“The ocean of suffering is immense, but if you turn around, you can see land” - Thich Nhat Hanh
There are something like eighteen billion cells in the brain alone. There are no two brains alike; there are no two hands alike; there are no two human beings alike. You can take your guidance and instruction from others, but you must find your own path.” – Joseph Campbell – Pathways to Bliss
Social stratification is an important term in Sociology; it refers to the universal process of ranking people into categories based on a social hierarchy of traits such as economic status, age, gender and race (Macionis & Plummer 2008, p. 232). Religion is a form of stratification which doesn’t get much attention; however, it is a topic that Weber, Durkheim and Marx saw as an important theme within the sociology of culture. Social stratification centers itself on the topic of inequality and division; this essay will explore the inequalities present in modern day religion and argue the possibility that religion can overcome these inequalities and instead replace them with peace and unity; it will also determine the extent that religion influences society on a personal and collective level. This essay does not focus on any particular religion; instead it deals with modern day religion as a single philosophy which transcends social labels.
Macionis & Plummer (2008, p. 610) define religion as a social institution which is grounded in faith rather than scientific evidence. This makes it very difficult for sociologists to dissect religious beliefs and explain how billions of people across the earth can structure their lives based on profoundly different belief systems. This prompts the question of the importance in having so many religions, which William James’ attempts to answer in his book Varieties of Religious Experience. In this classic text James (1902, p. 487) argues that due to the immense differences between each individual, it makes sense that there are a variety of religions available to accommodate to these differences. He asserts that because no two people have identical difficulties, we shouldn’t be expected to work out identical solutions or beliefs. Brunelli (2001, p. 227) agrees that ‘every human being should be allowed to freely choose the system of values governing [their] life’ and therefore choose a religion that suits their personal values and cultural norms and abandon the ones that don’t. Brunelli (2001, p. 227) also holds the belief that there is only one truth which is evident in all world religions, a statement which has the power to cause either great religious conflict or create strong unity. In Aldous Huxley’s introduction to the Bhagavad Gita, the sacred text of the Hindu religion, he comments that its message is timeless and its words belong to no language, race or period of time (Huxley, in Prabhavanananda & Isherwood, p.10). With this statement Huxley is outlining the perennial philosophy, a concept which states that all of the world religions share a single universal truth, hidden beneath a narrative of symbolism and culture. This truth is the soil from which all religions have bloomed, with Hinduism being the first to emerge; Huxley asserts that different religions sprouted after Hinduism to accommodate the social and spiritual needs of each respective epoch and culture. Whether the religion is Hinduism, Islam, Tibetan Buddhism, Christianity or Taoism, all of them ‘were attempting to describe the same essentially indescribable fact’ (Huxley, in Prabhavanananda & Isherwood, p.12) thus making all the differences between religions superficial. Huxley inspires one to look beyond the differences of religion and instead notice the similarities in order to find and adopt the deeper spiritual message.