Two Dimensions of Religion: Exploration on Practical and Material Dimension

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There is one obvious purpose that all dimensions of religion has – to unify the believers. The materials and practices associated with religions are highly dynamic. While these are some of the dimensions that every religion has, there is a tendency that the way they are being followed and perceived by the believers varied. Thoughts of believers as a group always go hand in hand with the thoughts of believers as individuals.If these two are for the given purpose, we need to see whether these are capable of unifying the people on the surface of religion or are they really valid manifestation of unification of the subtle essence of religions which are the thoughts, faith, and belief and their interdependence.The study of religion, with the help of Ninian Smart’s initiative to innovate the approach in the book Dimensions of the Sacred, becomes easier.

It allowed the scholars to break down the variables and proceed with the desired analysis style. The initiative included the study of some important and key considerations in approaching any religion. It is for the purposes of preserving the essence of its functions in the community where the religion is highly cultured. The innovation made sure that no belief system will be violated for it can be those which are primitive and for it can also be indigenous (Kay and Francis 276).

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.The characterizations of religions are being described with balanced analysis which required the study of ideas that are being used and practices being done by the particular group of believers. Smart’s initiative led to the foundation of seven dimensions of religion. Two of them are highly significant for their commonalty, contrast, and interdependence.

First is the dimension of Practical and Ritual while the second thing that we will discuss is the latest dimension added to the list which is Material (Kay and Francis 276).As we can see by exploring the studies conducted on all religions, both dimensions are being used and analyzed in a way that significant details of any religion will serve as a guide. This guide serves to give a generalization on all religion. Smart’s attempt is apparently to relate the way primitive people think about variables like the idea of Holy being and spirits with the way modern people think about it.

The global perspective then will be considered with high regards.The practical dimension or the ritual dimensions of religion deals with the ceremonial part associated with the belief. It pertains to the rites, rituals of initiation, periodical events, and festivities. It covered the frontline activities of religion.

Being seen in the alien point of view, this dimension has the ability to distinguish one religion from another in an instant. Added to these examples, there are some other practice like meditation that are not considered as rite although the gist of it showed similarities thus making them included here. Activities like pilgrimages, sacrifices and healing activities which are related to some degree of devotion are also included (Smart 10).

When it comes to specific practices, this dimension can be seen in all religions that exist. Celebrations are being done periodically. Examples of festivals around the world are the following: Divali, Christmas, and Edi-ul-Fitr. All of them are associated with religions. If Christians have Eucharist, Muslims have their daily prayers.

These fall under the category of worshiping acts. Rituals can be a little confusing as a terminology. In our modern times, the word was being used for similar yet misleading if not different meaning making its idea vague. Though it is misleading, one thing to be remembered about rituals is that it is always serving for the purpose of supplying, sustaining, and deepening of a practitioner’s faith (Bastide 74-75).

As applied in the primitive setting, the rituals are being part of the religion. In a way, these are a huge part of their culture and set them apart from the other. Primitive communities used them as sacred practices for events like birth and death. They are also doing chanting, dances and other performances as part of the ceremonies.

Thanks giving and other forms of socio-economic activities are being done as well (Radin 289).With some restriction, Paul Radin (1937), in his classic yet remained timely book entitled Primitive Religion Its Nature and Origin, used the term drama in describing this usage of rituals in the ceremonies conducted by primitive tribes. He saw the relationship between the myth origin and the ceremony with this reference (289-290).What made the ceremony a little dramatic is the fact that some of its rituals are being done for the purpose of different myth origin.

This concept of drama though is restricted if there is no public exhibit of the activity in which the members followed some criteria to be accepted. The other instance may be for those rituals which are for the purpose of reenacting some events that are part of the myth. Since done by actors who are portraying a character in the myth, drama became an appropriate term. Thus, Radin separated the idea of rituals drama and the idea of rituals.

One key term he used is the idea of tribal initiation rites which defined a drama depending on its relationship to their relationship. It can be transparent or not (289-290).With the same or at least similar point of view, let us now use another set of religion to see how the same dimension was being applied. Established in 1900’s, Scientology has remained to be one of the most controversial religions.

In some way, there is even confusion whether this is actually religion or not. What needs to be used here then is the perspective of anyone who made any related study and the result is affirmative that Scientology is a religion after all. For this, one study can be part of the discussion.

The work of Alan W. Black entitled ‘Is Scientology a religion’ resulted to affirmation to the question it brought upfront and boldly in its title. Black attempted to apply the knowledge about the dimensions of religion in his study.With the discussion of Radin, it is understood that there is an important role played by the primary source of the idea. With the case of primitive religion, it is the myth in which they placed most of their focus and references.

When it comes to the religion of Scientology, the prime source of their ideas came from the works of L. Ron Hubbard, the one who initiated the group of its practitioners.The thoughts can be rooted to the book of Dianetics which explained all of their core thoughts. The ideas stressed the idea of survival as the main priority of any individual.

Hubbard in his book ‘Dianetics’ also stressed the idea of survival as something that has degree and in some extent it was believed to make any person behave irrationally. Mental aberration is also being blamed for the existence of the mind’s reactive part which stores all memories whether they are negative or positive.The discussion of Alan Black about the practical and ritual dimension of this religion related the idea of Dianetics with the practice of Auditing in the attempt to be a Clear. The Clear pertains to the end point of a person in the process.

Being the source of all the practices, these thoughts of Dianetics dictated the procedural aspect of this religion. One of the procedures that they practice is Auditing. Here, two persons are going to have conversation in the attempt to clear the mind of one of them. There is a collection of experiences called engram which needs to be cleared or remove the imprints of the past in order to have a life lived to its fullest. Also in the report, two roles are required to be performed. First, the auditor, which is usually the minister of the church. Second is the preclear, which literally means prior to being a Clear. The procedure includes series of narration about the experiences of the pre-clear.

The auditor will listen to the preclear and will try to get further information about the experience until the pre-clear can no longer add anything. At the end, it will be for the preclear to be able to face that with all the courage instead of concealing it in the reactive mind. It is believed that this helps to make the person more dynamic in multiple aspects of life. Moreover, this practice concludes that this dimension is being applied in this religion.

So, is Scientology just about this practice of Auditory and is solely reliant on their activities that are individually based? What about the aspect of religion as a community?Black also noted the practices that are involved for the compliance to L. Ron Hubbard’s later works. Though based with the ideas that were used in Dianetics, Hubbard explored specified areas in the life of people. There is this stage which is going beyond the state of a clear.

So, if someone wants to be more advance, they may take the procedure which is dubbed as ‘Training’. All the axioms and applied principles by L. Ron Hubbard will be tackled here. In the analogy used by Black, since this practice is solely for Scientology, he mentioned that this is similar to the spiritual exercises of other religions.

With this exploration of the ritual and practical dimension of religion, both primitive and modern religions have them essentially. This dimension provided as a whole a distinctive characteristic of the group. It is proven that across boundaries of time, culture and geographical space, this dimension is an innate factor. Thus, more scholars will benefit from sticking with the procedure shared by Smart.

With the work of Alan Black, the utility of this track of study showed its worth.In line to this dimension, the last dimension that was introduced by Smart can also be helpful in the categorization of religions. This referred to the material dimension which deals with the images, relics and scriptures that are being used by the believers (Kay and Francis 276). This aimed to provide figures that can specify one religion from another by making them particularly distinguished.

These may be objects that represent characters from a myth or symbols referring to the divinity or a source of deep thought processes. In this case, there is a challenge in the part of Alan W. Black since scientology is known to be more on empirical thoughts. Which materials support his argument?Before looking at how Black argued on this matter, there must be a reference to be used like what was used in the recent exploration.

Since it is safe to say that religions, from the animistic type to highly complex religion such as the religion of Mayan tribe and to the catholic religion, we can therefore use this particular set of religions as a reference for the exploration of the materials dimension.The material dimension was apparent in terms of the artistic applications of the ideas that related to religions. The structures and buildings of Catholic Church, for example, manifest the application of creativity and artistry. That is the same with the aesthetic construction of Mosques of Muslims.

The people that are involved in religious activities considered these as concrete or physical expressions (Smart 11).In the same book of Radin, he provided the ideas that relate totems with the societies’ thought processes. Totems in Australia are thought to have spirits, or are thought to be actually spirits in physical form, but are not. This is called animism.

Mythologies are the key source of this belief paired with the conception of spirits among animals that are considered sacred. Australia is rich with mythology which made it clear that the source of this belief can be in a way inspired by those myths (210).Totem is a part of the material dimension in this ancient religion. Where did this come from exactly? It is thought and argued that this can be a mythical ancestors or a hero in the myth.

It can be either one of those two or fusion of both. The dubbed “totemic” society made its foundation through passing the ideas of myths down to lineages then, have it moderated and evolved. This made this kind of society become dynamic that Radin used to call it as a complex cult organization (211).

In the other work of Ninian Smart entitled The World’s Religions, the explanation is referring to the degree of the extent with the utility of this expression. It was described as elaborate. It can be an important item that transcends all the representation of spirit form or God forms. In some way, this is being linked to idolatry. The way this is approached by different persons also has varieties (21).

Added by Smart, some natural locations and spots are also considered. Examples are Mount Sinai and Ayers rock. This is especially when they are regarded as sacred or a place specified for holy or religious activities (21).When it comes to the religion of scientology, there remained no violation as per this dimension is concerned.

In the report of Alan W. Black, he has given the symbols that are used by Scientologists to represent their religion. One symbol is the letter ‘S’ that is intertwined with two triangles that overlapped with each other. As per Black’s report, all six corners of the triangles if we add them up stands for Knowledge, Responsibility, and Control then Affinity, Reality and Communication.

They believed that these are key things that must be possessed and are all fundamental elements in their doctrines. Another symbol is the one similar to the cross used in Christianity but resembles sunburst with its additional four rays; each is in between of the main cross. Ministers are using this symbol that represents the dynamics of the religion.Another object used by Scientology as part of its material dimension is the E-meter used in auditing.

Being part of the fundamental activity, as told by Black (1996) this was dubbed as the religious artifact in the church confessional. And, for the purpose of another essential activity, scriptures are necessary. The publication of Scientology especially of the work of L. Ron Hubbard, even reached best-selling status (Black III. VII).This defended Black’s findings well. In the conclusion part of his report, As the material dimension was explored, that proved that the religion of Scientology is indeed a religion. Black concluded the paper with the legal findings about this religion.

It was proven in the court of Australia that Scientology has all the requirements for it to be regarded as a religion. The counter argument which questioned its inability to hold its member to make them affiliated with just one religion and the commercial aspect didn’t matter in the end.The primitive, indigenous, religions that last throughout centuries and newly founded religions are bounded with their commonalties. That pertains to this set of dimensions.

The comparison between the religions and with the emphasis on Scientology provided us with the insight that regardless of when the religion is founded or of how long did it last, still carried the dimensions that are shared by Smart.Scholars like Black are good examples of individuals who will benefit a lot with this idea that can last long. It can last long the same way that most religions last. The range of its help in scholastic context can’t be measured and with its flexibility, we can expect that it can adapt with any changes in insights that might be embraced in the future.

Works Cited

  1. Bastide, Derek. Coordinating Religious Education Across the Primary School. Falmer Press1999.
  2. Black, Alan, W. “Is Scientology a Religion.” The Interactive Bible. 24 January 1996. [Web]accessed from <http://www. >
  3. Kay, William K. and Francis, Leslie J. Religion in Education. Fowler wright books, 1997.Radin, Paul. Primitive religion: its nature and origin. Vail Ballou Press, 1937.
  4. Smart, Ninian. Dimensions of the Sacred: An Anatomy of the World’s Beliefs. University ofCalifornia Press, 1996.
  5. Smart, Ninian. The World’s Religions. Cambridge UP, 1989.

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 Two Dimensions of Religion: Exploration on Practical and Material Dimension. (2017, Mar 13). Retrieved from

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