Your religion… is it bigger than a breadbox?

Your religion… is it bigger than a breadbox? December 17, 2014


I’ve been meaning for a while to highlight an interesting project that Christian H has been carrying out on his blog: coming up with taxonomies for religions. And I’m a big fan of the reason he started this project:

While trying to find ways to frame my understanding of different religions, and different individuals’ religion, is a worthwhile activity in itself, I would be lying if I claimed that my primary motivation was anthropological or psychological. Rather, I’ve primarily been imagining that this project would be useful for writing fiction: in a realist context, for creating a plausible variety of plausible religious characters (including those who believe themselves irreligious*); in a fantastic context, for creating a plausible variety of plausible religious characters and for creating a plausible variety of plausible fictional religions. If you write or worldbuild for any other reason, I suspect it might also be useful to you; the place where I can imagine this happening the most for the most people would be when playing D&D or some other tabletop RPG.

Christian comes up with a bunch of interesting questions, to help you as writer/character creator/anthropologist get a feel for a (real or fictional!) religion and the way it shapes the life of its followers.  For instance, is the religion mostly about following specific, concrete rules, applying more abstract/highfalutin’ maxims to the choices we face in life, or finding a way to make the right kind of story out of your life?  He does a good job connecting these prompts back to the literature (not exclusively of religion–Judith Butler turns up, too).

A few preliminary comparisons come to mind. The view of religion as obedience to commands sounds an awful lot like what Tillich describes as a juristic type of faith, and the view of religion as application of universal principles sounds like Tillich’s ethical type of faith, though it also sounds like Tillich’s element of prophetic self-criticism in its willingness to change according to context. Meanwhile, the view of religion as the attempt to give an account of oneself to the universe, or to God, sounds somewhat like the experience of holiness as judgement over the present that Tillich says characterizes the moral type of faith. I would be hesitant, though, to equate the view of religion as a provider of answers with the experience of holiness in the here and now; at most they seem alike in their focus on finding something in the world before you. The two schemas seem to have some overlap, but they differ enough that I don’t think we should collapse them together, or at least not quite yet.

I think readers of this blog will have a lot of fun exploring Christian’s posts (index post for his sequence here) and he’d appreciate your comments and suggestions.  Personally, I find it quite helpful because it offers a script for examining religion that isn’t the one we’re used to, which may have been too tainted by past arguments to be able to provoke inquiry and curiosity (cf my posts on exploring philosophies in a LARPing spirit).


Christian’s project reminds me a bit of a Sorting Hat typology that recently caught fire among my friends.  I’ll link you all to the About page for the details, but the very fast explanation is that Sorting Hat writers classify the houses according to two dimensions: Idealist/Loyalist and Felt/Constructed.  Idealist houses are focused on the Good and the True, loyalist houses tend to root their values in the needs of/connections to other individuals.  Felt houses have an intuitive connection to whatever motivates them, constructed ones are systematizers.  Thus:

  • Gryffindor: Idealist/Felt
  • Ravenclaw: Idealist/Constructed
  • Hufflepuff: Loyalist/Felt
  • Slytherin: Loyalist/Constructed

The longer explanation at the site is a lot of fun, and they do interesting profiles of how different fictional characters (in Harry Potter and outside it) would fit into their system,  Like Christian’s project, it’s a nice way to jumpstart curiosity/exploration as you’re creating a character or even thinking about how to relate to a friend.

I doubt that the Sorting Hat folks have managed to carve reality perfectly at its joints, but flawed/incomplete typologies can still be a big help in getting me to engage with confusion, since it gives me something to start asking, even if it’s “In what way doesn’t this problem/system/person fit well into this typology?”  Which always tends to be a better beginning than the non-question: “I’m stuck!”


Oh, and for anyone who’s curious, under the sorting hat typology linked, I’d consider myself: rkgenarbhfenirapynjcevznelfylgurevafrpbaqnelfhcresyhbhf

(That text looks too long because rot13ing doesn’t work well to camouflage short answers of different lengths, so I threw in some dummy text).

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