Sunday, October 17, 2010

"What is Religion?" (an 1893 answer)

Here's a link to a speech given by Julia Ward Howe at the 1893 Parliament of the World's Religions. Excerpt:

I think nothing is religion which puts one individual absolutely above others, and surely nothing is religion which puts one sex above another. Religion is primarily our relation to the Supreme, to God himself. It is for him to judge; it is for him to say where we belong, who is highest and who is not; of that we know nothing. And any religion which will sacrifice a certain set of human beings for the enjoyment or aggrandizement or advantage of another is no religion. It is a thing which may be allowed, but it is against true religion. Any religion which sacrifices women to the brutality of men is no religion.

For more on Julia Ward Howe, see here. She's best known as the writer of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." I've never found that song to be a ringing endorsement of religious pluralism and tolerance, but Howe's above-cited speech suggests that she was open to the possibility that other valid paths existed than her own. As with many people of the time, her own notion of religion was explicitly theocentric-- a move that would be aggressively questioned in modern academe. But we have to remember that Howe was a product of her time, and as is visible throughout her speech, her main concern was feminism, not theocentrism.

UPDATE: My own posts on "What is Religion?" and "What is Theology?"


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