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Marius Kahan - A Question for the WSA

Religions and "Un-Religions". From Bei Dawei, April 16, 2011. Time 8:46

The meaning (if any) of the word "religion" is a subject of much debate in religious studies. Most accept that Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, etc. are religions, i.e. that the word "religion" is not utterly nonsensical. However, the world abounds with borderline, arguably religion-like phenomena such as the "civil religions" of various countries, bodies of esoteric teaching, or football.

To further complicate matters, many religion-like groups promote the belief that they are a religion; not a few teach the opposite (besides Subud, we might name AMORC or Freemasonry); and some actively deny the claims of others to be non-religious (e.g., the Jehovah's Witnesses view saluting national flags as idolatrous). Note that these beliefs about religion seem themselves to be religious beliefs!

If Subud were to reform along the lines you suggest, that would not save it from the charge of being a religion, unless you assume that "religions" are defined as having certain (apparently negative) characteristics which you list. Those inclined to call it a religion would still do so--only then, they would call it a more loosely-controlled, liberalized religion than before. After all, no conceivable reform would do away with the latihan (which is exactly the sort of thing people usually mean when they talk about "religion").

In recent years, in certain circles, the word "religion" has been perceived negatively, in contrast to "spirituality" (which is apparently thought not to be religious). I find this incoherent, though I do see what they are getting at.

Another issue has to do with claims of exclusivity: As we all know, it is impossible to be both Muslim and Buddhist (or at least, certain claims to multiple identities will not be widely accepted). But what about the combination of Islam and Subud, or Buddhism and Subud--are those allowable? Subud people desperately want the answer to be "yes," while I'm sure various Muslim authorities have weighed in with a "no." Anyway, for Subudians to admit that Subud is a "religion" in its own right would interfere with their efforts at acceptance in countries like Indonesia, where formal religious identity is a serious matter.

You may know that the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’i religion has formally prohibited Baha’is from joining Subud, on the grounds that this would constitute a dual religious identity. Subud, they say, assumes the insufficiency of the Baha’i religion, and teaches that this needs to be supplemented with Subudian teachings and practices—a claim which they obviously view as incompatible with Baha’i belief. Yet one doubts that they would say such things about mainstream (non-sectarian) forms of qigong.

From Bei Dawei, April 17, 2011. Time 8:10

Whoops--I should have said "Universal House of Justice," not "National Spiritual Assembly." Anyway, here's the link:

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