What beliefs/practices do the major religions share?

What all religions share is a quest for meaning. That is all. The rest is garnish. Rituals, practices, beliefs, and entire mythologies grow around this quest and people eventually start taking the rituals more seriously than they should. The meaning is lost and the combination of rituals becomes a "religion".

Comparing religions for commonalities or differences is bound to get caught up in the same soup. The ritual isn't what the defines the religion.

3 Replies to “What beliefs/practices do the major religions share?”

  1. While every religion has a unique cosmology there are some things they share. You specify "beliefs" but it is not easy to separate out specific beliefs from practices and artifacts. Some are:

    • Sacred stories: A creation myth
    • Scripture: A sacred text
    • Sacred Origins: Frequent reference to the origins of the group/sect
    • Others levels of reality/experience: The belief that this sensory world is not the only reality that exists
    • Art/Music: An artistic aesthetic or prohibition against iconography, art or music
    • Sacred Community: A worshiping community (rather than solitary individuals)
    • Sacred Leaders: Religious "elites". These do not have to be priests but they have to be more learned or devoted religious practitioners as contrasted with the laity who do not devote the same amount of time to religious practice
    • Worship: Some form of prayer, chant, meditation or devotion
    • Ritual: Some repeated acts that are done on a weekly, annual or circumstantial (births, marriages, etc.) basis
    • Ethics: An ethical code that prescribes a correct way to live (this can be as short as The Golden Rule or as involved as canon law)
    • Sacred Objects: These can be venerated, often it is scripture or some other kind of object or relic that is thought to be especially holy
    • Home Worship: Domestic religious practice & customs (a home altar, a photo of Jesus or crucifix, a mezuzah, a family Bible)
    • Sacred Places: Many religions also have a practice of pilgrimage or travel to special places whether it is Mecca, Fatima, Lhasa, Benares or Israel
    • Sacred Time: Holy days, feast days or times of the day that are celebrated differently than ordinary time
    • Charity: Alms giving or charity work

    Looking at "beliefs" or "faith" is a very Western way of looking at religion. With other cultures, it is not always a matter of what one believes but what one does and beliefs & practices reinforce each other. The current method of studying religion focuses on "lived religion" which doesn't look only at abstract philosophical systems but at how religion is lived and practiced on the ground by groups of people.

  2. I once got to sit in a seminar with John Hick who said something that has stuck with me over the years. It was something to the effect that in his experience, regardless of their religious affiliation when people being to take seriously the teachings of the major world religions, they experience a common transformation of self so that their focus is no longer on their own best interests but on the best interests of others.

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