Over the years, a number of theistic and atheistic scholars alike have attempted to devise methods in which the complex nature of the world’s religions can be further understood (ed. Blagden, 2007). Of these methods, is the model known as the ‘Seven Dimensions of Religion,’ proposed by academic Professor Ninian Smart in several of his published works (Brodd, 2009, p.9). However, by defining religion and how it is studied, as well as examining Smart’s ‘Seven Dimensions’ and applying them to the widely followed Eastern religious tradition of Theravada Buddhism, it can be seen that although there are strengths to the model, in amongst these strengths are considerable limitations for when the model is applied to the study of such Eastern
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Smart’s model, the ‘Seven Dimensions of Religion,’ includes seven aspects that Smart believes are common, to a degree, amongst all religions and subsequently can be used, as he states, to “give a balanced description of the movements which have animated the human spirit and taken a place in the shaping of society” (Smart, 1989, p.21). The seven dimensions or aspects, as most recently updated, include the ritual or practical dimension (the repeated activities and customs); the doctrinal or philosophical dimension (the beliefs and teachings); the mythic or narrative dimension (the stories of key figures and customs); the experiential or emotional dimension (the feeling behind traditions and how the follower responds to them); the ethical or legal dimension (the set of moral virtues); the organizational or social dimension (the structures and roles of adherents); and finally the material or artistic dimension (the significant items or artefacts) of a particular religious tradition (Smart, 1996, p.10-11).
Considering this, perhaps the greatest strength of the above-described model, is the model’s evident flexibility (The Open University, 2011). Smart’s model is often referred to as a functional definition of religion - looking at human responses to religion rather than defining particular religious characteristics - and as such is very broad, with most religions, to varying degrees, containing,