A religious language question

Hi, could anyone help me to answer this essay question?

Compare and contrast 2 types of religious language.


Moved to Hall of Questions.

I’ve seen some bad essay questions here, but that’s maybe the worst.

I’m going to guess that you’re a Brit. Or at least that the instructor is.

No offense, but you guys really have some horrible profs over there.

I mean, I’d be offended by the question. I have no fucking idea what that question even means.

Is there some explanatory paragraph that you’re leaving out?

I ain’t helping the OP with answers but I am guessing the question refers to

  1. language often used by believers when talking about God, the afterlife, being a good person - informal religious language
  2. sacred language - bible (text), sutras
  3. ritualized language - formal prayer, chanting

But I agree, if the question was given without a context or without clearly being connected to a specific lecture - which went through categories of religious language - it’s sloppy pedagogy. I also think, if I am correct about the question, that ‘categories’ is a better word than ‘types’.

Or perhaps the non-specificity of the question leaves answers all the more open to creative interpretation and broad discussion.

Wouldn’t it be more sloppy to spoonfeed your students by only ever offering them very narrow and defined questions?
The only disadvantage is that standardised marking would be more challenging, though at least it would offer a more varied read for markers.

Sure, absolutely, but I would lay money on it that the teacher in question is not going to accept some of the various creative interpretations of the question. If so, wonderful. I love that. And I used to answer questions this way when I was a student - even multiple choice questions where there was a ‘right’ answer, even an obvious one. It was great fun to defend some of the supposedly wrong answers. Later I ended up in very progressive educational places and what you are saying could have taken place. But I am skeptical here.

Well, standardised marking is a poor idea. I mean, really, who do they think they are? Especially on a question like this, taken as you are suggesting it might be meant to be taken.

Nice try, Sil. But you didn’t tell us what the question means.

One good example would be alternative religious economies. To isolate followers, things normally regarded as valuable are downgraded whereas things normally regarded as fairly trivial are held to a substantially higher values. You see it in cults all the time, but you can also observe it in dietary restrictions. Another example would be Jesus kicking the moneylenders out of the temple or Confucius and Mencius harping on the absolute importance of certain sacrificial meats.

I love this answer, but could you explain how you are defining language?

“A complex system of communication.” More importantly, a complex system of communication easily understood within a specific community that is not necessarily intelligible to those outside of it.


Yes I’m a Brit!

This question was on a A-level exam paper (for 18 year olds) for Religious studies last week.

No context was given to the question, but below is a copy of the specification for this topic:

'A study of religious language: analogy; language games; myth and symbol; verification and falsification debates

It is unlikely that students will have to cover all these topics in any one question. They will be able to focus on specific exemplars as demanded by the question. Note that over a cycle of a few years all these topics will be examined. There should be knowledge of the respective contexts of key terms, for example a theological context to analogy and logical positivism with regard to verification. Students should show knowledge and understanding of key terms and concepts such as meaning, function, realism, and postmodernism. Students should understand and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of evidence and reasons given for arguments and weigh up philosophically the merits or otherwise of the viewpoint. This may include reference to various debates and key scholars such as Aquinas, Wittgenstein, Tillich, Ayer and Flew, etc.’

The question will require standardisation.

I for one think it’s fantastic that you’re encouraged to drag Wittgenstein into Religious Studies, especially questions about language. :slight_smile: I hope you get full marks if your answer is just “whereof I cannot speak, I must remain silent.”

I’m guessing that (as often happens at A-level) there’s a syllabus for the course and “religious language” is given a definition in that. It doesn’t have a specific meaning like realism or postmodernism, though.

From the specification, I’d guess they mean the uses of language in the service of religion - evangelism, theodicy, exegesis and so on. But what they want compared and contrasted… About all they share is a source text. I dunno. Hopefully you’ll get to university and find exams that aren’t just about putting down the answer you’re expected to give. :slight_smile: