particularly obvious when indigenousor Eastern religions were at issue, sincemany of them either have no God orSupreme Being, let alone a personalcreator God, or tend to view religion asan integral part of everyday life.Indeed, in many indigenous reli-gions there is little belief structure, andsome Eastern religions such as ZenBuddhism and Hindu Bhakti view doc-trine as ancillary and even a hindranceto spiritual advancement. Moreover,how could anyone deny the religiosityof Theravada Buddhism and Jainism,which have no Supreme Being, whenboth predate Christianity by five cen-turies? What of the many Hindu sectswhich, while recognizing numerousgods, clearly subordinate them to theultimate goal — union of the “Self”with the “Absolute”? And what of Taoism, which cannot be defined butonly “discerned,” or Confucianism,where character is the goal and wis-dom the path to attaining it?
Modern religious scholars nowagree that the test for religion mustbe objective and cannot be based onconcepts drawn from any one partic-ular tradition. Use of a definitionthat is biased toward a particular reli-gious tradition is certain to discrimi-nate among religions, and has indeedresulted in varying levels of religiouspersecution. Rather, experts havebroadened their view to achievewhat Professor Bryan Wilson, ReaderEmeritus in Sociology, OxfordUniversity, calls “ethically neutraldefinitions” consisting of “elements[which] came to be recognized asconstituting religion, regardless of the substance of the beliefs, thenature of the actual practices, or theformal status of the functionaries intheir service.” In this way a religion’sbeliefs and practices can be inter-preted fairly and without bias.
There still are many different waysof defining religion. In more recentyears the trend has been toward analy-sis through “comparative religion,”which approaches the understandingof a religion through cross-culturalcomparisons of its component parts.This approach and the context fromwhich it developed are discussedbelow.
Defining Religion ina Pluralistic Society