Relationship Between World View and Religion


People in the world have a variety of life styles, customs, thoughts, philosophies, cultures, and beliefs. These are derived from the specific concepts of the individual or from group behavior or ideology. Their concepts and ideologies make up what we call their world view.


This article attempts to explain how certain religions emanate from the world views. What is the connection between world view and religion? As we discuss this question, the first part deals with world view, the second part studies about religion, and the third part makes the connection or relationship between world views and religion. This article does not explore any particular religion or folk religion. As I am a missiology student, I want to begin my study with the basic subject for the foundation of my future study. For this purpose, this article will go through very general but essential items.




The Nature of World View

People have different concepts and different ways of looking at the world. These ideologies make different assumptions about the world and create views that perceive the world differently. According to Paul G. Hiebert, in his book Anthropological Insights for Missionaries, "The basic assumptions about reality which lie behind the beliefs and behavior of a culture are sometimes called a world view. These assumptions are taken for granted, and are generally unexamined and therefore largely implicit. But they are reinforced by the deepest feelings, and anyone who challenges them becomes the object of vehement attack. People believe that the world really is the way they see it."1


Similarly, Michael Kearney says, "The world view of the people is their way of looking at reality. It consists of basic assumptions and images that provide a more or less coherent, though not necessarily accurate, way of thinking about the world. A world view comprises images of self and of all that is recognized as not-Self, plus ideas about relationships between them, as well as other ideas." 2


Also, we can cite Hiebert and Shaw's definition of world view in their book The Power and the Glory: "World view is the central assumptions, concepts and premises which are shared by a particular group of people and upon which they base their activities. These assumptions, concepts and premises, (1) are presumed to be true, i.e. there is no need for logical reasoning, (2) allow people to inter pret their life experiences with their understanding of reality, (3) integrate those experiences into an explanatory whole which makes sense out of what may otherwise be nonsense."3


Through the above definitions, we see that world view is the way people perceive the world and the reality of their assumptions which are made by their own belief or philosophy. It is also how they live out their lives. But, most of the time people do not recognize the fact that their lives are molded by their world view.


Purpose and Function of World View

Every behavior or ideology has its own purposes and functions. The purposes come from personal needs or community needs. The world viewprovides some purposes to a given cultural system. It gives a paradigm of reality for a particular society. It has functional value.


I would like to take Hiebert and Shaw's statement as a proof and brief summary for this opinion. According to Hiebert and Shaw, world view provides the explanation of reality, how and why things are as people consider them to be. They relate to the area of causality and origins of life as they know it. World view serves to validate beliefs and values. It is used to judge behavior and determine appropriate responses to it. Religious activities, rituals and ceremonies are means to reinforce assoiated values. It provides psychological reinforcement that gives people a sense of peace and satisfaction. World view also integrates a total cultural system. It tends to organize the entire culture and integrate all aspects of it to make sense. Allegiance provides another purpose of the world view. 4 Moreover, world view is adaptive. It monitors culture change. It helps us to select and reinterpret those that fit our culture and reject those that do not. 5


World View and Truth

World view has its own value. What is the norm for evaluation of its worth and accuracy? The validity of world view is the bridge between ethnology and philosophy. World view assumptions have truth of value. As Michael Kearney quoted Collingwood's terminology, there is a parallel distinction between "absolute presuppositions" and "metaphysical propositions."


It will be clear that the true metaphysical propositions are true historical propositions and that the false metaphysical propositions are basically false historical propositions. The metaphysical propositions may be true or false, depending on whether or not they are accurately replicate what the person or persons in question actually presupposed. And absolute propositions are neither true nor false.6 The truth of world view is examined by people's lives and the reality of the practical ways that people explicity enact their views.



Most people in the world have a religion. People want to have their own belief. So, today, there are very large number of religions in the world.. Why do people have religion? What caused them to espouse a religion? What do the people practice? And what kind of beliefs and symbols, do they have? Learning about religion--it is one of the most interesting subject for me as a missiology student.


The Study of Religion



The Origin of Religion


The interaction of beliefs is commonly called religion. What caused people to form a belief and a religion? Sometimes people have questions regarding souls and dreams. Sometimes they experience dead people appearing in their dreams. Dead people leave their bodies on earth. Where so their souls go? Because of this question, people believed in the existence of the spirits. Out of this belief, there arose the idea to worship supernatural beings.


Anthropologist Edward Tylor (1832-1917) argued, "Religion had its origin in the belief in immaterial souls that might inhabit objects like stones, trees, animals, or human bodies, but which also could exist independently from them. He coined the word animism from the Greek word "anima" which means "soul." The origin of this belief was probably in dreams. In the dream, a dead man seems to continue to exist as a soul independent of his physical body."7


The philosopher Herbert Spencer offers this theory, "The origin of religion [lies] in the respect given to the ancestors combined with the belief in ghosts caused by dream experiences." And another origin is fear. When the people encounter the mighty things of nature, they think that there are supernatural beings. Acknowledgement of the existence of spirits and high being support the formation of beliefs and religion.


According to two scholars, the origin of religion came through the acknowledgement of spirits and worshiping ancestors. Their belief is evolutional. To some degree people searach for the supernatural being. But Christianity is different from other religions. Its beliefs and religion are based on revelation. "Christians and Jews alike assumed a primitive divine revelation, and that settled the whole question. They conceived that in the beginning – that means when the first man was created and placed in the Garden of Eden --God revealed to him in some manner the essential truths of religion, such as the existence of one God, the obligation to obey him, and the hope of immortality."8



Basic Approaches

The first approach to religion is theology. The theological approach discovers human realities in the light of divine revelation as seen from God's point of view. To understand the Word of God, people interpret Scripture in the context of their own history and culture.. Paul G. Hiebert and Shaw present presuppositions regarding this matter.


  1. We accept Scripture as fully authorative – the Bible is our source of theological understanding.
    1. We believe that Christ is the center of our theology.
    2. We tale an "Incarnational" view of Christ as both God and human.
    3. We understand the kingdom of God as the goal of divine history.
    4. We are assuming the continued active work of the Holy Spirit in the world today on the lives of all believers.
    5. We assume the sinfulness of humans and their need for salvation and reconciliation achieved by Christ on the cross.
    6. We assume the priesthood of all believers interacting within communities of faith.
    7. Our understanding of call to discipleship is that true conversion involves all dimensions of human experience. 9


      These theological assumptions clearly tell us that the theological approach comes from God's Word. And God intends to communicate in the context of culture. Cultures today are very different, and they have different manifestations.


      The second approach is anthropological. Anthropology begins through observation of religious experience or practice. Observation is always selective and observational data which is close to the real world. I would quote a paragraph regarding this opinion. "Data do not speak for themselves; they must always be interpreted either by the standards of the community being observed or by outside criteria brought to the study by an analyst. Interpretation is thus always open to bias and preconception. Making the question of interpretation of data, we can do one of the two things: either it shows that the data is false, or it proves an alternative interpretation.'"10. Anthropology serves as the interpretation of religious data and understanding of ideological systems.


      Symbol, Ritual and Myth



      Religion takes some particular symbol to declare meaning and emphasize doctrine or teaching. With this object, it uses special shapes, cloths, colors, sounds, and style. For example, Christianity uses the cross. Many times the temple is a symbol. Most religious temple declare their uniqueness. Even in the rituals, worshippers practice using their own symbols.



      Every religion has its own ceremony to express its belief s and to show the believer's commitment to God. This is an important element and behavioral pattern of a given religion.


      Ritual has been defined as "the formal acting out of a ceremony, usually repeated in exactly the same way on specified occasions. This definition stress two important features of ritual: the pronounced of the formality of the action and its repetition at the regular intervals."11


      The pronounced formaltiy of the action implies particular behaviors and specific characteristics. According to Knight Dunlap, ritual has three significant features: "(a) The behavior is associated with religious faith. (b) The behavior is habitual, a matter of "routinized" action. (c) It is social: one does what the others do. The motivation is not essential, and in fact, much of the 'works' of religion is behavior that continues as mere habit, from which the original motive have long disappeared."12


      Also, ritual has its own structure. The structure displays unique formal ceremony. It specializes its own characteristics to discern its own originality from the other religion. The structures are: (a) Rite as Separation--a ritual separates individual or groups from the ordinary world. (b) Rites as transformation--the core of the transformation from one state into another. And the rites themselves take place in a sort of timeless time and placeless place. (c) Rites as Re-incorporation--the ritual on which the individual or group is returned to secular.



      This word is used to use for Greek or Roman gods stories. There are a lot of unbelievable stories. But the stories had power and function. Knowing myth is one of the way to understand religions.


      Mythology is defined as "a narrative resurrection of primeval reality told in satisfaction of deep religious wants, moral, cravings, social submissions, assertions, even practical requirements." Myths cover the entire range of human experience and often serve as a link between the empirical and the trans-empirical. 14


      The word mythis from Greek word mythos. It literally means story and originally was used for many stories of the gods in Greek religion. And the word myth is associated in the West with a set of connotations that has become in popular speech almost a synonym for untrue, false, or absurdly fantastic.15


      Myth is used in history to discover people's origin, to realize the development of their original cultural beliefs, and to acknowledge values. Myth is transmitted into culture and is preserved as traditions. And it is continually handed down from generation to generation.


      How do we interpret a myth? We must understand a myth in order to correctly interpret it. Look back to the New Testament period and the background of the first century. The believers were surrounded by a lot of Greek and Roman myths.


      The main documents of the early church, and in particular the gospels, were selected from a wide and growing range of writing which tried to interpret the life and message of Jesus. When we speak of the interpretation of the Bible, we use the term hermeneutics." This term is from the Greek god Hermes, which means messneger.


      The modern probing of the New Testament as history has caused some arguments. Some feels that this secular approach to the text damages the authority of the Bible. According to this view, we have the impulse to find our being by telling a story about how they come to be. Myth thus is the food" which feeds our sense of identity and our destiny in relation to the unseen world, then myth is given an added impulse to imagine the invisible through the visible. It gives us a past and a future arising at the point where I intersect with my fellow human being.16



      As we have defined the term world view, it is a way of looking at the world and reality. Beyond specific behavior, there is the individual or group's world view. It does not expose itself on the surface, but it controls thought, life style, and social system. In the same way, world view influences religion. I would like to assert this opinion with this quotation:


      "A well rounded world view includes basic answer of the following questions. (1) what is the prime reality- the really real? To this we might answer God, or the gods or the material cosmos. (2) Who is man? (3) What happens to man at death? (4)What is the basis of his morality? (5) What is the meaning of human history? And within various basic world views other issues often arise. For Instance, what is the nature of the external world? Who is in charge of this world?"17


      Answers to these kinds of question about world view provide the basis for a given religion or folk religion. People really want to know the high being who holds this cosmos and controls human life. These concepts encourage people to seek supernatural beings and supernatural powers that would help human beings. Symbols, rituals, and even myths may be involved. Specific practices of religious activities represent human beliefs. Behind these reflections, there might be particular world views.


      For instance, let me compare evolution theory and Christianity. As I have quoted Tylor's opinion, religion evolved from animism to religion. The word animism from the Greek word anima", which means souls,, implies a view about the soul that creates animism. But in Christianity, the Christian has a unique belief. This absolute belief is from revelation. God revealed Himself to Israelites as the creator, the savior, and almighty King.



      In the context of mission fields, there are a lot of religious practices, cults, and other religions (including folk religions). It means there are plenty of religious practitioners. Because of these people, sometimes missionaries or Christian ministers encounter spiritual crisis. Spiritual encounters may arise. The mission field is like a battle field. Whether we recognize it or not, the dangers are hidden in the context. According to Dr. Julie C. Ma, in the book When the Spirit meets the Spirits, there are three phases of encounters: power encounter, truth encounter, and allegiance encounter.18 These areas are important for the missionary to be prepared in the real ministry fields.


      Not only must we talk about spiritual warfare, but we also need strategies to spread the kingdom's message, the good news about Jesus. Proclaiming the gospel is the ultimate task for the Christian workers. One set of statistics tells about the percentage of the world religions: Animism 40%, Buddhism 7%, Islam 15%, Judaism 4%, Roman Catholic 15%, Orthodox Churches 3%, and Protestantism 8%. There may be changes. Some religions have more numbers, and some religions have few members. But I just want to cite a point that there are large numbers of mission fields in the world. Many people are waiting to hear the voice, spreading the good news. We must reach those who are spiritually hungry.



      I would like briefly to make a conclusion. World view is the core of all areas of the human life. From this specific view, people or communities create particular beliefs, cultures, and life systems. That also affects religion. The effect of human needs is to set up a variety of religions and folk religions. Knowing the world view helps us to understand certain folk religion. This comprehension helps us approach the local people and fulfill our missionary call.

      Young Hee Kim

      Footnotes Omitted