Religions, in this approach (which is just one of the many possible ways of representing them), are seen as fundamentally symbol systems. They are attempts to make sense of the world; to create a coherent world view; and to give direction and meaning to life through the creation of symbols that embody ultimate meaning.
This list of aspects is provided for Unit 1
Students in Units 2, 3 & 4 should use the more advanced descriptions offered here. ASPECTS OF RELIGIOUS TRADITIONS - ADVANCED
Texts (Sacred Texts and other Writing)
Texts are normally written (scriptures) but may be oral in pre-literate societies, or even non-verbal (picture or dance). What distinguishes them from other forms of aural or visual expression is their fixed form. In the case of the sacred texts of a religious tradition tampering with them in any way is regarded as sacrilege and often severley punished. Texts may be myth (which expresses beliefs through symbolic and archetypal actions), history (which purports to describe real events as they actually happened), or legend (which embellishes real people and events to emphasise their importance). Other form of sacred texts are law codes, prayers and rituals or liturgies, and rules for special groups (e.g. priests or monks).
Ritual is the repetition of an ordered special kind of behaviour, particularly relating to the religious beliefs of the community.
Individual Spiritual Experience
Individual Spiritual experience consists both of those personal experiences that contribute to a growth in understanding, acceptance and commitment to the tradition; and those that lead to a modification or even rejection of some or all of the beliefs of the tradition. It may result in a 'conversion' to a deeper level of faith or one away from the tradition either to another tradition or to agnosticism (fundamental uncertainty) or atheism (a total abandonment of belief).
A mature commitment to the tradition, however, requires both a knowledge and an understanding of the main beliefs, and a critical assessments of them resulting in a personal assent. The beliefs may be expressed in codes (creeds, commandments, laws or rules), in authoritative statements, or in more symbolic form in myths and rituals. They provide a reference point to which the individual refers in decision making and in articulating his or her faith to others.
Beliefs are at the heart of these symbol systems. That is not to say that the individual is incorporated into the system in the first place through beliefs. Most will grow up within the religious tradition and will absorb it in the same way and at the same time as they learn the language, behaviour patterns and general culture of their society. They will learn, by doing, the rules (ethics) of living in their community, and, by hearing, the stories and texts of their tradition. The repetition of ritual, and individual religious experience will strengthen (or just possibly weaken) their commitment to the tradition. They will learn, probably more by simple exposure to them than through formal education, the central symbols of their religion.
Ethics (Ethical principles and oral or written codes of behaviour)
Ethics is, the codification of the rules for behaviour, the way we make decisions about right and wrong, and the values that underlie such decision-making.
Symbols are objects or representations that point beyond themselves, beyond their surface meaning, to a deeper (in this case religious) meaning. They may be purely conventional signs, where we agree to let a specific form stand for something else; or they may be a part of our common human experience, natural symbols.
Sacred Stories (Myths and Other Stories)
Stories are the most natural human way of understanding and expressing our identity. They range from the great myths of the tradition about the beginning and purpose of all things; through the stories of the progress of our people through history; to our individual beliefs.
Social Structure refers to the institutional aspects of the tradition, its internal organisation, leadership and varied social roles; as well as to its relationship to the wider society. In a small group and tribal societies, of course, there may be no 'wider society', and the social structures of the group and of the religious tradition will then be one and the same. In such societies there are usually no priests, but the roles of religious leader and master of ceremonies are performed by chiefs and heads of families. Beliefs play a big role here too since the hierarchies of the tradition reflect beliefs about how the truth came to this people (revelation, prophetic inspiration etc.) and how they were instructed to preserve and propagate it.
Spaces, places, times and artifacts
The understandings that can be applied to time and particular spaces by religious traditions. Religious groups have particular understandings about history as well as about the annual timings of festivals, feasts and fasts that make up the rhythm of life. There are holy places, both man made and occurring in the natural world, which can speak to adherents of greater unseen realities. There are also particular objects that hold special significant and meaning within every faith system.
Adapted from My Story, Our Stories and VCE Religion and Society (2017–2021)
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
The aspects or elements of Religious Traditions can be used as a tool for analysis of religion traditions. They assist in understanding the complexities of religion.
The history of particular religions can be analysed using the aspects. Due to a changes in circumstances, aspects can be refocused, redeveloped or reinterpreted. Aspects can alter over time.
While the study of the aspects is a helpful approach for the study of religion it is not really how religious experience and spirituality is known by adherents of the tradition.
Different aspects of the tradition may be emphasised by individuals within the tradition. A whole tradition may emphasis some aspects in their self-understanding or even deny the need of one or more aspect. e.g. Islam and its prohibition on religious art.
Identify the 9 aspects within a social group, family group or some other secular group that you belong to.
Which of these have particular significance?
How do they inter-relate to each other?