Religion has played an essential role in the history of mankind. Throughout history many religious traditions have emerged -- some of them have disappeared -- and there are myriad of differences among religious traditions today. While people profess many religions, each religion then has a great deal of diversity within itself, and within each sect or religious movement (be they within Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, or any other religion), individuals approach these traditions according to their personal understandings, experiences, and sometimes interests. And yet there are certain commonalities that most religions share, albeit often in different forms. In this paper, I am going to look at some basic traditions most religions have historically contained. In particular, I will look at the concept of the divine and an individual relationship with it, the concept of sacred and its relation to time and space, and some key issues critical for studying religion.
One of the fundamentals of an individual's relationship with the divine is the affirmation that there is/are divine being/beings who is/are held to be a supreme being. The affirmation is usually followed by prayer and worship of the deity or deities. Prayer is perhaps the major element of relationship with the divine. Prayers take various forms but in most cases an adherent of a religion confirms the supernatural powers of the deity and considers the divine being worthy of utmost praise, the epitome of good, uncreated and eternal; and considers worshipping this divine being fundamental for survival. This has been the case since ancient times. For example, Zarathustra, the founder of Zoroastrian religion, taught that Ahura Mazda was the supreme God, uncreated and eternal in his being, omniscient ant the absolute creator of all that was good, while Amesha Spentas (Holy Immortals) were his subordinate divine assistants. Zarathustra praised Ahura Mazda in a manner that reflected his helplessness without the grace of Ahura Mazda: "Truly I recognised Thee with my thought, O Mazda, to be First . . ., when with my eyes I perceived Thee to be Father of Good Purpose, real Creator of Truth, by Thy acts Lord of existence" (Ludwig, 2001, p. 75).
Similar approach to defining relationship with the divine, albeit in a different form, is visible in the following Jewish prayer:
You are our King and our father's King,
our redeemer and our father's redeemer. . . .
You, O Lord our God, rescued us from Egypt;
You redeemed us from the house of bondage. . . .
[God] humbles the proud and raises the lowly;
He helps the needy and answers His people's call. . . .
Fulfill your promise to deliver Judah and Israel.
Our redeemer is the Holy One of Israel (Ludwig, 2001, p. 114).
Affirming the supreme and absolute power of God is the fundamental of a prayer. It is also imperative for believers that they remain humble, as only God is worthy of supreme praise and arrogation. A prayer of this form is an element of relationship with the divine in Judaism. Along prayer, another major link between an individual and the divine in most religions is the sacred message revealed or delivered by God/gods to the adherents of a given religion. In Judaism, that message is the Torah.
The importance of the sacred message in a person's relationship with God is especially important in Protestant Christianity. The Bible plays an absolutely central role and "the authority of any creed or confession of faith is subordinate to that of the Bible, and any such document is valid only insofar as it is an accurate representation of what the Bible teaches" (Hemeyer, 2006, p. 65). Any form of prayer must also be in accordance with the teachings of the Bible. The Bible and prayer overlap each other as the link between an individual and the supreme God. In monastic traditions, the relationship with God requires that an adherent goes for a quest, seeking inner dimensions of the faith, by going through hard and enduring experiences. In that way, an adherent reaches a higher level in his or her personal relationship with the divine. There is a similar tradition in Islamic Sufism (Abrahamov, 1993). In Quakerism, the relationship between an individual and God is characterized by the…