In “Comparative Religion: Whither and Why? ” Wilfred Cantwell Smith defines religion by stating “All religions are new religions, every morning. For religions do not exist up in the sky somewhere, elaborate, finished and static: they exist in men’s hearts. ” By defining religion in this way he argues that in order to study religion one must become a member of the religion, which, taken to the extreme, means a scholar must personalize the religion, thus becoming only concerned with the internals of the religion.With these extreme ideas it seems Smith is moving away from achieving his ultimate goal of an inter-religious dialogue that draws the religious community together. Yet upon further analysis of Smith’s ideas and theories one realizes that they are not radical, but realistic and provide a good outline for how one should study religion.
These new philosophies also make an inter-religious dialogue where the different religions converse and learn from each other very practical.Throughout his essay Smith makes some very strong points that suggest how religion should be studied. He asserts that religion is the study of something unobservable yet very real. This makes sense mainly because Smith defines religion as existing within the hearts of man. Therefore if one studies religion one is studying the faith and beliefs that exist within the inner soul of each person. If one studies religion, according to Smith, one should be studying religion internally, not the documents, religious practices or history.
Moreover this understanding of how Smith defines the study of religion allows some of his other more vague claims to make sense. For example Smith says that “no statement about religion can be valid unless it is acknowledged by that religion’s believers” (Smith, 42). By his definition of how religion should be studied this makes perfect sense. How can one be accurate about certain people’s inner ideals if the people themselves don’t acknowledge and agree with ones claims? However these statements when taken literally are extreme, unrealistic and make the study of religion seem futile.According to Smith’s views an outsider can never fully understand a religion because there is no possible way for them to become totally immersed in the religion if they were not born into it. This means, for example, that an American could never fully understand the German culture by reading about it and conversing with the German people, he or she needs to experience firsthand.
Furthermore he or she will never one hundred percent know what it means to be German since he or she grew up as an American so her or his cultural background will affect they way he or she experiences the new culture.Thus, by Smiths definition of how to study religion, it is completely futile to study religion since one can never attain the highest level of personalization. In addition, taken literally, Smith minimizes the importance of studying the external parts such as documents and practices of the believers. By doing this Smith indirectly suggests that past studies of religion are of no use now since the scholars never tried to reach a personalization with the religion.
He is also indirectly suggesting that one cannot study extinct religions since one cannot reach the heart of the religion.