Religions of the world must be studied subjectively, or with the attitude of pluralism, the view that they are all equal. A number of methods are used to study religions. The most common is the historical comparative method in which a certain faith’s history and traditions are deliberated. This method focuses on orthodoxy, meaning “correct thought. ” Another method is the phenomenological method. This method, unlike the historical comparative method, is centered on orthopraxy, or “correct practice. ”
Other less common methods involve subjective modes of study such as the confessional method of study, which interprets a religion based on a particular point of view, and the empathetic approach, which is based on putting oneself in the place of the participant of a particular religion. All of the worlds religions can be labeled as being either exclusive or non-exclusive based on how false a certain religion regards other religions. Most often exclusive religions are monotheistic and occidental, while non-exclusive religions are polytheistic and oriental. Religions are also either ethnic or universalizing.
Ethnic religions can either be simple (based on place or kinship groups), compound (tied to nationality, ethnicity or state), or complex (ethnicity and religion are inseparable). Universalizing religions are classified by how open the religion is to accepting outsiders. The study between geography and religion is to determine the effects that the two have on one another. The physical environment has a history of religious events dating back to biblical times. For instance, mountains have been associated with the talking to God. Mount Sanai was the place where God spoke to Moses and the Jews.
Another example is the Mount of Olives was the place where Jesus ascended into heaven and where he is supposed to return. Rocks also possess religious references. Easter Island and Stonehenge, for example, hold religious significance of ethnic religions of the past. The Kotel, or the Wailing Wall, in Jerusalem is a more modern example, being the last standing part of the second temple. Other examples of physical geography in religion are trees, which were used to create totems, and rivers, such as the Nile, which was sacred in the ancient Egyptian religion and the Ganges, which is still sacred today to the Hindus.
Water is used as a means of purification in Christianity, Judaism and Islam. The desert is also and example. It is often considered to be a means of spiritual refinement. The ecology of religion is of great importance. The processes of nature become ritualized in attempt to change the processes or powers behind them. Simple ethnic religions, especially, are built around cycles of nature as fertility rituals. The more complex the religion becomes, the more complex the type of ritual practiced becomes. When Christianity began, it practiced many of the values from the Mediterranean agricultural societies from which it originated.
Christianity began to take on the characteristics of the people who accepted it. For instance, the Jewish Passover became Easter, Christmas was not originally practiced, but Christians gradually absorbed the pagan celebration of the winter solstice. Religion also relates directly to the land. Environmental determinism is the belief that the physical environment determines religious thought. The importance of the Ganges River in India for instance, eventually gave rise to the belief that it is sacred. Probabilism is the idea that the environment put broad limits on religious thought.
It theorized that for each environment, there is a range of possibilities where some conceptual structures are more probable than others. Religion can also have a number of effects on the landscape. Among them, the most popular are sacred structures. Included among these are structures such as churches, cathedrals, temples, cemeteries, monuments, and even shrines. They represent organization within the society and sometimes, economic levels which allow for surplus and specialization. Studies are often conducted on these structures that investigate characteristics such as form, orientation, and destiny.
Studies have shown, that worship occur in areas of concentrated population, and tend to be larger than other concentrations of people. Function of worship places often dictates form and vice-versa. Landscape is also affected by religious practice because of how the community handles the world around it. Some cases are crop rotation, acceptable and unacceptable commodities, and burial practices. Religious doctrine may have even greater effects. Religiously dictated rates of fertility affect population, which in turn affects the landscape. Religiously sanctioned wars cause destruction and upheaval and can also affect the economy of a region.
Many other factors also come into play, a commonly known factor is the obligation to read scripture, that results in a geographical trait of high literacy rates in an area. This was a common trait in European countries in historical times. A more modern example of religious practices affecting a local landscape is the Amish settlements in northeastern America. These settlements exist without electricity and other things that we consider necessities. Religious organization of geographical space is also a common characteristic in the relation of religion and geography.
For example, religions often ritualize their living space through myths about ancestors. These settlements have sacred connection to elements of the original territory. As a religion becomes more complex, space in a settlement is divided and separated even, from the outside world. As a result, areas can be classified into varying degrees of holiness or separation. Sacred places can be found anywhere. Lakes, rivers, on mountains, etc. are common locations. They are located according to a sacred person or event. These places may eventually become centers as religious systems evolve.
Some complex religions even divide space into hierarchical territories. These territories then result in cultural diffusion of knowledge like in medieval Europe, when the church provided nodes in the form of monasteries who provided hierarchical diffusion of knowledge. Sacred languages often become an important element in the religious organization of space. Many times, especially when ethnicity relates directly to religion, people in a religion also speak a common language. The influence of religion on government also has an important role in history.
Ideas of secular states have existed since the ancient Greeks, but were very recently invented. When a religion completely merges with government, it is called a theocracy. In a theocracy, the religion is organized around the government and the religious body is also the body of the government. This form of government is rare, but existed in Israel in the time of Judges. The distribution of religion is the most prominent characteristic relating to geography, but also the most complicated. The distribution doesn’t only tie in to geography, but also to history and culture.
Approximately 33% of the world’s population are Christian. Another 18% is Muslim and 13% is Hindu. There are three processes involved in creating the distribution of a religion: diffusion, migration and competition for space. Diffusion is the principle way of transmitting culture and ethical values, and migration is one of the ways of transmitting religion spatially. Religions do not only grow through migration’s natural expansion, or conquest and exile, but also through contact conversion. This happens when two separate groups are in close contact with one another and their traits and ideas begin to merge.
Another means is through missionary work or co-existence between religions. The world has hundreds of thousands of religions that cannot all be explained in a single sitting. Many of these religions have gross similarities and many are unlike any others. However almost all religions evolved from one of very few that have existed the longest, and have been altered and renamed throughout history. The importance of religion on geography is an important one that is often overlooked as other geographical factors often are. Religions will continue to change and develop over time, and with them, geography will also continue to be altered.