IB TOK: What is a Religious Knowledge System?

Through music, architecture, painting, sculpture and literature, there are many and varied expressions of religious ideas. In Theory of Knowledge you might study Religious Knowledge Systems as an area of knowledge, and the knowledge framework is designed to help you think about the nature of the subject area and make links and connections with other subject areas. There are five aspects to it: 1) scope and applications, 2) key concepts, 3) methodology, 4) historical development, 5) links with personal knowledge.

In terms of scope, Religious Knowledge Systems have a number of shared features: holy books, places of worship, leaders, followers, a sense of what is sacred, places of pilgrimage. The list could continue. The cultural phenomenon of religion is universal, and in his book ‘The Soul of the World’, Roger Scruton argues that the sense of what is sacred is central to being human. In terms of applications and uses, religious ideas might have an impact on behaviour and you could further investigate the link between religion and ethics.

In terms of key concepts, you might consider the language that describes the concepts that are common to all religions, for example: prayer, worship, freedom, charity, teaching, rite of passage, spirit, holy, divine, love, or spiritual journey. You might also make a separate list for concepts that are specific to particular religions, for example: enlightenment in Buddhism, confession in Roman Catholic tradition, the Torah in Judaism, or alms-givng/ zakah in Islam. The theologian, Giles Fraser explores the concept of religious freedom and the idea of moral character.

In terms of historical development you might look at the origins and development of different Religious Knowledge Systems, and consider the development of religious ideas over time. Professor Kate Copper considers the features that transformed Christianity from an obscure Jewish sect to a world religion with over 2 billion followers today.

Arguably Religious Knowledge Systems might have a significant impact on our personal knowledge. Whilst some believers claim to know God personally, some atheists might proselytise for their personal viewpoint. Regardless of whether you have a religious viewpoint, there’s a distinction to be made between the personal view you have and the manner in which you hold it.  Finally you might consider the factors such as culture, country, school curriculum, education, age and personal experience that might shape your perspective of a Religious Knowledge System.

General questions

  • How do we know what makes a religion survive?
  • What would constitute an adequate explanation as to why a religion survives?
  • What are the relative merits of different perspectives on a religious knowledge system – those ‘inside’ the religion who belong to it, or those ‘outside’ who observe it?

Knowledge questions

  • How far does memory of the past play a role in religious knowledge systems?
  • To what extent are there links and connections between religious knowledge systems and ethics?

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