What is religion sample question essays

Make sure that you have looked at the question and thought about it for yourself FIRST before you look at the hints.

Whenever you get a question you should do the following:

  1. Read the question more than once.
  2. Identify the topic (i.e which section of the course it is in).
  3. Identify the 'debate' (i.e. the two sides of the argument).
  4. Work out the main points that each side would make to support their case. Consider what evidence/reasoning they would use.
  5. Work out which side you agree with and why.
  6. Look back through your notes and find more material/details to include in an essay.
  7. Plan your essay.
  8. Write your essay.

Critically assess the strengths and weaknesses of Feuerbach's approach to religion.

Read the question:

This question does not lend itself to a yes/no type answer. You need to look at both strengths and weaknesses and evaluate them.

Go back to your notes:

What is Feuerbach's approach? How does he reach his conclusions about religion? 

Plan your essay:

Introduction: State that people have different views. People like Marx  found Feuerbach's views very convincing. Others, like Hick might agree that there is an element of projection but think that Feuerbach's theory is too simplistic.

  • Paragraph 1: Briefly outline Feuerback's approach and list the key strengths and weaknesses to show the breadth of your knowledge and 'signpost' your essay.
  • Paragraph 2: (Possible strength) Feuerbach attempts to provide a natural rather than a supernatural explanation of religion [explain]. This reflects modernist principles. Rational, avoids superstition. Ockham's razor. 
  • Paragraph 3: However, this is not necessarily a strength. Too narrow minded. Too reductionist. Postmodernism highlighted the limitations of reason. Lyotard stressed the limitations of scientific type knowledge. Religious thinkers like Barth would say that Feuerbach misses the point of religion. Possibly he is too dismissive of religious experience, miracles, logical arguments for God etc. 
  • Paragraph 3: Who wins and why? Should we automatically rule out supernatural explanations at the outset?
  • Paragraph 4: (Possible strength) Feuerbach thinks that his objective stance from outside religion enables him to understand it neutrally. He says that the nature of religion is opaque to the believer but transparent to the thinker. Not biased.
  • Paragraph 5: Religious believers might respond that someone outside religion cannot understand it in the way that someone inside it can. They see it but they don't understand it. Postmodernist thinkers might argue that neither has the 'right' view of religion. Both have subjective interpretations and neither is right.
  • Paragraph 6: Who wins and why? - Are religious people or non religious people best placed to study religion?
  • Paragraph 7: (Possible weakness) A key weakness of Feuerbach is that he appears to be very Christocentric.  E.g. Buddhism has very different ideas and no God. Thus it is not an explanation of religion. Smart might argue that religions are very different and you need to look at the content of each different religion.
  • Paragraph 8: However, a defender of Feuerbach might argue that the themes are the same. (E.g. Buddhism still promises a form of life after death and promises justice etc).
  • Paragraph 9: Who wins and why?

Conclusions: Sum up whether the strengths outweigh the weaknesses or visa versa.

To what extent does Smart's approach to religion demonstrate modernist principles?

The debate:

It does: He is a modernist who applies the scientific method to religion.

It doesn't: He has things in common with modernist principles but other aspects of his thought have more in common with postmodernism.

Go back to your notes:

You need to know about modernist principles. What are the characteristics of modernity?

You need to know about the seven dimensions, methodological agnosticism, the phenomenological approach, the rejection of seeking the 'essence' of religion.

Plan your essay:

Introduction: State that Smart's approach reflects both modernist and postmodernist principles. State whether you think he is mostly modernist or mostly postmodern.

  • Paragraph 1: Briefly explain the modernist approach to knowledge (reason, evidence, scientific enquiry, objectivity, link to Enlightenment etc. You could mention that Feuerbach's approach to religion could be an example of modernist principles.
  • Paragraph 2: Outline Smart's approach to religion. Explain the seven dimensions, the fact that he looks at actual religions rather than seeks the 'essence'. 
  • Paragraph 3: In many respects this does reflect modernist principles (evidence gathering, scientific enquiry, objectivity, categorising). Postmodern approaches to religion tend to be less focused on gathering evidence and categorising.
  • Paragraph 4: However, another element of Smart's thought is methodological agnosticism. This does not fit with modernism as modernists believed that truth was accessible through use of reason. Sought explanations and certainty. E.g. Feuerbach thought that he could use reason to identify that religion was untrue. 
  • Paragraph 5: Postmodernists are suspicious of/reject absolute truth claims. Truth is inaccessible (explain why). Encourages pluralism and tolerance thus methodological agnosticism has more in common with postmodern methods than modern ones. Furthermore, Smart rejects the idea that it is possible to identify the essence of religion. Emphasises the limitations of knowledge.

Conclusions: Smart is more postmodern than modern.

'Cupitt successfully demonstrates that religion can survive in a postmodern world.' Discuss.

Read the question:

What does it mean for religion to survive? What is a postmodern world?

The debate:

Agree: Cupitt (obviously!)

Disagree: Postmodernists like Lyotard who were atheist and thought that religion had no place in a postmodern world.

Disagree: More traditional Christians who would think that religion can survive in a postmodern world but reject the idea that Cupitt's theology actually counts as religion.

Go back to your notes:

Make sure you know what the key ideas of postmodernism are and how/why it challenges religion. Try to make sure you can mention people like Lyotard by name.

You need to know what Cupitt's ideas are and how/why they are postmodern. Specifically, what does he say about Jesus, God, life after death and moral/ethical values.

Plan your essay:

Introduction: Set out the debate and state your line of argument.

  • Paragraph 1: Set out the problem religion has in a postmodern world (i.e. rejection of metanarratives, rejection of truth claims, pluralism etc combined with the legacy of modernisms challenge which makes people more likely to question miracles etc).
  • Paragraph 2: Cupitt thinks that his reinvention of religion as an ethic to live by does demonstrate that religion can survive in a postmodern world. Rejection of the divinity of Jesus, focus on the ethics to live by, choose your own values, solar ethics etc.
  • Paragraph 3: However, many more traditional Christians would say that Cupitt destroys Christianity. Thus his approach does not reflect the survival of religion. 
  • Paragraph 4: (Analyse) Cupitt's approach is genuinely postmodern (explain why). Growth of things like the Sea of Faith movement suggests that people find it appealing and have a need for it. However, the challenge from traditionalists is important. Hard to see what makes it a 'religion' rather than a life style choice. No longer genuinely Christian - changes too much.
  • Paragraph 5: Some traditionalists have argued that postmodernism leaves room for a more traditional form of religion. Postmodernism highlights the limitations of reason and suggests more openness to different types of knowledge. People like John Millbank call for a return to revelation.
  • Paragraph 6: The problem with this approach is that it (unlike Cupitt) is not truly postmodern. The idea that religion offers Truth and certainty is alien to postmodernism. Religion cannot make any Truth claims in a postmodern world. Thus Cupitt's solar ethics is the only way that religion can survive. It must become a mircronarrative - a choice that SOME people make because it appeals to them.
  • Paragraph 7: The question remains as to whether or not this counts as religion. For Cupitt, religion is anything that gives value to the meaninglessness of life. However, others might argue that religion is about moral rules or set beliefs. Depends on how you define religion. Who wins and why when it comes to the definition of religion?

Conclusions: Cupitt's ideas work in a postmodern world but whether they represent the survival of religion depends on how you define religion.