Thursday, April 19, 2007

Allport And Solitary Practice

Today, I was going over my notes that I wrote when I was reading the book The Individual and His Religion(by Gordon Allport) and came across his ideas regarding religion as a solitary endeavor even within the context of a religious community. I found myself thinking about how this could fit in with the Pagan identity of being largely a solitary practice.

Allport talks about how religion is very personal and and is up to the individual to come to their own religious reality. He is not saying that each person can "make up their own religion." Instead, the idea he is trying to get across is that we each experience religious sentiment in our own unique way. We do not experience our personal sense of religion and our personal sense of faith in the same way as the person sitting next to us. There is not a standard form.

One of my thoughts that I wrote down at the time I read the book says "there doesn't seem to be any one way that everyone will experience religiosity - people have different ways of expressing similar concepts." In the book, Allport says that there is "no common point of origin" of religious experience (p. 6). This makes religion a very personal form of expression.

This has given me a new perspective regarding what it means for one to be a solitary Pagan as well as why there seem to be so many systems of belief within Paganism (that everyone seems to believe something different). While a lot of Pagans say they prefer practicing their beliefs on their own, could it be due to there being no common way to express those beliefs? Being that they are expressing forms of reconstructionist religions, Pagans tend to emphasize their personal experiences by expressing them in ways that are intuitive to them. In other words, it makes it hard to form a solid community around several different forms of expression.

Although I tend to favor having a religious community, I found myself thinking "well, if religion is a solitary or personal endeavor, why is there religious community at all?" While there is definitely more to it than what I will say here, I like to think of a community as a place that inspires personal growth. We often find inspiration in the communities or groups that we are active in. A community is also a place/group that we can go to for support and help. But even within religious community, I am learning that we ultimately have to have an active roll in our own personal religious expression and sentiment.



Allport, G. (1951) The individual and his religion. New York: Macmillan Company.


Anonymous said...

I think of spirituality as being the personal endeavor and religion being a communal one and that there are common ways of expressing Pagan beliefs. While a religious practice should naturally flow from the religions's theology, people don't have to necessarily agree on what to believe; they just have to agree on how to practice for a given period of time.

Religious communities exist because we want them to. We generally like being around people that we share certain conditions with. Most people probably find balance between inclusion and exclusion, but I think that in general, communities relieve the tensions of isolation and alienation by helping us sustain connections and develop emotional bonds. Not only do we find inspiration in the creative avenues that a good community can offer, but there are a number of social, psychological, and intellectual skills that mature as well.

The expression goes that organizing Pagans is like herding cats, but consider how many Pagans flock to festivals and community rituals.

Grian said...

I think we create communities because we are social creatures by nature. We need other people and choose to surround ourselves with those that are most like us. We benefit from this by learning more about ourselves from talking to others and learning of their experiences. We make each other think and stimulate the passion for knowledge even if we don't always agree with one another.

There are a few common threads within Paganism. Generally, veneration of Nature in one form or another is a universal concept among Pagans. We might look at Nature and see something completely different from someone else, but the worship of it is still present. The use of the circle as a symbol and ritual concept also seems almost universal. Those two things alone can create quite a connection between different traditions.

I always enjoy your thoughtful posts!

Morninghawk said...

Great article. I definitely agree with Allport's idea of connecting the personal with the group religious experience. I wrote a response in Hawk's Cry.

Sojourner said...

Thanks to everybody that has posted their comments. I am a bit overwhelmed right now, but I will be responding to your comments in the next day or two.

Raven Waldenpond said...

For me, solitary practice is the major spiritual source. It is also balanced, like Sojourner said, with a need to come together in community. I also form my spirituality by weaving threads I find in different traditions and what flows to me intuitively. The strength of paganism and its explosive growth is because people are re defining their relationship with deity. No longer do many seekers want information filtered from someone else's view of spirituality. Two themes of my solitary pagan existence stand out: the need for silence, and the need for balance. No matter how much I have respect and affection for my loose knit community, they cannot get inside my soul or head and truly understand my spiritual need.Therefore, on many aspects, I am silent. But I need to be with others of my kind and am so thankful for their place in my life. Raven Waldenpond