The importance of religion 2: Towards a theory of religious action
On the one hand there is a critique of religion that sees religion in terms of propositions about the nature of the world. On the other there is a reaction to such claims by the rational defence of religion. But both positions fail to understand the true nature and function of religions as action and responses to life, as ways of life and kinds of action that provide frameworks for living and dying, especially in the context of late modernity and what Richard Roberts has called ‘the reconfiguring of the religious field.’ This lecture develops the idea of religion as action which is also an orientation towards meaning and transcendence; an orientation to understanding life as a journey for both individuals and communities, a journey that can have an end in a ‘liberation’ or a ‘heaven’ or some variation of an ideal of perfection. Religion is always teleological and orientated towards transcendence of the human condition; religion is predominantly soteriological. The theoretical apparatus behind some of this thinking lies in Bakhtin’s Towards a Philosophy of the Act in which he presents a distinction between the world of culture (which contains various theoretical frameworks such as philosophy, sociology, politics) and the world of life, the world in which we live our lives and die and in which acts are accomplished once and for all (and only once) as being is unrepeatable action (Being-as-event). The theory of religious action I am proposing claims that religious action is a penetration of being-as-event, that it is not restricted to the world of culture but is the only practice and discourse that attempts to penetrate, order and make sense of world of life. This world of life is a synonym for the strangeness of the world.