My interest in world religions was sparked during a gen-ed class at Bradley that I took because a friend of mine signed up for it.
I'm not sure, but i believe it was a class on the religions of the western world. Essentially it was an overview of the three biggies: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Maybe i'm wrong - maybe it talked about Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism. It doesn't matter.
What matters is that what I think pulled me in was this window that i saw into the cultures and strictures of societies around the world.
I started understanding that at its most fundamental level, a religion is a set of rules and regulations designed to protect a society from itself and from others. It wasn't until i started listening to Joseph Campbell that another aspect which drew me to such study crystallized in my mind: Religion doesn't just protect a society physically, but spiritually as well.
I mean yes, i'd thought about it, but i hadn't thought about what it meant. The fact that people needed spiritual protection in the first place.
Now keep in mind that i'm not talking about hocus pocus spirituality. I'm talking about your spirit. Your hopes and dreams and fears and desires. I'm talking about the beliefs that help you sleep at night, and the ones that give you something to fight for in the day.
These things vary from person to person, certainly, but if you study world religions you notice a trend in the morals of the stories, and a recognizable cast of characters that may vary in name, but are the same in purpose.
Did you know that there is a Native American legend about a great flood? The legend is said to predate any European contact, and when you read it it is clear that there really is no connection to the biblical flood in terms of Moses or the Jewish/Christian/Muslim God.
That's just one example, but there are many myths throughout the world that share a thread without their cultures being connected.
There are theories that range from the completely mundane: the stories had a common root in pre-history and spread as humans spread; to the spiritual: people have experienced the different faces of the same ultimate reality; to the psychological: there are common needs and wants throughout the psyches of people world wide, that coalesce into a kind of "collective unconscious".
I'm not presumptuous enough to claim that i have the answer, and I'm sure there are even more explanations than the ones listed above, but I do think that there is one very important thing to point out.
These shared beliefs have never stopped existing, and our capacity to share these underlying experiences and thoughts with the entire world is still very much alive today. What's more, those experience and thoughts are evolving.
There are people around the world who grow up with and foster their own set of beliefs (no matter how small they may be) in addition to the ones they are taught by their parents and their society. What's really amazing to me is that i think that people would be surprised if they compared their "side beliefs" to someone else's. Because i'm positive that they would be extremely similar.
So i wonder if there is something that can be done with that. An analysis and understanding of the way that human belief and faith which is shared around the globe is shifting and evolving.
I dunno - seems like an interesting idea.