XII. Religions as Historical Entities

The foregoing inventory is set forth in terms of relatively abstract generalization, but actual religions are historical entities, not logically constructed systems. They encompass widely different organizing principles, codes of conduct, and patterns of belief, laid down in different historical epochs, each of which, within the same broad religious tradition, was characterized by distinctive and sometimes incompatible apprehensions of religiosity. Within one religion, divergent doctrines or interpretations of ritual practice are often simultaneously acknowledged by adherents of differing degrees of sophistication. Identical items of faith or worship may be seen as symbolic by some, intrinsically powerful by others, yet both are accommodated in religious systems in which there has been not so much a replacement of one contradictory idea by another as an accretion of conceptions and interpretations over the course of history. Reconciliation of divergent ways of comprehending belief and worship may occur over time, but whether this occurs must depend on the authority and efficacy of leadership as well as on the pattern of organization. Such diversity within a given religious tradition further complicates the wider picture of differences among the major religious traditions and their innumerable sub-divisions which have developed over time. The foregoing inventory seeks to employ sufficiently broad criteria to accommodate the effects of religious evolution, accommodating the more literal, concrete, even quasi-magical elements that persist at some levels even within religious systems which have come to express and justify their beliefs and activities in sophisticated, abstract terms. Some, more recently evolved, religions may have largely or even wholly escaped the influence of the primitive conceptions which survive within others, and may, in consequence, fail to meet one or another criterion of the inventory (which necessarily includes items that are found primarily in ancient religious systems, and which have not always survived as those religions have evolved). Thus, the historical and evolutionary character of religious thought and practice implies that few if any religions will qualify equally on all items on an inventory which sets out to include indicia which take account of the variety of the species embraced by the phenomenon of religion.

XIII. Diversity and Generalization