Monday, March 6, 2017

Sociology and Spirituality

"Knowledge gives us a sense of who we are." This statement lends itself to many different interpretations based off of semantics and perspective. Mainly the semantics for the purposes of this analysis deal with the definitions of the word "knowledge" and "we". As far as perspectives go, in order to take into account the use of "we" in this statement the areas of knowledge discussed will be the human sciences and religious knowledge systems.

Beginning with knowledge, the word itself comes from the Greek "gnosis" which has lent itself to the early Gnostic traditions of 2nd century Christianity but more on that later. Merriam Webster defines knowledge as:

 a (1) :  the fact or condition of knowing something with familiarity gained through experience or association (2) :  acquaintance with or understanding of a science, art, or technique
b (1) :  the fact or condition of being aware of something (2) :  the range of one's information or understanding answered to the best of my knowledge
c :  the circumstance or condition of apprehending truth or fact through reasoning :  cognition
d :  the fact or condition of having information or of being learned a person of unusual knowledge

and all of these are applicable to the situation so there is no problem with that. Knowledge of the human sciences is generally broader education and knowledge of facts in general. But, for the purposes of the religious knowledge assessment of this statement, religious knowledge must also be taken into account. Usually religious knowledge usually consists of realization of greater truth behind profound mysteries

Religious knowledge is one of the seven gifts of the holy spirit in several Christian traditions. In the Gnostic sect of Christianity, esoteric knowledge is considered a way to enlightenment. In Hinduism, Jnana Yoga (The Path of Knowledge) is considered one of the three main types of yoga in the Bhagavad Gita. In Buddhism (both Mahayanna and Therevada) enlightenment comes in the form of Nirvana, or a realization, that changes the life of the practitioner and makes them a bodhisattva in Mahayanna and allows them to leave the karmic cycle in Therevada buddhism. This is similar to the gnostic belief that knowledge of the divine within leads to unity with the supreme being, which allows the Gnostic to transcend the illusions created by the Demiurge in the Gnostic creation myth.

The only deviation from this trend lies in daoism, the Tao Te Ching states "the scholar tries to learn something every day, the man of dao tries to un-learn something every day". But ironically, this too advises a type of knowledge on the practitioner: intuitive knowledge which comes with deconstructing the knowledge systems we have created in order to separate and categorize. This is why daoism is so hard to explain in words, it is a knowledge system that relies entirely on subconscious understanding and realization of the unity of yin and yang.

On the other hand, human sciences relies on the divisions we create. They are defined by their opposites, each is organized into schools of thought, and each exists to create, acknowledge, define, and categorize humanity. So the dichotomy exists between religious and human knowledge. Esoteric spiritual practices seek to undo the binary of the divine and mundane (nirvana, gnosis, kabbalah, sufism, etc.), while the human sciences remind us of our place as a one or a zero.

And this is not to diminish human sciences, It is impossible for us to know what we are as westerners, without first deciding what we are not. The human sciences give us knowledge by contrast so that we may eventually use this to deconstruct distinctions.

This has been personally something I have grown with recently. My knowledge of religious systems, sociology, and complex systems of culture and identity have helped to give me insight into my limitations by showing me what I am not as well as giving me an interest in other cultures practices. And so by first discovering differences I have allowed myself the ability to later discover similarity despite difference. The case in point being the similarities shown through spiritualistic practices that I have had an interest in despite geographic, cultural, and social separation from each other (excluding practices that blended or grew from one another). And have given me both the yin and the yang that have allowed me to see the circle that both halves make up.

1 comment:

  1. Lots of good stuff here. I must begin, however, by insisting that you discontinue your reliance on dictionary definitions. They are boring, lack context, and do not add to our understanding in a meaningful way. This is especially true in the context of a TOK Essay prompt, when the definitions of words are very much at issue. Consider, instead, using definitions to discover a set of conditions within which your essay can develop. "If by knowledge we mean X, then we get links to Human Sciences in the following ways...If, on the other hand, by knowledge we mean Y, then we can see the relationships to RKS."

    Your summary of the various religious systems is thorough, but perhaps could go later (after you explore a little bit about RKS as an Area of Knowledge. This is an organization issue). On the other hand, your description of the Human Sciences doesn't do justice to their power. Sociology and anthropology are AS interested in commonality as they are in difference. Use the language of the AOK (as you have in your RKS analysis) to talk about the REAL WORK that HS does to give us "a sense of who we are." Consider how the ideas of psychology, sociology, etc., have shaped our understanding of ourselves as individuals, humans, etc. (Even something as simple as "there is a subconscious," which comes from Western Psych, feels heavily intertwined with the claims you are making Re: RKS.)