The Five Dimensions of Religion

“There is no one definitive definition of religion that is generally accepted by scholars.” Sharing this statement by Bryan Ronald Wilson and others we prefer below to articulate the main factors of religion instead of an overall definition. It seems to be possible to approach the phenomenon usually called “religion” from five angles which are found in all the literate and non‑literate societies it has been possible to study so far. This comparative religio‑phenomenological model has been more thoroughly presented and applied into practice in Juha Pentikäinen’s monograph “Oral Repertoire and World View” (Academia Scientiarum Fennica, FFC No. 219, Helsinki 1978):

 1. The cognitive dimension of religion comprises the conscious, intellectual factors such as their view of the universe and the world, their system of values, their beliefs in the existence of the “supernatural,” i.e. one or more gods or other “supranormal” figures and powers which are supposed to watch over their fates, their needs and their values. It is typical of religions that they are maintained by traditions transmitted from one generation to another or from people to people, including narratives, mythologies and beliefs about the “other.”

As far as their sources are concerned, a main distinction may be made between literate and illiterate religions. But the orally narrated mythologies of the illiterate cultures, the highly schematized theological dogmatics of the canonical texts of the “book religions” and the corpus of religious philosophies all have this dimension of religion. It has often become expressed as briefly formulated “creeds” to have been publicly confessed by the adherents in the missions of such conscious missionary religions as Christianity, Islam and Buddhism, in particular.

 2. The affection or emotional level refers to religious feelings, attitudes, and experiences. Man usually feels that he or she is dependent on something supernatural and, at the same time, feels some kind of link with it. A religious experience is a state of interaction between the natural and the supernatural, a state in which a religious person or rather, tradition acting through him, actualizes a meeting with one of the supernatural figures or powers that dominate his/her religious beliefs.

 3. The conative or behavioral aspect in religion is seen on the actional level as a form of behaviour. Included here are rites, social conventions, such as sacrifices, prayers, charms and claims with the aid of which an individual, a group or a society can achieve by traditional methods some kind of spiritual union or connection with their supernatural figures.

Another important part of the conative dimension is related to morals. Besides rituals and cults, religions usually presuppose certain ethical behaviour. This becomes manifest, e.g., in the observation of certain norms in order that the values maintained may be achieved, the rewards promised by the religion obtained, and possible punishments for violation of the norms and taboos avoided.

 4. The social factor forms a fundamental part of every religion. Religion usually presupposes the existence of a group or a society whose duty it is to watch over the religious views of the followers, to carry out certain tasks together, and also to control the cultic and ethical behaviours of the believers.

The members of these societies on a bigger scale, sometimes even as a state, or in small groups, usually work together in order to achieve the common goals imposed on them by their common religion in this world or in “the other.” Although religious behaviour even today is very social and controlled, the strictly established religions seem to lose a lot of their former importance. Instead, the privacy of unconscious and unestablished religiosity is emphasized, and many of the functions of the established churches are accordingly replaced by less formal cults.

 5. The cultural level is an often neglected but a very influenceable and comprehensive factor as far as every religion is concerned. It essentially becomes manifest in the dependence of religion, both in time and space, on the ecological, social and cultural environments in which respective religions are practiced.

Language and ethnicity are the two most important variables of “religions as cultures.” What should be taken into special consideration is the fact that for many people “religion” means more a “special way of life” or “life style” than any dogmatic confession or dependence on any creed. In the contemporary world the conscious national, ethnic and regional variables of even the so‑called “world religions” have become important when people have refound their religio‑socio‑cultural identity after having migrated to new milieus, as refugees in their new host countries and environments, or from rural societies to the urban world, as immigrants in the streets and ghettos of the third world metropolis.

The conclusion of our scrutiny is that the concept of “religion” should be undressed from its theoretical and Western connotations rather than to press the wide variety of the global phenomenon to accept the very definition it does not fit into.

We will give a general description of the background and religious doctrine and practices of Scientology, and then address Scientology under the five dimensions of religion we have identified.

IV. The Religio-Philosophical Background of Scientology