II.VII.THE MATERIAL DIMENSION

In his recent book, Smart adds a seventh dimension of religion, the material dimension, in recognition of the fact that there are often specific religious artifacts, places, buildings, emblems, etc. The relative importance of these varies from religion to religion. In some small-scale societies, for instance, there are no specific religious buildings; on the other hand there may be parts of the natural environment which are invested with religious significance, such as sacred sites in Australian aboriginal religions, and Mount Fuji in traditional Japanese folk religion. Temples, mosques or churches constitute parts of the material dimension in Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam and Christianity. In various religions there are also sacred or symbolic objects such as totems, relics, emblems, sacramental elements, and the like. It is important to note that although all, or nearly all, of the above dimensions are present in each of the major world religions, the emphasis on any particular dimension can vary from one religion to another, and even from one subtradition to another within the same broad religion. As Smart observes:

There are religious movements or manifestations where one or other of the dimensions is so weak as to be virtually absent: nonliterate small-scale societies do not have much means of expressing the doctrinal dimension; Buddhist modernists, concentrating on meditation, ethics and philosophy, pay scant regard to the narrative dimension of Buddhism; some newly formed groups may not have evolved anything much in the way of the material dimension.

Also there are so many people who are not formally part of any social religious grouping, but have their own particular worldviews and practices, that we can observe in society atoms of religion which do not possess any well-formed social dimension. (Ninian Smart, The World's Religions: Old Traditions and Modern Transformations, p. 21)
 

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