500. Many languages do not even have a word equivalent to our word "religion," nor is such a world found in either the Bible or the Qur'an. And no indigenous tribe in the Americas, for example, talks about "religion" as something distinct from the rest of life.

According to many historians, the concept 'religion' was first used in Europe in the 1500s as a way to distinguish between the domain of church authority and that of civil authorities. 'Religion' was contrasted with 'politics' by kings and emperors who wanted to command some of the loyalty and service that people devoted to bishops and the Pope. To build nation-states, for example, kings and emperors wanted a monopoly on the legitimate use of force or violence, and that required that church leaders give up their authority to create armies, as they had done in the Crusades. Eventually, kings and emperors demanded complete control over things involved in "this world" -- the secular world (from the Latin 'saeculum,' referring to things that exist in ordinary time). They wanted to create and enforce laws, collect taxes, and regulate trade, in addition to waging wars. They therefore wanted church officials to create and enforce laws, collect taxes, and regulate trade, in addition to waging wars. They therefore wanted church officials to limit their activities to those things dealing with the "other" world -- the eternal world. They wanted them to stay out of power politics and limit themselves to things like interpreting scripture, formulating doctrines, and conducting rituals. These would come to be characterized as "holy" or "sacred" and, for Christians, they became the proper sphere of religion.

But the word "religion" was not new in the 1500s. Ancient and medieval Western societies used the Latin term 'religio'; it referred to the virtue of carrying out all one's social obligations -- to family, neighbors, rulers, and God. To have religion was to be be responsible in all areas of life. When 'religio' came into English as 'religion' around 1200, the 'Oxford English Dictionary' tells us, it acquired a different meaning: "a state of life bound by monastic vows." Christians would then write of "the religions" of the Benedictine monks and the Franciscan and Dominican friars. (Cavanaugh, 2009:64) Now the meaning of the term was shifting again; to mean just those aspects of life governed by church authorities.

To maximize their power, kings and emperors crafted agreements like the 1555 Peace of Augsburg, which established the principle 'Cuius regio, eius religio' -- a Latin phrase meaning that a ruler's religion would be the religion of the people he ruled. Such attempts to take power away from church leaders were never completely successful, as church authorities held on to considerable "political" power for centuries. Until 1870 the Pope retained the power of an absolute monarch in the Papal States of the Italian peninsula -- an area twice the size of Massachusetts -- as he still does today in the much smaller state called Vatican City. But the new idea of religion as something distinct from 'politics' had taken root.

As European Christians colonized Asia And Africa, they applied "religion" with this new meaning to societies there and, in the process. created new concepts like "Hinduism," "Buddhism," "Confucianism," and "Taoism." They categorized these, along with hundreds of smaller traditions, as species within the genus 'religion,' just as lion ('panthera leo') and tiger ('panthera tigris') are species within the genus 'panthera.' As scholars have been saying since Wilfred Cantwell Smith's landmark 1962 book 'The Meaning and End of Religion,' imposing this European concept of religion on non-European cultures distorts what people in the rest of the world do and think. Before the British colonized India, for example, the people there had no concept "religion" and no concept "Hinduism." There was no word "Hindu" in classical India, and no one spoke of "Hinduism" until the 1800s.

Until the introduction of that term, Indians identified themselves by any number of criteria -- family, trade or profession, or social level, and perhaps the scriptures they followed or the particular deity or deities upon whose care they relied in various contexts or to whom they were devoted. But these diverse identities were united, each an integral part of life; no part existed in a separate sphere identified as "religious." Nor were the diverse traditions lumped together under the term "Hinduism" unified by sharing such common features of religion as a single founder, creed, theology, or institutional organization. Perhaps the most salient characteristic they shared -- besides the fact that they were from the Indian subcontinent God or gods, but that doesn't work for Theravada. Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, and other traditions not based on gods. (Theravada Buddhism is the earliest kind of Buddhism, the kind closest to what the Buddha taught. Theravada doesn't have gods, but later kinds of Buddhism. such as forms of Mahayana Buddhism, do have gods.) Vaguer definitions of "religion" as a relationship to "the transcendent" failed for similar reasons. Theravada Buddhism doesn't seem to be about anything beyond or outside the universe, and the same is true of Confucianism. The ancient Greeks had gods but did not think of them as transcendent; Zeus and Hera were physical beings who looked like men and women and lived nearby on Mount Olympus.

In the twentieth century, scholars have struggled to find inclusive ways to describe "religion." Well-known religion scholar Ninian Smart (1999) identified seven aspects of religions: social identity, ethics, myths, doctrines, emotional experiences, and things and places manifesting the sacred. Theologian Paul Tillich (d. 1965) tried to go beyond definitions of "religion" that were slanted toward Western monotheism by analyzing religion as based on people's "ultimate concern." Many scholars have followed him, but that analysis seems to cover too much rather than too little. For some people, art, music, wealth, or even football is their ultimate concern, but few scholars of religion would want these to count as religions. Other scholars have given up on using the term "religion," many under the influence of the great twentieth-century pioneer of Religious Studies, Wilfred Cantwell Smith, who described the modern concept "religion" as a purely Western construct that reduced a vast range of human experience to a "system of observances or beliefs." (Smith, 1962:29) Recognizing the vagueness and ambiguity of the term "religion," contemporary scholars generally use the term cautiously, often substituting the term "tradition" for "religion" when referring to religions other than Christianity. Some scholars have even suggested bypassing the denominational categories in favor of "modes of religiosity" or "modes of non-religiosity". Instead identifying people as Jews, Christians, or Muslims, for example, these scholars suggest identifying them as dogmatic, fundamentalist, or skeptical, regardless of their domination. This reflects the recognition that fundamentalist Jews, Christians, and Muslims, for instance, may not have more in common with each other than they do with their more skeptical or progressive co-religionists. This not likely to catch on, of course, given the complex psychological and social ramifications of religious identity, but it does demonstrate the importance of recognizing that "religion" is not a simple category.
--Myth #1. All Societies Have Religions
In Vedic literature it discusses the four progressive principles of religion pertaining to this world, namely dharma (rules governing social obligation and duty), artha (acquiring wealth), kama (fulfilling desire) and moksha (liberation). The idea is that one follows the other, or at least has the potential to. So if you enter the nitty gritty of it, you see there are varieties of dharma, kama and so forth .... and that in turn gives you varieties of religion. If religion, due to stagnantation, loses its continuity to the other stages, then it becomes more difficult to distinguish from acquiring wealth, fulfilling desire, etc to its own end

One coiuld say that secularism has influenced the contemporary portrayal of religion, but to suggest that secularism has established the category of religion seems a bit far fetched. Writers, such as Charles Taylor ("A Secular Age") actually take the complete opposite view .... namely that whereas previously people were religious without the opportunity or even choice to not be religious (on account of the saturation of religious ideology in the pre-renaissance world), secularism created a power/social vacuum that made choice a possibility. IOW secularism enabled a more powerful choice to be made in the name of religion, aside from the obvious choice of choosing religious nonparticipation.

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