Part 15: Dimensions Of Religion
Ninian Smart, a student of traditional religions, developed a system of aspects (which he calls dimensions) of religion. They provide a framework against which religions can be compared. These dimensions also give us a framework to compare the typical attitude at each level with characteristics of typical traditional religions. The dimensions are:
The doctrinal dimension represents the articulation of the belief-structure. In most traditional religions the doctrinal dimension is marked by a "Creed" which is designed to separate the followers of that religion from the followers of other religions or heretical sects. As an example, the Nicene Creed of the Christian Church was designed to separate mainstream christianity from followers of the Arian heresy.
The mythical dimension includes the symbolic (i.e., artistic) representation of the beliefs.
The ethical dimension involves all those restrictions on individual interpersonal behavior that are imposed by the religion.
The sensual dimension is the subjective experience associated with the practice of the religion. This can, for example, include such things as mystical ecstasy or fellowship with other worshipers.
The ritual dimension is the expression of the individual's relationship with the deity expressed in the form of action. This can include participation in group actions like worship, but it can also include individual actions like prayers.
The social dimension is the expression of religious beliefs in terms of group action. Communal worship is ritual, but evangelism or missionary activity is social. The structure of the religious society or church is reflective of the beliefs of the religion, sometimes unintentionally.
On the next page we will look at how these dimensions are expressed in the "levels" of religion based on Fowler's analysis. These will be condensed into a catch phrase, where that communicates the appropriate sense, or expanded into a discussion where that is warranted.